"It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia" holds the distinction of being the longest-running sitcom on television. However, the show's enduring success was far from assured, and its creators had actually braced themselves for its potential cancellation long before this point. Since its debut on FX in 2005, "It's Always Sunny" has thrived and was granted an extension through season 18 in 2020, guaranteeing at least two more seasons. Yet, this longevity did not lead its creators to assume perpetual success. In fact, they had devised an idea for a series finale as far back as season 9, which remains a possibility for how the show might eventually conclude.
For those unfamiliar, the series was co-conceived by Glenn Howerton, Rob McElhenney, and Charlie Day, all of whom not only star in the series but also play active roles in its writing and direction. Collaboration is integral to their creative process, although they do not always see eye to eye, especially when considering significant changes to the show. Surprisingly, when faced with the network's threat of cancellation, they swiftly reached a unanimous decision regarding an ending.
"At one point, season nine appeared to be the potential conclusion," revealed Howerton to The Hollywood Reporter. "Interestingly, despite the gravity of this decision, the three of us quickly converged on an ending concept that we all found very appealing and are leaning towards. However, this doesn't necessarily mean it will be the ultimate choice."
McElhenney further elaborated that they arrived at this decision "remarkably swiftly," a surprising turn of events given their historical difficulties in reaching consensus on major matters.
They contemplated the show's potential conclusion following season 9. Despite having a notion of how "It's Always Sunny" will ultimately wrap up, the certainty of season 18 being the final chapter remains uncertain. One thing that remains indisputable, however, is the tremendous enjoyment that the series creators and their key cast members, Kaitlin Olson and Danny DeVito, derive from working together.
"It's the ideal job," Olson enthusiastically remarked. "We have an exceptional team of writers, and I still have the opportunity to contribute to the development of my character." Olson's encounter with and subsequent marriage to McElhenney during their time on the show has resulted in the couple welcoming two children. "I'm savoring every moment of it," she expressed. "While we're in production, it entails demanding 12- to 14-hour days, but let's be realistic, it only consumes 2 and a half months of the year. That's manageable for anyone."
The landscape of network television has experienced a transformation amid the shift to streaming platforms, making it increasingly challenging for shows to enjoy prolonged runs. However, these comedians are unwavering in their determination to continue producing the series, undeterred by budget constraints imposed by FX. "As long as it remains enjoyable and hilarious to us, we'll persist," emphasized McElhenney. "Even if the network loses interest." The show's creator hinted at the possibility of exploring alternative networks or streaming platforms or even seeking independent funding. Nonetheless, Day expressed some skepticism, humorously interjecting, "I think we'll halt when FX's pockets run dry."
In a hypothetical world where FX's financial resources are inexhaustible, is there any other rationale for the potential conclusion of "It's Always Sunny"? After nearly two decades in existence, the show's creative reservoir has yet to run dry. Nevertheless, the show's creators are wary of overstaying their welcome on the airwaves. In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, McElhenney elaborated on their criteria, stating, "For us, we simply maintain a concise checklist: Are we still deriving enjoyment from it, is the experience still enjoyable, are we still pushing our creative boundaries, and does the audience remain engaged?" He observed that all these criteria continue to be met, which is why they keep returning.
While their dedication to pleasing fans remains steadfast, the "It's Always Sunny" creators place greater emphasis on adhering to their personal standards. Day expanded on this, saying, "It's about our ability to deliver a compelling season of television." He stressed the importance of ensuring that everyone involved possesses both the time and the desire to invest the rigorous effort necessary to uphold the show's quality.
A significant portion of the show's humor arises from its willingness to challenge comedic conventions. If "It's Always Sunny" ceases to push these boundaries, it may no longer fulfill its primary objective. However, Howerton and his creative partners place their trust in their own judgment when it comes to determining when the series should conclude. Speaking to Rolling Stone, he explained, "We invest considerable effort in identifying new frontiers to explore. We're not aiming to offend or shock, but rather to astonish our audience. I believe we take pride in our achievements thus far, so it's time to conclude. I'm certain there are already those who wonder, 'Is that show still on? Please, go away.'"
Despite fans' eager anticipation of how the show will ultimately wrap up, the answer may not be revealed until fatigue sets in for the creators themselves.