Twenty 5 years in the past, Phil Rosenthal hit the jackpot that each tv author desires about.
Awarded the chance to create a four-camera CBS sitcom for slapstick comedian Ray Romano, Rosenthal and his star come across an idea and title that’s acquainted to anybody that picked up a TV Guide in the course of the 1990s: Everybody Loves Raymond. Premiering on Sept. 13, 1996, the sequence overcame initially modest rankings to change into one among CBS’s hottest sitcoms, operating for 9 seasons and racking up dozens of Emmy statues, plus a profitable syndication deal.
Everybody Loves Raymond remains to be on the airwaves 1 / 4 century later, with episodes airing on daily basis on TV Land. (It’s additionally streaming on Peacock for binge watchers.) According to Rosenthal, that’s at all times the long run he envisioned for the sitcom that set him up for all times. “I knew it was for CBS, but in the back of my mind, it was for TV Land — and now it’s on TV Land” the creator tells Yahoo Entertainment with amusing. “To have gotten on the air at all was a miracle, so it’s like hitting the jackpot not just once, but over and over again.”
Everybody Loves Raymond was additionally a jackpot that Rosenthal very nearly walked away from earlier than the present premiered. He discovered himself at that crossroads when CBS inserted itself into the casting course of for the actress that might play Romano’s spouse — an element that finally went to Patricia Heaton. But Heaton hadn’t even auditioned for Rosenthal when the community made it clear that they noticed a particular kind of actress within the function.
“CBS wanted someone hotter to play Debra,” he says, referring to the ’90s sitcom cliché the place the schlubby male leads had been routinely married to runway-ready girls. (That eye-rolling conference was skewered within the current AMC sequence Kevin Can F*** Himself, starring Annie Murphy.) “I almost quit the show over it.”
Before submitting his resignation letter, Rosenthal agreed to fulfill with CBS’s first selection for Debra, an actress he avoids naming in interviews or in his Raymond memoir, You’re Lucky You’re Funny. “They insisted on this actress. I thought she was wrong, but I met with her and she was a very pleasant, very nice person. She wasn’t going to read for the role, but during the meeting I convinced her to read a little bit with me, and she was 10 times worse for the part than I thought she would be!”
Next, Rosenthal needed to sit down with community executives — together with then-CBS head, Leslie Moonves — to debate casting. He entered that assembly along with his three selections for Debra, which included CBS’s most popular decide plus two different performers, and a robust suspicion that he could be leaving the room unemployed. “Again, I didn’t have Patty yet; I didn’t even know she existed. I did know that [Moonves] was going to say, ‘What about so-and-so,’ and if I don’t say, ‘Yes, let’s cast her,’ I won’t have a show. So that was the day I knew that I’d be quitting my own show.”
Fortunately for Rosenthal, that’s not how issues performed out.
When Moonves requested, “What about so-and-so,” Rosenthal gave him the one reply he may — the reality. “I said, ‘I love her and I’ve loved everything she’s been in. I think she’s terrific and beautiful, but then she read for me and I have to tell you it’s just not what I wrote. I just don’t see them as a couple. I think she could do it, but I also think that maybe we could do better. [Moonves] said, ‘Well, it’s just an idea.’ In other words, he let me slide and we agreed to keep looking! Two weeks later, Patty walked in and within five minutes she had the part. When it’s right, it’s right, and you know it immediately.” (Moonves resigned from CBS in 2018 over allegations of sexual misconduct.)
Rosenthal could have resolved the Debra state of affairs in his favor, however there was another near-walkout earlier than Everybody Loves Raymond made it to the air. After CBS picked up the present — which additionally starred Brad Garrett as Romano’s police-officer brother, Robert, and Peter Boyle and Doris Roberts as his overbearing dad and mom — his agent known as him with an surprising query: Who did he wish to be the showrunner? “I assume me,” Rosenthal remembers saying. “My agent said, ‘You’ve never run a show before! You wrote a pilot.’ And I said, ‘So I’ll do more like that.’”
CBS finally got here again with a suggestion for Rosenthal to co-run the present with a extra skilled producer, however he rejected that concept out of hand as effectively. “I felt that person was still going to be in charge, and I’m not going to have any say in my own show. So I quit! I told them, ‘I quit, goodbye.’ It wasn’t because I was brave — I was actually s****** my pants because I quit the thing I loved.” Three days later, his agent known as him another time to say that he’d been named the one and solely showrunner of Everybody Loves Raymond.
