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Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Melissa Peterman on "Working Class": "I think we achieved a real family"

It was something I had never heard from an actor/singer in my nearly five years of doing this: “If you have any follow-ups, just call me.”

But then, Melissa Peterman has every reason to want to talk more about a project she has every right to be proud of--her funny new CMT comedy, “Working Class.”

“I’m very excited,” she said. “We’ve finally had our baby and now we’re just looking forward to showing everyone our baby.”

In my “Stay Tuned” column today, I talked about how real the show is and Peterman told me that was exactly the plan. “That’s really what we hoped to achieve. We want it to feel like you could run into these people anywhere,” she said. “Of course it’s TV, so you’ve got to have the funny in it. I think we achieved a real family.”

Peterman stars as single mom, Carli Mitchell, who struggles to provide for her three children, as well as her brother (Ashland native Steve Kazee) who lives with them. “Her family is going to come first, but she’s still on her own journey. She’s got a great sense of humor,” Peterman said. “She’s an optimist. The glass is half full. She’s always thankful for the things she does have. If nobody went to jail or got caught on fire, it was a success.”

With production on the show over since December, Peterman is excited for other people to finally see it. “I feel proud of the show. It’s one of those things when everything felt right. I feel like it’s going to be a success,” she said. “Our hope is that we get people to CMT to watch it. I want it to go for 10 years. I want to get to the episode where Will [Carli’s seven-year-old] gets his driver’s license.”

To make ends meet, Carli works at the deli counter in a local restaurant with her neighbor, Hank, played by Ed Asner, who Peterman was thrilled to snag for the show. “I screamed like a little girl. He’s a legend,” she said. “He has seven Emmys. That’s enough that he could use them to tip people. ‘Here take this. I have more.’ He calls me Blondie, I call him Old Man.”

Peterman says her greatest moment of 2011 so far happened at a lunch at Asner’s home. “I had to turn to my son and say, ‘Put the Emmy down.’”

But Asner is not the only stand-out in the “Class” cast. “From top to bottom, the cast is fantastic. We got the best people for the roles, but I’ve learned they also have to be good people. And they are,” Peterman said. “There are no attitudes, no divas. They come to work and they wanna play,” she said.

“We probably text or call each other at least daily—or at least I do. They might all be getting sick of it,” she joked. “It feels like a family.”

In addition to the cast, the show has gotten some great guest stars. “Lesley Ann Warren plays my mother. The Steve [Kazee] and Kathy Kinney [“The Drew Carey Show”] episode is absolutely hilarious.”

The second episode features a guest appearance by Ryan Stiles (“The Drew Carey Show”). “I broke so many times to the point where I had to get it together,” Peterman said. “I finally got through the take, but for people who know me, if you watch, you can see my cheeks twitching.”

All 12 episodes of the show’s first season were shot in eight weeks from October to December, which is a pretty breakneck pace. “I’m very proud of everybody involved,” Peterman said. “There’s no way we could have had it happen if everyone didn’t give it their blood, sweat and tears. We had the best of the best.”

In fact, Peterman and the producers/creators feel so good about the show, she admitted they’re already looking ahead a little to season two. “We hope more amazing talent is willing to come on board,” she said. “We’re already proceeding in our heads as if a second season is happening.”

Peterman said she is happy to be on CMT and she has no concerns about people getting tripped up by the idea of Country Music Television. “The face of cable is changing. There are great shows happening on cable. CMT has the most loyal, fantastic fan base ever. We want to build on that and bring in an even wider scope,” she said.

“CMT is prepared to get the word out. It’s a good solid family sitcom,” Peterman said. “The CMT fanbase is so loyal. They’re ready to get on board. We want to utilize them.”

Although Peterman is ready to be accepted as a new character, she admitted she will always identify with Barbara Jean and “Reba.” “When ‘Reba’ went into syndication, it got a second life and a whole new audience. I love it when people come up and talk about the show,” she said.

“When I’m 80 and in a nursing home, I hope people still call me Barbara Jean. I love it,” Peterman said. “I love that people still remember an episode and want to talk about it. I hope a day doesn’t go by that people don’t want to talk about it.”

Peterman is now excited to introduce the “Reba” fans to her new series. “I think people who loved ‘Reba’ will love ‘Working Class.’ It has that same feeling,” she said. “It’s smart and funny, but it’s real.”

“Working Class” premieres Friday, January 28th with back-to-back episodes at 8 p.m. on CMT…

Photos Credit: CMT & Ron Jaffe/CMT