LOS ANGELES - Matthew Perry knows a good line when he hears one.
"Someone said to me, 'Oh, do you mix that with anything?' " Perry says, gesturing at the sweating glass of Red Bull on ice before him. "And I said, 'If I mixed that with something, this hotel would burn down.' "
"That's a pretty good line," he nods, chuckling.
Thanks to Go On's successful fall, Perry's days, which often run 14 hours, are full of good lines. Perry's half-hour comedy on NBC follows a quick-witted, emotionally challenged sportscaster, Ryan King, forced to embrace the zany grief-therapy group he's prescribed after unexpectedly losing his wife.
Airing after The Voice, Go On continued to beat out competing shows like New Girl and Happy Endings, which means the sitcom is marching into 2013 (beginning Tuesday, 9 p.m. ET) with a full season order. It's gratifying for Perry, 43, who emits a Zen-like attitude describing the mechanics of building a successful comedy in the post-Friends television landscape.
For starters, Go On has the benefit of a network that believes in it. Bob Costas introduced Go On's pilot to 16 million viewers during the Summer Olympics, and he was so enamored with it the NBC sportscaster agreed to appear on Tuesday night's episode titled "Win at all Costas."
But the secret sauce of Go On's success?
Lovable losers, its star says. "I think if you look back at all those great comedies on television in the past, it's all lovable losers that gathered together - Taxi and Cheers, Seinfeld and Friends," Perry says. "They're all sort of this group of bent losers who find a family together. And (Go On) would be sort of the pinnacle example of that."
Perry's close involvement with the creative process has made the show better, says creator and executive producer Scott Silveri, who wrote the ghost of Ryan's dead wife into the fourth episode after Perry suggested the concept. "He gets the show and he's a really smart guy," Silveri says. "If he likes it, it usually means it's pretty good."
The sometimes-absurdist comedy, rooted in the common bonds of life-altering tragedy, found Perry last year as he was searching for a drama. "But of all the drama scripts that I had looked at or had been offered to me (the Go On script) also had the most dramatic scene of all of that in it," Perry says, detailing the scene in which Ryan is forced to reveal the sudden and wrenching loss of his wife to a group of colorful strangers.
The character even vaguely reminds Perry of Chandler Bing "if something really bad happened to him."
"At this stage in Matthew's career, he's such a good dramatic actor, it would be unfortunate if he was in a show where he didn't get to use those skills," says executive producer Jon Pollack. "He's been very courageous with wanting to push the drama of the show."
Lessons since 'Friends'
With Go On gaining traction, Perry reflects on some of the lessons gleaned from projects left behind post-Friends.
After taking his final bow as Chandler in 2004, Perry signed onto Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip in 2006, a short-lived, big-budget Aaron Sorkin project in which he played the brilliant, if temperamental, creator behind an SNL-like show.
"Studio 60 taught me that even if a show has this insane amount of power behind it, you never know what's going to happen. I was really proud of being part of that, because that pilot was just as good as anything I've seen on television. I can't believe I was in it." Brought to air at the same time as fellow show-within-a-show NBC comedy 30 Rock, Studio 60 bowed out after its first season.
In 2011, Perry developed his own sitcom on ABC, Mr. Sunshine, "which taught me the lesson that I never want to create and star in a TV show simultaneously," says Perry, who spent most nights on that show eating dinner on a moving golf cart. "My hat's off to Tina Fey. I don't now how she did it. It's so much work."
He also has been expanding his profile. Thanks to a heralded turn as slippery politico Mike Kresteva on The Good Wife, one of Perry's own favorite shows, the actor has shown audiences that he can turn on the gristle as easily as the imp.
"I think the most different character I've played other than Chandler is probably what I'm doing on The Good Wife," Perry says. "I've never played a bad guy like that before. The guy who will just lie to your face and not have any sense of guilt about it."
Julianna Margulies says that if she had her druthers, he'd be a series regular, marveling at "this sort of strange sympathy Matthew manages to harbor while he's being smarmy" on the show.
"I've known Matthew since my first day on ER, so I guess almost 20 years now," she says. "We sort of came out of the gate with the same gusto, 4 million viewers for ER and Friends. None of us really knew what we had gotten ourselves into. So to see him all these years later play such an opposite character and be successful at it only makes me proud."
Perry will return as Kresteva this spring as The Good Wife turns toward the gubernatorial race. "All I can tell you is that no one will be disappointed," Margulies says. "I haven't seen him and Chris Noth go up against each other yet in person. I want to be there the day that happens."
Perry at his healthiest
The next 11 episodes of Go On will put less of a focus on the characters' grief and more on their ability to lean on each other. Following Costas, more sports stars such as Terrell Owens and Shaun White will pop up, and Ryan will experience falling in love again, with an ex-member of the group named Simone (played by Perry's pal Piper Perabo). "She's a free spirit and beautiful and I get very jealous of that because they're paying more attention to her," Perry says.
For Perry, Ryan's journey hits close to home. "One of the things that I find very fascinating about the character is he's a narcissistic guy, self-centered guy, and he's learning to come out of himself and care about others, and learning the value in that," while being put into bizarre situations, he says.
Much like in Groundhog Day, Perry's favorite movie, Ryan will face his own ego, and learn to become a better person. "I relate to that in my own life, and seeing that happen with this character is really interesting," he says.
If Perry once lived his own relentless version of that fateful film, he seems to be nearing its hard-won finale. The actor is open about his time in rehab (he last checked himself in to focus on his sobriety in 2011) and today shows off an iPhone photo of a glowing Red Bull soda machine that sits in his sleek living room.
Extravagant, sure, but "when you're me, Red Bull's all that's left," he says sagely.
And these days, he's at his best. "This is certainly the healthiest time, the most comfortable time of my life, for sure." When asked what his goal is for 2013, the first wish that pops out of his mouth is children.
"I definitely want to have kids," he says, maybe two. "So I have to get on that." (Perry is dating "a little bit" but prefers not to specify whom.)
Today he toys with a nicotine-dispensing electronic cigarette (which emits water vapor but holds no tobacco), taking only an occasional puff as he speaks. "I'm in very, very careful negotiations with myself to quit smoking," he says. On the little downtime he has, the former Lost mega-fan watches The Good Wife, The Newsroom, Homeland and "a lot of sports."
Thanks to Friends (and those healthy residual checks), Perry clearly doesn't need to work, but he chooses to. So the question is: Is it still fun?
He'd thought about that on the drive to the interview, he says. "I do ask that question myself, too. It is fun. Acting is fun. I'm not motivated by the same things that I was before because I'm older and I've been very fortunate to have the Friends experience. But I do ask myself that question at 2 o'clock in the morning after a 14-hour-day. I'm like, 'What am I doing here, man?'
"But in those moments, I look around me and I see this supporting group of people, and they are all having so much fun. Like, to the point of they're like singing together and just like laughing all day long."
Those around Perry liken him to a pitcher on set. "He's definitely a leader, don't get me wrong, but he's a team player," Silveri says. "He's not a ball hog."
Adds Pollack: "He's really excited when other people are funny. I think he takes a certain pride with watching these characters grow and watching them get opportunities. I don't know anyone who works harder than he does."
Helping others launch their careers: "That's a really good feeling," Perry says.
Time's up, but the waiter has disappeared. This reporter looks down at her lone cup of coffee.
"All I have is a five (dollar bill)," she says to Perry. "Think that will cover it?"
"Well, all I have is a hundred," he deadpans, shrugging. "I was on Friends."