Life is But a Show
by Ronald Sklar
“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 the scenes.
“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.”
He 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.”
Twenty years 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”).
Unlike Mad, this new series is one-camera and sans a studio audience, but some qualities intersect with Reiser’s former show.
He 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.”
The 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.”
In 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.
|#1 © 2011 Chris Haston. Courtesy of NBC Television. All rights reserved.|
|#2 © 2011 Michael Yarish. Courtesy of NBC Television. All rights reserved.|
|#3 © 2011 Michael Yarish. Courtesy of NBC Television. All rights reserved.|
|#4 © 2011 Michael Yarish. Courtesy of NBC Television. All rights reserved.|
|#5 © 2011 Michael Yarish. Courtesy of NBC Television. All rights reserved.|
Copyright ©2011 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: April 10, 2011.