Scott D. Pierce: 'Friends' was fun, but Perry wants to 'Go On'
The odds of creating a hit TV show are somewhat akin to winning the Powerball jackpot. You could compare it to catching lightning in a bottle, but it isn't that easy.
Ask former "Friends" star Matthew Perry what made that show a hit, and he mentions writing, directing, acting and the intangibles of "great chemistry" and "a little bit of magic."
Capturing that magic is tough. Before "Friends," Perry was a regular in three sitcoms. ("Second Chance," "Sydney" and "Home Free" remember any of those?)
Recapturing it hasn't been easy. After "Friends," Perry starred in the failed comedy/drama "Studio 60 On the Sunset Strip"; a sitcom pilot ("End of Steve") that Showtime rejected; a failed ABC sitcom ("Mr. Sunshine"); and, beginning Sept. 11, the NBC sitcom "Go On." (NBC will give the "Go On" and "Animal Practice" pilots a second airing on Tuesday at 9 and 9 p.m., respectively, on Channel 5.)
"Go On" is yet another attempt to distance himself from his "Friends" past and yet try to recapture that success.
"And you never know when and how that's going to happen," Perry said. "You just want to surround yourself with funny, talented people."
This time, he's reteaming with "Friends" writer/producer Scott Silveri. "Writing for him back then was a joy because we have a lot of overlap in our sensibilities," Silveri said, "and it was always very easy to write for that character. And now we just get to do it with a different subject matter, stuff we never would have tackled on 'Friends.' "
In "Go On," Perry stars as Ryan King, a talk-radio host who's ordered to join a support group after his wife's death. Perry's comedic timing and delivery are in tact, but Ryan by design is clearly not Chandler Bing, his "Friends" character. "I loved that character, but I don't want to play him again," Perry said.
Even if that's who "Friends" fans want to see?
"That's the hard part," Perry said. "It's very tricky."
Perry likes playing "flawed characters. The ones you don't automatically like," he said.
Viewers, however, have been less enthusiastic. Why?
"I've been asking that question for many years," he said. "I don't know why that is. But you certainly want to play a guy that people can get behind and root for, and I think that this character does have that."
He acknowledged that "in my efforts to have a TV show and come back, the characters have progressively gotten nicer."
And, perhaps, more like Chandler, although Perry made a face when that was suggested.
"I'm under no illusions we can match ['Friends']," Perry said. "But I love working in TV. I think this has a shot."
Scott D. Pierce covers television for The Salt Lake Tribune. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org; follow him on Twitter @ScottDPierce.