Without the gallery full of extras and the missing fourth wall, it'd be easy to confuse the cozy shabby-chic living room that's home to the inspired-by-real-life TV couple Fran and Peter Lovett as a real-deal household. The minute you step inside the "Happily Divorced" set, you feel the love. Everyone smiles at one another, asks about holiday plans, and offers to retrieve cookies or water from the craft services table.
The heart of the warmth radiates from the lead trio of writer/creator/producer/star Fran Drescher, creator/producer/writer Peter Marc Jacobson, and the guy who plays him on TV, John Michael Higgins. Jacobson both compliment their real/TV ex-wife Fran Drescher's fitted outfit profusely when she joins them on the couch for a sit-down with Yahoo! TV and later jokingly add a photo of their coincidentally matching jeans and wingtips to Facebook with a caption asking viewers to pick out the real Peter. "I'm obviously the fake one because my shoes have no wear on the bottom. Mine are wardrobe shoes, so I only walk around on this rug," Higgins points out as he points down at the floor decor. "But this proves how right we are getting it."
They make each other laugh. They sit close. And they say wonderful things about the work the others do. In fact, they all say they wouldn't even have done the TV Land show if it weren't for the others onboard. They also talked about why they think the show is working, what they hope to accomplish in Season 2.5 (or as Higgins labels it "Season 2B"), twists and plot developments fans can expect including tonight's guest appearance by Keenan Ivory Wayans, and more.
Is there a scene or guest star that you can't wait for fans to see?
Fran Drescher: Yes, both. We shot a show last week with Keenan Ivory Wayans. He is playing an old flame of Judi's (Tichina Arnold). He broke her heart when we were all in college together, and now he has re-entered her life. Peter and I come from opposite points of view on the subject. I think that people can change. We were all very young then, and I think we should all give him another chance. Judi's lonely, 47, and she deserves to be happy, and he might give that to her. He's been looking for her all these years. Peter, on the other hand, thinks that people don't change and this guy has already broken her heart once. He thinks to revisit that is asking for trouble. There is a scene toward the end of that episode that is so funny that I think it will become a television classic. Certainly a "Happily Divorced" classic moment. We are all at a funeral home together and he can't deal with looking at a dead body and she finds out the guy is married and what we do in that funeral home, the shenanigans that unfold, are so funny. Every time I watch it in the editing room, I laugh out loud, and I was there.
John Michael Higgins: I was actually going to reference that one too. Surprisingly it is a rather short scene, but it packs so much punch. Keenan and Tichina play so well off each other.
FD: There's also possibly some nudity in that episode, so people should really tune in.
Watch a clip from the episode:
Season 1 obviously establishes characters and story. What is the goal for Season 2.5 other than getting Season 3?
JMH: Don't underestimate that. That's always in the back of our heads.
Peter Marc Jacobson: To keep providing 22 minutes of escape and laughter to the people that invite us into their living rooms. That's the magic of television, and we are so glad to be providing that service. Two people this weekend came up to me and said, "I love your show. I laugh out loud every week." And that is not unusual.
FD: That happens to me all the time with this show too. That hasn't happened since "The Nanny." The shows are bigger than they have ever been. And they are more star-studded than they were in the earlier seasons.
The guest stars have been a great addition.
FD: My mom was gleeful, squealing from watching the Debi Mazar show. Peter was really pushing for us to have a Fran type come on to be the roommate once Fran gets married and moves out, and Debi was the perfect choice.
See Debi Mazar on the show:
PMJ: Everyone loved the Latin guy Peter couldn't talk in front of. And Joan Collins. Boy, did I ever want something fictional from the show to be based on real life more. Maybe if I had been her assistant, I would have come out earlier.
Check out a clip of Joan Collins on the show:
JMH: Florence Henderson as a drunk was so inspired. Comedy gold.
FD: She should put herself in for a nomination for that. She was so good.
Can you give us any teases on future plot developments? Will Peter ever get a boyfriend?
PMJ: Funny you should ask. In the episode we are shooting this week. It was time.
JMH: Stick around and you'll see me get a boyfriend before your very eyes.
FD: And a cute one too. Colin Ferguson ("Eureka").
JMH: I haven't told Fran about him because she meddles, and I don't want to hear about it because it is going well so far. It's still a meddle even if she does it because she cares.
FD: When she finds out, it's hilarious. Also because we have set it up that Fran is engaged but her fiancé is away on business a lot, she gets to experience with Peter planning a wedding. We will have flashbacks to their original wedding, which are hilarious. It is just another chance to explore the ever-evolving relationship between Fran and Peter.
Speaking of the upcoming nuptials, are you going to get her married off hastily, and are you concerned about breaking up the two of them, as they are the heart of the show?
