The ''About a Boy'' charmer, 35, has been on the verge of breaking out for years... the only problem? His shows keep getting the axe; the TV mainstay takes us on a trip through his array of short-lived series and explains why sometimes failure can have a silver lining

By Lindsey Bahr
April 04, 2014 at 04:00 AM EDT

Landing That First Break
“I was sort of this clueless kid,” says Walton of his gig on Mike White’s Cracking Up, a comedy about a student who moves in with a crazy Beverly Hills family. “I went from waiting tables and teaching SATs to making $20K a week and thinking I was loaded.” The series’ cancellation after six episodes was like “crashing back to Earth.”

Watching Friends Get Better Lives
As Cracking Up ended, Walton heard from college classmate John Krasinski. “He was like, ‘I got this pilot called The Office!’ It became huge, while I toiled on failed series.”

Getting In With NBC
Viewers never got to see Walton’s big “Keyser Söze moment,” as he calls it, but Heist had an upside — the beginning of a relationship with NBC, home of About a Boy. “I don’t know how many presidents of NBC I’ve gone through — at least four,” laughs Walton. “I must have some secret friend who keeps me around.”

Finding The Sweet Spot
“[Wayne] was the first time I played this character that I’ve kind of been playing since, which is roguish with a heart,” says Walton of his time on the New York-set sitcom 100 Questions. You might recognize this archetype from Walton’s other work, such as his turn as doctor Sam on Fox’s New Girl. “They’re all different to me, but people seem to think they’re all the same.”

Making Perfect Connections
The 2010 relationship comedy Perfect Couples gave Walton more than a group of friends; though it ran for just 11 eps, it helped him secure future gigs. When co-EP Tad Quill started scripting 2012’s Bent , he knew only Walton could play contractor Pete Riggins. “Even though the show got canceled, your career is in a better place,” Walton says of Perfect Couples. “You can really fail upwards.”

Embracing About A Boy
Critics and audiences have been loving About a Boy, and Walton is hopeful for a second season. “When you have all hands on deck and you have a good show, I think you put all the odds in your favor,” he says. “I feel good.”