TV writer Greg Garcia grew up obsessing over sitcoms and comedy — which is why it’s fitting that he wound up in the profession, creating such memorable hits as “My Name Is Earl,” “Raising Hope,” “Yes, Dear,” and his current TBS anthology series, “The Guest Book.”
But he’s still a fan first and foremost, which is why he couldn’t wait recently to finally meet one of his idols, Jerry Seinfeld. It didn’t go as well as he had hoped.
As a kid, Garcia would sneak a peek at “The Tonight Show,” when he was supposed to be asleep, in the hopes that he’d catch Seinfeld as a guest. “I kept watching his career going on, and felt this bond with this person whom I had never met in my life,” he told IndieWire.
When Garcia recently found himself backstage after a Seinfeld show, he couldn’t wait to tell the comedian how he influenced Garcia’s own career. “I had the story in my head down to a tight two minutes,” he said. “I would tell the story and wanted to bury the lede, tell him how he inspired me and then tell him about me.”
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As Garcia waited for his turn with Seinfeld, in walked fellow TV writer Phil Rosenthal (“Everybody Loves Raymond”), who took delight knowing it wouldn’t go well.
“‘I want to see you tell a story to Jerry,'” Garcia said Rosenthal told him. “‘Jerry hates people. He’s going to hate that!'”
Sure enough, the exchange was awkward. But Garcia is still thrilled: He got a photo with Seinfeld, and a great story to boot. “I wanted it to either be awkward, or for him to say, ‘Let’s go have dinner afterwards.’ Anything between that is boring. It worked out all right.”
Garcia has always thrived on turning life’s offbeat moments into stories. “The Guest Book,” now in its second season on TBS, was inspired by his habit of writing crazy, fantastical stories in guest books whenever he rents a vacation home. The anthology series focuses both on a core group of townspeople, with a different A-story each week as a new cast of characters rents out the same house.
That has allowed Garcia to play with the form: Each episode takes a different tone, with some darker than others. Last year, the series took place in a mountain cabin and was 2017’s No. 1 new basic cable comedy; for Season 2, the show has moved to the beach — but with some returning renters, and a mostly new cast of regulars. (Returning from last season are Carly Jibson and Eddie Steeples.)
Garcia met up with IndieWire’s TURN IT ON podcast to share what else is new with “The Guest Book,” and also discuss his favorite TV series of all time, “The Andy Griffith Show.” Listen below.
“The Andy Griffith Show” ran for eight seasons between 1960 and 1968, producing 249 episodes. Griffith, of course, starred as Mayberry sheriff Andy Taylor, while Don Knotts was his bumbling deputy Barney Fife, while Ron Howard was his young son Opie and Frances Bavier was Andy’s Aunt Bee, who helped the widow Andy raise his son. But Mayberry was also populated with a colorful cast of townspeople, and for a young Garcia, it was a rare appearance by the eccentric Ernest T. Bass that made for his favorite episodes of the series. When we asked the TV creator to pick his favorite TV episode of all time, he zeroed in on those five Ernest T. Bass appearances.
“‘Andy Griffith.’ I watched it as a kid so it’s nostalgic, and to me it’s the perfect show,” Garcia said. “You’ve got this small town, and you’ve got this guy at the center who’s the heart of the show. He’s not necessarily funny, but then they surround him with very funny people. And then you get to meet the people of this town slowly and it becomes this world. And I love all the father/son stuff with Andy and Opie. So I’ve always enjoyed it, and Ernest T. Bass was my favorite of those crazy characters. I knew when he was going to be in an episode it was going to be a nutty, fun episode.”
Played by Howard Morris, Bass only appeared in five episodes of “The Andy Griffith Show,” but was memorable for throwing rocks in windows, holding outrageous opinions on the world, and getting in trouble for his schemes. “It was the unexpectedness of this character,” Garcia said. “He’s so random, he throws rocks through windows and then just says, ‘Look at me, look at me, I’m Ernest T!’ and he runs away. You start to get to know him, and then there are stories about him. I love the idea of creating a character that’s sort of nutty and it just seems like that’s all they are, and then you dig deeper and learn there’s a person in there.”
Garcia said he fell in love with comedy thanks to reruns of shows like “Andy Griffith,” “What’s Happening,” “The Brady Bunch,” and “Happy Days.” “All I did was watch TV when I was growing up,” he said.
Garcia started his career in multi-camera sitcoms, but turned to single-camera half-hours as “Yes, Dear” was ending its run and shows like “Arrested Development” and “Bernie Mac” became hits. “Creatively they looked fun,” he said. But Garcia had to prove that he could make the switch: “People weren’t going to jump and say you can write single cam. It’s just the reality. You’re constantly fighting that. So I wrote ‘My Name Is Earl’ as a spec script.”
“Earl” and “Raising Hope” also gave Garcia the reputation for being able to write quirky heartland characters. “I’d like to see more of it,” he said of shows that take place in Middle America. “It’s always what I’ve been drawn to. I’ve always tried really hard that when I portray those people and there’s a lot of those people, and I find the humor in them, but I do so with care and love. Because that’s where I grew up. These are my folks. These are my people and I hope I do a good job in finding comedy in their lives but also finding the relatable stuff people can relate to.”
A caveat, though: Garcia tends to avoid outright politics in his shows. ” My feeling is, you get politics all day long. You just can’t escape it. And you’re going to get it in conversations with people, on TV, everywhere.”
“The Guest Book” airs Tuesdays at 10:30 p.m. on TBS.
IndieWire’s “TURN IT ON with Michael Schneider” is a weekly dive into what’s new and what’s now on TV — no matter what you’re watching or where you’re watching it. With an enormous amount of choices overwhelming even the most sophisticated viewer, “TURN IT ON” is a must-listen for TV fans looking to make sense of what to watch and where to watch it.