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Humor Sustains Melissa Peterman in 'Working Class'

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – There are two things that have helped Melissa Peterman get through life: humor and Reba McEntire.

The actress-comedian combines the two in her new sitcom, "Working Class," on CMT (8 p.m. EST). McEntire guest stars on the episode that airs Friday.

"You have to have a sense of humor," Peterman said in a recent interview. "That's sort of how I live my life. So that's why I think I was attracted to the character. I'm like, 'OK, that was awful today, but you know what? The house didn't catch on fire. So, success!'"

Peterman stars as Carli Mitchell, a single mom with three kids, two ex-husbands and a freeloading brother, who is trying to give her family a better life by moving them to an upscale suburb. She works at a high-end grocery store alongside a character played by Emmy winner Ed Asner.

Peterman and her character share the same parenting style. In real life, she is married with a 5-year-old son, Riley.

"When Riley's like, 'Well, that's not fair.' I'm like, 'Well, write a letter to your governor, and tell him about it, and if he tells me it's not fair, we'll talk.'"

The 12-episode series was shot in two months of grueling, 12-hour days. Through it all, Peterman was determined to keep spirits high on set. She threw a margarita-karaoke party once they reached the halfway point. Around Thanksgiving, she brought in pies for the entire cast and crew.

After an episode that involved mud wrestling (it didn't taste like chocolate malt as she was told), she kept the pit open and wrestled anyone interested for $10 a go. They raised $450 for Toys for Tots.

Peterman credits McEntire for inspiring her to lead the cast of "Working Class." The two women worked together on the CW sitcom "Reba" from 2001-2007, where Peterman played the new wife of McEntire's ex-husband.

"It was invaluable for me to watch how she was a leader on set, where everyone knew they were appreciated," she said.

Friday's episode sees the two women in a role-reversal. McEntire plays the new "sugar mama" of Peterman's ex-husband.

McEntire said she recognized Peterman's same work ethic and natural charisma from her "Reba" days when she arrived on the "Working Class" set.

"She's always been very talented in knowing her material, very prepared, always there, always ready to go, always ready to help," said McEntire. "I saw how she was a leader, friendly, never lost it, never lost control.

"When she disagreed, she said it firmly, looked them right in the eye. ... She's not a diva. She's a hardworking entertainer who loves what she does."

Peterman relied on McEntire's friendship and advice during the taping of "Working Class." Now she's on tour with McEntire, George Strait and Lee Ann Womack to entertain country music fans with comedy between sets.

When "Working Class" premiered Jan. 28, Peterman warmed up an arena of concertgoers in Jacksonville, Fla., for her mentor and best friend.

"I couldn't think of a more appropriate person to start this next chapter (with) than to be with her that night. That's how much she means to me," said Peterman.

McEntire was "flabbergasted" that Peterman didn't take the night off for the big debut but called it fitting.

"That's the type of person Melissa is," said McEntire. "She's a very loyal friend."

Copyright 2011 Associated Press.  All rights reserved.  This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. 

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