Rich Heldenfels

CleveLAND: David Walton has a two-sitcom family.

The star of the NBC comedy About a Boy, which has its time-slot premiere at 9 tonight, is also the husband of Majandra Delfino, who is in the ensemble of CBS’s Friends With Better Lives, premiering March 30. With children ages 1½ and three months, Walton was asked during a recent Cleveland visit how he and Delfino were scheduling their parenting commitments.

“It worked itself out,” Walton said. Delfino’s show was shot last summer, then About a Boy began production in December.

“I knocked her up, actually, after the (Friends With Better Lives) pilot,” the tall, lanky Boston native said in the offices of local NBC affiliate WKYC (Channel 3). “They had to call an audible and she played a pregnant woman on the show. Then she had our son during episode 12 of shooting.

“He came a month early, much to the chagrin of everyone there,” Walton said with a laugh. “But they did some clever editing and it worked out” in the season finale.

“We have a very fun, competitive jabbing,” Walton said of having shows on competing networks. “She’s on the No. 1 network. I’m on the up-and-comer.” Another laugh. “Thank God we’re not in the same time slot.”

Things could, of course, get more complicated if both shows are picked up for next season. But preparing for that could prove a case of looking too far ahead, as the 35-year-old Walton well knows. Asked about what might happen in the third or fourth season of About a Boy, Walton said, “Wouldn’t that be something? I didn’t know those existed.”

His resume is loaded with such short-lived sitcoms as Bent, Perfect Couples, The Loop, 100 Questions and Cracking Up. The co-stars were often credible, the reviews at times positive, but the shows didn’t stick. And NBC has failed recently with comedies starring big names Michael J. Fox and Sean Hayes.

But About a Boy has some things going for it, starting with its foundation, a novel by English writer Nick Hornby that was also the basis for a successful movie starring Hugh Grant.

Behind the cameras, the participants include producer Jason Katims, well regarded for TV’s Friday Night Lights and Parenthood. The latter show and About a Boy are even having characters cross over. Both shows are “set in San Francisco,” Walton said. “Dax Shepard’s character, Crosby (on Parenthood), is in the music world, my character’s in the music world, so it’s not unheard of that we’d know each other.”

The crossovers are one way NBC is trying to get eyeballs on the new series. It was previewed during Olympics coverage (where more than 8 million viewers gave it a look), and The Voice is its regular-time lead-in.

“In this fragmented world, with such short attention spans, you’ve got a couple of episodes to make an impression,” Walton said. “And if you don’t, you start to lose your audience in a big way. This show, for a lot of reasons, is the best horse I’ve ever been on. … Perfect Couples and Bent, I think, were thoroughbreds, to keep this horse thing going. But About a Boy is Secretariat or Seabiscuit, take your pick.”

About a Boy stars Walton as Will Freeman, a bachelor able to live off the royalties for a hit song he wrote, filling his time with various recreations, especially the chasing of women. Things change when he gets new neighbors, single mom Fiona (Minnie Driver) and her 11-year-old son, Marcus (Benjamin Stockham). Will becomes a complicated sort of ally and mentor to Marcus. And Marcus nudges Will toward thinking more about being an adult.

“I had not read the [Hornby] book, and then I read it, to get a sense of it, and loved it,” Walton said. “And then I realized why this had been such a good movie. It was that the book created really good characters, in such a pure story about a reluctant, inappropriate man-child befriending a kid who needs a father, who needs a man in his life. … I didn’t understand how the show was going to fit into the TV comedy world as it exists on network television. And then I read the script [by Jon Favreau] and it was a powerful story. I realized what our show was trying to do, and what I think it achieves, is be funny — but it’s not about jokes and stuff. It’s about real things in life. You laugh a lot, but you also get misty. …

“I think that’s how a lot of TV used to work. One of my favorite shows [was] The Wonder Years. Even something like Family Ties, there are moments that reaffirm the joy of living, the joy of family.”

There’s one scene, which I won’t give away, where humor and warmth collide in such an odd, but realistic, way that Walton said “I was oddly moved when I watched it — and I’m in it. But that’s the genius of Katims. He strikes these emotional chords in the audience in surprising ways. … He’s an incredibly sensitive guy. He walks into a room and picks up on everything.”

And if this doesn’t work either? Walton has wanted to act since he was a child seeing the young performers in Lord of the Flies. For more than a decade, since he graduated from Brown University, he has been grinding and chipping — in his words — at getting better and bigger roles. Even shows that were not a success were jobs in a difficult business, and opened new doors.

“Each victory kind of gets you closer to being at the party,” he said.

Rich Heldenfels writes about popular culture for the Beacon Journal and Ohio.com, including in the HeldenFiles Online blog, www.ohio.com/blogs/heldenfiles. He is also on Facebook and Twitter. You can contact him at 330-996-3582 or rheldenfels@thebeaconjournal.com.