Phil Rosenthal keeping busy in film, TV
Multiple projects include Russian 'Raymond'If you've created and run one of most successful comedy series of all time, what do you do for an encore?
"Everybody Loves Raymond's" Phil Rosenthal has little time to contemplate that. Three-and-a-half years after his series left the CBS airwaves, he has three projects in the works at HBO and a sitcom set up at the BBC. Oh, and he's writing a feature for Universal. And a play.
To top it off, he's shepherding a Russian version of "Raymond" and making a feature documentary about it.
"The business is terrible right now, so like everybody else I had to diversify," Rosenthal said.
At HBO, which co-produced "Raymond," he is in talks about a comedy, "The Jeannie Tate Show"; a drama, "Random Family"; and a movie about 1960s Freedom Riders.
"Jeannie" is based on the WB.com digital series created by Liz Cackowski and Maggie Carey that stars former "Saturday Night Live" writer Cackowski as a neurotic soccer mom who hosts a talk show from her minivan.
Cackowski and Carey are penning the script and co-exec producing. Rosenthal is supervising the writing and exec producing the project, originally developed at Warner Bros. TV, which remains a passive partner. His brother, Rich Rosenthal, who oversees WB's digital division and brought the idea to Phil, will be a producer.
"Random Family" is based on the nonfiction book by Adrian Nicole LeBlanc and revolves around a multigenerational family in the South Bronx.
LeBlanc and Chris Terrio are writing and co-exec producing. Rosenthal and Neal Gabler are exec producing.
Rosenthal and Gabler also are exec producing a movie project for HBO Films based on portions of Raymond Arsenault's book "Freedom Riders: 1961 and the Struggle for Racial Justice."
Wayne Kramer is in talks to write and direct the film described as "the Freedom Riders of the 1960s done as an action movie."
It chronicles civil rights activists' harrowing ride on buses through the South that escalated to a point where segregationists threw Molotov cocktails at them.
"There is a direct line from what those people did to the election of our new president," Rosenthal said.
The sitcom for the BBC is inspired by a true story Rosenthal heard about from producer Laura Ziskin. A college ran out of room in its dormitories and placed students at a nearby retirement home that had space. Rosenthal considered pitching the idea to U.S. networks but eventually dismissed it.
"Here they would say, 'We love it. Can we do it without the old people?' So I thought why not do it in England where they welcome old people?"
He partnered with top British TV producer, Kudos' Jane Featherstone, and sold the idea to the BBC. He plans to write the project, then let his U.K. partners "Brittify" it.
At Universal, the CAA-repped Rosenthal is writing a feature comedy about an all-inclusive family vacation in Mexico he took during a break from "Raymond" that he detailed in his autobiography, "You're Lucky You're Funny."
"It was the worst experience of my life -- nothing you'd want was included, and the things that were you wish weren't," Rosenthal said. "My complaining almost destroyed my marriage."
Rosenthal also is venturing into playwriting with a drama about top chef and restaurateur Grant Achatz, who at age 33 was at the top of his career when he was diagnosed with Stage 4 tongue cancer in 2007. He barely escaped tongue removal and eventually beat the cancer, but the aggressive chemo and radiation treatments left him without a sense of taste.
And then there's the Russian "Raymond."
When he was wrapping production on the final season of the show in 2005, Sony Pictures Entertainment CEO Michael Lynton asked Rosenthal if he would be interested in going to Russia, where Sony Pictures TV International had just launched to huge ratings a localized version of "The Nanny." Lynton thought the colorful personalities execs had encountered in their dealings in Russia would be perfect for a comedy feature.
Rosenthal proposed instead to do it as a doc, and Lynton countered with the idea of Rosenthal documenting the remaking of his own show in Russia.
Rosenthal is now editing the feature-length "Exporting Raymond," which is produced by Full On Service.
Last spring, after years of dealmaking between SPTI and "Raymond" format owners Worldwide Pants, Rosenthal and HBO Independent Prods., Russian broadcaster CTC ordered a pilot. SPTI is producing the show, "Vse Lubyat Kostya" (Everybody Loves Kostya), with local production company Lean-M. Closely following the original "Raymond" scripts, it centers on a newspaper writer, his wife, his cop brother and his intrusive parents.
The doc, which Rosenthal hopes will be released by Sony, chronicles the casting, the prep and the shooting of the pilot in December. It will end with CTC's pending decision whether to proceed with a series.
During filming, Rosenthal met the outlandish characters he was hoping for. The pilot's director doubles as a street performer who plays music on enema bags full of water strapped to his body, and the show's costume designer was adamant that the Russian Barone family be used to educate the Russian audience about high fashion.
And he learned a thing or two about the local language, the food and the way they do business.
Rosenthal got a kick out of the closeness in the sound of the Russian horosho ("good") and the English "horror show." So when crew members would turn to him for approval, asking, "Horosho?" he'd say "Yeah, horror show."
On the food: "I loved it. And I learned that the Russian cuisine was designed to go with vodka."
Rosenthal tried to convince the producers to shoot the pilot in front of a live audience, telling them it was essential to the show. He was shot down with the argument: "But then we'd have to get chairs!"
The novel aspects aside, the best part of doing "Raymond" in Russia for Rosenthal was that it brought back memories of his nine years on the original.
"It was a very, very happy time," he said. "I regret nothing and enjoyed every moment of it."