Mike O’Malley’s journey through the entertainment industry is as diverse as it is successful. A celebrated actor, writer, executive producer, and showrunner, O’Malley has left a significant mark on television, navigating through genres with a unique blend of authenticity and creativity.
In a recent interview with TV Fanatic, O’Malley offered insights into his eclectic career, his inspirations, and the genesis of his latest project, NBC’s Extended Family.
O’Malley’s passion for storytelling shines through his work, particularly in projects like Heels on Starz, where he served as both showrunner and actor and which he hopes we’ll be seeing again soon.
His dedication to his craft is evident as he reflects on his favorite projects, underscoring a personal connection to the stories he helps bring to life.
His journey into the world of acting and producing was somewhat unconventional, sparked by a youthful ambition in sports that eventually led him to the stage and screen.
“I got cut from the baseball team,” O’Malley laughs. While he once lived, breathed, and played sports to the hilt, it finally hit at about age 16 or 17. “That dream clearly was not going to happen.”
His pivot from aspiring athlete to actor after being cut from the baseball team is a testament to O’Malley’s adaptability and determination more than his family’s penchant for consuming entertainment.
They weren’t big TV watchers, O’Malley said, and as such, he never deemed entertainment a priority. Girls, though, were. “I was not into acting, but I did some plays because when you’re on an elevated platform, you realize the girls are going to have to pay attention to you for two hours.”
When he moved to New York, he realized he wanted to be a performer and create his own projects. His eclectic taste in television, from classics like The Sopranos and Mad Men to his own ventures such as Shameless and Glee, showcases O’Malley’s wide-ranging interests and influences.
His thought process went from “[I’m] an actor. Does this seem interesting? This seems great. [I] want to work with great people” to a more pointed discovery of his desires and talents.
He knew he wanted to write for Shameless and that he wanted to learn from John Wells how to be a showrunner. Ryan Murphy, Ian Brennan, and Brad Falchuck wrote him an excellent part in Glee’s Burt Hummel. “They would write me great material, and I loved it.”
Working closely with Wells and Murphy allowed O’Malley room to grow and learn in a profession that isn’t always so welcoming.
“I realize this is something that happens very early on in your pursuit of this career, that even the thing that you like the most may not go and that the formula for what ends up going and succeeding is so difficult.”
These experiences, combined with his work on Welcome to the Family, Survivor’s Remorse, and Snowpiercer, illustrate his versatility and willingness to explore different facets of his career and of the human experience itself through comedy and drama.
O’Malley’s latest endeavor, Extended Family, reflects his understanding of the complexities of family dynamics.
Inspired by the real-life arrangement between three actual people — George Gere, Emilia Fazzalari, and Wyc Grousbeck, the owner of the Boston Celtics — Extended Family explores the nuances of a modern family navigating the aftermath of divorce while maintaining stability for the children involved.
This concept resonates with O’Malley’s observations on the impact of divorce on children and the importance of both parents in their lives, regardless of marital status.
The weekly format keeps O’Malley on his toes, challenging him to discover opportunities that bring five people, three adults, and two teens, together in various circumstances.
“One of the things that we found is when you’re dropping off the kids, or picking up the kids, or you’re starting your week, or you’re ending your week, there is some interaction there.”
“Now, I’m sure you know, and I know there are people in divorced families who can only communicate via email or some arbitration,” he laughs. “[Extend Family] recognizes those things happen, but these adults are trying to accept that and move on.”
“They don’t want to be these archetypical characters, the evil ex, the terrible ex that they don’t get along with. And it takes a big heart and an incredible amount of emotional work to be those people. “
That’s how he envisions the Extended Family setting.
There is resentment between the formerly married couple, and they really want to get away from each other, but the children they share keep them tethered to one another, even when their beautiful faces can be a constant reminder of a marriage that didn’t work.
“What was interesting for me about this show was recognizing that more and more people are in these circumstances where divorce is now acceptable by everybody.”
“Everybody understands that it’s better not to be in a relationship that is causing constant frustration and discord. But that doesn’t mean that the kids aren’t still affected by it.”
To some degree, O’Malley hopes Extended Family will help divorcing parents recognize how their profound influence shapes their children’s lives.
From what we’ve seen so far, Extended Family’s humorous lead trio embraces as much empathy as it does animosity among themselves. Their decisions aren’t always ideal, but they make them with heart and humility.
O’Malley’s career has been punctuated by working with some of the industry’s most respected figures, learning and growing with each collaboration, honing his skills as a showrunner, and reinforcing his love for the industry.
The challenge of garnering attention for new projects in today’s saturated media landscape is one O’Malley embraces with gratitude, recognizing the value of conversations like the one he shared with us and highlighting the essence of his work.
O’Malley’s career is a celebration of storytelling, with each project adding a new layer to his impressive landscape. As he looks ahead, it’s clear that his contributions will continue to resonate with audiences, blending humor, drama, and a deep understanding of the human condition.
Extended Family stars Jon Cryer, Donald Faison, and Abigail Spencer. You can catch it Tuesday nights on NBC at 8:30/7:30c.
Carissa Pavlica is the managing editor and a staff writer and critic for TV Fanatic. She’s a member of the Critic’s Choice Association, enjoys mentoring writers, conversing with cats, and passionately discussing the nuances of television and film with anyone who will listen. Follow her on X and email her here at TV Fanatic.