By Jay Bobbin
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 launchpad 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 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 recently about the task of establishing a new show (which starts its regular run Tuesday, Sept. 11) and character in the shadow of one of television’s most successful comedies ever.
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 costars include Julie White and John Cho.]
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?
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.
In researching the broadcasting aspect of your new character, has your stepfather Keith Morrison [Dateline NBC] proved valuable?
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.
Chandler on Friends always will be a giant calling card for you, but how do you feel your other jobs since then play into Go On?
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 also 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.
Go On lets you continue your relationship with Friends writer/producer Scott Silveri. How important a factor is that for you?
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.
What was your experience on The Good Wife like?
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.