Jermaine Fowler’s passion for “Superior Donuts” had a lot to do with CBS moving ahead with plans to translate Tracy Letts’ Broadway play (which had its world premiere at Steppenwolf Theatre) about a struggling donut shop in Chicago’s Uptown into a sitcom debuting at 7:30 p.m. Thursday on WBBM-Channel 2.
But the actor and comedian refused to see videos of the play before he shot the pilot for the show. “I didn’t even go to YouTube or anything like that,” said Fowler in a recent phone interview. “As much respect I have to Tracy Letts, I didn’t want to be influenced by the actors who played Franco before me. I didn’t want that to get into my head. I wanted to give my own rendition of Franco.”
In the gentrifying neighborhood, business has been slipping badly at the donut shop long owned by Arthur Przybyszewski (played on the sitcom by Judd Hirsch). Arthur hires Fowler’s Franco, who brings a fresh perspective and a strong entrepreneurial spirit to his job, hoping to help Arthur save the business from closing its doors.
Though the sitcom is filmed in Los Angeles, Fowler stressed that “the set is so Chicago, and a number of the actors — like David Koechner — have spent a lot of time working and acting in Chicago. Plus a number of the writers and the show’s executive producer Bob Daily are from Chicago. So, we have a wealth of Chicago knowledge and experiences to infuse the scripts with.”
The generational push and pull between the main characters is central to the comedy in the show. Fowler laughed recalling a favorite line from “Superior Donuts,” when Franco tells Arthur, “We’ve got to get you into the 20th Century.” When Arthur seeks to correct him with, “Don’t you mean, the 21st Century?,” Franco merely smiles and says, “No,” noting just how far in the past is Arthur’s thinking and approach to business.
Fowler said that he has always loved comedies built on “two guys from different generations and different dynamics. I’ve always loved the idea of the rookie cop vs. the grizzled veteran. A lot of comedy can be mined from that.
“In the end, you see it’s a situation where people have to compromise to get along. You discover they share a common goal — in this case saving the donut shop — and they find out they have more in common than they initially think they do.”
• Speaking of “Superior Donuts,” Hirsch was actually in Chicago Tuesday at Stan’s Donuts in the Northwestern Hospital complex in Streeterville — handing out free donuts to help promote the sitcom’s debut.