One of TV Land’s favorite things to do on its original sitcoms is to reunite old castmembers from old shows. You know, those winky scenes — like when Betty White reunited with Mary Tyler Moore on Hot in Cleveland last year — that nod back to the original series the actors were originally on together. Well, there’s more of that coming on tomorrow night’s episode of TV Land’s The Exes, which finds former 3rd Rock from the Sun actors Kristen Johnston and Wayne Knight playing together in a dating-focused half hour.
Of course, the pair have co-starred together on The Exes since it launched last November, but this particular episode — which you can catch an exclusive sneak peek of below — puts them together like the old 3rd Rock days when their characters on that show, Sally and Don, were constantly in the will-they-or-won’t-they zone.
On The Exes, Johnston plays Holly Brooks, a divorce attorney who lives across the hall from three of her former clients — one of whom is Knight’s character Haskell Lutz, a lazy divorcee who makes cash selling stuff online. This won’t ruin tomorrow night’s episode for you, but it’s fair to say that the pair aren’t really dating because, well, lawyers shouldn’t date their clients — especially divorce lawyers. But Holly and Haskell do go on a fun, faux, practice date (Haskell needs the practice, trust!) and have a number of funny scenes together throughout the episode.
EW rounded the pair up to chat about what it was like to come back together, a la 3rd Rock, and got them talking about various other topics. Read what they had to say and watch the scene they preview below.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Is there any interesting back story to how this episode came about?
WAYNE KNIGHT: When we first got back together, with us on this show, the big fear was that people will think of our past characters of Don and Sally. So we kind of avoided that idea, of us working together in that proximity, thinking that you would remember those old characters. But, as time went on and our Exes characters developed, it felt safe again for us to work together in that capacity. This is kind of a misdirect anyway — it’s not really the beginnings of a relationship between Holly and Haskell. It’s just a situation by where we’re once again are working in full tandem, and it was like, old home week.
KRISTEN JOHNSTON: It was old home week! I don’t know what that means, even.
KNIGHT: It’s just that it was very nostalgic, in the sense of finding each others’ rhythms and being able to work with each other in a really good way, and that felt really good.
JOHNSTON: Yeah, but in a better way. You know what I mean? When you get to come home, and you’re hot all of a sudden. I was struggling when we used to work together on 3rd Rock from the Sun, and we didn’t have the connection that we have now. All of a sudden, me to come back sober, and I have discovered my deep love for Wayne Knight, my deep love for him as a man, like, how amazing he is and how smart he is. We sit in my dressing room and chat about s—, endlessly. And Wayne always cries about something! Because he’s so empathetic.
KNIGHT I’m a wuss — a complete wuss!
JOHNSTON No, he’s not! He’s one of the manliest men, one of the greatest men I’ve ever known.
How is it working with Kristen this time around?
KNIGHT: What happens to a person when they get out from under a cloud, I just feel like I know her now. Neither of us really knew each other before — we worked with each other very well, but we didn’t know each other as people.
JOHNSTON: That’s the best way to put it. Because it wasn’t like we didn’t like each other at all. We liked each other, but we just weren’t close. It would never have occurred to me to, like, hang out with him back then.
KNIGHT: There’s an appreciation of the whole picture of life as opposed to just ambition and circumstance and all the stuff that happens in this business. You find yourself lucky enough to be working with somebody really talented who you know and who you trust.
JOHNSTON: Like I said to Wayne on the first day, “I’m not as crazy as I was. I’m sober, but I’m still crazy!” But he gets me know.
KNIGHT: I can testify to the fact that she is sober and she is still crazy.
Sounds like you guys are in different places in your lives now.
JOHNSTON: It’s honestly, working with him again is great. I wasn’t sure when they said, “We cast Wayne Knight.” I thought about how I love him, but I thought to myself, Oh, no… What’s this going to be like? The bottom line is that it’s the greatest gift that anyone could have ever given me. One of them! I mean, it really is because it’s gotten rid of any residual shame or weird 3rd Rock feelings.
KNIGHT: It’s really cool because the first day we came back, we were meeting at the bungalows here at [the lot where The Exes shoots in Studio City, Calif.] CBS Radford, and Kristen came out and came up to me with a preamble, which was, “Look, I’m sober. Don’t worry!” And all this other kind of jazz. What was weird was that I didn’t really have any of those residual feelings. They were more hers than mine, but I was really touched that she did that.
JOHNSTON: It’s just shame, it’s just shame.
KNIGHT: Yeah, and I was really touched that she came to me, and we were going to build a new relationship on this show, which has been great.
JOHNSTON: And we really have. It’s a whole new thing.
Do you think this episode will delight 3rd Rock fans?
JOHNSTON: Oh my God, they’re going to go ape s—.
KNIGHT: I don’t know.
JOHNSTON: Wayne doesn’t know! Don’t talk to him about that stuff!
KNIGHT: I don’t know where the enclave exists. I know there are some people in British Columbia who are still holding a vigil for 3rd Rock.
JOHNSTON: No, sweetie, Wayne, 3rd Rock is a big deal now. Like, on the internet and stuff!
KNIGHT: I think in most English speaking countries, yes. It had a sensibility about being smart and silly at the same time, which lives on. I hope it pleases them. I would like to think so because it’s funny, it’s touching, it’s all kinds of different things, and I think they will appreciate that.
JOHNSTON: I don’t think that’s why they wrote it, by the way, at all.
But there were little nods to the 3rd Rock thing? Wayne, Don was a bowler, which is referenced in this episode.
JOHNSTON: Ohhh, yeah!
KNIGHT: Don did have his fingers in a ball, that is correct.
JOHNSTON: I didn’t even think of that!
KNIGHT: Well, c’mon, he lived in Ohio — he had to bowl!
And he and Sally were on and off all the time weren’t they? And this episode features your characters going on a date and whatnot. There were fun, little winky things here, I think.
JOHNSTON: Well, go for it and write that, but I don’t think that was there! Listen, what do I know? Talk to the writers!
KNIGHT: No, this was great, like a 3rd Rock Rosetta stone. If you were a 3rd Rock fan, you’ll see those things. If you weren’t, you won’t notice them.
JOHNSTON: There’s not inside-y stuff. It’s just two actors that people love to see together.
Are there ever discussions about having other actors from the 3rd Rock universe on The Exes?
JOHNSTON: Oh yeah, I mean, I want people — I want them all! But I can’t say. I would love to have any of them on — any of them! But I have a specific idea for John Lithgow that I hope they want to do someday because it would be genius.
KNIGHT: Well, I had such a great experience on that show. I know that TV Land likes the idea of seeing faces together that have been together before. I was present over at Hot in Cleveland when Mary Tyler Moore came on with Betty White, and I find those moments — TV history moments — to be full. I like them! So I would love to see anybody from 3rd Rock come back together.
And now for the exclusive scene that Johnston and Knight previewed for you:
This episode of The Exes, “Cool Hand Lutz,” airs Wednesday, July 4, at 10:30 p.m.
Tanner on Twitter: @EWTanStransky