“I asked him why the sudden turnaround, and he told me, ‘[Moonves] liked how you handled that thing with so-and-so.’ It just goes to show you that if you stick to your guns — and maybe quit — they see you have some integrity. So my advice to young people is to always quit! I’m not saying quit on your first job, or if you’re dependent on it to be able to eat. But if it’s not your first job and it’s your own thing, that’s when you get to show your integrity. I can’t tell you how many shows have been ruined by the writers taking every note from the network and the studio and then the network goes, ‘This isn’t very good.’”
Everybody Loves Raymond, however, remains to be excellent 25 years after its premiere. We spoke with Rosenthal — who at present hosts the Netflix travel sequence Somebody Feed Phil — in regards to the present’s longevity, what a contemporary (and post-Modern Family) model of the Barones would possibly appear to be and why he and Romano won’t ever revive the sequence… however a Friends-type reunion isn’t out of the query.
I watched the Everybody Loves Raymond pilot once more the opposite evening, and that type of sitcom feels so totally different now. It nonetheless holds, however it feels prefer it belongs to a special era.
That’s as a result of the shape has modified. You don’t see the type of present anymore, and I grew up on these sorts of reveals. The reveals I wished to emulate had been issues like The Honeymooners, I Love Lucy, All within the Family and, in additional fashionable instances, Roseanne. I believed that was a landmark sitcom. Those had been all reveals that had been set in actual life. In different phrases, you believed that the issues that occurred in that world may occur in actual life. The funniest stuff to me was additionally essentially the most relatable, and an enormous a part of relatability for me is believability. Could this occur? So that was our solely rule on Raymond: the reveals had some extent to them, they usually had been about one thing. They had been about your working relationships or your loved ones relationships. I had a household, and Ray had a household and that’s what we knew the best way to write, as a result of we lived it. All the tales had been coming from one thing that occurred to us at home.
For instance, within the pilot, I used to be searching for a option to illustrate how loopy Ray’s dad and mom are. How do I present the viewers that that is going to be one of many not simply funniest components of the present, however a central tenant of the present? Well, I used one thing that occurred to me. I bought my dad and mom a Fruit of the Month membership subscription, and I bought that telephone name. I put that within the script, and I did not know that it will join with the viewers. I knew it was type of humorous that my mom acted like receiving a field of fruit was like receiving a field of heads from a assassin. I believed the viewers would possibly go, “They’re crazy and that’s kind of funny.” But I didn’t know the viewers would go: “Oh my god, I can’t give my parents a gift without it blowing up in my face either!” We nonetheless get e-mails and letters from around the globe from individuals saying, “That’s my mother.”
It’s humorous that you simply point out it’s a present about one thing contemplating you premiered throughout an period when Seinfeld had pioneered the “it’s a show about nothing” premise. Were you consciously working towards what Seinfeld was doing?
Yes, however not as a result of I didn’t like Seinfeld. I favored it very a lot! First, I wouldn’t know the best way to write that present, definitely not in addition to these guys did. And second, I wished to keep away from topical humor and focus on issues which have lasting worth. We had been going to die on that sword.There are hardly any topical references or issues that might date the present, apart from garments and hairstyles after all, that are going to alter. It was a present a few household for households made for households, that means we did not wish to put something within the present that you simply could not watch with grandma or your 9-year-old child. Not as a result of we wished to do a bland present — we nonetheless wished to do some risqué materials. We simply made it fly over the heads of little children and never be so vulgar for grandma. It’s the age-old lesson: Stay true to who you’re, and write what you already know. People could not prefer it, however not less than you are presenting an sincere illustration of what you are able to do.
You had been additionally in the midst of the period when stand-up comedy was a path to sitcoms. Were there any cautionary tales of particular comedians making the leap to reveals that didn’t work out that you simply wished to keep away from?
