Working Class‘ Melissa Peterman Just Wants You to Laugh

She Stars in CMT's First Sitcom, Premiering Friday (Jan. 28)

Melissa Peterman stars in CMT’s first original sitcom, Working Class , playing a single mother who makes ends meet by working at a local grocery store. Along with Emmy-winning actor Ed Asner (well-known to TV viewers for his work on The Mary Tyler Moore Show and Lou Grant), Peterman shares the screen with guest stars like Ryan Stiles and Kathy Kinney from The Drew Carey Show, as well as country star Reba McEntire, a close friend since they met on the set of Reba a decade ago.

Although she divides her time between Los Angeles and her native Minneapolis, Peterman swung through Nashville this week for a festive CMT launch party, yet — being the hard worker she is — she took a few moments to chat with about the new series, which premieres Friday (Jan. 28) at 8 p.m. ET/PT.

CMT: What was going through your mind the first time you read the script for Working Class?

Peterman: That I loved it. I read a lot of things where I’m like, “Oh, that’s OK” … or, “We can fix that” … or “Maybe we can change that part of it.” I read it and the essential story and character — I loved it! I remember my agent had read it, and he said, “This is so perfect for your voice.” I read it and said, “This is the first one in a long time where I thought, ’I want to be her.'”

I think it’s refreshing to have a sitcom where the characters are not wealthy.

I do, too! And not perfect, even though that’s hard to do, because it’s still TV. There’s always that fine line. I don’t have people put on my hair and makeup when I’m at home, you know? So there is a fine line, and we’re trying really hard to keep it real and keep it grounded. I look forward to doing more of those storylines, where it’s hard [to make financial ends meet].

Do you feel like that sets you apart from other shows?

I think it does. There has been a turn of [new sitcoms] being really super-edgy. This isn’t. I mean, it’s funny and smart, but we’re not trying to hurt anyone’s feelings. We’re not trying to leave people out by being too snarky or whatever. I love that feeling! It’s funny! Look, we’re not doing brain surgery. What makes a good TV show is if you have great writing and you have a great cast. And we have great writing, and I love our cast. I think it feels like — and I mean this in the best sense of the word — it feels like an old-school sitcom, a family one that you can watch with your entire family.

In the episodes I’ve watched, you don’t just insult each other for 22 minutes.

No, we don’t. And I don’t mind talking how real people talk. That’s what I loved about Roseanne. She could say something to a kid, like, “Really? Then why don’t I drop you off at the zoo?” But it’s not mean. If you essentially show a family that loves each other, they sometimes do tease each other, but you have to know they love each other.

There’s a flirtatious side of your character, which is a lot of fun.

That was really fun. I never get to be like that! With men all around me … I was pretty giddy about that. I like it because she is a single mom, but it’s not like she’s given up. She wants to find love. She wants a relationship. Of course, her kids are always going to come first, but I love that [flirtatious aspect] about this character. She’s not putting on a sweater set and cutting her hair off. She’s like, “I’ve still got to work it, people!” (laughs) “I’ve got to put these shoes on. I want to find love.” Her journey’s not done, so I love that. … We’d do these scenes where I’d have a date. I’ve always been the funny best friend of somebody who’s dating. I was actually uncomfortable with it sometimes. I was like, “Oh my god, remember Melissa, they’re only saying that because it’s written down. No, they don’t really love you.” (laughs) It took me a minute when I was like, “I think he really loves me!” I really enjoyed that.

I expect we’ll see your character at work a lot.

We do. We see a lot of it. That’s fun, too, because people work. They go to jobs. They have to wear uniforms. I really like the fact that it’s a uniform that she wears. A lot of people put on a uniform and go to work. I’ve waited tables for 10 years. I’ve worn the T.G.I. Friday’s stripes. I’ve got it all. And I love that aspect because it sees her with Hank [a crusty co-worker played by Asner] a lot, plus it’s a cool set and there’s lots of food and stuff around. They laugh at me because, through the entire taping, there were these fancy chocolate boxes around, and I would go shake them every day. They were empty, but in my head, I thought, “Maybe today, there’s going to be chocolate!” The prop guys were like, “Melissa, it’s empty.” I’m like, “I know … but I thought maybe today there would be chocolate!”

What do you think Ed Asner brings to those scenes?

Ummm, 50 years of TV genius, pretty much. He’s just fantastic. I think to myself, “You’ve got seven Emmys. You could give me one. Give me one!” (laughs) He’s funny. He cracks us up. And I think there’s still an element where we’re watching him, and we’re going, “Ed Asner is here.” I talked to him after he’d seen the first two episodes. He’s been in the business for 50 years, and he just said, “It’s good.” He said, “We deserve to tell more of these.” For Ed to say that, I was like, “Ah!” I was so nervous because he’s Ed Asner, but we all fit together really well.

What is Reba’s role on the show?

Of course, she’s playing my ex-husband’s new woman. It’s only appropriate. The minute we were picked up [for the series], the writers were writing that. We were like, “Absolutely!” And she’s hilarious. It was so exciting to have her on the set. She’s lovely.

Was it like no time had passed since you worked together on Reba?

No time. I’m with her a lot now, doing other things, but just to do a scene together again, it was like, “Remember this? We were good at this! We’re dang good at this!” I was showing her off to the crew, like, “Hey, have you guys met my friend, Reba McEntire? Oh, do you want to go to craft services, Reba McEntire?” It was very important for me to have her come on and be part of it and for her to be proud and give her McEntire stamp of approval on it.

What do you hope people can take away from watching Working Class?

That there’s another great family sitcom out there. And I hope they laugh because you know what? Life is hard sometimes, and everyone’s sort of struggling and having to cut back. I just want to people to laugh.