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    Saturday, January 28, 2023

    Billy Gardell 'incredibly grateful' to be back for third season of 'Bob Hearts Abishola'

    Billy Gardell as Bob and Folake Olowofoyeku as Abishola in "Bob Hearts Abishola." (Sonja Flemming/CBS/TNS)

    There aren’t too many actors who have been the lead of nine seasons worth of CBS sitcoms. That’s still a wild notion to Billy Gardell, the 52-year-old Swissvale native who starred for six seasons on “Mike & Molly” and is now in his third season on “Bob Hearts Abishola.”

    “I still can’t believe it,” Gardell told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “You lie to yourself and say, ‘Any minute now.’ But there was a time where I was like, ‘That’s over.’ Then it happened with ‘Mike & Molly,’ and I thought that was the greatest.”

    A couple of years later, it happened again. He got a call from executive producer Chuck Lorre about a new show.

    “He said, ‘I think I have something else, and you’re the guy.’ And here I am, going into season three of my second show. You can’t write that.”

    Last season left off with Gardell’s Bob and Folake Olowofoyeku’s Abishola getting on a plane to Lagos, Nigeria, to bring Abishola’s son Dele (Travis Wolfe Jr.) home after his father, Tayo (Dayo Ade), threatened to keep him there permanently.

    Gardell said he is particularly proud of the first two episodes “because they were monsters” to make. The original plan was to shoot some scenes in Lagos, but the COVID-19 pandemic made that impossible. Instead, set designers built a makeshift version of Lagos’ airport and a Nigerian market on the Warner Bros. lot in Burbank, California.

    “If that doesn’t make you feel like a little kid again, I don’t know why you got into this business,” Gardell said, marveling at the meticulously crafted sets.

    Production on the third season was “all about trust” that everyone would do the right things regarding COVID-19 safety, Gardell said. The goal was to keep everyone working, which meant all 150 cast and crew members had to be tested every day, mask up unless they were in front of the camera, maintain social distancing and be safe off set, too.

    Season 2 also was affected by the pandemic, but Gardell said they were able to complete all 18 episodes with no major incidents. The one silver lining of pandemic filming was not taping in front of live audiences. That gave Gardell and other cast members the chance to do more takes until each scene felt right.

    “The cool thing about ‘Bob Hearts Abishola’ is that it has a lot of heart, and I think that’s what makes the show go,” Gardell said. “I think having the time to do a couple extra takes, we were able to find a different and better level for the show, and I think we found that this year as well.”

    He credits the show’s success to a simple formula: “The richer the emotion, the richer the tapestry.” That goes for both its traditional family elements and the cultural clash between Bob’s Detroit upbringing and Abishola’s Nigerian heritage.

    “One of the most beautiful messages about our show is that people from extremely different backgrounds can take a chance on love and be rewarded,” Gardell said. “It doesn’t matter what background you come from.

    “When you marry someone, you marry their whole family. You find every family has a cool aunt, wack-job uncle, crazy mom. ... When you bring those people together and find a common thread, I think it helps us all look at those people like human beings.”

    He developed his values and comedic sensibilities growing up in Pittsburgh, studying the back-and-forth between his father and his friends. They would tease each other while always secure in the knowledge that they had each other’s backs, he said. After spending years traveling the country as a comedian, Gardell still believes the “salt-of-the-earth humor” inherent to the Rust Belt is the best kind of comedy.

    The last time Gardell was in town was for the Steelers-Browns playoff game in January. He’ll return soon to help out with a Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre fundraiser on Nov. 6 and might use the opportunity to catch the Bears-Steelers game at Heinz Field two days later. Gardell also regularly calls into WDVE to talk Pittsburgh sports, a favorite subject.

    He believes the Steelers’ fledgling season will “go according to the offensive line” and that the Penguins are in good shape, “but I think there are a few moves that need to be made.”

    As for the Pirates, Gardell isn’t convinced that owner Bob Nutting “does the right thing by our team.” He said he’s sick of “watching our pitchers pitch in the World Series for other teams.”

    “Our fans are so great,” he said. “Even when we’re down, they’re great. But you got to give (something) to make sure they keep coming. ... The fan base is there, and we’re ready to go. But you got to keep the pieces in place.”

    While the Pirates wind down another losing season, “Bob Hearts Abishola” is gearing up for another run on CBS. Gardell said he regularly rolls up to Warner Bros. Studios blasting Frank Sinatra and other Rat Pack songs in celebration.

    “To be in the middle of a second show is incredibly humbling, and I can’t tell you how incredibly grateful I am to be doing this again,” he said. “To work for Chuck Lorre is like playing for the Yankees. So it doesn’t really get better.”

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