If there's something to be done on Country Music Television, Melissa Peterman has pretty much done it.
The former "Reba" co-star may not have her own music video (not yet, anyway), but she's the host of the CMT contest "The Singing Bee," and she has worked red carpets as an interviewer for many of the network's events.
She adds a comedy series to her CMT credits by starring in "Working Class," debuting at 8 p.m. Friday.
Peterman plays a single, blue-collar parent who relocates with her children (Lachlan Buchanan, Courtney Merritt, Cameron Castaneda) to a more affluent area. Hoping to broaden the kids' horizons, and maybe her own, she soon discovers how hard it is to keep up with her new neighbors.
However, one of them -- played by seven-time Emmy winner Ed Asner ("The Mary Tyler Moore Show," "Lou Grant") -- is a first-class crank who empathizes with her struggles. He also works with her at a grocery store where she falls for her boss (Patrick Fabian, "The Last Exorcism"). Broadway veteran Steve Kazee ("Monty Python's Spamalot") also is a cast regular as Peterman's playboy brother.
"I feel like I know funny and what I want to watch in a sitcom," says the pleasant Peterman, also a producer of the new show. "I want it to be smart and to have heart, so whatever voice I have in that, that's how I want it to be. There's definitely a little bit of fear, since if it doesn't go as planned, I can't pretend I'm a guest star who just showed up. I've been pretty involved."
Peterman is especially gratified to work with Asner in "Working Class," given his experience in comedy and in general.
"I'm a Minneapolis girl," she reports, "so when 'Mary Tyler Moore' [which was set there] was airing, that was a big deal for me. I mean, he's Lou Grant, and he's why my husband wanted to get a journalism degree. He's a legend, and there he was, doing scenes with me. There would be moments when that ran through my head, and I'd forget to talk."
That hasn't been a problem for Peterman with CMT overall, though. "It seems to be a good fit for both of us," she reflects, "so if I'm their go-to person, I hope they keep coming to me. I'm having a blast.
"There's a certain amount of freedom in being with a network like CMT," she continues, "because this is their first-ever attempt at a scripted comedy, and they've really invested in it. They don't want to attract only the loyal viewers they already have, but people who want a good family sitcom."
Peterman certainly doesn't discount the CMT faithful. "Country fans are the most loyal fans in the world," she says. "If you're in with them, you're in for life, so I love that that's a fan base for me. If you would have told me 10 years ago that my perfect comedic partner would be Reba McEntire I mean, I wouldn't even have imagined us being in the same room together."
In fact, country icon McEntire guests in the final episode of the initial "Working Class" round. The performers basically switch their "Reba" roles, with McEntire as the current wife of the Peterman character's ex-husband.
"It was pretty great to have her there," Peterman confirms. "I learned everything from watching her on that series. How I wanted to lead the set, what I wanted the feeling to be, how I wanted the crew to know how much they were appreciated -- it was totally her. Her car was the first one in the lot and the last one to leave, and that was me this time."