'Everybody Loves Raymond' creator says CBS wanted a 'hotter' actress to play Ray Romano's wife on the classic sitcom
25 years ago Phil Rosenthal hit the jackpot that every television writer dreams of.
Awarded the opportunity to create a four-camera CBS sitcom for stand-up comedian Ray Romano, Rosenthal and his star came across a concept and title familiar to anyone who became a TV guide in the 1990s took in hand: Everyone loves Raymond. The series, which premiered on September 13, 1996, surpassed initially modest audience ratings and became one of CBS's most popular sitcoms, running for nine seasons and garnering dozens of Emmy statues and a lucrative syndication deal.
Everybody Loves Raymond is still on the air a quarter of a century later, and episodes air every day on TV Land. (It's also streamed on Peacock for Binge Watchers.) According to Rosenthal, this is always the future he envisioned for the sitcom that put him for life. "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 a laugh. "Being on the air at all was a miracle, so it's like hitting the jackpot not just once but over and over again."
Ray Romano and Patricia Heaton in an episode of the third season of Everybody Loves Raymond, which is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year. (Photo: CBS / Courtesy: Everett Collection)
Everybody Loves Raymond was also a jackpot that Rosenthal almost ran out of before the show premiered. He was at that crossroads when CBS got involved in the casting process for the actress to play Romano's wife - a role that eventually went to Patricia Heaton. But Heaton hadn't even auditioned for Rosenthal when the network made it clear they saw the role as a certain type of actress.
"CBS wanted someone to play hotter Debra," he says, referring to the '90s sitcom cliché where raunchy male leads were routinely married to career women. (This high-profile convention was impaled with Annie Murphy in the recent AMC series Kevin Can F *** Himself.) "I almost stopped the show because of it."
Romano and Heaton as Ray and Debra in Everybody Loves Raymond. CBS originally urged Rosenthal to cast a "hotter" actress in the role of Debra (Photo: CBS / courtesy Everett Collection)
Prior to submitting his resignation letter, Rosenthal agreed to meet with CBS 'first choice for Debra, an actress he avoids in interviews or in his Raymond memoir "You're Lucky You're Funny". “You insisted on this actress. I thought she was wrong, but I met her and she was a very pleasant, very nice person. She didn't want to read for the role, but during the meeting I convinced her to read a little with me and she was ten times worse for the role than I thought! "
Next, Rosenthal had to sit down with network managers - including then CBS boss Leslie Moonves - to discuss the casting. He entered this meeting with his three choices for Debra including CBS's preferred choice as well as two other cast members and strong suspicions that he would be leaving the room unemployed. “Again, I haven't had Patty yet; I didn't even know it existed. I knew [Moonves] would say, 'What about this and that?' And if I don't say, 'Yeah, let's cast them,' I won't have a show. That was the day I knew I was going to leave my own show. "
Fortunately for Rosenthal, things didn't turn out that way.
When Moonves asked: "What about this and that?" Rosenthal gave him the only answer he could - the truth. “I said, 'I love her and I loved everything that she went through. I think she is great and beautiful, but then she read for me and I have to tell you that it just isn't 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! Patty walked in two weeks later and within five minutes she had the part. If it's right, it's right and you know right away. ”(Moonves resigned from CBS in 2018 on allegations of sexual misconduct.)
The cast of Everybody Loves Raymond gathers for a Christmas episode (Photo: CBS / Courtesy Everett Collection)
Rosenthal may have resolved the Debra situation in his favor, but there was one more near miss before Raymond made it into the air. After CBS picked up the show - which also featured Brad Garrett as Romano's cop brother Robert and Peter Boyle and Doris Roberts as his arrogant parents - his agent called him with an unexpected question: Who did he want to be the showrunner? “I suppose,” remembers Rosenthal. “My agent said, 'You've never put on a show! You wrote a pilot. "And I said, 'So I'll do more of it." "
CBS eventually came back with an offer to Rosenthal to direct the show with a more experienced producer, but he also declined that idea out of hand. “I felt like that person was still in charge and I won't have a say in my own show. So i stop! I told them, 'I'm going to stop, bye.' It wasn't because I was brave - I actually pissed my pants because I gave up on what I loved. ”Three days later his agent called him again to tell him he was named Everybody Loves Raymond's only showrunner.
