NBC is leading the charge into the fall television season early, and Matthew Perry is the familiar face at the front of the pack.
Not surprisingly, the network is using its Summer Olympics coverage as a launching pad for its new programming lineup … starting with its “sneak peek” of “Friends” alum Perry’s seriocomic show “Go On” Wednesday, Aug, 8. He plays a sportscaster ordered into therapy after his wife’s death, and among the moments of Chandler Bing-like humor are more serious reminders of Perry’s guest turn last season on CBS’ “The Good Wife.”
In tackling regular series work for the third time — following NBC’s “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip” and ABC’s “Mr. Sunshine” — in the eight years since “Friends” ended, Perry spoke with Zap2it recently about the task of establishing a new show (which starts its regular run Sept. 11) and character in the shadow of one of television’s most successful comedies ever.
Zap2it: What was it about “Go On” that told you it was “the one” for you to return to weekly television with?
Matthew Perry: The script, when I first read it, certainly aspired to be something different. It was funny, yet it had a lot of heartfelt moments and was quite sad at certain points. I really liked that, because that’s not your run-of-the-mill, cookie-cutter kind of show. Once the cast got together, it started to feel even more special because there were just so many funny people around. (“Go On” co-stars include Julie White and John Cho.)
Zap2it: Having been a member of one of the most popular ensemble casts in TV history, how is it to start over with a new one?
Matthew Perry: I had to make sure that I sort of set the tone. I was there early, I made sure people could see I was putting a lot of work into it, and I also made sure not to be selfish. Arguably, the funniest line in the pilot has to do with “March sadness,” and I was very happy that someone else got to say that.
Zap2it: In researching the broadcasting aspect of your new character, has your stepfather, Keith Morrison (“Dateline NBC”), proved valuable?
Matthew Perry: Absolutely! It’s nice to be back on NBC with him. It’s a good group of people there, and they give shows a chance. In the hopefully improbable event this show doesn’t perform that great in the very beginning, I think they may stick with it if they like the quality. It was the first show they picked up for the season, so our goal is to keep them liking it that much.
Zap2it: Chandler on “Friends” always will be a giant calling card for you, but how do you feel your other jobs since then play into your newest one?
Matthew Perry: When you’re fortunate enough to play a character on a show so many people watched, it’s hard for them to get away from that … plus, I look a lot like all these characters. The good end of that is that people sort of feel they know you, so I can get away with stuff early on in a new show. People feel they have this relationship with me before we really even start.
Zap2it: “Go On” lets you continue your relationship with “Friends” writer-producer Scott Silveri. How important a factor is that for you?
Matthew Perry: I worked with Scott for eight years, and when the script came and I was interested, I had one meeting with him. And my one question for him was, “Have you become a tyrannical jerk?” He said, “No.” And I said, “OK. Well, then, I’m in.” And he’s followed through on that. In a comedy, especially, you want to have an open atmosphere creatively.
Zap2it: What was your experience on “The Good Wife” like?
Matthew Perry: I’d never played an all-out bad guy before. The fact that he was basically a sociopath, a guy who would lie to your face, was just so much fun to play. I actually got that job and “Go On” on the same day. That was a nice day.
I had told all my managers and agents that I was looking for a drama series to do. Then, when “Go On” arrived, I was like, “Uh, dude, you sent me a comedy.” By the time I got to the end, I realized it had such serious moments, it could be argued there were more dramatic elements to it than most dramas that come across my desk. There’s this big speech in “Go On” where my character talks about having lost his wife, and that was certainly the biggest challenge.
Zap2it: Though “Go On” clearly is your prime commitment now, do you hope to return to “The Good Wife”?
Matthew Perry: They had taken a risk, which I was really grateful for. Before “Go On” got picked up, they had plans for it to be a much bigger character; I was going to do nine or 10 episodes, but I know I’ll be able to go back and do one or two. I wish I could do both shows, but you just can’t. So far, the two episodes they’ve given me are some of the best writing I’ve encountered.
Zap2it: What do you think about “Friends” repeats still being so prominent, on such outlets as TBS and Nick at Nite, as you move into new projects?
Matthew Perry: It’s interesting, because what I’m finding out is that a whole new generation has found the show, and that’s really nice. I mean, it’s not just the cute girl’s mother who likes the show. A whole audience is becoming familiar with that show and how good it was.
I remember that while we were shooting it, we tried not to just do timely jokes. We tried to avoid things that wouldn’t play eight years later. The benefit of new people enjoying the show is that it allows us the opportunity to still have some doors open … and the negative is that you have to fly past the idea that people will only see you that way.