Nick Bakay, screengrab via ESPN.

Nick Bakay has a new television show with a sports twist. He and Chuck Lorre (Two and a Half Men, The Big Bang Theory) created Bookie. The Max comedy, starring Sebastian Maniscalco and Omar J. Dorsey, is about friends trying to navigate a changing betting world as the potential legalization of sports gambling in California threatens to upend their business.

Awful Announcing spoke with Bakay about the show and his time at ESPN. Bookie debuts with two episodes on Thursday, Nov. 30.

Note: This interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.

Awful Announcing: How did you come up with the idea for Bookie?

Nick Bakay: “It started with Chuck talking to Sebastian Maniscalco. This is an area I had been circling. We started to think about Sebastian less in terms of a traditional sitcom and more in terms of something with more of a criminal flavor. We re-watched him in The Irishman and saw how great he was. Then we started to write this thing, and it took off.”

But why do a show about a bookie?

“There are a lot of good reasons. We’ve never seen it before. It’s sort of criminal light. These guys don’t break legs and do all the clichéd things, but they are on the fringe. California is one of the places where it’s still not legal to bet on sports. So it gave us an interesting opportunity there as well.

“Sports gambling is so front and center in our culture. It gave us the metaphor that a lot of people are facing in their lives which is you could wake up tomorrow and the thing you’ve been doing for a living for your entire life can change. You could be a taxi driver, and Uber can put you out of business.”

Did you always have Maniscalco in mind since he’s also a comedian?

“Yes, but this wasn’t a situation where you take someone’s standup act and translate it into a show. This thing took on a life of its own and really became a story about Danny and Ray—Sebastian’s character and Omar Dorsey’s character. Their relationship with each other and how these guys, despite the fact that they’re in this interesting line of work, they’re just trying to get over and get their families over. Sebastian is a wonderful actor who took the part on and brought it to life.”

Did you always have the idea of the Ray character being a former football player?

“I’ve always been fascinated by the tradition of a guy who scores his first big contract as a pro and buys a house for the person who raised him. I bought my mom a home. There are those years when you think maybe that wasn’t a great idea. I’ve been through that. There are guys who have bought their mom, grandmother, or whoever a beautiful home and then had to say to her, ‘I can’t afford this anymore.’ You never hear that part of the story. I’ve always wanted to portray the downside of that. For Ray, it’s his original sin. This woman who raised him has never forgiven him for making her move out of Brentwood.”

Can you tell us a little bit about Charlie Sheen’s involvement after his falling out with Lorre in 2011?

“It’s a really wonderful story of him and Chuck getting back on a good foot. (After Sheen’s appearance in the series-opener), he’s in another episode in Season One because it went so well. And if we’re lucky enough to do (another season), I can’t imagine us not bringing him back because he was money.”

Was convincing Sheen to do the show difficult?

“It really started with a conversation between him and Chuck. There was a scorched earth situation. I know the Chuck side of it better than I know the Charlie side. I know that Chuck was ready to turn that page. Charlie was there for our first table reading, which was a stressful event. It was the first time (Sheen and Lorre) had physically seen each other since the world blew up for them. It was amazing. They were both so ready to remember that they make beautiful music together. Charlie crushed it. It was exciting and beautiful.”

How much did your time at ESPN influence Bookie?

“It’s funny. I guess I did the original Bad Beats segment on SportsCenter. It was wildly popular but it was in a different era when the NFL frowned upon such things. We were actually shut down by the league when their NFL game contracts were up with ESPN. Remember that show Playmakers? We were part of the same memo. Paul Tagliabue was commissioner and he said, ‘If you want NFL games on ESPN, you’re going to get rid of that and Nick and (his wife) Robin doing their bad beats.’

“Now, I watch, and Scott Van Pelt does it. I see Oscars winners doing ads for (online betting). The world has changed. But I’ve always been fluent in this world. So, I brought that to this project. I think it added a lot of authenticity.”

Do you have a funny story about being at ESPN?

“When Robin and I were in Vegas, we were the patron saints of bad football bets. We could be anywhere, and guys would talk to us about bets they lost 10 years ago. We were waiting for a car outside The Venetian. It was around Halloween, and they had some huge party at a club. The theme was pimps and hos. They had so many people, they were turning them away. So we were in a line outside The Venetian with women dressed in the most amazing ways. This guy comes up and wants to talk about the Philadelphia Flyers and whether he should bet them on the puck line. I look at him and say, ‘You really want to talk about the Flyers right now? Look around you. There’s so much beauty on display. I think you might want to take this in. The Flyers? I haven’t got anything.'”

About Michael Grant

Born in Jamaica. Grew up in New York City. Lives in Louisville, Ky. Sports writer. Not related to Ulysses S. Grant, Anthony Grant, Amy Grant or Hugh Grant.