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Ready for Prime Time
By Kimberly Swick Slover

His new roommate was heading out to audition for a play, so Mike O'Malley '88 tagged along. He ended up with a part in "Working" and so began O'Malley's career as a theater major.

This fall, the alumnus from Nashua, N.H., will star in "The Mike O'Malley Show" on NBC, a situation comedy that will follow "3rd Rock from the Sun" on Tuesday nights. He's the show's executive producer, head writer and lead actor. He also just finished nine weeks of filming for the movie "28 Weeks," in which he plays a cocaine addict who tries to romance a fellow addict (played by Sandra Bullock) while both are in rehab.

ESPN viewers may also recall O' Malley's "The Rick" character, an obsessive sports fan who collects rare sports memorabilia such as a plastic knife smeared with cream cheese from Drew Bledsoe's bagel.

So just how did he get there from here?

It wasn't easy. O'Malley had misgivings about pursuing an acting career. "When you grow up in New Hampshire, it doesn't seem like a practical dream. All you hear about are the difficulties; there's this daunting cloud that hangs over the profession. "

On the other hand, he felt well prepared and supported, both by his family and UNH's theatre department, which he credits for giving him an opportunity to stretch. He says, "Anyone who was enthusiastic or had a modicum of talent was encouraged and supported at UNH. You can't succeed until someone believes in you."

In his senior year, O'Malley began to take acting seriously. As the pharaoh in "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat," he got his first real taste of audiences responding emotionally to his character.

O'Malley moved to New York City after graduation, and taking his cue from other actors in town, accepted all acting jobs that didn't deeply offend his principles. He became a host for Nickelodeon's "Guts" and "Get the Picture?" and also wrote two plays which were staged off-Broadway.

O'Malley's plays got the attention of Fox Network and the chance to write a pilot for a situation comedy. He set the pilot in a Portsmouth, N.H., bar, based loosely on his job during college at the Oar House. Fox turned it down, but O'Malley came back quickly with a new idea, which he pitched to NBC.

Like his plays, the pilot focused on O'Malley's recent experiences. "I thought at some point you just became an adult and switched to glide, but life's not like that. It only gets more complicated and confusing," he says.

"The show is about a guy who's shaking out the last cobwebs of bachelor irresponsibility and is cultivating for himself a practical handbook for adulthood," he explains. He describes his character as a proud man who finds that his black and white attitudes toward the world no longer work for him. "When you're 30, there's a distinct chance of failure. It's getting a little late—the concrete's already been poured and you have to make a move because it's hardening fast."

NBC has given the go-ahead for 12 episodes of "The Mike O'Malley Show" and O'Malley and the other staff have been working furiously to prepare six shows before the September kickoff. He eventually hopes to cut back on some of his responsibilities, such as writing for the show, admitting that his current frantic pace is "no way to live."

Casual, funny and relaxed in conversation, O'Malley comes across as the guy next door, and a bit surprised by his own good fortune. "It still hasn't fully hit me yet that I'm doing this. Before I was just an actor, and now I'm about to go before millions of people with my own show," he says.

"I'm just an average guy from New Hampshire," he adds. "If I can do this, anyone can."

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