PMJ: Oh, but we can't tell you that.
FD: We're not going to separate them. Don't lose any sleep over that. (She proceeds to fill the room with one of her long, loud, hearty signature cackles)
PMJ: There's a big twist coming up.
FD: Peter and I are ardent believers in not straying from the formula that we so painstakingly created. The show has finally developed a regular flight pattern and a familiarity between its characters and its audience. They can see Fran look at Peter and know what we are thinking, and we can earn a laugh that way. We have developed very well fleshed-out characters, and to make a giant left turn from what people expect now, like to have them not living together anymore, would just upset our fans. The fact that we are forced to live with each other after divorce is the heart of the show, and it is unique to our show.
Why do you think the show works?
PMJ: The center of this show is that they are a couple, an unconventional one, but a couple nonetheless. As we are. We still consider ourselves a couple. We work together. We vacation together. We are invited as a couple to things. We go to weddings together.
FD: And we keep wondering why we are still single?
PMJ: If you read the comments on the boards, you see that people are so charmed by their relationship because it is so unique. But love is love. They may not be married or have a piece of paper, but in the ways that really count, they are a couple. Again like we are. If either of us had to call someone in the middle of the night, she would call me and vice versa. That's something you don't need a license for.
FD: We're still the emergency contact.
JMH: It's a marriage-with-a-twist show, just like "Bewitched."
PMJ: I also think there are many couples who are divorced but still living together for economic reasons these days. They don't have to be gay and straight to relate to that part of the storyline.
JMH: But I don't think the subject matter is limited to any one audience. If you approach any topic with sensitivity, skill, and intelligence, the audience will go for it even if it doesn't reflect their experience. You don't have to be gay or divorced to like our show, just like you don't have to be a cop to appreciate "Law & Order." We do good shows because we work very hard to make them just right. As a result, the characters are alive. I appreciate that and so does the audience. And it's funny. As a comedy, that's the biggest goal we have every day.
Obviously, getting laughs is your first priority, but does it also feel good to be shedding light on a gay lifestyle that doesn't get covered very often? Perhaps to an older audience that isn't as open to gay characters or people as the audience that watches "Glee" or "The New Normal" might be?
PMJ: Yes. The character comes out when he is almost 40 years old, and that's totally different than when you come out as the cool gay kid trying to open the minds of the kids at high school. You have a whole other set of problems, including a wife. Peter grew up not knowing what gay was. He put his blinders on and tried to live like everyone else. There was a big part of him that was more comfortable being married to her and making it work than trying to go out in the world and navigate it as a gay man. TV Land is not the first place you would think would do a show about a wife and her gay ex-husband, but they have been so very supportive of us all along, and they let us do so much of what we want to do. We feel a great kinship with this network. They really place a lot of trust in us. They want it to be as good as we want it to be.
FD: And I feel like our writers go that extra mile to make sure the jokes are as sharp as they can be and that they help advance the story and ideally come from a character place.
JMH: But we are also not limiting our appeal by just telling a gay story that only a gay audience can appreciate. I think we are telling a human story about an unconventional family where one person is gay while being as funny as we can be. But the bottomless well of situations and emotions that he draws on to create the fake Peter are real, and I'm lucky to have him around so much to discuss it with him.
[Related: Get more spoilers and sneak peeks]
We're assuming finding the right guy to portray the fake Peter was of upmost importance.
FD: Absolutely. It is so lovely playing with John Michael Higgins, because he is so delightful. I was really unwilling to do the show unless I found somebody that had the comedic chops to play opposite me.
PMJ: He was the last person we saw. Fran is such a big personality. You need someone with equal chops and charisma. If you don't have that, she will swallow them up in every scene. But as soon as John walked in, we knew. The two of them are very similar, and they are very symbiotic in their styles.
FD: I'm just too old to compromise, so I would have just not done the show if I hadn't found him.
JMH: I felt the same way. I was auditioning for a marriage show and that meant I was going to work with one person most of the time, and I, too, am too old to work with someone who just doesn't click. Unless I stand toe-to-toe, nose-to-nose with the other actor, it's not worth the hassle.
FD: No, it's like pulling teeth.
JMH: With Fran and me, there is never an almost. Frankly, there are usually too many choices, and we have to narrow down to one joke or one of the five ways we could play something. It is a great working situation, and it produces great comedy.
FD: I am so grateful that we get to laugh all the time at work. That's not to say that we don't also get exhausted.
PMJ: But we're old.
JMH: There's also that. At our age, exhaustion is to be expected.
"Happily Divorced" airs Wednesdays at 10:30 PM on TV Land.