For Tyler James Williams, his new TV series, "Go On," is a return to familiar territory. The Yonkers native got his break as the lead on the critically acclaimed "Everybody Hates Chris," a semi-autobiographical tale of Chris Rock's teenage years, which ended its four-season run on The CW in 2009. After a few years out of the spotlight, 19-year-old Williams is excited to be back on television in another single-camera comedy that features an ensemble cast.
The show, which premieres tonight on NBC, revolves around a therapy group that gets a shake-up with the arrival of Perry, a charismatic sports radio host forced to attend by his boss after the recent death of his wife. Williams plays Owen, the group's youngest member, who is struggling after his brother ends up in a coma after a ski accident.
If the show doesn't seem like a laugh-a-minute comedy like "Friends" or "Chris," Williams is fine with that, calling it a "fantastic" challenge.
"For 'Everybody Hates Chris,' we were focused on finding the funny and proving that we could make a funny show," he said. "With this show, we're showing that not only are we funny, we can touch you as well. You may cry here and there."
Williams, who had his first on-screen gig at age 4 (he was on "Sesame Street"), spent his formative years at St. Marks Lutheran School in Yonkers, which helped him have a "grounded school experience." When he landed "Chris," he moved with his mother and his two younger brothers -- 15-year-old Tyrel, who stars in Disney Channel's "Lab Rats," and 11-year-old Tyren -- to Southern California (his father joined them after retiring from the NYPD).
The family still own their Yonkers home and often return during the holidays, when Williams invariably visits his favorite local pizza joint, Scotti's. It's "the one thing I have to get when I'm there," he said.
After his run on "Chris," coming back to TV has included a major adjustment in his working life. Previously a child star, he worked limited hours due to child labor laws. As an adult (he turns 20 in October), he now works much longer days. While he initially found this difficult, he said he has come to enjoy the pace.
What also helps is that Williams and his castmates get along extremely well.
"What people don't really see is that we literally spend 12 to 14 hours in a circle shooting all of those group scenes," he said. "We have to really like each other or we'll rip each other's throats out."
Williams has high hopes that his new series will "go on" to have success like his previous hit series. NBC aired a preview of "Go On's" pilot in the midst of its Olympics coverage and received promising ratings.
One of the highlights of that pilot is when Owen suggests "March Sadness," a bracket-style competition mirroring NCAA's basketball tournament, to determine which therapy member has the most heartbreaking story. For Williams, filming the hilarious scene where the characters face off over their sob stories was a turning point.
"That's when I realized that I want to do this for awhile," he said. "I'd love for this to go three, four years if not more."
"Go On" premieres at 9 p.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 11 on NBC.