Ray Romano Talks About Translating His “Middle-Age Funk” Into A Manly New Drama

After a four-year hiatus from television, Everybody Loves Raymond star Ray Romano is finally coming soon to a small screen near you. On Dec. 7, TNT will premiere Romano’s newest labor of love — and angst — the hourlong drama Men of a Certain Age.

Yes, you read that right: Like his new TV home, Ray Romano Knows Drama.

And, though the network is has long been running humor-steeped promo clips, Romano wants you to know that his tale of three lifelong buddies teetering on the brink of midlife crisis is NOT Everybody Loves Raymond’s Friends.

Channel Guide: Congratulations on the new show! You’ve said it’s been a work a long time in the making. Describe for me the beginning of that process — the genesis of the idea for the show?

Ray Romano: There wasn’t any defining moment. Raymond had ended and I was kind of looking forward to having some free time … and that lasted about a month, maybe. I wasn’t really searching for what my next project would be — I was like, well we’ll see what happens, you know. Maybe something will come along — a script, a show, whatever. But after the summer, the void was a bit overwhelming — of not actually having a focus of what I was going to do next.

And also the void of leaving Raymond after nine years. It kind of hit. You expect there will be a gap there, but you’re kind of wrapped in the ending of the show and all of a sudden having all this free time and doing interviews and whatnot — and then after a couple months, it sets in. This family that you had for nine years just disappeared over night. And this energy you had for nine years. This creative energy.

So after about three months, I spoke to my buddy Mike Royce, who is also a writer on the show, and I said, “Why don’t we have lunch and toss around some ideas?” Because I needed to do something. And he needed to do something also. He was a comic in New York that I worked with, and two or three years after I got Raymond, I brought him over as one of the writers. Because his sensibility, his take on things — we’re very compatible. We work together very well. So he was the natural guy for me to try to do another project with, I thought. So we had lunch, and I remember we were on Warner Bros. lot — I had an office at Warner Bros. — and we just tossed around some stuff.

Some heavier stuff than Raymond

I myself was going through my own little thing. My own little search for identity, I guess you might want to call it. It was on a different level than the character in Men of a Certain Age. But it was still there. It’s all relative, I guess.

And so we discussed let’s do what what we do best and write what we know — that’s what we did with Raymond. And what we know now is just this middle age funk that we were kind of both in. This searching for some sense of what’s next. What did I do? What am I going to do? All these questions that not only men but also I think everybody goes through at our age. And we knew we wanted to do something that had comedy in it, but we didn’t want to do a sitcom, because there was no way I ever wanted to do a sitcom again. I felt like I did it. I’m awfully proud of what I did …

And what you did was a pretty hard act to follow …

I don’t want to have to follow myself!

So I had a couple ideas and he had a couple ideas and that’s where you begin…

So there is some of you and your own story in Joe?

A little bit of all of that. There’s a lot of me in Ray Barone. There’s a lot of me in Joe. But they’re different people. The underlying core of it is my experiences. There are bits and pieces of it that I’ve lived or that I’ve known or that I’ve felt. But even for the other characters — Scott Bakula’s character. He was based on one of the writers in our Raymond room, who was the only single writer, who we kind of lived vicariously through. Kinda had the same outlook on life that Terry has. And of course, Owen, Andre Braugher’s character is married with kids, which is something both Mike and myself have lived. It’s a little of everything. But then also that’s what good about writing is ya make s*** up! [Laughs]

I’m in this age demographic, too, and it is certainly an interesting time, where you’re suddenly aware you’re too old for a whole lot of stuff, but you don’t necessarily feel that way …

It’s also a time where you’re trying to get yourself together, but you’re taking care of the WHOLE family. Because my parents are at an age where I need to take care of them, but my kids are still in the house, so I need to take care of them. So you’re kind of in the center of it all, but you’re still a little lost yourself. It’s a weird dynamic.

I feel — and part of this is my mentality as a comedian, I guess — but I feel like I’m a stupid teenager as far as maturity level, but then I look in the mirror and I got gray hair and …

I find myself looking at timeframes now, too. Like, “Wait a minute, now let’s see … when the show started, Peter Boyle was 61, and I am 10 years away from that … ” And “My father was this age when he had me … ” And I start comparing things. So you’re very aware of life.

You may not love the analogy, but this kind of brought to mind a less campy Sex & The City for men — Sex and Suburbia, maybe? A group of pals, different job/love-life/fabulosity situations?

Except there’s no City. And no Sex, either. [Laughs]

We want to be funny, but this has to be totally real. So, where as in Raymond was a sitcom, we kind of prided ourselves that the jokes were from a real place. But we could fool ourselves all we wanted. It was still a sitcom and it still got heightened a little and broadened, and reactions were reactions in the sitcom world, and how you said things and how you emoted were from the sitcom world. This is true to life.

And sometimes we find ourselves in a place where I’m like, “No. Ray Barone would react like that.” It’s funny, but it’s not the real universe that we’re in though. So we want it to be funny, but we want it to be real first.

To that end, Everybody Loves Raymond was — and is — an iconic comedy series, and legions of fans are anxiously awaiting to your return to series TV. But this show is a whole ‘nother animal from Raymond

Ehhhhhh! That’s my fear! That’s why we’re telling TNT, “Don’t oversell the comedy on this because people will only be disappointed. Let them think it is exactly what it is and then if they’re laughing more it will be a nice surprise.”