I had no concept, as a result of I did not even know if Ray may act! I liked his stand-up and he appeared like a pure presence, so you are taking a leap of religion. The luck that I had was in teaming up with him was that he cared in regards to the issues I used to be speaking about: believability and relatability. He wished to ensure that every little thing appeared actual and by no means “sitcom-y.” Meaning you solely see conduct like this on a sitcom. That was an excellent factor to have in your lead actor. Because he had by no means acted earlier than, I wished to ensure that he could be comfy so the very first thing I did was encompass him with nice actors, which additionally they did on Roseanne. She was a comic who had by no means acted earlier than, and that appeared to work. And you may by no means go fallacious by casting nice actors! And as a result of Ray is of course gifted, he discovered from them and bought higher and higher. You can see his development as an actor from the primary present to the final present. And now, after all, he is appearing in Scorsese films!
CBS initially put the sequence on Fridays, and the rankings weren’t nice. Was it irritating figuring out you had this nice present that wasn’t getting the viewers it deserved?
It was really a hidden lesson. We had been on Fridays at 9:30 after, I believe, Dave’s World. They hadn’t had a success in that point slot, and we weren’t going to alter that! However, the few those that did watch the present got here again each week, and we additionally bought good evaluations. So we had been considerably protected in that point slot, as a result of there have been no expectations of doing effectively. Six months into the run, they had been having bother on Monday evening with a present that wasn’t doing effectively, and right here was a present that was performing effectively for the place it was, getting good evaluations, and the community favored the present. So they moved us and as soon as we moved, we by no means moved again!
Initially, we had been as nervous as we had been once we began, as a result of we thought, “Oh no, we could get cancelled.” In reality, the community even mentioned to me, “If you don’t perform here, that’s it.” But that first week on Monday, we doubled our rankings. And then the following week, the rankings went up from there and that is once we relaxed slightly bit. We weren’t nervous once more till Season 3, once they put us reverse Ally McBeal and Monday Night Football and we went, “Now we’re dead.” Within three months, we were beating both of them! We couldn’t believe it. The football players used to knock your books down in the hallway in high school, so this was a real revenge of the nerds!
Did that increased exposure lead CBS to get more involved in the show or did they mostly leave you alone?
We were just lucky in that they had bigger fires to put out, as all networks do. When something is working, generally they leave you alone. Yes, they always said: “Maybe you want to get a little hipper and edgier, a little hotter and sexier.” And I’m like, “Have you seen the present?” [Laughs] I even mentioned on the Emmys “one year: “You got the right guy. I’m Mr. Hip and Edgy.”
You did overlap in the sea change in TV comedies that started with Arrested Development in 2003 — that series helped popularize the single-camera format in the U.S. Did you feel that shift and did it pressure you to change your approach?
No, we knew what we were and we weren’t going to change. At the same time, I was aware of a cultural shift and the whole business changing. Sure enough, by the time Raymond was over, the business had changed so much to the point where they didn’t really want the type of show that Raymond was anymore. In fact, there wouldn’t be another family-oriented sitcom until Modern Family a few years later. That worked for not just the network, but also for audiences, because it was brilliantly done and it felt modern. It was a single-cam comedy and it had the kind of political awareness and cultural shifts embedded in it. It was perfect for where and when it premiered, but you also now see that the networks’ attitude is that the family sitcom is this uncool thing. What they don’t realize is that it’s one of the building blocks of television and always has been. You just have to do it well.
If you were making Everybody Loves Raymond now, would it would have to look more like Modern Family?
I don’t know. I do know that I’ve been in situations where I’ve tried to sell a show about another actor about their actual family. And the moment we sold it, I started getting notes from the network saying: “Okay, it shouldn’t about that person, it should be about young people.” And I’m like, “Wait a minute, you just bought this show about this guy’s actual family!” When I left Raymond, I did not wish to do the kinds of reveals that they had been doing, that means all of the reveals that had been simply intercourse jokes. I wasn’t fascinated by it. To me, the world grew to become slightly extra crass and even vulgar. It’s not that I’m a prude, it is simply not what I do. It’s not my power. There are individuals who will be actually humorous in that area means higher than me. So I did not need the kind of reveals they had been doing they usually did not need the kind of reveals that I wished to do, which led me to my meals and travel present.
If it were made now, I imagine you’d also have to decide whether Robert would still be a cop or not. Shows like Brooklyn Nine-Nine are wrestling with that, too: How do you make cops funny in an era where that’s a much more difficult job to depict on television?
