“It was not something I was planning to do or looking to
do, but I got a very nice invitation,” Paul Reiser tells me about
the evolution of his new NBC series, The Paul Reiser Show.
That friendly invite, from Warner Brothers Television,
kindly requested Reiser to develop a comedy series with Reiser
himself, once again, in the driver’s seat. Up until this year, the
Mad About You star was content with simply remaining behind
“I was writing and producing pilots for the last ten
years,” he says of his decade since his series left the air. “I was
very happy doing that and not being in them.”
was also happy with his personal life in post-series retirement,
which he spent contently with his wife and two children. Ironically,
this easygoing life of Reiser had its sure rewards, but it also
posed some soul-searching challenges. This mid-life crisis included
the desire to remain creative, productive, relevant and fulfilled.
This dichotomy became the engine for the new series, as told through
the eyes of Paul and other men, all in the same boat (or car pool).
He says, “It ended up becoming this show about a group of
guys. These guys are united only because their kids are friends.
They didn’t choose each other, but it’s more like you’re driving
with this guy to the ballgame or to the school play. It’s also about
guys learning how to be friends, which in my experience is much more
of a woman’s experience.
“Women come much more naturally to
having friends and being friends. Men can live without it. They’re
just happy to have some quiet. But I notice myself, when I had kids,
suddenly there is that much more to bond about. And when your kids
are friends together, you open up in ways that you wouldn’t have
twenty years ago.”
and then some is about right for the sitcom veteran, who was a
co-star of such film classics as Diner, Aliens, and
Beverly Hills Cop. During those years, he learned a thing or two
about the complexities of interpersonal relationships, especially
between men and women. His now-classic series Mad About You
explored the dynamics of a marriage through little moments (it was
often called a “married Seinfeld”).
this new series is one-camera and sans a studio audience, but some
qualities intersect with Reiser’s former show.
says, “What it shares with Mad About You, in my mind, is that
everybody would come in with stories about their wives and their
husbands and I would think, ‘Oh, that’s an episode!’ This [new
series] has that tenfold. It’s everything that happens every day.
It’s just really a fun story.”
The show is also drawing comparisons to another classic
series about little, funny stories: Curb Your Enthusiasm,
starring Reiser’s good buddy Larry David (who makes an appearance as
himself on the premiere episode).
“People who read the script were saying, ’It’s sort of your
Curb Your Enthusiasm,’” Reiser says, “and I said, ‘Well,
that’s fair enough.’ I play myself; Larry plays himself. He’s post
Seinfeld; I’m post Mad About You. That’s about it. The
shows are different to the extent that he and I are different. And
in that episode, we really say it.
“Larry is going, ‘You know, you are so much worse than me.
People think you’re the nice guy, but you’re not at all.’ That
really tickles me, because my friends are always going, ‘You’re
[perceived as] Mr. Nice Guy, but you’re not that nice.’ Larry was
priceless. All of that was improv.”
fifty-something New York native started life as a musician (piano),
but then turned to stand-up comedy and finally, acting. His long
success in television (including the series My Two Dads as
well as his appearances on Curb Your Enthusiasm) has made him
one of the most recognizable faces in America. His TV game plan for
creating or starring in crowd-pleasing projects may have been
borrowed from another famous face, who also knew a thing or two
about how to pull in viewers by the country load.
“Bill Cosby once said that the best television is like a
hearth,” Reiser says. “You warm yourself. You put your hands up
against it and you warm up to that family, that show. I hope that’s
what this show becomes. There is so much real life that came out of
my guts. All of these stories happened in one way or another.”
Of course, television, as well as the entire world of
media, has changed drastically since Mad About You aired its
last episode, in 1999. With the stakes upped and the rules changing,
is Reiser worried?
“I’ll tell you in two weeks,” he says to me, two weeks
before the series premiere. “In some ways yes, because it’s hard to
grab an audience. There are so many other things pulling at people.
But on the other hand, if you get 400 people, that’s a hit. The
standards have changed. I know shows where two or three million
people are watching a week, and you go, okay, that’s not bad;
whereas twelve years ago, that was bad.”
the meantime, Reiser is sticking to his guns, and owning what it
takes to make a hit show.
“My comedy always worked better when it came from a real
place,” he says. “I know when I’m not telling the truth. When I say
something that just feels a little too forced, I’m trying too hard.
It just doesn’t work. And when I write something that’s real, it not
only feels better, but it’s also funnier.
“The most personal things are the most universal. When you
write about an actual fight that you have with your wife, or some
problem with your kid, sure enough, there are going to be millions
of people going, oh, man, I just had the exact same thing.”
As far as the show being “autobiographical,” Paul is used
to semi-playing himself.
“I am so much more handsome in real life,” he kids. “I’m
112 pounds and muscular. But I started to write this and I asked
myself, ‘Do I play a journalist? Am I an architect?’ Who needs
that! I’ll be me. That was the first decision. I’m going to play
me. A guy who is exactly me. I’ve been off the air for ten years,
and very happy at home with my kids, and I don’t really want to go
out. But I’m not dead yet, so I probably should.”
Millions of fans will be glad he did.
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