The One-Paragraph Pitch That Spawned It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia

The longest running live-action series on television came to its creator in a dream. The idea that sparked "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia" was a single scene that the series creators Rob McElhenney, Glenn Howerton, and Charlie Day would later turn into their hit FX sitcom.

"It's Always Sunny" is about five friends that run a dive bar in the South side of Philadelphia. The characters are outrageously self-serving, and they enable one another in their terrible behavior. "Everybody is narcissistic to a certain extent, but we have governors in our brains and hearts that don't allow us to act that way," McElhenney explained to The Guardian. "What happens if five people who don't have that find each other? You create the confluence of narcissism, evil and sociopathic behaviour that is 'Sunny.'"

This dynamic first emerged in the earliest conceptions of the series. The selfish nature of the characters would later become the basis of the entire show.

The show started as a night terror, basically

The very first inklings of the series pilot came to McElhenney in a dream. "The show started as a night terror, basically," the actor told Entertainment Weekly. Howerton recalled McElhenney telling him: "I woke up in the middle of the night thinking about this scene and just laughing my a** off" (via It's Always Sunny Podcast). The scene that would become the impetus for the entire series. McElhenney explained the idea to EW.

"It was just an idea of a guy going over to another guy's house to ask him for sugar, and the other guy telling him that he has cancer. And instead of the friend being compassionate, he just wants to get the sugar and get out the door."

This plot was repurposed for the series pilot, and again in Season 1 Episode 4, "Charlie Has Cancer." Sugar was replaced with a basketball, which "isn't as good as coming over for sugar," according to Day, but the premise is essentially the same. The scene played with a style of awkward comedy inspired by "Curb Your Enthusiasm," Howerton said. The earlier episodes of the series are also in keeping with this style, but the guys have done "less and less" of it as the show's gone on.

A narcissistic character became the basis for Sunny

As the show's producer and main cast member Danny Devito put it, "That [scene] so has kept with the theme of the show: They're selfish bastards. Me too." 

The characters are always hilariously self-serving and often wreck havoc on the lives of others, particularly recurring characters like Rickety Cricket. Some of the best episodes feature the gang turning against each other, like in "The Gang Dines Out" and "Reynolds vs. Reynolds: The Cereal Defense." Their extreme narcissism is a major source of comedy. It is truly a "great little catalyst" for the series, as Devito put it.

McElhenney's fever dream was a driving force for the series, but so was McElhenney himself. "Rob is the most driven man we knew, so we were just hanging onto someone who had some motivation," Day said. McElhenney saw their relationship as more of an even split — "I had the motivation. They had the talent. So we started leeching off each others' energy," he explained. Whatever the formula might be, they certainly make an excellent team. With the help of his friends, McElhenney's brief little dream became one of the most famous TV comedies ever made.