Thank god I don’t have to deal with that. I don’t think I would deal with it, because nothing’s funny about police getting out of hand. We showed that Robert was put-upon, and not loved as much by his mother as his little brother. Those were all these funny things, and then to balance it out, we showed him being a great cop. It’d be terrible if he was a bad cop. That’s not funny: It’s not funny or great and you don’t really cheer for him. He was maybe the most beloved character on the show because of his station in life, meaning he had the least amount of power in the family dynamic. But then when you see him [as a cop]: there was a very specific episode where we showed him being brave and great, and Ray got to see it, too. So the audience had this newfound respect for him, and you just love him.
I didn’t want to deal with those kinds of serious issues on the show. For example, 9/11 happened while we were filming. Were we we going to do the 9/11 episode? I decided no, because that’s not why people watch our show. They watch it to get away from the terrible things that happen in real life. We can show real life without touching on current events because real life still happens, even during 9/11 and even during COVID. Real life happens in your house: You still have parents, siblings and kids, even in terrible times. That’s what I think kept us relatable and maybe evergreen.
Peter Boyle and Doris Roberts have both passed on, but has CBS ever talked about doing a Raymond revival? And would you return for a one-off special episode?
I would love to do a 25th anniversary special to show where the cast is now, and tell stories of the things that happened to us at home and show clips of the episodes these stories became. You’d get to see the actors and how they are and hear them tell stories about Doris and Peter. To me, that would be a wonderful thing. But I don’t believe in revisiting the past as a sitcom. We don’t make former football players who are in their 60s and 70s go out there and tackle each other! [Laughs] It’s just not the same. I love that the show that already exists in the world and if you want to see it, you can watch it. I don’t think revivals work particularly well. So I’m all for a reunion special, but I don’t think I’d like to see us try to do that again.
That’s similar to the Friends reunion, which was a big hit for HBO Max. How do you feel that sitcoms fit into the streaming landscape? Is there a way to get back to the four-camera form you’re talking about in that environment?
It’s always dead until there’s a good one. There are shows on right now that are single camera that I love: I think Hacks is brilliant, Dave is brilliant. Those are reinventions of the form, really. So there are great, funny shows out there, they just look a little different than they used to. I’m sure there’ll be a great four-camera show again. I always say: “Bet on the chef.” If you’re going to invest in a restaurant, it’s not all about location and having the hottest dish on the menu — it’s about who the chefs are, meaning the writers, directors and actors. When that’s the priority, and it’s not just, “Here’s a flashy name or a topical buzzword,” because that only makes a poster. My joke is that in Hollywood, the work stops at the poster. So you hav etc go beyond the poster to ask, “What is this about? Is it worth doing?” Then maybe you’ll have a shot at the next great four-camera sitcom.
I’m sure there are too many to choose from, but is there one particular Raymond episode that has a special place in your heart?
I have a few. We ended every season with a flashback episode and there was one called “How They Met.” It’s hard to do an origin story, but I think that one was really good. I wrote it with Ray, and Ray and Patty’s performance in it are wonderful. It makes me cry! I also love a bunch. The PMS episode is ideal instance of us taking one thing that’s possibly not humorous from our actual lives and making it humorous. I loved the “Baggage” episode with the suitcase on the steps. That’s additionally taken proper from an precise struggle that Tucker Cawley [the writer of the episode] had along with his spouse and it labored so effectively.
The Italy episodes are a personal favorite because not only was it a foray into single camera when we filmed on location in Italy, but it was actually the genesis for the Netflix travel show I do now, Somebody Feed Phil. I got the idea to do a travel show from those episodes, because I saw what happened to Ray the character coming to understand how great travel is from a reticent point of view. I thought it was so wonderful and beautiful, and I wanted to do it for other people.
And I liked our finale very much because it wasn’t a very special episode — it was special just because it was the last one, and the audience knew it. I love that nothing fundamental changed in the family’s dynamic. We met these people in the middle of their lives and we’re going out in the middle of their lives. Life is hard enough, so why not believe that this family continues right where you left them?
Did CBS ask for a bigger finale?
Nope. The only thing they wanted was for us to not go off the air! [Laughs] At that point, they wanted us to stay. But I think you should get off the stage before somebody says, “Hey, it is best to actually get off the stage.” We all know the shows that stayed too long, so we didn’t even do a full ninth season. We did 16 episodes that season, which is not gigantic by the way. There was a season where we did 26 episodes and I thought we were going to die!
Everybody Loves Raymond is currently airing on TV Land and streaming on Peacock