Everybody Loves Phil
And Rosenthal is content at the top-rated, Emmy-winning sitcom
By Susanne Ault -- Broadcasting & Cable, 8/26/2001 8:00:00 PM
Until he created CBS's Everybody Loves Raymond, Phil Rosenthal suffered through a host of miserable jobs, from falling asleep while a guard at New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art to working on several of what he calls "shitcoms."
Today, Raymond is a top-rated sitcom and has a third consecutive Emmy nomination for Best Comedy Series. Next month, King World will introduce the show in syndication, a move typically signaling that a series has made it into TV's big leagues.
And, besides having earned the affection of TV viewers and studio executives, Rosenthal has won over former President Bill Clinton, who last year asked the producer to direct his White House farewell video.
So how do you go from rejection—ideas for series starring British actor Peter O'Toole, Robert Mitchum and Joan Rivers fizzled—to affection?
People will eventually come around and accept you if you make sure you love what you do, Rosenthal maintains, recalling advice given to him by The Mary Tyler Moore Show producer Ed Weinberger: " 'Do the show you want to do because, in the end, they are going to cancel you anyway.' That's a great philosophy of life."
When Rosenthal was pitching Raymond to CBS for the 1996-97 TV season, he had legitimate credits as a supervising producer on Fox's Down the Shore for three years and later on ABC's Coach for three years, but people tried to persuade him to significantly change the project.
His premise for Raymond did make good sense. Rather than copy the current hit Seinfeld —"the only bad thing you can say about Seinfeld is all the TV shows that tried to imitate it"—Rosenthal would "do the complete opposite."
"It wouldn't be a show about nothing. I wanted it to matter," he explains.
"Instead of 'Oh yeah, I hate it when I lose my car in the parking lot,'" he says. "I wanted people to come away and say 'That is how I feel about my father!' and 'That is how I feel about my wife!'"
Yet, when he outlined his series as a "classic, old-fashioned, traditional type of sitcom," an executive replied, "Those are all words we should be staying away from."
However, "it all worked out—obviously!" Rosenthal laughs.
He could have left Raymond several seasons ago—most series creators jump to their next project after the show's first year—but he has wanted to stay on, ensuring Raymond a smooth off-net rollout.
"When we started, I said I'm doing this show for CBS, but, in the back of my mind, I said it's for Nick at Nite. Years and years from now, I hope the show holds up."
Unlike most executive producers, who generally assign others to arrange a show's repeats, Rosenthal has "personally" edited every single Raymond episode for syndication. He's determined to have Raymond reach out to about half of the current CBS audience—those who didn't become addicted viewers of the show during its first two seasons.
Following his heart, doing only what he loves, is why he agreed to collaborate with Clinton on his comic video short. Predicting that the former president would have a lot more time to do laundry, among other chores, once he left office "was crazy. But it was a hell of a lot of fun," recalls Rosenthal, who was matched up with Clinton via a high school friend who is a former White House speechwriter.
The project, which continues to air on the Web site Atomfilms.com was so much of a blast, in fact, that Rosenthal hopes to use Clinton, who was "scarily good," for an upcoming TV series, in which he'd help people overcome such hardships as poverty.
Bottom line, however, Rosenthal is content at Raymond. "Why should I be in such a rush to leave something that's wonderful?"
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