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In a wide-ranging interview with Yahoo! Entertainment, the showrunner and writer opened up about a possible reunion special and the two times he nearly walked away from the show. The second followed the near-decision to hand showrunner duties over to someone else or have Rosenthal split them with a more experienced showrunner, as the Everybody Loves Raymond creator had never run his own show.
The first, though, was when it came to casting Debra Barone, Ray’s (Ray Romano) wife, who was memorably played by Patricia Heaton. “CBS wanted someone hotter to play Debra. I almost quit the show over it,” he told the outlet.
Rosenthal says then CBS president Leslie Moonves suggested a more attractive actress, a casting decision that would have fallen more in line with sitcoms’ historical trope of “the guy and hot wife” — a subject the Annie Murphy-led dark comedy Kevin Can F**k Himself directly took on this year.
“They insisted on this actress. I thought she was wrong, but I met with her and she was a very pleasant, very nice person,” Rosenthal, who wouldn’t share the name of the actress, explained before adding, “She wasn’t going to read for the role, but during the meeting, I convinced her to read a little bit with me, and she was 10 times worse for the part than I thought she would be!”
The showrunner and Somebody Feed Phil host said that at this point, Heaton — who won the part two weeks later — had yet to audition, but he did have three finalists: two of his preferred choices and the one the executive had suggested. “I did know that [Moonves] was going to say, ‘What about so-and-so,’ and if I don’t say, ‘Yes, let’s cast her,’ I won’t have a show. So that was the day I knew that I’d be quitting my own show,” he stated.
When Rosenthal met with Moonves, he shared that he thought the actress was “terrific and beautiful” but that her performance was “just not what I wrote,” making it hard to imagine her and star Romano as a couple. After telling the former CBS president, “I think she could do it, but I also think that maybe we could do better,” he said Moonves replied, “Well, it’s just an idea,” before moving on. “In other words, he let me slide and we agreed to keep looking. Two weeks later, Patty walked in and within five minutes she had the part. When it’s right, it’s right, and you know it immediately.”
Rosenthal also spoke about the show’s underdog, Ray’s older brother Robert, who worked in the series as a cop. Following the national protests around police brutality last summer and the swell of conversations around the role and representation of policing in entertainment that followed, Hollywood has begun to reexamine the way it portrays cops and policing, as well as the ways women and wives in sitcoms are portrayed.
When asked how to make cops funny on TV in light of the larger cultural conversation around policing, Rosenthal said he was grateful he didn’t have to “deal with it.”
“I don’t think I would deal with it, because nothing’s funny about police getting out of hand,” he said. “We showed that Robert was put-upon, and not loved as much by his mother as his little brother. Those were all these funny things, and then to balance it out, we showed him being a great cop. It’d be terrible if he was a bad cop. That’s not funny: It’s not funny or great and you don’t really cheer for him.”
He went on to say that in general he avoided timely or serious subjects like that, including 9/11. “Were we going to do the 9/11 episode? I decided no because that’s not why people watch our show. They watch it to get away from the terrible things that happen in real life. We can show real life without touching on current events because real life still happens, even during 9/11 and even during COVID.”
“Real life happens in your house: You still have parents, siblings and kids, even in terrible times,” he added. “That’s what I think kept us relatable and maybe evergreen.”
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