Former Marietta resident Dan Byrd realizes his role on “Cougar Town” as Courteney Cox’s son isn’t to be a deep, caring person who can help his mom move forward in her life.
No. He’s there to get laughs. Quickly. “It’s important whatever I say is funny,” he said. “Or at least see someone else be funny, as opposed to being true to Travis’ character.”
The show runs at break-neck speed. It’s the opposite, in a sense, of “Mad Men.” No extended pauses. Not longing glances. It’s line-line-punchline. Pow!
“They squeeze a lot of humor into 22 minutes,” he said. “Typically, we run five minutes long. Then they have to trim it down and make this crazy piece of dynamite. We’ve all calibrated our performances to fit this type of pacing. It’s almost like fast forward.”
Entering their freshman season last year, “Cougar Town,” with Cox and the gimmicky name, got more press. But in the end, ABC’s “Modern Family” on the same night ended up receiving more viewers and an Emmy for best comedy.
Not that Byrd is complaining. “We’re all feel happy and honored to be right after it,” he said.
He feels “Cougar Town” improved by the end of the first season. “We’ve pretty much picked up where we left off,” he said, in the second year. “Everyone’s found their groove. The show has found its voice. We tried various things last year. Some worked. Some didn’t.”
The show originally tried to have Courteney’s character Jules chase after younger men as the show title implies. But as Byrd said, “she had a motherly, warm instinct about her. It didn’t quite mesh with her personality. So later, they focused it more on the big dysfunctional family situation. Everybody seemed to get more comfortable with that dynamic.”
He was aware ABC considered changing the show’s name this year because it was no longer technically valid. But in the end, they chose to keep “Cougar Town” because they couldn’t come up with anything better. He heard “Family Jewels” as a possibility but Gene Simmons and his A&E reality show already had that name.
His character Travis is off to college this season but he’s only 20 minutes away so he pops up often at home. “Not being written off the show is a blessing,” he said.
Byrd’s prior major TV role was the lead in a well-liked but little-seen CW show called “Aliens in America” from 2007-08. It featured Byrd as a Midwestern high school student whose family takes in a Muslim foreign exchange student from Pakistan.
“We basically shut down the entire comedy department at the CW,” he said, semi-jokingly. “That’s something we brag about.”
He always wondered if the show might have had a better lease on life if it had been on, say, FX. “They could have been more risque with the humor. It could have been worked on so many levels.”
Byrd grew up in Marietta but given his acting gigs over the years, he didn’t go to high school there. Rather, he relied on home study. He wasn’t a huge fan of home schooling, but it was necessary for his career. His dad Jeff is a tax attorney and his mom Rachel is a former lawyer who often spent time with him in Los Angeles. He also has two younger siblings: brother Ryan at UGA and sister Molly, a student at Boston University.
He said his family is proud of him but they’re relatively nonplussed by his relative fame. “Maybe if I were Justin Bieber or Zac Efron, I would be a little more impressive,” he said. “I’ve been acting since I was really really young so it’s something they’ve grown up with. The novelty is long gone.”
He didn’t have stage parents. “They were incredibly supportive but always ready for me to say I didn’t want to act anymore,” he said. “It did put a huge strain on the family dynamic when I was 14 or 15 and working out here. One of the parents had to be here. It split up the family.”
At age 25, he’s now on his own yet on screen, he’s always played younger. “It’s nice to not be in high school anymore,” he said. “I’m getting to the point where it’s hard to relate.”
As for the big promo push for Jennifer Aniston’s guest role on “Cougar Town,” he naturally said kind words about her. “She’s awesome. She’s a sweetheart. She’s exactly what she personifies – if not nicer. Everyone was really excited to have her. She’s a big get. Hopefully, she’ll help us set off the second season in a good way.”
Here’s the ABC trailer hyping the Cox-Aniston reunion:
“Cougar Town,” 9:30 p.m. Wednesdays on ABC