"People go, well it's not edgy, it's not groundbreaking," Bill Engvall says about the critical reaction to his TBS comedy "The Bill Engvall Show," which returns for its third season on Saturday at 9:00/8:00c. "Well, it doesn't have to be." The comedian along with co-star Nancy Travis took a few moments before the taping of their season finale last month to chat about the show's success, its relatability and how its move to Saturday nights is a perfect fit for these troubled times.
"This [show] is what goes on in middle America," Engvall continues. "I tour the country and I see and I talk to people and they go this is so nice to be able to sit down and watch a family show that's just about life. It's not about any big incident - we were talking about one of the issues we dealt with last year was Trent [Graham Patrick Martin] got invited to a keg party and said he was going but he told us he wasn't going so we went on his Facebook account. So it was this whole issue about how much privacy do you give your kids without allowing them complete reign of the house. It was really a fun show to do and people called, I got emails [saying], 'Oh my God, we did that, our kids were doing this.' [Even] tonight's show, just taking your kid to buy a car. They just, one of my favorite lines in this show was, he just went for the first flashy thing he saw. And [Nancy] goes, 'Well that's our son.' And I say, 'Well if he keeps on going through life like that, he's going to propose to the first D cups he meets in college!'"
Travis, whose attachment to the genre dates back to 1995's "Almost Perfect," agrees the show is quite relatable: "I think for a lot of America, yes. I think in the sense of having a family and what it takes - the give and take of a family, the situations that a family gets into, the situations that a couple gets into when they've been married, the situations that parents get into raising children." She also adds the format itself is key to that. "[It] really hasn't changed that much, especially if you're looking at 'The Bill Engvall Show.' It's a very traditional sitcom, traditional four-camera format... As an actress I love the immediacy of it. I love the fact that it's something that's constantly changing, it's light and it's really almost improvisation."
Engvall conversely credits Travis for the show's authenticity. "She's just great," he says. "I don't know if I can say enough praises about her [because] she gets it, she's a mom, she gets the show. [Some shows] you're like, I don't want my kids to see that. But that's the great thing about this show is... I think what's interesting is when this show first came out we got lambasted: Why are they doing this? The family sitcom is dead! Nobody's going to watch this! Well, all of a sudden the show's making its third season, now you see [other networks going] we have a family sitcom too... TBS took the chance [first] and I'm thrilled, thrilled that our show was the impetus to get the family sitcom coming back. I don't know that they'll be as good as ours.
The thing that I love about our show, like this year especially, the storyline ideas reflect what's going on in the world. With the economy being a little tired, it's hit this family. One of the episodes we're doing, where Lauren [Jennifer Lawrence] was going to go off for spring break [and] we couldn't afford to send her on spring break because my business is slow. And we're talking about what can we do to bring in extra money. In fact one of the shows, the brother character [Stephen Dunham] asks me to give him some money for one of these get rich quick schemes and I said no, we're not going to do it. Well, it turns out he gets hit with two million dollars and I could have had half of it. We deal with stuff like that."
Engvall adds that it's personal mission to continue the show down that path. "I'm heavily involved in the ideas for the storylines and the writing of it because it's got to be relatable. I think that's one of the things that probably, there was a reason people got away from the sitcom was because it got to the point you go, ah, I can't relate to that. And that's what I love about this show is you don't have smart-ass kids - they'll smart off but they get put in line like you would do with your kids at your house. And it's a couple that loves each other, it's not this 'Oh, you're so stupid! I don't know why I married you' [dynamic]. It's really nice."
Travis nevertheless teases that she was late to Engvall's stand-up success. "I didn't know who he was, I had no idea," she says about their first meeting about the show. "In fact, I thought 'The Bill Engvall Show' [was] named after the showrunner [i.e. "Untitled John Smith Project"] so I Googled him, IMDBed him, found out who he was, saw a tape and then my husband and I went to, I think it was the Chumash Casino that he was doing stand-up at and saw his show. And it was great, he's funny."
Both Engvall and Travis in turn are hoping viewers find the show on Saturday nights this summer, its third time period in as many years (Thursday nights for season two, Tuesday nights for season one). "TBS is recreating a family night, which is going to be on Saturday night which is the way it used to be," Engvall notes. "Because people aren't going out as much, Saturday night is going to be a family movie like 'Shrek' or something like that and it'll be an hour of 'The Bill Engvall Show' and then another family movie. So you get people to stay at home and watch the show and I think it's going to be a great move."
"I think that's what they're gunning for," Travis adds. "Given this economy maybe it'll become family night again and people will stay home and make appointment TV."
"The Bill Engvall Show" premieres its third season this Saturday at 9:00/8:00c.