Creator Greg Garcia: from guest books to ‘The Guest Book’

It takes a lot to create a television show that is really, truly unique. After all, shows in general have a basic structure and formula. But leave it to “My Name is Earl” creator and Emmy-winner Greg Garcia to blast that formula all to hell with his newest hit, “The Guest Book,” which has its season two premiere Tuesday, Oct. 23, at 10 p.m. ET on TBS.

What exactly makes this comedy so different from everything else on your screen of choice? It’s a rare combination of a traditional sitcom and an anthology series – meaning there is a small recurring cast and setting, but also a unique story with new guest stars every week. It takes place at a getaway called the Bare Feet Retreat, and for such a small inn, it sure does see a lot of baggage.

We sat down with creator-extraordinaire Greg Garcia to talk “The Guest Book,” guest books and why he likes to give stuff away on Twitter (spoiler alert: why not?).

Turner (T): Hi Greg, thanks for taking the time to speak with us. Needless to say, this is a unique idea for a show, there must be a cool story behind “The Guest Book,” right?
GREG GARCIA (GG): I was working on a different show a long time ago and was having trouble coming up with ideas; plus, my house was loud, so I decided to go to rent a little house at Big Bear, which is about two hours away from L.A. I saw that they had a guest book where people write things like "we had a great time, the kids went sledding, blah, blah, blah." I grabbed the book and wrote about a 40-page story of something crazy that happened in this house, just for the sole purpose of trying to freak out the owners as well as the next people that came, and also just to make myself laugh.

Eventually I went to the mountains to write again, and once again they had a guest book, so I did it again. Every time I went away to write, I would write in the guest book. It got to the point where I would tell my wife “I'm going up to Big Bear to write and leave a story in the guest book," and she's like, "you have a problem." I thought I might want to put them all together for a book or a television show, and luckily Alix Jaffe, who runs my production company, came back one day from a lunch meeting and said, "I think I sold The Guest Book.”

T: For those who don’t know, what is “The Guest Book” about?
GG: It's a show about a rental house where a different cast comes in every week and crazy shit happens. We get great guest stars to come in, and the story's always different. It's like a little movie every week. There is a bit of a through line that connects the entire season, and there are a lot of fun twists and turns in the stories.

T: The structure of the show, where you have a permanent cast but different guest stars and plotlines each week, harkens back to those old school shows like “The Love Boat” – any influence there?
GG: I loved shows like “The Love Boat” and “Fantasy Island!” And yes, it can be compared to those shows, because even though at first I thought, “The Guest Book” was going to be a pure anthology, I realized it would be nice to have some recurring characters to create a thread.

So, it is a bit like “The Love Boat,” where you had guest stars coming in for just their one episode, but you also had your Doc, Julie and Isaac, your reoccurring characters. I think there's something nice about that because you don't get bored. 90% of it is so new every week, but you also have those stable characters to help ground the show.

“I'm very lucky that I can pick up the phone and say 'hey, you wanna come do this for a week?'”

T: Okay, speaking of guest stars, you have such an amazing and eclectic mix of people you feature on “The Guest Book.”What went into getting them for the show?
GG: It's a combination of things. There are some people that I've worked with in the past, and I'm very lucky that I can pick up the phone and say, "Hey, you wanna come do this for a week?" People like Michael Rapaport, Martha Plimpton, Will Arnett and Jaime Pressly. These are all people that I've had really good experiences with in the past, and they were nice enough to do it. Then there are the Danni Pudis and the Jenna Fischers of the world – people I've never worked with – I sent them a script and a note. But it really comes down to the story and the script. This isn’t simply a guest spot on somebody's show. It's your episode. You’re coming in, and it's usually a pretty sick and twisted thing that’s going on and it's a fun role to play. This year we had Michael K. Williams, Omar from “The Wire.”

T: Wait, did you just say Omar from “The Wire?”
GG: Exactly! I was like “Oh my God, I have to direct Omar from ‘The Wire.’” I was so intimidated, but he was the nicest, sweetest guy, and we had a great time.

T: What’s it like working with TBS on “The Guest Book”? Is there any difference in the level of freedom that you have?
GG: TBS is so great to work with. They're very supportive and trusting, and I pretty much get to do what I want, and they seem to be enjoying it. And yes, I definitely have more freedom, both creatively and in the sense that since it's a cable show. They basically said, “Here are our rules; there's just a couple of them. Here are the two words you can't say, and if you show somebody nude, we're gonna blur it from the front.” The support has been amazing, and I consider everyone I work with at TBS a friend.

T: You’ve had occasional cameos on past shows. Will we be seeing you at all on “The Guest Book”?
GG: Yes, it started with me just clowning around, but I eventually had a small role as a celebrity agent on “My Name is Earl.” So yes, I will be in every episode of season two of “The Guest Book.” I don’t speak, but I do play the role of a homeless man.

“It was a little bit scary, but very exciting to just hit reset and create a whole new world to do this formula in.”

T: With the season two premiere upon us, is there anything you want to tell us about the upcoming season?
GG: I'm super excited about it, and I honestly feel like it's even better than season one. Based on the feedback I’ve gotten, everybody feels like we've kicked it up a notch for season two.

We are moving locations. We were in the mountains last year, and then we decided it would be fun to switch locations, so we are at the beach this season. A couple of our main characters make the trip to the beach from the mountains, but all of them will pop in at a certain point. It was a little bit scary, but also exciting to hit reset and create a whole new world to do this formula in.

T: In doing research for this interview, several people told me I had to check out your Twitter. Seems like you’re having a pretty good time.
GG: I have fun with Twitter. I try to say funny things from time to time but also just give things away for fun. When I first started doing it, I'd do weird things; like, if I was at a gas station, I'd walk over to a pay phone and tweet, "Caller number ten gets 100 bucks.”

I've really kicked it up a notch in the last month, and I've been giving away something every day on Twitter until “The Guest Book” premiere – and maybe beyond. It could be anything from signed scripts to art or props from my shows.  For today's contest, my buddy John Stamos gave me a copy of a “Full House” script signed by the whole cast; so right now, everybody's retweeting that tweet, and I'll give that away tomorrow.  And this morning I gave away 500 bucks! I have like 5000 followers on Twitter, and I'm happy about that, but I'm always thinking, "I wonder why more people don't follow me; you just get free stuff!"

Greg’s Twitter handle is @whoisgreggarcia, and catch the season two premiere of “The Guest Book,” Tuesday, Oct. 23, at 10 p.m. ET on TBS.