‘Raymond’ creator talks TV with film students

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Wednesday, October 28, 2009
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Phil Rosenthal, creator of the television sitcom “Everybody loves Raymond” came to ASU to speak to students studying film on Wednesday.

Brought to campus by ASU’s Film and Media Studies program in the form of a question-and-answer session, the comedic writer and producer spoke on his experiences in the industry, how he became who he is today and provided inspiration for those aspiring to be part of the TV industry.

“Everybody Loves Raymond,” which was nominated for more than 10 Emmys and won five, ran with good ratings for nearly 10 years, making it one of the most popular sitcoms on television for its time.

But writing for the successful sitcom wasn’t always in Rosenthal’s plans. He first studied acting, participating in all the school plays, he said.

It was in college when he realized that his acting skills weren’t on par with his passion, especially living in the cutthroat New York City — a realization he said led him to discover his writing talent.

Having well-rounded experiences and studying as many disciplines as possible is something Rosenthal articulated to students as a major importance to the potential success in the entertainment industry.

“You may find that you’re better at being the director than the writer,” he said.

Rosenthal spoke of days when he would go with nothing but cans of tuna to eat, and he spent very little time out on the weekends in New York, he said.

To stay on his feet, Rosenthal said he worked odd jobs and took money where he could, and fortunately, he said, although he was settled on making it on his own, he had supportive parents.

“My parents made it clear that I wasn’t going to live with them, but they wouldn’t let me die either,” he said.

He said having friends in the same boat as he also helped keep his spirits high.

“You turn to your buddy that’s in the same sh-t you’re in, you feel a little better,” he said.

Rosenthal got his break in 1990 when he was offered his first paid job as a writer for TV series “A Family for Joe,” starring Robert Mitchum, which then led to other jobs, such as writing on the successful ’90s sitcom “Coach.”

Soon thereafter, Rosenthal said he met comedian Ray Romano, a relationship that eventually blossomed into “Everybody Loves Raymond.”

Basing the show around Romano’s actual life, experience and family structure — while combining Rosenthal’s own eccentric family member’s personalities to create the characters — a success was born.

“Everybody Loves Raymond” aired its final season in 2005, which Rosenthal said was because he was simply out of ideas.

The network, he said, wanted at least one more season, but he “had nothing more to say about this family.”

With a team of 10 professional writers and three months of collaboration, they were able to come up with six more stories, but that wasn’t enough for the network that pressured for a season of 18 episodes, he said.

After a bit of haggling, Rosenthal said he was able to convince the network that he could manage to produce 16 episodes, which would bring the show to its finale.

Joey Von Frechen, a film and media production freshman, said Rosenthal’s lecture was “hilarious,” describing the producer’s personality as “genuine and warm-hearted.” He said guest speakers like this are a great way to break up the normal class structure.

Rosenthal ended the lecture with what he said was the best advice he was ever given.

“Do what you’re going to do, because in the end, they are going to cancel you anyway,” he said.

Reach the reporter at bbrougham@asu.edu.