A veteran of the sitcoms Becker and Almost Perfect and a slew of other TV programs and films, Nancy Travis has returned to series television as Susan Pearson, the wife of The Bill Engvall Show's titular family man. In the vein of other famous TV wives/mothers such as Debra Barone and Clair Huxtable, Travis' Susan provides a calming balance to Engvall's reactionary Bill Pearson. The New York native recently chatted with TVGuide.com about her role on the TBS sitcom, which airs Tuesdays at 9 pm/ET — and drew boffo ratings with last week's premiere.
TVGuide.com: Do you feel like Bill Engvall is coming on at a good time, given the number of family-oriented sitcoms that have ended their runs over the last few years?
Nancy Travis: Yes. There isn't something like this on TV right now. This show is familiar and relatable, and hopefully will be fun to watch every week.
TVGuide.com: I went to a taping of the show, and I have to say that I can't recall ever seeing an audience-warm-up guy (Ron Pearson) balance a ladder on his chin! Also, the cast members seem to have a chemistry among them that it takes most shows a year or so to develop.
Travis: I clicked with Bill the minute I met him, and with the kids, too. A lot of it is due to Bill, who is accessible, genuine and great to work with.
TVGuide.com: Were you familiar with his stand-up comedy?
Travis: Not really, but I've checked it out since. It was great to watch. I get it. I get the whole thing [he does].
TVGuide.com: Outside of American Idol, there aren't many shows that the whole family can watch together.
Travis: Yes. This show is about a real, loving family that deals with real issues and finds the humor in life. Sometimes it's touching and moving. Other times it's hard.
TVGuide.com: Your character seems way cool with her 17-year-old daughter wearing a sexy thong, while Bill, the dad, is not. It's a nice contrast.
Travis: Well, I don't have a teenage daughter myself — I have two young sons — but I think if you have a good relationship with your kids and you're aware of what's going on with their lives, [it's easier to accept] that they're growing. They're going through passages and they're becoming adults. Every once in a while it may be shocking, but it's no place you haven't been yourself.
TVGuide.com: In one episode, the daughter wants to date a rebel mechanic. Mom's open-minded, but Dad is more like....
Travis: [Laughs] It's not going to happen!
TVGuide.com: Exactly. Do you feel that's representative of real-life parenting?
Travis: I hope so. I think a lot has to do with the personalities of the parents. My husband and I have different personalities and we'll see things differently. That's often good because somehow the two different opinions come to a fine balance. Bill's certainly more excitable and Susan is more centered. They balance each other.
TVGuide.com: The writers give you fun stuff to do when Susan gets up on stage on karaoke night. We see that Bill and Susan still go out and have fun.
Travis: We see that they're still in love with each other and that they're still hot for each other. I don't think you see that a lot [on TV] with older couples. You have to draw the characters a bit broadly in the pilot, but as the series progresses, we're learning more about these people and we're finding their quirks. For an actor, that's great fun.
TVGuide.com: We've all groaned over precocious sitcom kids, but Bill Engvall got lucky with Jennifer Lawrence (Lauren), Graham Patrick Martin (Trent) and Skyler Gisondo (Bryan). They all seem like young professionals with great comedic timing.
Travis: The interesting thing is they're barely professionals [in that] this is the first series for some of them. Jennifer came right from a farm in Kentucky. Graham hasn't done that much. Skyler, the youngest, is probably the most experienced, but he's still a kid.
TVGuide.com: Your résumé is wildly diverse — sitcom (Becker), film (Three Men and a Baby), animation (Superman: the Animated Series).... Do you find that it's more acceptable today for a performer to switch genres?
Travis: Yes. Actors want to work and we go where we find the material. Films don't pay what they used to. There are more opportunities in television. I've been very fortunate in this business. I have had a lot of diversity in my roles. I've dabbled in any kind of medium that I've wanted to. I count my blessings when I think about how I've worked with some unbelievably talented people.
TVGuide.com: Including Michael J. Fox — my favorite comedic actor, hands down — in the film Greedy.
Travis: I think he's not only people's favorite comedic actor, but he's also the sweetest. We had a nice time doing that film. I can't imagine anyone ever saying anything different about him. [Michael] is such a great guy.
TVGuide.com: What did you learn from great comedic actors such as Michael and Ted Danson?
Travis: I've learned about timing and also just how to be relaxed in what you do. To not feel like you have to push, sell, gape and guffaw to sell a joke. I've worked with Mike Myers [in So I Married an Axe Murderer] also. He's a very different kind of comedian, so it's been quite an education.
TVGuide.com: And now you wait for word on a second season of The Bill Engvall Show?
Travis: Yes. Hopefully, we'll be back before these kids mature. We told the network, "Hey, you've got a 10-year-old boy here. Don't wait till he gets facial hair!"
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