PASADENA — If all you know of Christopher Meloni is the intense work he did for 12 seasons on "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit," his casting in the new FOX comedy "Surviving Jack" may come as a big surprise.
The truth is, like most actors, Meloni has played a lot of different parts, including comedic roles on shows such as HBO's "1st & Ten: The Championship."
Meloni shows his sense of humor when talking about "Surviving Jack," which is set in the 1990s. His character is learning how to be a dad while his son is becoming a man. The teaching methods Jack uses at times look almost criminal. This isn't just a case of tough love; it's a matter of how far Jack can go to mold his son without doing him any permanent physical or psychological damage.
Meloni's approach is to make the character as authentic as possible.
"I would think of Archie Bunker without the racism. You know, what came out of his mouth was a little jarring at times, but he was truly coming from his heart," Meloni says.
That honesty comes from co-creators and executive producers Patrick Schumacker and Justin Halpern. The character of Jack is based on Halpern's father as he revealed in his autobiographical book, "I Suck at Girls."
"I think as long as it's honest, sometimes that will sting. But, other times, I think it was something that, as a kid, I always knew where I stood," Halpern says. "He was worried I would go out into the world and live in what he calls a world of (expletive deleted), which is, like, people in L.A. telling you, 'Oh, this is great,' but they don't really think it is.
"So I think we just never wanted the character to be mean. We wanted him to be honest. And Chris was always on patrol for that."
In the show, Jack is ex-military and an oncologist who speaks his mind. After years of raising and running the family, his wife, Joanne (Rachael Harris), starts law school. That leaves Jack as a full-time parent for the very first time. The focus of his attention is his teenage son, Frankie (Connor Buckley), who is just starting his freshman year in high school. All Frankie wants to do is blend in — but that's not easy when he begins to attract attention from girls. This is where Jack's parenting kicks in.
Meloni was ready to go back to work after his run on "SVU" ended, but he was not interested in a one-hour series drama — especially one that week after week dealt with grim and dark subject matter.
"And then this pilot plopped on my desk, and I said, 'This is the funniest thing I've read all year.' I immediately understood the humor, and I knew how he would nurture it along. Then I met Justin. That nearly scuttled the deal," Meloni says with a smile. "But then I met Rachael, and I was brought back on board again.
"And they said I could have sex with Rachael in the script (in air quotes). And forget about it. Done."
There was only one thing Meloni had to do before starting work on the show. He points to the spot between his eyebrows and says that it's important not to shave there. Why? The darker the area, he says, the easier it is to have a furrowed brow.
"Surviving Jack": 9:30 Thursday, March 27 on KMPH (Channel 26.1)