“I asked him why the sudden turning point came and he said to me, '[Moonves] liked the way you dealt with this and that.' It just shows you that you're sticking to your guns - and maybe quitting - You can see that you have some integrity. So my advice to young people is to always stop! I am not saying that you stop at your first job or rely on being able to eat. But if it's not your first job and it's your own thing, then you can show your integrity. I can't tell you how many shows were ruined by the writers taking every note from the network and the studio and then the network says, 'This is not very good.' "
Everybody Loves Raymond creator Phil Rosenthal on an episode of the Kelly Clarkson Show. (Photo: Weiss Eubanks / NBCUniversal / NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
Everybody Loves Raymond, on the other hand, is still very good 25 years after its premiere. We spoke with Rosenthal - who currently hosts the Netflix travel series Somebody Feed Phil - about the longevity of the show, what a modern (and postmodern) version of the Barones might look like, and why he and Romano will never revive the series ... but see you again at the Friend style is not excluded.
I saw the pilot "Everybody Loves Raymond" again the other night, and that sitcom style feels so different now. It still holds up, but it feels like it belongs to a different generation.
That's because the form has changed. You don't see the show style anymore and I grew up with shows like that. The shows I wanted to mimic were things like The Honeymooners, I Love Lucy, All in the Family and, more recently, Roseanne. I thought this was a landmark sitcom. These were all shows that took place in real life. In other words, you believed that the things that happened in this world could happen in real life. The funniest stuff was also the most relatable to me, and a big part of the reliability for me is credibility. Could that happen? So that was our only rule for Raymond: the shows had a purpose to them, and they were about something. It was about your work relationships or your family relationships. I had a family and Ray had a family and that's what we could write because we lived it. All of the stories came from something that happened to us at home.
For example, in the pilot, I was looking for a way to illustrate how crazy Ray's parents are. How do I show the audience that this is not only going to be one of the funniest parts of the show, but a key tenant of the show? Well, I used something that happened to me. I gave my parents a Fruit of the Month Club subscription and got that call. I wrote that into the script and I didn't know it would appeal to the audience. I knew it was kind of weird that my mom was pretending to get a box of fruit, like getting a box of heads from a murderer. I thought the audience might say, "You're crazy and that's kind of funny." But I didn't know the audience would say, “Oh my god, I can't give my parents a present without it exploding in my face!” We still get emails and letters from people all over the world who say, "This is my mother."
Rosenthal (center) and the cast of Everybody Loves Raymond celebrate 200 episodes in 2004. (Photo: Jeff Kravitz / FilmMagic, Inc)
It's funny that you should mention it was a show about something, considering it premiered at a time when Seinfeld introduced the "It's a show about nothing" premise. Did you consciously work against what Seinfeld did?
Yes, but not because I didn't like Seinfeld. I liked it very much! First of all, I don't see how to write this show, certainly not as well as these guys. Second, I wanted to avoid current humor and focus on things of lasting value. We would die on that sword. There are hardly any recent references or things that could date the show, other than clothes and hairstyles, of course, which will change. It was a series about a family for families that was made for families, which means we didn't want to put anything in the series that you couldn't see with grandma or your 9 year old kid. Not because we wanted to do a boring show - we wanted to do some risky material anyway. We just let it fly over the heads of small children and not be so vulgar to Grandma. It's the age-old lesson: be true to yourself and write what you know. People might not like it, but at least you present an honest account of what you can do.
You were also right in the middle of the era when stand-up comedy was a route to sitcoms. Were there warning stories about certain comedians who made the leap to shows that didn't work out and that you wanted to avoid?
I had no idea because I didn't even know if Ray could act! I loved his stand-up and he seemed like a natural presence so take a leap of faith. The luck I was with working with him was that he cared about the things I was talking about: credibility and understandability. He wanted to make sure it was all real and never "sitcom-esque". That said, you only see such behavior in a sitcom. That was a great thing about your leading man. Since he had never acted before, I wanted to make sure he was comfortable so the first thing I did was surround him with great actors, which they did with Roseanne too. She was a comedian who had never acted before and that seemed to work. And you can never go wrong with casting great actors! And because Ray is naturally gifted, he learned from them and got better and better. You can see his development as an actor from the first show to the last. And now he's in Scorsese films, of course!
