TCA: Bill Lawrence thinks FOX’s Surviving Jack “is gonna work”

Bill Lawrence kept saying during the Television Critics Association press tour panel for FOX’s new Surviving Jack, “I think this show’s gonna work.”

Surviving Jack on FOXOften he was saying it for purposes of holding court, making sure silences never grew awkward, until it became something of a recurring gag similar to one you might see in a Lawrence-produced show like Scrubs or Cougar Town. But it was also, despite the silliness of the occasion, something he was obviously serious about.

Surviving Jack is another autobiographical effort from co-creator Justin Halpern, who gave the world @#$% My Dad Says. Not that he’s proud of that notorious CBS effort, which became infamous for being the first TV series based on a Twitter feed. Halpern referred to the sitcom, in which William Shatner played the character based on his father, as Feces My Dad Says and didn’t hesitate to say how much he disliked it. No one in the room piped up to defend the one-and-done flop. In Surviving Jack Halpern sets an ensemble cast around his title character Jack Dunlevy (Christopher Meloni) whose parental advice never comes across as warm and loving, rather harsh and way too honest for his socially awkward coming-of-age son (Connor Buckley). The series is set in 1991, and while the producers insist the time period isn’t just a thinly veiled excuse for a nostalgia fest, it is essential for the character to have to function in a world before cellphones and the Internet became commonplace.

Halpern shared how his real father, which the series is loosely based around, was never shy on preparing him for real life. “He’s saying what he thinks honestly,” Halpern says. “Sometimes that will sting. … But as a kid I always knew where I stood. I think he was afraid I would go out in the world and live in a world of bullshit.”

Even before he left for the press panel today, Halpern said his father, who was watching his kid, made note that he was dressed up and said: “You going somewhere important? Why do you look like shit?’”

Meloni (Law & Order: SVU) said the script was “the funniest thing I’ve read all year.” Looking to distance himself from anything “grim” in nature, Meloni  said he was looking for something that with “no grim,” and the script, coupled with Lawrence’s involvement, made it easy to get excited to be a part of. The character has the bluntness of Archie Bunker, “without the racism.”

“Once we realized Chris was comedically terrifying as an actor and was like that in real life, it let us have the other actors react that way to him as well,” Lawrence said. “It’s almost already to the point where I’m willing to take credit for it, even though I did very little work.”

Rachael Harris (Diary of a Wimpy Kid) plays Joanne Dunlevy, Jack’s wife, who far from being the typical finger-wagging sitcom mom, is an essential part of the comedy.

“I think I’m probably the Kryptonite to his meanness,” Harris said. “She’s the one person who isn’t afraid of Jack. I think you need that kind of buffer. It makes for a very real relationship, and you get to see more sides of him emotionally and swallow that abrasive kind of parenting.”