David Crane is one of the most influential writers in TV comedy, creating Friends which changed the face of comedy for a new generation. Jeffrey Klarik, David Crane’s partner, created the critically acclaimed sitcom The Class and won a Golden Globe Award for his work on the hit comedy Mad About You.
Their new series Episodes spotlights the rocky transition of a successful British comedy named Lyman’s Boys into an American sitcom. Stephen Mangan and Tamsin Greig play Sean and Beverly Lincoln, the creators of Lyman’s Boys who come to Hollywood hoping to see a similar version of their show – unfortunately, Matt LeBlanc is hired by the network to star in the US adaptation, and all hell breaks loose.
David Crane and Jeffrey Klarik spoke of their new show and being reunited with Friends star Matt LeBlanc.
How did this series come about?
Jeffrey Klanrik: David was bored and wanted to go back to work, and I said, ‘No.’ I said, ‘The only way I’ll go back to work is if we can do it someplace where we’re under the radar and we don’t get pummeled like we did the last time [on the TV series The Class].’ The last time I felt like a puppy in a clothes dryer. It was just torture. So I said, ‘Okay, let’s do this, but let’s go to England where they leave you alone and let you do what you want.’
David Crane: And so it started out as a project for the BBC, and then it became a project for both Showtime and the BBC. We never for a minute considered taking it to a network. What we were really looking for was a creative freedom, and it’s been amazing from both networks just how much they’ve let us do the show that we wanted to do. It’s been wonderful and a little scary.
Did the show depend on Matt LeBlanc playing himself?
Jeffrey Klanrik: It really was about working with Matt. That came first and we kind of tailored it for him.
David Crane: It seems like it’s a lot more fun this way for everyone. You probably could have done it, but it’s more fun to have a fictional Matt LeBlanc than a fictional character with a different name.
A lot of British series only run six or seven episodes per year, has that been easier for you to do than the grind of 22 weeks?
David Crane: Yeah, you’re throwing tracks in front of the train and you don’t have a script for two weeks from now and you’re just going to go with what you’ve got. Here there was more opportunity to do it with care. It was much more civilized.
What is the fictionalized series that the American version is based on?
Jeffrey Klanrik: It was originally called Lyman’s Boys in England. And when it comes here the character that Richard Griffiths plays was an erudite headmaster.
David Crane: He’s the headmaster of a boys’ boarding school, not unlike the character he plays in History Boys.
Jeffrey Klanrik: Right. And that’s when Tamsin and Stephen realized that it would be a stretch for Matt LeBlanc to play. Nobody would believe that he could be a headmaster. So we said, ‘Well, what about if he’s a hockey coach?’ And so the American version is called Pucks!
Will we see a miniature episode of Pucks!?
Jeffrey Klanrik: Yeah, you’ll see little snippets of it.
Was the idea of it being hockey particularly funny because it’s a game that is not even played in England?
Jeffrey Klanrik: We know so little about sports! [They were funny words] Like ‘hockey,’ ‘pucks.’
Are you concerned that shows about the industry only have a limited appeal?
Jeffrey Klanrik: It’s about show business like I Love Lucy was about show business. It’s really on the periphery of all of our stories. The story’s really about the dynamics of the characters.
David Crane: And hopefully that’s what the audience will invest in because if it were just satire television, you’re right. But it’s really about what happens between the people.
There was a backdoor Seinfeld reunion on Curb Your Enthusiasm. Could we see some Friends cast members pop up on this show?
Jeffrey Klanrik: Well, not this season because we’re done.
David Crane: Who knows? It’s certainly not something that we’re planning on. But it’s not impossible.
How long do you envision this series running?
David Crane: We don’t really have a plan, but it’s designed in a way that if everyone is happy and having a good time, then it certainly [could run a few years].