CBS originally released the series on Fridays, and the ratings weren't great. Was it frustrating knowing you had this great show that didn't get the audience it deserved?
It was actually a hidden lesson. We went to Dave's World at 9:30 a.m. on Fridays, I think. They didn't have a hit in that timeframe, and neither would we! However, the few people who saw the show came back every week and we got good reviews too. So we were somewhat protected in this time window because there were no expectations of doing well. Six months after it started, they had problems with a show that wasn't doing well on Monday night and here was a show that went well for their position, got good reviews and the broadcaster liked the show. So they moved us and once we moved we never moved back!
At first we were just as nervous as at the beginning because we thought, "Oh no, we could be canceled." In fact, the network even told me, "If you don't appear here, it was." But in that first week on Monday we doubled our ratings. And then over the next week the ratings went up from there and then we relaxed a little. We didn't get nervous again until Season 3 when they put us up against Ally McBeal and Monday Night Football and we said, "Now we're dead." Within three months we beat both of them! We couldn't believe it In high school, the football players knocked your books down in the hallway, so that was real nerds revenge!
Did that increased exposure cause CBS to get more involved in the show, or did they leave you alone for the most part?
We were just lucky that they had to put out bigger fires like all networks do. When something works, they usually leave you alone. Yes, they always said, "Maybe you want to get a little hippier and edgier, a little hotter and sexier." And I think, "Did you see the show?" [Laughs] I even said once at the Emmys, "You have the right guy. I'm Mr. Hip and Edgy."
Phil Rosenthal at an Emmys after party in 2004 after winning Everbody Loves Raymond for Outstanding Comedy Series. (Photo: Jeff Kravitz / FilmMagic)
They overlapped in the television comedies that began with Arrested Development in 2003 - this series helped popularize the single camera format in the United States.
No, we knew what we were and we wouldn't change. At the same time, I was aware of a cultural change and the whole business changed. In fact, by the time Raymond was over, the business had changed so much that they didn't really want the kind of show Raymond was anymore. In fact, there wouldn't be another family-oriented sitcom until Modern Family a few years later. This not only worked for the network but also for the audience because it was brilliantly done and felt modern. It was a single cam comedy and there was the kind of political awareness and cultural change embedded in it. It was perfect for where and when it premiered, but you can also see now that the network's attitude is that the family sitcom is so uncool. What they don't know is that it is and always has been one of the building blocks of television. You just have to do it well.
If you were to do Everybody Loves Raymond now, would it have to look more like Modern Family?
I do not know. I know I've been in situations where I've tried to sell a show about another actor about his actual family. And the moment we sold it, I got notes from the network saying, "Okay, it shouldn't be about that person, it should be about young people." And I said, "Wait a minute, you just bought this show about this guy's real family!" When I left Raymond, I didn't want to do the kind of shows they did, all the shows that were just sex jokes. I wasn't interested. For me the world got a bit more blatant and even vulgar. It's not that I'm a prude, it's just not what I do. It is not my strong point. There are people who can be really funny much better than me in this arena. So I didn't want those kind of shows they were doing and they didn't want the kind of shows I wanted to do.
Romano and Brad Garrett in an episode of Everyone Loves Raymond. (Photo: CBS / courtesy Everett Collection)
If it were done now, one would have to decide whether Robert will still be a policeman or not. Shows like Brooklyn Nine-Nine also wrestle with it: How do you make fun of cops at a time when it's much more difficult to portray on television?
Thank god I don't have to deal with that. I don't think I would handle it because there is nothing funny about the police getting out of hand. We showed that Robert was not loved by his mother as much as his little brother was. Those were all these funny things, and to make up for that, we showed him he's a great cop. It would be terrible if he were a bad cop. That's not funny: it's not funny or great and you don't really cheer it. He was perhaps the most popular character on the series because of his position in life, which means he had the least amount of power in family dynamics. But when you see him [as a cop], there was a very specific episode where we showed him how brave and great he is, and Ray saw it too. So the audience had this newfound respect for him and they just love him.
