Jesse Tyler Ferguson, <EM>The Class</EM> Jesse Tyler Ferguson, The Class

I suppose you could say that Jesse Tyler Ferguson is so happy with his gig on CBS' The Class (Mondays at 8:30 pm/ET) that he could, well, kill himself. But that's more his character's domain. Playing hapless Richie Velch on How I Met Your Mother's sister show, he has dabbled with despair-filled attempts on his own life, but seemingly has been saved by the love of a good woman, Lina (Heather Goldenhersh). The only problem until now, aside from his tendency to run people over, is Richie's wife, Fern (Roseanne's Sara Gilbert). TVGuide.com asked Ferguson for a look at what's ahead.

TVGuide.com: The guy who writes our TV Show Commentary blog for The Class recently realized that he tends to start every recap with, "Aww, poor Richie."
Jesse Tyler Ferguson:
[Laughs] Yes, they're putting him through a lot.

TVGuide.com: Why do you think Richie has hit such a chord with viewers?
Ferguson:
I know a lot of people who have told me that it's just great to see such an imperfect character. There is a lot about him that people can relate to, he's sort of an everyman. He doesn't have a perfect life at all. He's very middle class, if not lower middle class, and he has a lot of problems with women, with his luck, with his job.... He's accessible to a lot of people.

TVGuide.com: Yeah, too many sitcom characters are impossibly beautiful with impossibly well-paying jobs and impossibly grand apartments.
Ferguson:
Totally, totally. Also, I think it's unique. There hasn't been a character that I can remember on a sitcom who's been introduced while he was about to commit suicide, so you kind of root for him. A lot of people are hoping to see his life turn around, but are also finding a lot of joy in his, I won't say sadness, but in his struggle. It's really fun to play.

TVGuide.com: When did you learn that they would be adding Sara Gilbert as Richie's wife?
Ferguson: Before we started the series, [executive producers] David Crane and Jeffrey Klarik met with all the cast members and gave us an overview of where our characters were going. They told me that Richie has a wife, and it would be a big reveal, so I knew going in. I then tested with a lot of actresses, and Sara was the obvious, easiest choice. She's so great.

TVGuide.com: Now, is Richie definitely leaving Fern, as we saw in the last episode?
Ferguson:
I'm not with her anymore, but they still use her to full comic effect in the future. There's room for her to keep resurfacing. It definitely wasn't a clean breakup.

TVGuide.com: Does a part of you wish they had made Richie's struggle to get back with Lina a bit more arduous?
Ferguson:
Well, you'll see that they're not totally perfect again. They don't hop right back into it. She definitely has her reservations about him. They were actually thinking about keeping them apart longer, but I think the audience response to them was so strong and people wanted to see them together so much, they were finding it difficult to find anything new to keep them apart.

TVGuide.com: You can't have Kat and Ethan and Duncan and Nicole and Richie and Lina all being tortured and angsty.
Ferguson:
Right, right. We definitely move forward in our relationship, but we have a history of mistrust. Again, that's another aspect of what's so real about him. It's not a perfect relationship at all.

TVGuide.com: Do we know why Richie's middle name is "Britney"? Do you have any theories?
Ferguson:
I have no idea. That came as a shock to me as much as it did to everyone else! [Laughs]

TVGuide.com: Is the show still shy of a full-season order?
Ferguson:
Yeah, we're three shy.... They're really happy with the [additional] six-episode order, and if we get three more, that's great. They have enough to tell the arc that they want to tell. And if we don't get those final three, that doesn't necessarily mean we're not coming back for a second season. It's all up in the air. That's what I've realized about the TV world: Nothing is ever definite.

TVGuide.com: One improvement as of late is the show narrowing its focus and bringing the many characters together, instead of them being split into "quads."
Ferguson:
David and Jeffrey did a sort of ambitious thing with trying to do a serialized-format, large-ensemble sitcom, and I applaud them for their efforts. I don't think anyone else in this business really has the clout to just say, "This is what we're going to do," and have the network and the studio support them as much as they were supported. We've come to see as we've shot these episodes that it does work better when it's a little more focused and streamlined and compact. You're going to see less guest stars and focus more on the core group of us.

TVGuide.com: Who are your own sitcom or comedy inspirations?
Ferguson:
I'm a huge fan of basically the whole cast of The Office. I love that underplayed comedy. Steve Carell, especially looking at his films, is so versatile and really can play so many different emotions. I look up to him a lot. And I loved, obviously, Matthew Perry on Friends. He's hilarious. And I'm a big fan of Jason Alexander.

TVGuide.com: My in-laws loved you in Broadway's Putnam County Spelling Bee.
Ferguson:
Awww, thanks!

TVGuide.com: What has been your most enjoyable stage experience? And/or the most rewarding one?
Ferguson:
That was definitely the most rewarding one, just because I created that character [super-geeky word master Leaf Coneybear] from the ground up, and it's so rare that you are given that opportunity. I mean, we created it all through improv, so many aspects of what he ended up being were things that came right out of my head. To see it now go on to other touring productions, to see me replaced on Broadway now while I'm doing [The Class], to see other people re-create what I created has been very satisfying.

TVGuide.com: How about leaving us with one final tease about what's ahead for The Class' Richie?
Ferguson:
There's a great episode coming up that deals with how he and Lina are going to move forward with their relationship and her state of being in a wheelchair. [Laughs] It's ripe for comic fodder.

TVGuide.com: And by the end of the season, she walks?
Ferguson:
God willing. Her casts do get smaller, and she moves on to boot-like casts. Oh, and I have another run-in with my ex-wife, which is highly dramatic.

TVGuide.com: There's no kid of theirs out there somewhere, right?
Ferguson:
Uh, no. No, no, no. But I do get myself into a sticky situation with her again.

Additional reporting by David Steed, who writes the The Class' TV Show Commentary blog.

If you like comedy, you'll love TV Guide's Q&A with funny ladies Jenna Fischer (The Office) and Tina Fey (30 Rock), appearing in the Dec. 11 issue.

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