Matt LeBlanc is easily the biggest name in Showtime’s new comedy “Episodes,” but he was also barely in last week’s premiere. That changes Sunday (Jan. 16), when the former “Friends” star begins a central role in the show.
And we mean very central. Producers like to say that “There would be no show without X,” but “Episodes” creators David Crane and Jeffrey Klarik really mean it when they’re talking about LeBlanc. As they were putting the show together and hit upon the idea of casting LeBlanc as himself, “we thought, You know what? If he says no, let’s not even do the show.”
First, a little background. “Episodes” is the first project Crane and Klarik have taken on since the partners created “The Class” for CBS in 2006. That show lasted just one season before being canceled. After they took some time off, Crane was ready to go back to work before Klarik was.
“I said if you’re willing to go to England, I wouldn’t mind working for the BBC and just being under the radar and not having everybody scrutinizing what we say and do,” Klarik tells Zap2it. “We can actually write everything ourselves in advance, and I had heard they were very hands-off and knew some poeple who’d done it and had wonderful stories to tell.”
Crane picks up the story from there: “Then Jeffrey said, what if — and this is when he came up with the idea for the show — we came up with something that would be for a British audience, but you’d shoot it in L.A. because it takes place in L.A.?”
“Episodes” ended up filming in London anyway for budgetary reasons, but the idea remained: A British couple and writing team (Tamsin Greig and Stephen Mangan) come to Los Angeles to adapt their award-winning comedy series and end up in a nightmare scenario of double-talking network executives, creative compromises — and having to replace their quick-witted, 60-ish star with Joey Tribbiani.
Crane co-created “Friends,” so he’s known LeBlanc for a long time, but he and Klarik were still a little apprehensive about pitching a show to LeBlanc in which, at first at least, he’s essentially the butt of the joke.
“It’s weird, because we’re saying to him, ‘You’re the punchline,'” Klarik says. “We’re taking him to lunch and saying, ‘We want you because you’re the stupidest person they could ever hire.'”
They assured LeBlanc that they would give his on-screen persona more depth than that, but as Crane puts it, “initially, he just had to go by blind faith.”
LeBlanc did say yes, of course, and “Episodes” (which is also airing on BBC Two in the U.K.) premiered last week to decent ratings for Showtime. “You know what? I didn’t mind being the punchline if it’s a good joke,” LeBlanc told reporters Friday at the TV critics winter press tour. “I think in this situation, I feel like in their hands it’s always going to be a good joke.”