Q&A: Ray Romano

'Everybody Loves Raymond' actor's new TV project is finally ready to go

Four years after Everybody Loves Raymond ended, Ray Romano is back on TV. He's penning a new drama for TNT called Men of a Certain Age, which is slated to debut in December. Romano talks to B&C Business Editor Claire Atkinson about his new show, working in cable versus broadcast and his thoughts on the big Jay Leno move.

How did this project land at TNT?

It took a long time. There was the writers' strike last year. We had the script and we were shopping it around. First we went to HBO and then TNT, and by the time they were ready to move on it, you couldn't even talk for four or five months and then the whole development process took hold. We had a script already which they loved, and basically it was scheduling to film and to cast the pilot.

Then it was like where will it fit [on TNT's schedule]. It was supposed to be June, then it turned into January; it kept going on. I was 47 when I wrote it; now I'm 51. But in my mind-set, I'm still an immature idiot.

How is cable different from broadcast?

We have more freedom with language and content, but there's not a lot of difference really. It's important to keep these guys as real as possible. There's a little less censorship, and you have fewer people with their hands in the mix, which is also good. It's similar except for my salary and the budgets. That's fine, though; I'm not doing it for the money. I don't want to tell them that.

Will you be watching Jay Leno's new show? What do you make of the late-night changes at NBC?

Yeah, I'll give it a look out of curiosity. I don't watch late night, but Jimmy Fallon is funny, and with Jay it will be interesting to see if it works at 10 p.m. I don't know why it wouldn't. It's a weird hour for TV; if you're not into dramas, there's nothing much unless you watch the news. Conan at 11:30 is a different style of humor, more offbeat; it will be interesting to see if Jay's audience follows him.

Will there be more of Everybody Loves Raymond?

I’ve got to be honest; the answer is no. Will there be a tribute that we go to, a special? Maybe. We’ll never do a scripted thing; they never live up and we left on such a high note, that’s our legacy, so why tinker with that? Peter Boyle is gone, so it wouldn’t seem right. Having said that, call me when I’m bored again.

What made you want to get back into television again?

It wasn’t a desire to be back in TV, but to do what I do. Over a year had gone by, and first it was good just to be off and have time to myself. [The show] was nine years of being in a bubble. I was in New York and did standup and worked my whole life and then I moved out to L.A. with my family. At the same time, I’m just thrown into this 24/7 venture of putting every ounce of energy into the show, and all of sudden the bubble stops, and everybody you knew goes away and I became like, where am I? You’re in a different town, the kids are 10 years older and it’s kind of a traumatic experience. After a couple of months you feel misplaced, so it was exciting to be off and enjoy the fruits of my labor; then there’s a big void and your realize work is part of who you are. It makes you happy and it centers you, so it was hard to find the next project. It took about a year to sit down with [writing partner] Mike Royce.

How did the idea for Men of a Certain Age come about?

Mike Royce and I went to lunch at Warner Bros., where Everybody Loves Raymond was shot, and said let’s bullcrap our way through it and see what excites us. We both agreed we have to write our specialty—stuff we’d know. Mike had also come off Raymond; people go through different searches at that age, and even if your successful and have some fame, it’s still the same midlife crisis, it’s just relative. You’re still looking for something. We said, let’s write about that and we fleshed it out, decided let’s make them friends. So many people experience this from different situations.

What is the premise of the series, and how does it develop?

Three guys go to college together at Syracuse University. You see them young in the opening credits in pictures. Somehow they all end up on the West Coast looking for their thing. Andre Braugher’s character [Owen] is stuck in his father’s business. My character had aspirations to become a pro golfer and that was a pipe dream and never materialized; he ends up a running a party store. He thinks he’s happy but has unfulfilled dreams he never went after, and his marriage just ended.

Scott Bakula’s character [Terry], he’s the perennial bachelor, the Peter Pan.

There are 10 episodes for the first season. My character [Joe] thinks that he still has a hope of saving his marriage, but it’s not going to happen and he has to move on; he has to get through that, he had a little gambling thing that’s resurfacing a little. He’s also accepting that his wife and he are moving on, and he’s trying to get to back to the dating world. He’s also having a kind of existential crisis; he’s lost and questioning purpose and reason and what’s next.

Scott’s character is going to meet a young girl. He has dated, but never below his age, and he’s going to meet a young girl at Starbucks in her 20s and it’s just moving backward for him.

Owen has been in shadow of his father, who is an ex-basketball player; Owen owns the car dealership. It’s about what he goes through trying to live in his father’s shadow and never living up to expectations; he’s in a good marriage with kids, but still there’s a lot of stress in the family dynamic.

Why drama and not comedy?

There’s a little of both; it’s different because it’s single-camera. We’re writing outlines of the script. Writing is hard either way.

Do you see any of the old Raymond cast?

I see Brad Garrett [Robert]; we do a lot of work in Vegas, we play poker, I’m going to his charity in Vegas. Patty [Heaton, who played Debra] not as much, but her kids are in my school and we e-mail occasionally. Doris Roberts [Marie] I see three times a year at charity stuff we do, and Monica Rosenthal [Amy] I see because Phil Rosenthal [creator of the show] and I still socialize.

What’s on your TiVo?

Ultimate Fighter, the reality show on Spike, and all the ultimate fighting events I buy on pay-per-view. My kids and I watch Survivor, American Idol, Celebrity Apprentice, 24 and Friday Night Lights, one of my favorite shows. We’re happy because we got the director and cinematographer from that show.