The man many know as Newman has a new show

Actor Wayne Knight is a veteran of iconic television and major feature films, from playing the evil mailman Newman on “Seinfeld” to the gluttonous villain in Steven Spielberg’s “Jurassic Park.” He’s also a longtime Toluca Lake resident and a new father, with another sitcom, “The Exes,” premiering Wednesday night on TV Land.

Co-starring Kristen Johnston and David Alan Basche, “The Exes” is about three divorced men and their lawyer-landlady, and how they navigate tricky relationships with their newfound freedom. The show is just one more way in which Knight has kept busy since the end of “Seinfeld” in 1998, with frequent appearances on Broadway and on such current shows as “Hot In Cleveland” and “Curb Your Enthusiasm.”

After a recent taping of “The Exes” at CBS Radford in Studio City, Knight spoke of his life and career so far. He is just as funny out of the studio and without a script.

How many times a day do people say, “Hello … Newman”?

I pretty much hear it every day. Before I leave the house, I say it to myself a few times and my wife says it too. Then I hear it when I go to Trader Joe’s.

Was “The Exes” always intended for TV Land?

Well, we were going to do it door-to-door, but we decided it worked better on television.

In the episode I saw, you play a kind of techno geek with an Internet business.

My character, “Haskell,” is going to evolve. In the beginning he’s basically an ass attached to the couch and hands attached to the iPad. Over time we will learn a little more about Haskell. He’s in his techno bubble, but part of the process of being in a relationship with these other two guys is finding out who’s inside. It doesn’t happen overnight. It’s like peeling the layers off an onion, then having to deal with the smell.

When did you settle down in Toluca Lake?

I’ve lived here for 10 years. It’s the perfect combination of proximity to the studios, an imaginary Connecticut with a golf course, all built out of the head of Bob Hope. It’s like this unknown place, but I never really thought about the quality of the schools until recently.

Do you have children?

I have an 18-month-old son.

You are married to Clare Knight, the editor of “Kung Fu Panda 2.” Does she think you’re hilarious at home?

I don’t know about hilarious, but there are byproducts of neurosis that are not necessarily good, but some are OK. I tend to look at things humorously, especially as I get older and realize what I can and can’t control. You might as well just enjoy it. We look at our little kid and he seems to be dancing around with happy discoveries.

What was one of your most memorable moments on “Seinfeld”?

It was when the show was coming to an end. Every night was like a Broadway opening. Coming up to the last episode, [former] White House photographer David Hume Kennerly was standing backstage [photographing] us from the rafters. I was getting myself prepared for this last burst through the door, and he’s over there with the camera on me like it’s the Cuban missile crisis. I have that photo and I think, “What an incredible time.” I don’t think people understand when you’re doing something that iconic what that will mean in terms of your life. It has been transformative in good ways and bad, and in different ways. I have friends that work more, earn more, are better actors, but getting on that iconic show creates this persona that kind of makes you public property from that moment on.

How did you end up in “Jurassic Park”?

I believe [director Steven] Spielberg saw me in “Basic Instinct” and cast me for that part. Even my agent was like, “Are you sitting down?” That was an interesting time in my life. I weighed the most I ever weighed as an individual, and during most of the movie I’m soaking wet because we were in Kauai at Blue Hole, which is the rainiest place on the planet, with added rain machines. Or, we were on the sound stage at Universal and they are hosing me down, so I’m soaking wet and falling down, being shot with dinosaur spit. The memories are perhaps not the best.

Is there a difference between the show being on TV Land instead of one of the larger networks?

They have respect for the form of the sitcom, and they want to keep it alive. They aren’t looking at sitcoms as the flavor of the month, then want to go to snuff films next season. They are willing to let the creators of the show have some latitude in finding people that will bring expertise to the show and then letting them use that.

Will you continue to shoot the show at CBS Radford?

Yes. That is my favorite location — my Mayberry. I did “Seinfeld” there and “3rd Rock From The Sun.” It feels like home. So coming back to do “The Exes,” the biggest thing for me was having a dressing room, a parking space and code to get in the gate! Having all that and being 10 minutes away from home is pretty sweet.

I was doing “Hot In Cleveland” there. I was standing at the corner of Bob Newhart and Mary Tyler Moore Drive. I’m watching Mary Tyler Moore walk in the door to be with Betty White. Standing on that corner at that moment, I realized how lucky I am to be part of iconic television. TV Land is about the history of television, still alive, still making you laugh, and that is a great, great thing.

CASSANDRA M. BELLANTONI is a Los Angeles freelance reporter and producer. Contact her

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