We want to do it all — we want to do the drama and the humor.

So you are nervous …

Of course I’m nervous! Look who you’re talking to here!

That’s my point: I wish they would just sell it as a drama, even though it’s not a pure drama. Just sell it as that, because then the humor will be a bonus for them. And even if they did, people will be coming and thinking, “Oh, it’s Ray. This will be funny and good.” But the promos that they’re showing now are all mostly geared toward the light, humorous, little witty takes and they have music to it. And I get a little worried! But what are you going to do? You can’t worry about everything. But I try to! [laughs]

The good thing is the TNT slogan is We Know Drama. So hopefully, even though they’re pushing the humor, people’ll know there’s more to it.

I just did a promo shoot where I had to say all these one-liners, like “TNT. You’re watching Men of a Certain Age.” And they wanted me to do the, “Right Here On TNT — We Know Drama.” And I told them, ya know what? I don’t think you want me saying the “We Know Drama” slogan now. Wait till the show airs and people see it.

It just didn’t sit right for me. Because just think if you saw Jerry Seinfeld saying, “We Know Drama.” I have to earn it a little.

Music is a big deal on this show — and, as I said, I’m in this particular demographic, so is that because it’s how we cling to our youth?

For my character, Joe, he’s stuck reminiscing for that era, he’s really nostalgic for it, and the jukebox in his store is filled with music from that era. So that is kind of where we will be, musically. But that’s not to say that everything will be from the ’70s. You get to that point where a song from those days can just bring up a bit of the innocence of those days. I don’t know if it’s healthy or not. But that’s what I do.

There seems to be a lot of genuine repartee, especially in the scenes with all three of you. How much dialog is ad-libbed?

Well, that was the goal in the beginning — that this is going to be tightly scripted, but we also wanted to have the freedom to let it go, you know? And in the pilot, we did have success with that in the diner scene. And a little bit in the hospital scene where we’re telling Andre about his nose and about the fantasy woman and this and that. But I’m finding we can’t rely on that a lot. Because there are some actors who just aren’t comfortable with that.

I mean, Andre Braugher, God bless him! I thank God that we cast him. He’s kind of an example of the lucky things that have to happen if you’re going to have a show that’s going to make it. I mean, I don’t know if this is going to make it. But it happened with Raymond where Brad Garrett was the furthest thing from what we had written on paper. But he came in and we got very lucky.

Andre Braugher was not who we had in mind for Owen, but now we love everything he does. But he’s a Juilliard-trained actor, so when we say, “Let’s wing this one and improv it,” he starts shaking in his boots. He’s pretty good at it. But we’re finding out that we need to get it down on paper as best we can, because there are little nuggets of good improv here and there, but the majority of it is better off scripted.

I gotta admit it — I’m having trouble watching people be mean to Andre Braugher. I mean, he’s Andre Braugher … how did you convince the regal Andre Braugher to do a role in which people are really mean to him?

It’s not the strong guy from Homicide and this commanding presence, is it? That’s exactly what we were talking about. We actually wrote it for Wendell Pierce from The Wire. And he was a bit more … rotund, shall I say? … and you could believe him in this role as a guy who is sort of put upon and living in his father’s shadow. And then he met with us and he was ready to do it, but he got another project. And then they pitched Andre Braugher to us, and our knee-jerk reaction was, “No way!”

But he loves that he doesn’t have to chase somebody with a gun and be a tough guy. We’re into our sixth episode now, and it’s so cool to have this dramatic scene that we wrote on paper and wondered if we could pull it off. It’s kind of like handing the ball to your ace pitcher. You just want to see what he’s going to do with it. He amazes us every time.

So I can only screw it up! Who can tell what’s going to click with the public? And writing this is a whole ‘nother animal, also. We have a small staff of writers, but it’s different than the sitcom. So I am learning. I am learning about the structure … you know, it’s five acts now and you gotta save some story, and you want to give detail, but you can’t. Or you want to get to the story quicker than you can.

But you get to leave the swear words in! That’s gotta be liberating.

YEEEEEAAAAHHHH! S*** yeah! And I gotta be honest — there are times when I really wish we could say f***! Sorry, but I have to say that. Because there are times when it feels like my character would say that.

I say this joke in my act about being on cable now — nine years on Raymond, you don’t know how many times I wanted to say, “Shut the f*** up, Debra!”

The men in my office will not forgive me if I do not ask you to talk about being the next Haney Project.

Ohhhhhh, gawd! I saw him this weekend for the first time — I flew down to Dallas. I met Hank Haney and he observed me for five hours. No instruction, all he did was videotape me for five hours.

It’s pressure to follow Charles [Barkley]. Have you seen Charles’ swing? He looks like he gets hit by lightning in the middle of his swing! And it’s so interesting to watch somebody try to fix that.

For me, I’m just the average Joe Shmoe golfer and he’s going to try to fix that. I’m under a bit of pressure to figure out how this is going to be entertaining. I toiled over [doing] it for six weeks. I’m worried!

Worried about anything specific?

This is supposedly the best coach in the world. So what if I don’t do well? What am I doing to his image?! What if Tiger starts playing bad? People are going to blame me!

About Lori Acken 1101 Articles
Lori just hasn't been the same since "thirtysomething" and "Northern Exposure" went off the air.