“When ‘Raymond’ ended, I did go through a crisis and a bit of an identity void, and that brings up other things.”
Just a kid from Queens, Ray Romano became one of the most popular performers in television with “Everybody Loves Raymond," winning four Peoples Choice Awards for his work on the show. During its wildly successful run, "Raymond" garnered two Golden Globe nominations and three Emmy Awards among its many accolades.
Years later, however, when the cheering has stopped, Romano has a second act in mind: “Men of a Certain Age," a primetime drama debuting Monday, December 7 on TNT. The new show takes a look at three guys, Romano, Andre Braugher and Scott Bakula, struggling with mid-life crises.
Here, Ray Romano talks about his own mid-life crises, the changing landscape of primetime — and whether or not “Men of a Certain Age” can survive more than four episodes.
Which character are you most like?
I’m mostly Joe even though I’m not separated. There’s parts of Owen, of course, the married life and what goes on there, but yeah, there’s parts of myself that I bring into the writing and the character.
When the show ended (“Everybody Loves Raymond”), I did go through a crisis and a bit of an identity void and that brings up other things. People think, "Oh, you’re successful and you had a thing," but it’s all relative. People still need to do what they do and still need to produce and feel purposeful.
Do you find you feel like you’re the same you always were but the world starts telling you you’re old?
I do. I feel like I’m getting older. I look in the mirror and this and this is sagging, and that s— … “Holy s—, I look like my father!” But mentally I feel like the immature kid who thinks farts are funny. I got a little more sophisticated in my humor but I don’t know if that’s men in general, or comedians in general.
It’s definitely men comedians. But I think men, for the whole, we grow up and we get more sensible but I think inside you’re still kind of a little bit of a child, which is weird when you see your gray hairs coming out and all that.
You mentioned “Everybody Loves Raymond." Can you contrast your experiences in cable vs. network television?
They’re still hands on, the network. The network itself, you know, they have a tendency to let the creators do their thing. But they’re not without expressing their opinions and pushing hard to convince us that we need to do this and we need to do that.
It’s not like: Do whatever you want. It’s not Larry David. It’s not HBO. We want to make sure these characters are real, and by real we mean there’s flaws in them. And they’re a little concerned about that, about making sure there’s hope, that it’s not so gloomy.
You’ve spent a long time in primetime. Can you talk about how it’s changed? Is it different now, better, worse?
I think definitely the sitcom landscape has changed. It’s hard to get a four-camera family sitcom to find a solid audience now. I think the single camera’s kind of the trend now; no laugh track, no audience. As far as the traditional and the values and all that, that’s having a hard time finding an audience also.
Look, our show was, I’m not going to say wholesome, but it promoted a good enough message and it was still quirky and dysfunctional.
So many feel that reality television represents a nadir for prime time.
I don’t know if that’s true. They said it’s the end of the sitcom, too, then “Cosby” came around and the family sitcom. I never thought I would watch a one-hour drama but I’m hooked on “Friday Night Lights." They’re doing something new and the style of shooting, they kind of keep it loose. It’s kind of reinventing it.
You joked earlier about the show not lasting more than four episodes. Is that a real concern? Or do you not worry about that and focus on the task at hand?
Yeah, it’s a little of both. No, I mean it’s a lot of both. I don’t ever say, “Well, we gotta do this cause this is what’ll attract an audience. We gotta put in some scantily-clad women,” or whatever. Sometimes I look at the set, I look at the big scene we’re doing and all these people working, and I go, "Look how much work it takes to bore us." That’s what I’m worried about.
Sometimes I’m in the edit room and I’m like, "This is cool. The camera’s good, and everything’s good." And sometimes I’m in the editing room like, "Who is going to give a shit about this? Who cares that his father doesn’t think he’s a man or whatever?" We all worry about it but I guess, in the end, you just gotta to do what you think is good.
Can you talk about the end of Raymond, balancing work with family, and the gap between the two shows?
Well, when “Raymond” was on, summer would be June and a little bit of July, cause we would start right up. So this was nice to be able to do whatever we want, go on vacation, got to Italy. School, I would alternate with my wife driving my kids to school in the morning, picking them up, this and that. Cheryl Hines, not to name drop, she’s a friend, and when she’s a happy person, then she’s a better parent. And when she works, she’s happy.
So you have to balance the two. It’s not easy.