Paul Reiser, Helen Hunt on 'Mad About You' Reboot Fears, Taking Lessons From 'Will & Grace'

Peter Tolan, Helen Hunt, Paul Reiser - PaleyFest Fall TV Preview - Getty - H 2019

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Twenty years after wrapping a seven-season run on NBC, Mad About You — along with original stars Paul Reiser and Helen Hunt — is coming back to TV with a limited series revival at cable operator Charter's Spectrum. The decision to reunite for an update, though, was something Reiser and Hunt had long resisted because, as the duo tell it, they were both proud and satisfied with how the family comedy ended.

"Whenever I would see them say, 'Bring out the cast of whoever,' the only response in the audience is people going, 'Jesus, she let herself go'; 'He put on weight'; 'Look at that, he's still alive'; and I didn't want to be part of that. I had an aversion to coming back," Reiser told The Hollywood Reporter. Both remained against a revival until Reiser had an idea that made sense for a new take. "My youngest son was leaving for college and we were about to have an empty house and [thought], 'This is really interesting.'"

The 12-episode reboot — launching Nov. 20 with its first six episodes and wrapping Dec. 18 with its remaining six — follows Paul and Jamie Buchman and their now 18-year-old daughter, Mabel (played by Abby Quinn) as she leaves for college and the couple become empty nesters. The new episodes will echo the pilot, when the two are just starting a new chapter of their lives. Reiser noted he's leaning into the "limited" part of the series in that he isn't sure that he sees the updated take running beyond its initial order. "I don't know that I want to do two, three, four years," he said.

The Mad About You update — which will see former stars John Pankow and Richard Kind also reprise their roles from the original series — landed at Spectrum following a months-long process that saw multiple broadcast networks, including former home NBC, pass on the new take

"We took it out to a lot of different people and there was definitely interest, but it didn't seem like the right fit for a couple of them, and we almost didn't do it based on that," showrunner Peter Tolan told THR. Indeed, Tolan, Reiser and Hunt have had the new comedy in the works for nearly three years, during which "there were all sorts of 'all is lost' moments," Hunt said. 

Spectrum, which recently entered the scripted space after picking up NBC's busted L.A.'s Finest pilot, came through in the end and told Tolan that they wanted to eventize the show. "That made me, in figuring out what the arc of the story is going to be, treat it like a movie." Reiser added that he was drawn to Spectrum because the new Mad About You could help the platform distinguish itself as a home for scripted originals. "We knew they would be really behind it and it wasn't just something that was another piece of business," he said. 

On the creative side, Mad About You took its cues from both reboots that have had big success, like NBC's Will & Grace, and those that didn't fare as well. 

"Some of them deliver just what they did before, just in a different era, and some of them stray into stuff they probably shouldn't have done," Tolan said of the revival landscape. "The lesson you learn is people watching a reboot want to be reacquainted with the characters that they loved and established a relationship back in the day, so don't stray too far from that — give them what they want and honor their experience as well as their own. The show was never super topical, so we're not doing that." 

Added Hunt, who directs the premiere: "I came in when we were first talking and I was like, 'All I know is Will & Grace is crushing it, so how do we poach some of what they're doing?' All they're doing is good writing and good acting, and that's all it ever is. Also we talked in the beginning about starting the whole reboot and shooting it outside in New York, and after watching that show, I thought, 'We just need great writing, it doesn't matter where we are.'"

The reboot will tread carefully around the flash-forward series finale, ignoring some parts and aligning with others, as Reiser said they want to honor the fans but don't want to box themselves into a corner. The audience also came into play with the couple's current relationship status, as in the original reboot pitch the two were separated, but the team decided to rewrite and reunite the characters.  

"We have the same apartment, we rebuilt it but we've redecorated because it will be sad if these people have bought nothing new in 20 years," Reiser said of the Buchman's classic space in the revival. And after filming the first show, he remarked, "It felt weird that it didn't feel more weird, we both felt like, 'This is what we do.' It had been 20 years and we felt like a weekend had passed."