How ‘It’s Always Sunny’ Co-Creator Rob McElhenny Scored Danny DeVito

To this day, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia remains on of FX’s biggest wins for the network. The show, written and run entirely by its creators, has been a fan favorite since its inception. Rob McElhenny, Kaitlin Olson, Glenn Howerton, and Charlie Day have all been praised for their writing prowess, acting skills, and willingness to push boundaries and get real with their topics. But how did an independently written comedy pitched by network outsiders manage to score a big name like Danny DeVito?

‘It’s Always Sunny’ had a tiny pilot budget 

Rob McElhenney of 'It's Always Sunny'
Rob McElhenney of ‘It’s Always Sunny’ | Gary Gershoff/Getty Images

When Glenn Howerton, Charlie Day, and Rob McElhenny started writing It’s Always Sunny, the three were working on a tiny budget. At the time, Rob McElhenny was working as a waiter and failing to find the acting and writing work he was pursuing in L.A. 

Fueled by failure and desperation, he set out to write a script with his friends, hoping their natural humor and true-to-life writing might score them a slot on television. However, the trio were working with an abysmally small budget. 

“The original pilot came out of desperation, I mean I was working at a restaurant and living in the back of a garage somewhere in West Hollywood, and accruing incredible amounts of debt. I was sort of at the end of my rope,” McElhenny explained to FX.

When Rob McElhenny pitched his show idea to FX, it was not a traditional pitch. Instead, McElhenny, Howerton, and Day had already filmed an entire pilot episode. The pilot pitch followed three aspiring actors, all hoping to land the same role as a cancer patient. In order to up his chances, Charlie Day’s character fakes having cancer. 

The pilot only cost the trio $100, which they spent on their camcorder tapes, and food. 

Rob McElhenny didn’t want Danny DeVito at first 

Danny DeVito of 'It's Always Sunny'
Danny DeVito of ‘It’s Always Sunny’ | Leon Bennett/Getty Images

When It’s Always Sunny first started out, Danny DeVito was not a part of the cast or the script. He didn’t join the show until the second season, when he came on as Frank Reynolds, Glenn Howerton and Kaitlin Olson’s absentee, wealthy father.

Danny Devito has been a defining actor on It’s Always Sunny, with Frank rapidly becoming a fan favorite. However, it turns out that Rob McElhenny didn’t want DeVito on the show at first, and only did it at the behest of FX. 

McElhenny explained to Stephen Colbert, “The first year we made seven episodes, and they aired the show on a Wednesday night at around 10:30 on FX, which was a new channel at the time. They had no other comedies, no other lead-ins. And I got a call the next day after the first airing, we were very excited. And the president of the network said, ‘Nobody watched the show.’ I said, ‘You didn’t market it. You put it on in the middle of the night, we know why nobody watched it.’”

McElhenny continued, “He said, ‘Yeah, well here’s the thing. We don’t have a marketing budget, we’re also a fledgling network — we love the show. We want it to succeed. So we want to add maybe an actor that has a little cache. Somebody that can bring some exposure to the show.’ And he suggested Danny DeVito, because he had previously run Danny’s company, Jersey films. And we said no. We don’t want Danny DeVito. It’s nothing personal against Danny DeVito, I grew up watching Danny, he’s a legend and he’s incredibly funny and we love him but, we thought we had something really special, and we really thought that bringing a movie star in might ruin the chemistry.”

The president of FX revealed that without DeVito, they’d have to cancel the show. McElhenny immediately caved, because he knew he needed to keep the show alive.

Danny DeVito loves working on ‘It’s Always Sunny’

Danny DeVito of 'It's Always Sunny'
Danny DeVito of ‘It’s Always Sunny’ | Leon Bennett/Getty Images

Since then, both Rob McElhenny and Danny DeVito have explained that they’re more than happy DeVito joined up. In fact, Danny DeVito, who could easily have retired years ago, continues to work on It’s Always Sunny because he enjoys it so much. 

During an interview with Jimmy Kimmel, DeVito explained, “We just keep going, and they’re just so inventive, they’re just great. Every time you open the script you just can’t wait to go to work.”