Paul Reiser hasn’t been on television in a while. That’s the case in real life, and it’s also the case on Reiser’s new NBC sitcom, “The Paul Reiser Show,” which the actor co-wrote and produced. Like a diet version of “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” “The Paul Reiser Show” follows a fictionalized version of Reiser’s life 11 years after the end of his star making role in “Mad About You.” Struggling with his fading celebrity and with a wealth of free time, Reiser spends his days wrestling with his kids’ school projects, hanging out with a disparate group of chuckleheads that he calls his friends, and trying to figure out if there’s another project out there that can spark his interest. Reiser recently sat with a bevy of reporters, including Starpulse, and took questions about his life outside of the spotlight, the genesis of his new show and shooting a scene with Larry David.
On Developing “The Paul Reiser Show:”
“I wasn't at all looking for it, there was no design and this came about, to be honest, a very nice executive over at Warner Brothers called and said I want to sit down and talk to you about something… I didn't know what it was and then when I sat down he said “We'd like you to develop something for you and we want you to be back on TV” and I went “Why?...”
There are people who want that sort of, you know, his words were saying “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 and - but it was, 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 was really fun, this would be a fun show to watch for me and I know people would watch this and I felt like this is a good way for me to do my comedy.
And having the 10/11 years not being out there really was something I wanted and as it turns out it kind of very much gave me the genesis for what the show because that I wouldn't have known. You know, if you put a gun to my head three, four, five years ago I wouldn't have been able to come up with the show but because I was really living that life of not being out there and being a guy who used to be on TV and being a guy whose job and daily life is, you know, taking the kids to school and putting out the little domestic fires, not literally. That suddenly when I started to look at it, I thought that's actually very rich and very universal. So the timing just seemed right.”
At its core, the show shares many similarities with “Mad About You,” with some key differences. Reiser explains:
"One of the premises of the show is sort of that when you're a father of kids -- I find most guys have backed me up on this -- that you realize your friends are not people of your own choosing, that your friends are all fathers of your kids’ 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?”
"One of the things that's really fun about this is this show to me is everything that “Mad About You” had and then so much more. I mean at the heart of it, it starts, you know, it's really based on my life, and my life starts with my family and that is the priority 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. They inform the show and you're doing things and you're running around doing stuff for your kids, but you're not going to see them much by design.
… There's a lot of great stories of 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 about the guys, and that's an element we didn't have in “Mad About You.” That is so fun to explore this, and it was not really part of my life 15 years ago and now it is and now I have this group of guy friends that you suddenly find yourself, you know, driving to Disneyland with these two guys for three hours so, okay, this is my life now."
When filming his new sitcom, Reiser not only pulled from his experience working on Mad About You, he also pulled from a pool of familiar directing talent, including "Mad" co-star Helen Hunt, and "Diner" buddy Daniel Stern:
"[After] seven years of “Mad About You” I learned what worked for me, and I learned what works and what doesn't work, and going into this it was very much - there were certain decisions. I just knew I wanted to make it a certain style and I wanted - sometimes just the way you structure the work day. I mean I knew I wanted this to be surrounded by friends and… I called friends that are directors.
Helen Hunt was the first director I called, and Daniel Stern is an old friend and Bryan Gordon… It's just a very sane, you know, at this point everybody wants to - you know you want to do your work but you want to get home, it's - I think gone are the days where people say let's hang out until three in the morning and eat Chinese food and never see our families. I think people want to get home and have a life as well as do a show, so it's really been run very efficiently and that was very much by design."
He also talked briefly about his preferred method of shooting single camera:
"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 and this feels just perfect and right and it has a much more real life quality which is what the show is really about."
Reiser also spoke briefly about the parallels between his TV family and his real family:
"On a good day they're very tickled; on the other days they're going “Why did you tell them that?” But you know what, my brilliant [writing] partner Jonathan Shapiro is - he's putting his family in there too and one of the great things about having a partner is you get to hide behind the other guy and go “Honey, that was really more his wife.” So we feel that enough names have been changed to protect the guilty."
Comparisons between Reiser’s new show and Larry David’s “Curb Your Enthusiasm” are inescapable, seemingly in anticipation of that, Reiser had David appear as himself on the show’s first episode. He elaborates:
"I called Larry and I said "I'm sure you're not going to want to do this, but we wrote this part for you, you've got to do it," and he was so gracious, he says, "Here's the thing, I don't like to memorize scripts so we'll improvise it"and I said done, let's do that.
And I got very nervous, to be honest with you, because he's brilliant, he has developed that art form and he's just really a genius and I felt when we did that scene I felt like I was getting into the rink with Ali. I went "Let me just keep running around and hopefully I won't get hurt." And it was a two-minute scene and we have 45 minutes of tape because he was no brilliantly funny. That was the longest most challenging editing thing was getting Larry down to the time we had allotted on the show.
But he was so great and somebody had said early on "Well, this show, Paul, it's sort of like your 'Curb.'" And I went yes, that's fair, and it's a very different feel, but yes in that I'm playing me and Larry plays himself and so on. So that we improvised that scene, and when Larry says to me “Hey Paul, you know what you should do? You should do your own version of my show, a 'Curb,'" I went - my head kind of exploded, frankly, because I go if he were actually filming my show and you're telling me that.
And, you know, my friends, I have a friend who constantly rides me, he goes "You come off as Mr. Nice Guy on TV, you're Mr. Sweet, Nice Guy, but I know you, you're not that nice." And I go "I know that, but America doesn't know that."
So we got to do that in the scene really made me laugh and Larry David of all people saying you're so much worse than me, that made me laugh, to be honest, that's my favorite joke in the whole show."
Since the end of “Mad About You,” Reiser kept mostly out of the spotlight, but worked on several pilots as a producer. He elaborates:
"I got to do a lot of stuff, I wasn't just really sitting staring into space. And I had written and developed--written and produced-- a bunch of pilots, about six pilots, that I was not acting in. So I was certainly keeping active and creative, but I wasn't at all looking to be on TV, I really wasn't. And I wasn't fighting it either, it just didn't come up.
… There are one or two [pilots] 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 you 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."
NBC’s 8:30 Thursday night timeslot has had trouble in the past, and as a producer, Reiser reveals some light on the pressure to find a big audience instantly despite an impatient network:
"One of the things about TV and launching a new TV show that is the trick is everybody wants you to be a hit right away, you know? And you have to come out with huge numbers, and I have never felt that I could do that with anything. I don't think that I'm going to - you know, I'm not reinventing the wheel here and I don't think - and this show was kind of thrown [out] suddenly, very quickly and I don’t expect that we're going to come out and we're going to beat “American Idol.” We're not that show. But I do know that this is the show that week after week will build and people will, you know, if given it's chance, and people leave it in its spot, which is something networks don't like to do, but I'm tremendously confident that if you just put this on and leave it, there will be a huge audience that will find it and it won't be 200 million people, but there will be many, many people who will be drawn to the show and so I can't wait for it to get on the air."
“The Paul Reiser Show” premieres Thurs. Apr. 12 at 8:30 on NBC.