Like Jerry Seinfeld, Paul Reiser is kind of TV comedy royalty. With long runs on My Two Dads and Mad About You, love them or hate them, he never really needs to work again. But, just as Jerry Seinfeld came back to confuse audiences with The Marriage Ref, Reiser has come back with a sitcom that explains exactly what it is he's doing right now: hanging out with his male acquaintances, taking meetings and taking care of his kids. If that doesn't sound funny, well, we're not going to correct you (it's kind of like a watered-down Curb Your Enthusiasm), but we sat down with the jokey TV icon to find out where the show came from and where it's going.
Reiser: I felt America needed me. ...I'm joking. You know, it's hard to hear 40 people not laughing on the phone. You sense they're not laughing, but I need to have it confirmed. It's a very good question. I wasn't at all looking for it. A very nice executive over at Warner Brothers called and said, "We'd like you to develop something for you and we want you to be back on TV." And I went "Why?" His words were, "There are people who want your sort of adult, smart heart-felt comedy," and I said "Well, I'm really kind of enjoying staying home with the kids, and geez, when you do a TV show you have to really wake up early and everything and work hard." But, you know, I'm nothing if not susceptible to flattery and nice things. So he said "Why don't you go write something that you feel like writing and let's see what happens." And I went away and this show came out of it, and I didn't know what it was going to be, to be honest, and I just wrote my life. And when it was done, I thought, "This would be a fun show to watch, for me, and I know people would watch this." I felt like this is a good way for me to do my comedy.
How similar is the show to your life?
Reiser: It's really based on my group of friends. One of the premises of the show is that, when you're a father of kids, you realize your friends are not people of your own choosing, that your friends are all fathers of your kid's friends or husbands of your wife's friends. And in my case this has certainly been true. And I have this world of friends that I look around and go, "How did I get these people?" I mean, at the heart of it, it's really based on my life, and my life starts with my family, so it always comes down to, well, here's what's going on in the home and here's what's going on with my wife and my kids. But you rarely see the kids in the show. And there's a lot of great husband-and-wife stuff, but they really serve to sort of ground the other stories. I think the kick-off for all the stories is the guys, and that's an element we didn't have in Mad About You that is so fun to explore, and it was not really part of my life 15 years ago. And now I have this group of guy friends that you suddenly find yourself driving to Disneyland with these two guys for three hours so, okay, this is my life now.
A lot of your experiences has been on multiple-camera shows with a studio audience. How has it been different for you in a single-camera format?
Reiser: The irony is I always wanted to do single-camera, even when we did Mad About You. I originally pitched it as a single-camera, which they didn't do back then, and it has come into play. You know, as fun as it was to have a live audience, I never really felt that comfortable with it. I love it when I do stand-up, it's great to have an audience, but I always felt that when doing a show it kind of distracted me a bit. This feels just perfect and right and it has a much more real-life quality, which is what the show is really about.
The first episode has a guest appearance from Larry David. Any other guest stars you can tell us about?
Reiser: You know, it's really fun, because I play myself on the show, and there's a reality to it, so anybody who comes on the show has to be themselves. So Larry David is playing himself, and we have Henry Rollins playing himself (in the second episode). The first episode up, where I'm offered a game show, I say, "Let's get my friend Mark Burnett to play Mark Burnett, because why fake it?" Daniel Stern, who is my old buddy who I met on my first job, Diner, a thousand years ago, he directed a great episode, and Helen Hunt directed an episode, and Fred Savage directed a episode, so one of the nice things that people who might not necessarily want to just do any show are coming on board and playing with us and it's been a great experience.
Of all the pilots that you've produced over the past decade, are there any that stood out to you where you were particularly disappointed they didn't get picked up as a series?
Reiser: Yes, all of them. I was actually really fond of all of them. There are one or two that I would still like to do, you know, and produce. There was one that we did which was called The Ripple Effect, and it was about how unrelated people affect each other's lives. But it was done in a very funny and sometimes dramatic way that, you know, you're in a bad mood and somebody says something to you, so you get in your car and now you're angry and you hit somebody, and that affects seven other people and at the heart of it was this element -- this very global conceit that we are indeed all connected and you never know how. And, yes, it was a little like Babel, but funnier and shorter. And that still really intrigues me and that's one that I'd love to do, so if you know anybody who's buying, let me know.
The Paul Reiser Show premieres Thursday night at 8:30/7:30C on NBC. Apropos of nothing, check out our list of the worst sitcoms of the past decade!
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