I didn't want to deal with such serious issues on the show. For example, 9/11 happened while we were filming. Did we want to do the 9/11 episode? I chose no because that's not why people see our show. You watch it to escape the terrible things that happen in real life. We can show real life without touching current events because real life is still happening, even during September 11th and even during COVID. Real life takes place in your house: even in difficult times you still have parents, siblings and children. In my opinion, that made us relatable and perhaps evergreen.
Peter Boyle and Doris Roberts both passed away, but has CBS ever talked about doing a Raymond revival? And would you return for a one-time special episode?
I would love to do a 25th anniversary special to show where the cast is now and tell stories about the things that happened to us at home and show snippets of the episodes that grew out of those stories. You can see the actors and what they are like and hear them tell stories about Doris and Peter. For me that would be a wonderful thing. But I don't believe in reviewing the past as a sitcom. We're not letting former footballers who are in their 60s and 70s go out and attack each other! [Laughs] It's just not the same. I love that the show already exists in the world and if you want to see it, you can watch it. I don't think revivals work that well. So I'm all for a reunion special, but I don't think we'd try again.
Doris Roberts and Peter Boyle in Everyone Loves Raymond. (Photo: CBS / courtesy Everett Collection)
It's similar to the Friends reunion, which was a huge hit for HBO Max. How do you think sitcoms fit into the streaming landscape? In this environment, is there any way to go back to the four-camera form you are talking about?
It's always dead until there's a good one. There are shows with single cameras right now that I love: I think Hacks is brilliant, Dave is brilliant. These are really reinventions of form. So there are great, fun shows out there, they just look a little different than they used to be. I am sure that there will be another great four-camera show. I always say, “Bet on the chef.” When you invest in a restaurant, it's not just about the location and the hottest item on the menu - it's who the chefs are - the writers, directors and actors . If that is in the foreground and not just "Here is a striking name or a current catchphrase", because that is what defines a poster. My joke is that in Hollywood, work stops at the poster. So you have to go beyond the poster and ask, “What is this about? Is it worth it? "Then you might have a chance at the next great sitcom with four cameras.
I'm sure there are too many to choose from, but is there a particular Raymond episode that holds a special place in your heart?
I have a few. We ended each season with a flashback episode and there was one called How They Met. It's hard to write an origin story, but I think it was really good. I wrote it with Ray and Ray and Patty's performance on it is wonderful. That brings me to tears! The PMS episode is the perfect example of how we take something that may not be funny from our real life and make it funny. I enjoyed the "luggage" episode with the suitcase on the stairs. It's also taken straight from an actual fight Tucker Cawley [the episode writer] had with his wife, and it worked so well.
The Italy episodes are a personal favorite because not only was it a single-camera foray when we were shooting on location in Italy, but it was also the genesis of the Netflix travel show I'm doing now, Somebody Feed Phil. It was from these episodes that I got the idea to do a travel show because I saw what happened to Ray and understand how great travel is from a low key point of view. I found it so wonderful and beautiful, and I wanted to do it for others.
A scene from the 2005 series finale by Everbody Loves Raymond. (Photo: Robert Voets / CBS Photo Library / Getty Images)
And I really liked our finale because it wasn't a special episode - it was special just because it was the last and the audience knew it. I think it's great that nothing significant has changed in the family's dynamic. We met these people in the middle of their lives and we go out in the middle of their lives. Life is tough enough so why not believe this family continues right where you left them?
Did CBS ask for a bigger finale?
Nope. The only thing they wanted was for us not to go on the air! [Laughs] At that point, they wanted us to stay. But I think you should get off the stage before someone says, "Hey, you really should get off the stage." We all know the shows that stayed on too long, so we didn't even do a full ninth season. We did 16 episodes this season, which by the way isn't gigantic. There was a season we did 26 episodes and I thought we were going to die!
Everybody Loves Raymond is currently airing on TV Land and streamed on Peacock
In this article:
American stand-up comedian
American television writer and producer
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