Just in time for the holidays, "The Bill Engvall Show" brings two brand-new episodes to wrap up their second season on TBS this weekend. The family sitcom, already renewed for a third season, stars Bill Engvall and Nancy Travis, who talked with Jim Halterman about the episodes and their experience being a part of a top-rated cable series.
Doing a family sitcom has been a dream of Engvall's for years but he never envisioned his show as being the envelope-pushing/edgy variety. With "The Bill Engvall Show, he said, "you get the laughter from the relationships of the people or [from] something that's very common that you'd laugh at when at home. And if you walked in the room and your kids are watching you don't have to go 'Oh, God, I'm going to have to explain this.' I'm thrilled that we're on our third season because we are proving that there's still an audience that wants to see this."
As Engvall's on-screen wife, Travis also said the show fits her personal life very well since she's a mother of two children. She also loves the show because, "it's almost like sketch comedy where you are telling a story and there are a series of scenes that are comedic and you get to improvise and work on that and develop that and I love that. I love the looseness of that. I love the spontaneity of that. That's an art form and it's really fun for me. And we're doing a family show."
One of the strengths of the series is taking a simple situation and building the entire episode around it. For example, the first episode this weekend, entitled "Honey Do," focuses on what happens with Susan (Travis) starts doing the house chores that Bill used to do and how Bill's revenge plan backfires. The second episode, "The Night Before Christmas" reinforces what the holiday is all about to a family, even when the kids are wanting to break free of the many holiday traditions.
Though the plotlines may sound simple, the series has its own way of approaching heavier issues. Engvall explained, "We can deal with these [bigger] issues but it may not be that our kids are doing drugs but that maybe there's a kid who is one of their friends and heading down the wrong path. You can deal with these issues with making them too maudlin or dark. You can deal with these issues and then help parents in real life learn how to deal with them."
Since both actors are married with children in real life, they had different answers when asked if their personal lives were fodder for "The Bill Engvall Show." Travis quickly exclaimed, "I make a point never to discuss my personal life near any writer!" Engvall, however, laughed and revealed, "On my side it's been the complete opposite. My life's pretty much been an open book. From the stand-up albums and all that. And I think that is one of the reasons that TBS gave me the nod to get a show because they wanted me to pull those same kind of stories and put them on TV." Travis quickly added, "And Bill has no shame."
While their camaraderie was in full force during this interview, they also reminisced about how their pairing came to be. Travis said, "My agent called me about this show and I said, 'Great, who's Bill Engvall?' [they both laugh] But I soon found out who he was and saw his comedy and everything and we clicked right from the get-go." Engvall recounted that he and the producers were having a hard time finding the perfect TV wife for his character. "We had interviewed quite a few actresses for the role of Susan and we were at the point where we were probably going to go with one that I wasn't real sure about." Thankfully, Engvall and the producers waited for the last actress to audition � Nancy Travis. "She walked into the office and sat down and within literally 30 seconds I knew. She was just very down to earth [and] as I told her, I said, she's the wife that women love and men want to be their wives." Engvall also added that he's been ribbed for casting such an attractive woman as his wife. "All my friends back in college are still calling going 'Dude, I know this is a sitcom because there's no way she'd be with you!'"
Engvall and Travis both spoke highly of the strong supporting cast they have surrounding them in the series. Speaking of co-star (and "Saturday Night Live" alumni) Tim Meadows, Travis gushed, "It's almost a crime that Tim Meadows has to be anchored by words. I would love to see Tim just free associate and go. He is really, really funny." Engvall added that Meadow's skill as a comic actor continues to amazing him. "You could tell Tim, 'Hey, Tim. Here's the deal. Bill and Susan are in a fight and you're going to come in.' That's all you'd have to tell him and he would knock it out of the park. He's just naturally funny. He's a great actor."
As for a big name guest star Engvall is hoping to wrangle, he hinted, "We have some ideas but nothing's been confirmed yet." However, with Travis's curiosity peaked as to who he was talking about, Engvall revealed more. "There is one [actor] I'm holding out hope that we might get. He would be a huge coup if I can pull this off. I'm working on trying to get Bob Newhart to come in for a two-show arc. He would probably be my father or Nancy's Dad." Engvall expressed his wish that, in terms of guest stars on the show, he never wants guest stars to appear as stunt casting or in a transparent effort to nab big ratings. "I want this show to be one that people want to do�not necessarily that you need them but that you want to do it."
Being on a successful cable series is quite different from being on a broadcast network. Travis, who has starred on such series as "Becker" and "Almost Perfect" on CBS, said, "There's still the cache of being on network television and there's still the potential of getting a huge order to do 22 episodes or more. But with that comes a certain pressure and also a potentially short life span. I think that a show like this has gotten the chance that it has because it's on cable." Both actors agreed that TBS has been nothing but fantastic to work due to their hands-off method of managing them. "I have to say that TBS has pretty much left us alone," Travis mentioned. "They love what 'The Bill Engvall Show' is and they've given us free reign on it and that's been great." Engvall chimed in by saying that, "We kind of joke that [TBS is] just kind of old school. It's like in the sense that they let you do what you want. We have the same vision for the show and they're given this show a chance and now we're proving that we're viable.
The two brand-new episodes of "The Bill Engvall Show" air back-to-back starting Saturday at 8:00/7:00c on TBS and the third season will kick off next summer.