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Matthew Perry writes his way onto a new ABC comedy

January 24, 2011 |  1:31 pm

119950_2988_ful Matthew Perry says he spent two years playing the same video game and decided he needed to change things up a bit.  So, instead of looking to star in a new TV comedy, he challenged himself and wrote "Mr. Sunshine," which will premiere Feb. 9 on ABC.

The bit about the video game was a joke -- we think. But "Mr. Sunshine," which revolves around the just-turned 40-year-old manager of a San Diego sports arena, played by Perry, is based on the actor-turned-writer's life experience.

"When you meet Ben he's been thinking about himself his entire life and learns rather quickly that the secret to being happy is to care about your fellow man," said Perry during a telephone conference call with reporters Monday.  "I think I spent a great deal of my 20s, certainly, and the bulk of my 30s, certainly a little self-obsessed. And it was in changing that in my own life that I thought it would make an interesting character."

Perry, who also serves as an executive producer on the series, says he needed a challenge.

"I've been fortunate enough to be an actor in some good things and some bad things, but I wanted to see if my mind worked in the kind of way that could be in charge and could face the page as a writer and watch actors ... and watch their performances and maybe try to help them out a little bit," he said.

The cast includes: Allison Janney as Crystal, Ben's boss and arena owner;  Andrea Anders as Alice, the marketing director with whom Ben has casual sex; James Lesure as Alonzo, a former basketball player; and Nate Torrence as Roman, a new employee.

119950_2784_ful Janney, who also participated in the call, said she took the role because it calls on her to do "things that I'm actually nervous about." For instance: knocking out a Smurf, singing with James Taylor, and driving a motorcycle with Perry in the back of it.

"It's the furthest I've gone with a character in my career," she said.

Perry acknowledged that separating himself from his "Friends" character, Chandler Bing, isn't going to be easy, especially since he's back on TV as the funny man.

"I think it's kind of tough because we obviously look almost exactly alike," he said. "So that's the first hurdle right there, although I look a little older now. It's difficult because when you're trying to do a television show and when you're trying to do a comedy, you want the characters to be funny.... But I feel the character I'm doing is a little more beaten-down and the comedy is a little bit smaller. A little bit less nervous energy, which is what [makes it] really fun to work with Allison because Allison's character, Crystal, can tend to be sort of outrageous and I can play along with her."

Added Janney: "He's reacting to all the crazy people around him and he's cast a lot of big, crazy people around him and it really shows him off well. He can be understated and simple. He doesn't need to do much to react to what's going on around him."

"Mr. Sunshine" premieres Feb. 9 at 9:30 p.m.

-- Maria Elena Fernandez

Top photo: Matthew Perry as Ben Donovan on  "Mr. Sunshine." Credit: Adam Larkey / ABC

Bottom photo: Allison Janney as Crystal on "Mr. Sunshine." Credit: Adam Larkey / ABC