(KGET) — Kenan Thompson can add another credit to his long list of television accomplishments. Along with being a successful child actor and the longest-running member of the cast of “Saturday Night Live,” he’s now a TV dad.
Thompson plays a recently widowed father of two in the new NBC comedy “Kenan” set to debut at 8:30 p.m. on Feb. 16. When not dealing with his young daughters, he is the host of Atlanta’s second-highest-rated morning show while dealing with all the “help” he gets from his father-in-law (Don Johnson) and his brother/manager/house guest (fellow “SNL” cast member Chris Redd).
Starring in a network comedy was not a specific goal Thompson set for himself when the Georgia native started acting 27 years ago in the feature film “D2: The Mighty Ducks.” It’s just the latest step in a continued effort to just keep working in the profession he loves.
Being at this place is not what he imagined in his career but he is definitely enjoying the journey. It is a journey that has brought him to crossroad as he must decide whether to take on the task of doing the series while remaining a “Saturday Night Live” cast member or do like so many others and leave the show that he has called home since 2003.
It’s a question Thompson’s continuing to debate.
“I think we are living in a different time. There used to be a time when people would leave the show and go into their careers,’ Thompson says. “ But I’m of the same kind of thinking, basically, where I think you can, kind of, do both as long as you can, and then the departure comes in a natural sort of way.”
One reason Thompson is so cautious is that it has taken a long time to get his new series up and running. Two years ago, the test episode for the series was shot and then put through changes. Work was done on the final project right up to the day it was filmed.
Thompson’s grateful for the extra time. It gave him more opportunities to work on what he was certain would be the key to the show – how to give a different twist to the father-figure character that has been such a big part of TV comedy history.
He is certain that the third time is the charm.
“It was three different ideas, three different teams of people. This is the current team. Our original pilot was the same idea with me as a different profession and a couple of different people in the cast and stuff like that,” Thompson says. “Then we pivoted into the morning show profession and stuff like that, which I think is a very much more similar energy that people would expect because of my SNL energy and stuff like that.”
There are no plans at this time for “Kenan” to deal with any heavy political or social issues. Thompson is more focused on making a series that features “a strong African-American cast in a professional setting.” That doesn’t mean this will be one-note show as there will be cultural and family issues to face.
Bottom line for the show is to reflect the real world. Thompson credits the two young actors playing his daughters – real life sisters Dani and Dannah Lane with making the father angle of the show work so easily. He knew three seconds into their audition they were right for the roles.
Having the right actors to play his children was critical because a twist on Thompson’s character is that he is a single dad. That was more unique before CBS launched “The Unicorn” but single dads are still not the norm in TV comedies.
He based his performance on watching someone he knows go through the real experience of being a widowed father. Thompson was primarily concerned with how to process being in such a situation.
“How would I feel if I lost my best friend, teammate, my partner in raising two kids? It’s a lot with just one kid let alone more than one. I give it up to single parents,” Thompson says. “Even though I’m only acting in this show, there are times when my wife goes on vacation for two days and everything falls apart.
“I have the utmost respect for single parents, and I kind of just want to reflect the circus that it can be. But when good people come together for the purpose of raising some good, positive kids, it can be a beautiful thing to explore. So I think we are going to reflect that pretty strongly from the pilot on.”
To make room for “Kenan,” following its sixth episode of the season on Feb. 9, “Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist” will go on hiatus and return in the spring.