Ray Sharkey says he's not worried that his first comedy series, ABC's "The Man in the Family," will go on the air in the summer, usually a death sentence for TV shows.
"I've cheated the executioner so many times, I'm sure I can do it one more time," said Sharkey, who actually was delighted with the timing. "My reaction when I heard we were going on in June was I would have no competition.""The Man in the Family" debuts Wednesday (8:30 p.m., Ch. 4) in place of "Anything But Love," which returns in the fall.
Sharkey plays Sal Bavasso, a ne'er-do-well who reluctantly promises his dying father he will return home to Brooklyn to run the family grocery story. That means, of course, that Sal has to give up a promising career of chasing pipe dreams, womanizing and hanging out.
The show also features Anne De Salvo and Leah Remini as Sal's sisters Annie and Tina, Billy L. Sullivan as nephew Robby, Louis Guss as Uncle Bennie, Don Stark as pal Cha Cha and Julie Bovasso as his mother, Angie. It was created by Ed Weinberger, executive producer of "Dear John" and "Baby Talk" and a co-creator of "Taxi" and "The Cosby Show."
"The title of the show ought to be called `Do the Right Thing,' " Sharkey said. "I play a guy in his 30s who's finally learning to grow up. He has to learn a whole new value system. He has to learn honesty and integrity and being responsible for the family.
"At the same time, he's single and wants to have a good time, but keeps running into obstacles. He learns a lesson from the women in his family each week - my mother, my sisters, and a new girlfriend every week."
He laughed as he added: "Basically the show is `Moonstruck' in the sense that it's a big Italian family and I'm Cher. We solve our problems in the family. Our problem is communicating."
It's the first series for Sharkey, although he did star as Atlantic City mobster Sonny Steelgrave in the on "Wiseguy" in 1987.
"I had a development deal with ABC," he said. "I was developing a one-hour drama for myself. Then somebody at the network said they had this comedy and it would be exciting for me to do it. I liked the attraction of that idea and went with it.
"The show wasn't created for me, but once I was cast, the character was tailored for me. It's an ensemble, although the plots are centered on my character. We wanted to make Sal funny, but still keep an edge to the character. That was the hard part."
Sharkey is Irish-Italian and grew up near the area in Brooklyn where "The Man in the Family" is set. As a kid, he delivered groceries for an Italian grocery.
"We lived in a brownstone near Brooklyn Heights," he said. "My father was an Irish singer and entertainer. My wife's family were stonemasons. I knew all about the stone for the front stoops and which ones were best for playing stoopball.
"I draw from that blue-collar working class background. I went back to my old neighborhood to do some research when I got the show. I looked up an old friend, Vinnie, and he and his family still operate the old-fashioned grocery store. I hung around for a few weeks and saw how the family operated."
Sharkey is best noted for dramatic roles in such theatrical films as "The Idolmaker," "Who'll Stop the Rain," "Willy and Phil," "The Lords of Flatbush" and "Wired." He plays an FBI agent in the upcoming movie "Dead On."
On television, he played a gangster in the miniseries "Neon Empire" and an amorous cotton buyer in "27 Wagons Full of Cotton."
Nevertheless, he said, "Comedy's always been my ace in the hole. I learned comedy from my Dad. Life was a joke a minute for him."