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Jason Ritter Makes the Grade in 'The Class'

Jason Ritter is relatively new to TV, but his last name is very familiar to TV fans. His dad, of course, was beloved funnyman John Ritter who starred in the long-running sitcom 'Three's Company.' In the last few years, Jason began making a name for himself with roles in 'Joan of Arcadia' and 'Law & Order,' but now he is graduating to the next level of success with a major role in the new CBS ensemble comedy 'The Class.'

The show centers on a group of 20-somethings from the same third grade class who reunite 20 years later. Boasting major behind-the-scenes talent, including Executive Producers David Crane ('Friends,' 'Dream On') and Jeffrey Klarik ('Mad About You,' 'Half and Half'), this sitcom has a real shot at becoming the next big thing.

So it's easy to understand why Ritter has high hopes for 'The Class.' He dished with AOL Television editor Sean Doorly about his big break, his famous last name and being head-over-heels in love.



Tell us about your new show, 'The Class.'
Basically, it’s about a group of people who were in the same third grade class, but they’re all randomly brought together for this 20th anniversary. For some of these people it’s been 20 years since they’ve seen each other. Running around and playing with everyone in third grade, you have no idea the life that is waiting for you. Everyone is in different places and the show is about all these different lives. When you see someone that you knew from that long ago you’re forced to think about how your life has gone and has it gone in a way that makes you happy or not so happy. It’s a funny show.

Why should people tune in? What makes this show different?
It’s really funny, but the jokes have some room to breathe. It’s not setup, punch line, setup, punch line. It’s not that sort of exhausting sit-comy feeling of “Oh my God, I can’t believe the studio audience is being forced to laugh every three seconds.” There’s a lot of humanity in there. The different thing about our show is that there’s no central location where we hang out every week. The show follows our individual lives and the characters intersect here and there. I think that’ll be interesting for audiences to see a sitcom that has elements of a drama.

Tell me a little bit about your character, Ethan.
He’s very optimistic. He was an over-achiever in high school and college and life in general. Everything’s has gone his way. He has this plan to be a doctor and have a beautiful wife and dog and house. In the first episode, it’s starting to fall apart. His fiancé leaves him. All of a sudden, his idea of this perfect world has been broken. It’s fun for me to be able to go through this journey with this guy of discovering what the world is like for most of the rest of us.

Where did you go to grade school?
I went to this place called Crossroads in Santa Monica.

Do you keep in contact with anyone from there?
Most of my friends are from elementary school or high school. I have a couple of college friends too. One of my best friends from kindergarten just produced this pilot that won the Audience Award at the Independent Television Festival out here. It’s really helpful to have someone who’s known you for that long. You cannot really pull anything.

In the movie 'Stand by Me,' the narrator says "I never had any friends later on in life like the ones I had when I was 12." Do you think that’s true?
I think you’re unaware of yourself as a child. Everything is out in the open and when you watch someone go through the transformation of a teenager into an adult and you see them start to harden and cover up their insecurities and their weaknesses. You know something about them that is so sweet and innocent and it pulls you inside to all their actions. Whereas, if someone else just saw that same person, they might say, “God that guy’s just a total jerk” without knowing them. You've got insight into what’s really going on underneath the surface, a sense of their history. But it can be a good thing and a bad thing. A lot of people really like to completely reinvent themselves so they leave all of their old friends behind. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it’s been nice for me personally to remain grounded with my friends who have seen me skin my knees and fall out of a tree.

In the first episode, your character is head-over-heels in love with the girl. Have you ever been?
Yes. I met my girlfriend in sophomore year of college. We’ve been together for almost seven years and, yeah, at first I didn’t think I had a chance in hell with her. But once I realized she liked me and I really liked her back, it was very crazy for both of us. We both fell very hard for each other.

When you go to an audition, does your famous last name help you or hurt you?
I’m positive that it has some effect, but I feel like most of the discussion about that is done when I’m out of the room. From my point of view, I feel a sense of both things. In one sense, I feel like when I go inside an audition, people will be predisposed to be nice to me. Especially since my dad was such a nice guy. It would be different if he left a bad taste in everyone’s mouth. He was a really genuinely nice guy, so they’ll give me the benefit of the doubt at the beginning. But at the same time, I’ve gone into rooms where they expect me to be able to do exactly what he did. Which I can't. And I know I can’t. No human can. Unless I spent all my life working on an impression of my father, this would be kind of sad. I know that I won’t be able to deliver exactly what they want, so that can be kind of difficult.

If you could one day magically play any other character on television, which one would it be?
I would love to have played Eddie Haskell on ‘Leave it to Beaver.’ The bully guy that turns all nice whenever Mrs. Cleaver is around. Just his shameless two-facedness. On a dime, he’ll go from threatening violence to “Oh, Hello Mrs. Cleaver!”

What do you remember about the third grade?
That was the year that I got my favorite hat that I’ve had now for almost twenty years. I wore it all the time. And people hated my hat. It got to a point where people started to appreciate that I still have this hat for some reason. I wore it to the Emmy’s a couple of years ago.

Who gave it to you?
My parents got it for me. We went on a trip. My dad had to do something for work in Florida so we went to Walt Disney World and I got it there. But it’s not any Disney characters; it’s just these weird cartoony surfer guys.

What are some of your favorite TV shows?
Recently my girlfriend and I have been getting into ‘Columbo.’ I would have to say the British ‘Office.’ I watch it with my jaw wide open every time a new episode comes on.

What do you say to people who think the sitcom is dead?
Centuries ago, they decided that every idea that will ever be thought has been thought. I think that’s dangerous because you can always reinvent something and make it better.