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LOS ANGELES (Reuters Life!) - Matthew Perry's new TV comedy is called "Mr. Sunshine," but like a lot of things in the life of the former "Friends" star, the title is ironic.
"Mr. Sunshine," making its debut on the ABC television network Wednesday, features Perry as a 40 year-old bachelor who is trying not to be a self-obsessed jerk.
It's a character that Perry, 41, who stars, co-writes and executive produces the show, says he knows well.
"Ben has just pretty much been thinking about himself his entire life, and he's whistling in the dark and thinks he's a happy guy, and learns...that the secret to being happy and maybe gaining some inner peace is to care about others," Perry said.
"I think I spent a great deal of my 20s certainly -- and the bulk of my 30s -- a little self-obsessed. And it was in changing that, in my own life, that I thought it would make an interesting character -- sort of watching the 9,000 mistakes a man like that will make trying to transition himself from being a selfish guy to a nice, normal person," he told reporters.
Farewell then, wisecracking, well-intentioned Chandler Bing -- the character for which Perry is still best known to "Friends" fans around the world in endless TV reruns.
And welcome Ben Donovan, manager of a California sports arena, who realizes -- as his friend-with-benefits dumps him on his 40th birthday -- that he doesn't really want to be alone and must change.
During the 10-year run of "Friends," Perry made two trips to rehab for addiction to alcohol and prescription painkillers, and in his career since the show ended, he has struggled to find the kind of success enjoyed by some of his co-stars.
The initial episode of "Mr. Sunshine" was re-shot to lighten up some of its more melancholic aspects and Perry's character is surrounded by a cast of zany sidekicks, along with a lost elephant and some clowns.
Perry said the setting of the comedy in an entertainment and sports arena allowed for a vast variety of plotlines, from lingerie football to motocross and the odd celebrity guest.
Singer James Taylor, tennis star Jimmy Connors and teen heart-throb Nick Jonas appear in the first few episodes.
But the focus -- and the pressure -- is firmly on Perry, who is making his first return to a major network TV series since the critically-acclaimed drama "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip" was yanked off the air in 2006 due to poor ratings.
"I just wanted to challenge myself and see if I could do something different," Perry said of his new roles as co-writer and producer.
Early reviews have been mixed. Entertainment Weekly called it "frequently sour" but said Perry deserved to succeed, while TVGuide.com called the show "initially underwhelming."
In a bit of real-life irony, the new show takes the time slot occupied by Perry's former "Friends" co-star Courteney Cox's "Cougar Town" on ABC. Moreover, it comes as other ex-"Friends" are similarly ushering out new projects.
Jennifer Aniston has a new movie, "Just Go With It" in theaters. Lisa Kudrow's Internet show "Web Therapy" is headed to cable TV. David Schwimmer's second film directing effort "Trust" hits U.S. theaters in April, and Matt LeBlanc is earning praise for making fun of his "Friends" alter-ego, Joey Tribbiani, in another new show "Episodes."
"And he looks really good too!," Perry said of his former co-star, "which I find annoying."
Editing by Bob Tourtellotte