The creator of Everybody Loves Raymond on the show’s final season, parental guilt, and wanting to be Woody Allen.
Phil Rosenthal, creator and executive producer of Everybody Loves Raymond, doesn’t believe morale will be a problem on the set this year, even though it’s the show’s last season.
“It’s very easy keeping people happy,” he says. “Being Jewish I know that food is the most important thing and we always have great food on the set. In fact, the name of my production company is Where’s Lunch, because that’s the writers’ main preoccupation. The truth is a happy army travels on its stomach.”
The popular, Emmy-award-winning series about the Barone family, is based not so loosely on the family shenanigans of its star, Ray Romano, and Rosenthal himself. “I’ve had stories inspired by my mother, my father, my wife, my son and my daughter,” Rosenthal says. “I should pay all these people … I’d go home and get into a fight with my wife, and if I didn’t have a second act I’d keep it up.”
But Rosenthal, 44, adds, the well is running dry. And while fans and critics say the show is as funny as ever and ought to continue, Rosenthal contends, “That’s very easy to say sitting at home on the couch. Of course it may not look it, but we have very high standards. Every episode has to be about something. It has to have a beginning, middle and end and it has to be about relationships, and you literally run out of things to talk about.”
Rosenthal actually wanted to end the show last season. But he and the writers got together and came up with enough inventive stories for one more, albeit short (16-episode), season. And that’s all he wrote.
Pretty much everyone agrees with the decision — except Rosenthal’s father, Max, a sometimes actor on the show. “My dad is especially hilarious. He was on the show once and we gave him a line. He killed with it. So every time we go to the lodge (that Ray Barone’s father Frank belongs to) he’s in there. He was the most devastated (by plans to end the show). ‘What am I going to do,’ he says.”
That was a version of the question Rosenthal’s parents used to ask him. Born in Queens and raised in Rockland County, he’d spend all his time watching TV and “my parents said what are you going to do, get a job watching television? I watched too much. It got to the point where my parents said, ‘Go out and have a drink.’ They were encouraging me.”
Then the conversation unexpectedly turns serious. “They used to say, ‘why can’t you be more like Stu (the son of friends)?’ He was athletic and wonderful, and I wished I was more like him. I wished I fit in a little bit more.
“When I was 17 Annie Hall came out. I’m watching this movie and identifying with this nebbish who can’t find love and always ruins everything and knowing that in the end the girl will always pick the handsome guy. I remember my mother telling me you’re not Woody Allen.”
He pauses. “Meaning I was much cuter than Woody Allen. She didn’t realize I wanted to be Woody Allen.”
After graduating from Hofstra University on Long Island, N.Y., he gave acting a try, appearing in a couple of off-Broadway plays and attracting the attention of an agent. “He saw me and said if you come to L.A. you’ll never stop working. Like a schmuck I went to L.A. and I never started working. I started writing, because I had to do something.”
A high school friend, Barry Kirschenbaum, had preceded him to the West Coast and got him some television assignments. He eventually ended up a supervising producer on Down the Shore and the much longer-lived Coach before being introduced to Romano and creating Everybody Loves Raymond around him.
Rosenthal grew up in a conservative household and had a bar mitzvah. And right after that he “vowed never to set foot in a temple again.” He finds it ironic that he somehow managed to “find my way back.” He married Monica Horan, a women he met in college, in 1990. She converted and they now send their two children to a Jewish day school. In fact, she recently won the Tree of Life Award from the Jewish National Fund.
If the name Monica Horan is familiar to Ray viewers, it’s because she plays Amy, Ray’s new sister-in-law. “I was going to put whoever I married into whatever show I was doing,” Rosenthal jokes.
Although the show technically ends next spring, it lives on. It is already ubiquitous in syndication. “It was on five times yesterday,” Rosenthal proudly proclaims. Since he’s from the area, he’s particularly pleased that its 11:30 pm showing on WPIX locally regularly outscores Leno, Letterman, and Nightline in the ratings.
Moreover, in the fall, the first of a series of Everybody Loves Raymond DVDs will be released. There’s also a coffee table book Everybody Loves Raymond: Our Family Album coming out this month.
So what are Max and wife Helen Rosenthal the proudest of: The show? Their own appearances on it? Perhaps the book? “That’s all great,” Rosenthal says. “But the fact that I’m getting paid for a job is their biggest thrill.”