Tonight at 8pm, HBO will premiere the hilariously revealing documentary Exporting Raymond, which documents Everybody Loves Raymond creator Phil Rosenthal’s attempt at adapting his Emmy Award-winning series for Russian television.
Wrapped in the comically terrifying tropes of the former Soviet Union, Rosenthal’s entertaining journey into the Russian television industry reveals that while American television may be working with a bigger budget, the process of developing a television series in another country is extremely similar – and just as challenging.
For television fans, Exporting Raymond gives a look behind the scenes of what it takes to actually bring a television series to air. And even though some elements may appear hilariously absurd in the Russian setting (the not-so-funny Russian comedy executive that was formerly a laser expert), the American television industry has its equivalent (including laser-experts-turned-comedy-executives).
Since Exporting Raymond presents the challenges that Rosenthal had to overcome while attempting to adapt Everybody Loves Raymond in Russia, we spoke with the man himself to find out what he went through in order to bring Everybody Loves Raymond to air in America.
From the initial pilot, to becoming a series, to dealing with the network, to quitting the show (twice), Rosenthal gives an extremely revealing look at what it took to make Everybody Loves Raymond a hit for CBS.
Below is Rosenthal’s responses to our questions, combined into one fluid experience in the television industry:
Network Executives: They’re The Same In Any Country
[In 'Exporting Raymond'] you hear me say “Oh, those Russians!” – but it’s not those Russians, it’s those executives; it’s the same everywhere. The same “No, you can’t do that” is the same in every country.
I run into just as many heads of comedy in America who don’t have a funny bone in their body.
Dealing With “The Powers That Be” – Without Getting Fired
You learn to be diplomatic. Not just in Russia, obviously – in America, too.
They all have a job to do, and they’re trying to do it to the best of their ability. Nobody is trying to… [Well,] with a few exceptions, there are some saboteurs out there sometimes. But, with very few exceptions, people mean well.
And it doesn’t do you any good to say “I’m not doing that! You’re an asshole, and I’m always right – and you don’t know anything!” That doesn’t help anybody, [if you] do that. In fact, just for purely self-interest reasons, you’re hurting yourself by doing that, because that person won’t like you and they won’t want to do business with you, and they’ll hope that you get canceled with that attitude.
Network Notes: How To Say “No”
What I always say is – and I mean it when I say it - “I’ll take a look at that,” and I really will. If someone gives me a note – no matter who it is – it actually could be to my benefit to consider it, because great ideas can come from anywhere.
And I don’t think that I’m smart enough to think that I have all the great ideas, so it pays to listen. So sometimes shut up and listen, because maybe someone else could have an idea that you could benefit from.
BUT THEN, because it is my show, and because the show needs to be from my point of view, I then decide whether that idea is valid: whether it works or whether it doesn’t. And then I have to decide what to do – and that’s my decision, whether to take the note or not.
Now, they may be angry because I didn’t take that idea – but I have reasons why I didn’t; I can explain that to them. Sometimes that’s not good enough; sometimes you could get fired for that attitude.
But that’s the chance you have to take, because the road is littered with many, many shows where the showrunner took everybody’s ideas – regardless if they were good or not. Because they thought that by taking everybody’s idea then that would make the show bulletproof – but in fact, it makes the show riddled with bullets. And then the show died!
When To Quit The Show You Created
I quit ['Everybody Loves Raymond'] twice before it made it to air. You don’t quit over “I don’t like this craft service, so I quit” – that’s stupid.
But you do quit over the big things, if you have to – [For instance,] them telling you who you’re going to cast in your show. And for me, that was a deal breaker. They were suggesting someone to play Raymond’s wife that I just couldn’t live with, and so I was quitting over that.
I got to the point where I couldn’t live with that decision. I tried to reason with them, but I then thought of a creative way to get what I wanted and what I needed [for the show]. And I did it without insulting people – they knew that I just couldn’t live with it.
I don’t know if I called their bluff or whatever, but I wasn’t trying to – and I wasn’t bluffing. But sometimes, if you say that you’re going to actually quit, it’s the strongest move you can make in the situation.
And that shows a kind of conviction that they secretly like – that actually makes you look better to them. For a second, they go, “Wait a minute. He feels so strongly about this point that he’s willing to leave his job over it? Maybe he knows something we don’t OR maybe that’s the kind of conviction that makes a television show good.”
But you do get their attention [from quitting]. Now I wasn’t trying to do that – this is all in hindsight that I’m saying this – but it did work twice for me.
The second time I quit was after we got picked up to series, after the pilot was made.
More on the Raymond experience…