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TV Goodness Q&A: Go On’s Scott Silveri and Laura Benanti [Interview] 

Photo Credit: Justin Lubin/NBC

Last month, we talked about what a treat NBC’s Go On has turned out to be. Yesterday, we had the chance to participate in a press call with the show’s executive producer Scott Silveri and co-star Laura Benanti about what makes the show so special, what’s next, and how that Rachel Maddow gag came about.

One of the things we really enjoy is the mixed couples, where the show throws various pairings together outside of the group that often work in wonderful, surprising, and extraordinary ways. Silveri says that was both intentional and good fortune.

“We just got lucky that they have such good, natural chemistry,” he says, “[We] knew we had a really special bunch of people…and we knew we’d want to give each of them a bit of an introduction, get a little of their origin story. [We] first started reaching out having Ryan deal with people individually…we’re at the point where they’re cross-pollinating and playing together. And, all you can do is hope that that works. And now…some of our favorite scenes are between these guys that we didn’t get much of a sense of early on.”

Case in point is the pairing of Julie White, who plays Anne, with Matthew Perry. “There’s a natural reason to put the two of them in scenes together,” say Silveri. “Over and over again, she just owns him and it’s really…fun as hell to write. We struck gold with her…with Laura, with this whole cast. It’s really an embarrassment of riches and it’s really fun to be able to get to those parings now.”

Silveri says Janie was also always intended to be a part of the fabric of the show. “We just wanted to put our own sort of imprimatur on it. [When] you think of somebody visiting from beyond, the first thought is…gauzy, flowy robes, and we definitely wanted to meet the woman,” he says. “We wanted to see what [Ryan’s] back story [is to] get a sense of just what he lost.”

He adds that while the dramatic side of introducing Janie was absolutely apparent, they also wanted to make it funny. Their hope was that because they seemed to have a fun relationship when she was alive, they’d give her a personality. “Why the hell not try to do that now,” he says. “And you know…Christine [is] fantastic, and those guys had really good chemistry as well.”

Grief is universal, and Silveri and Benanti say that has resonated with them, and with viewers. “What makes me laugh is…people going through hard things and finding the bright…the sunny…the laugh in it,” Silveri admits. “I’ve always found comedy in the most ridiculous and saddest situations sometimes. I’m a very fun person to go to a funeral with…we’ll sit in the limo and make lots of jokes.”

“But I thought one exciting thing about doing a show that dealt with a heavy subject was [that] we can make all the jokes we want if we have a bunch of people who are each experiencing something real, something difficult, each making jokes [about] themselves and the people around them.”

He recognizes that there’s a dark comedy strain on the show that’s offset by jokes, which were necessary to balance out “some very sweet stuff.” “The most absurd and dark stuff we do allows [us] to do the sweeter, and the sweet stuff allows [us] to do the absurd and dark stuff,” he says. “So hopefully, it’s a balance that people enjoy. It’s what we’re…going for. [It’s] easy to roll your eyes and mock each other. [Being] respectful and funny [is] a nice challenge.”

Benanti says the show has brought people out of the woodwork when she’s on the street. “I’ve had so many people come up to me and say how much they love the show,” she says. “And every single one of them has [had a personal story about the loss of a loved one]. They all talk about these tragic losses that they’ve had and they say, ‘This is my favorite show because I relate and I get to…laugh, and cry, and feel in a 23-minute period,’ so that’s cool.”

The sports theme will continue to get play as more guest stars line up for the rest of the season. “Ryan’s [job] is a really natural entrée to a lot of sports personalities,” says Silveri. “We just shot an episode with Bob Costas, who was fantastic. Shaun White was in here and he was a real trip…and Misty May-Treanor as well. We have a very strong Olympic contingent here.”

“And it’s kind of amazing…I didn’t really realize how much range these guys would have as performers. I just think of athletes as being [really] blessed physical specimens who were really good at throwing things and jumping and stuff…and they come here and they’ll knock a joke out of the park.” He adds that Perry has marveled that they can tell jokes but he can’t reciprocate with equally successful snowboarding or javelin throwing.

Speaking of real-life celebrities, we asked about the running Rachel Maddow gag of people mistaking Ryan for Maddow. Silveri says it came from someone flipping through a magazine and coming across a candid of Maddow and mistaking her for Perry. “From one angle with the glasses on and she was in sweats and stuff… it was…remarkable and silly,” he says. They haven’t heard from her but he says they’d love to have her on the show. “We’re huge fans…she’s fantastic and very funny too.”

Silveri is completely aware that Perry is forever associated with Chandler Bing. And he makes us feel really old when he reminds us that Friends has been off the air for eight years. “There’s a lot of overlap between the two guys. They look very similar, you know,” he kids. “And there’s…a certain kind of joke that Matthew tells very well that I know how to write. So yes, there will inevitably be comparisons.”

He looks at Ryan as a different shade of Chandler. “[Ryan] is a guy who, before he suffered this loss, was even less evolved than Chandler,” he says. “I think this is the guy you might have seen before Friends and after Friends in terms of how much self-reflection he’s capable of. I think a big difference is the sort of stories that we’re telling. [The] kind of show we’re doing allows us to really let Perry act…in all sorts of ways—in one scene. [He’s] really capable of [hitting] the big joke and then a second later grounding it and banking into a sincere moment.”

Silveri says it’s been a gift for him to not have the show shoot in front of an audience. “I can write a page of dialog without a joke and not want to kill myself…sitting there like, ‘Oh, my God. Laugh. Laugh. Laugh. Somebody please laugh.’ So you know, I think there are differences in the character and differences in the story telling, and hopefully it’s different enough. But, I trust that there’s enough there that people will remember the guy that they’ve loved for a long time.”

While the part seems tailor-made for Perry, Silveri didn’t write the role explicitly for him, but agrees he couldn’t see anyone else playing Ryan. “I didn’t write it for him at all. I hadn’t spoken to Matthew in a long time. I didn’t know if he was interested in television. You know, he’s a guy who has a lot of options, so I didn’t set out to write ‘The Matthew Perry Show,’ but…I always felt very comfortable writing for his voice,” he says.

“And so no matter [what] actor I was thinking of, when I sat down to write…the first draft of the pilot…at 9:00 am, by 9:30 I’m writing jokes that only Matthew Perry could really do. “[There’s] a lot of overlap between his sensibility and mine, so I can’t say I wrote it for him, but I certainly didn’t write it for anyone else. Who else could do what he’s done?

“[B]ecause of the subject matter, you want to have somebody who the audience will embrace and be willing to go on a ride with. And, he’s been that guy and…I’m surprised that [having] worked with him as long as I did for eight years on Friends…that I can still be surprised by what he’s able to do. But I really am. He can hit a joke like nobody else, and then [play] those sincere moments in a beautiful way. [It] wasn’t written for him, but man, I’m glad he’s here.”

So are we. Go On airs tonight at 9 pm/8c on NBC. If you’ve missed an episode, you catch up on NBC.com and Hulu.

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