A funny thing happened once Matthew Perry decided to do a TV drama.
Some wise guy sent him a comedy script, for a series titled Go On, that he couldn't resist.
"I called my management," Perry recalls, "and I said, 'I can tell by the weight of this script that you sent a comedy.' Because it was 30 pages long."
It's impossible to pull one over on Perry in that regard. He worked for 10 seasons in one of TV's greatest sitcoms, Friends, in which he played smart aleck Chandler Bing.
"I asked, 'Why did you send me this? You know I'm not looking to do another comedy.' I was told to just read it. And I did. And it was really funny," Perry says. "But it also had some wonderful dramatic elements, including a scene that is one of the biggest dramatic challenges I've ever had as an actor."
Perry was hooked.
So he's doing another comedy. But it happens to have more heart than most heavy-duty dramas. "It's the best of both worlds," the actor says.
Go On, one of NBC's new series for the 2012-13 season, gets an early preview Wednesday after the network wraps up its prime-time Olympics coverage. It's scheduled to air at 10:04 p.m.
The show's official premiere will come Tuesday, Sept. 11.
Perry plays Ryan King, a sports radio talk show motormouth who's coping with the recent death of his wife. Before his boss will allow him to return to work, Ryan must attend grief counseling.
He winds up in a support group with an assortment of oddballs, all dealing with some form of loss -- and during his first visit, Ryan organizes a tournament-bracket-style competition to determine whose story of grief is the most devastating. The contest becomes known as March Sadness.
That's the kind of irreverent, wild-card behavior that Chandler Bing was famous for.
That said, Perry maintains that Chandler and Ryan are very different characters, that their biggest similarity is merely that they happen to "look almost exactly alike."
"Chandler was a guy who wasn't comfortable in the silences, so he would make a joke," Perry says. "I used to be like that, too. But now, as I'm a little bit older and a little bit calmer a person, that isn't really how I would describe myself anymore. And I don't think Ryan is that way either, although he does make jokes at the beginning when he is still trying to convince everybody he's OK."
Ryan recognizes that he's not OK, that he needs this support group in his life, after he recklessly picks a fight with football star Terrell Owens for texting while driving.
Texting and driving, you see, were factors in his wife's death.
"I realize that this show might sound like kind of a downer," Perry says, "but somehow it isn't. I think that's a testament to Scott Silveri [the show's creator/executive producer]. I worked with Scott for about eight years on Friends. I knew he was talented then, but he seems to have kicked it up a notch."
Both sides now
Just when Go On seems to be another quip-filled comedy, along comes an unexpectedly poignant moment for Ryan or one of the other group members. And then, before it gets too depressing, the show deftly brings it all back around with a goofy moment.
It's a delicate high-wire act that Go On has committed to walking, but Perry likes the challenge.
The way he sees it, maybe the show will persuade viewers who need therapy to give it a try. Or maybe it will inspire people to ham it up when a Google Maps street view car drives by snapping photos, which is also something that happens in the pilot episode.
"That's the beauty of this show," Perry says. "The endeavor is to achieve both."