When Everybody Loves Raymond ended its run after nine years and 210 episodes, creator Phil Rosenthal began thinking about whether his TV show about a bickering but basically loving middle-class family might translate to other cultures.
After all, The Nanny became a hit in Europe with casts of various nationalities. Why not Raymond?
With that in mind Rosenthal agreed to help a Russian TV network develop its own version of Raymond. Rosenthal brought along a video crew to document the progress, and the result is Exporting Raymond, a fish-out-of-water real-life comedy in which the Hollywood mover and shaker gets a sobering lesson in how the rest of the world operates.
OK, I don’t want to make Rosenthal seem like some sort of boorish Tinsel Town heavy hitter. His persona is closer to Woody Allen than a cigar-chomping mogul behind a big desk. But after all...he had created Raymond and nurtured it through almost a decade of Emmy-winning episodes. Rosenthal believed he understood what made the show tick. He was eager to share that with his new Russian collaborators.
They, apparently, wanted to do things their way.
For example, there was the very stylish costume designer who envisioned using the program as a showcase for snazzy fashion. She argued that Russians wanted to feel good about the way they looked and dressed. Imagine Ray Romano doing the series in Armani suits and Patricia Heaton decked out in Valentino’s latest.
Rosenthal was insistent that the pilot episode be shot before a live audience. The Russians groused that it would be too expensive but finally caved. On the day of shooting a dozen grumpy citizens were rounded up and placed on uncomfortable folding chairs. They didn’t laugh. Not once.
Culture shock came in other forms. Before leaving for Moscow Rosenthal was advised to buy K&R insurance. He learned that this stands for “kidnap and ransom” but was assured that this hardly ever happens.
"It happens enough for there to be an abbreviation,” Rosenthal frets.
Moscow’s “state-of-the-art” TV studio is so dank and grim that Rosenthal jokingly asks to see where Saw was filmed. “You can hear the cancer,” he marvels.
And then there’s the Russian machismo. Rosenthal’s hope was that the Raymond template captured the universality of family comedy, and that it would be recognized in every culture. What he hadn’t reckoned on was that “network executives are the same the world over.” In other words, lying sacks of....oh, never mind.
The weeks grow into months. It looks like the Russian Raymond is going to be an unmitigated disaster.
And then...and then...
We can now report that, several years later, the Raymond concept is the source of hit shows in different languages and cultures all over the globe. The original scripts are translated and, with a few minor adjustments to compensate for regional cultural issues, presented pretty much as Rosenthal's crew wrote them.
It now appears that Raymond will become the most-produced show in the world.
About the Author
Robert W. Butler is a lifelong Kansas City area resident, a graduate of Shawnee Mission East High School and the William Allen White School of Journalism at the University of Kansas. For several decades he was the movie editor of the Kansas City Star; he now writes a movie-themed blog at butlerscinemascene.com. He's married to the former Ellen Vaughan; they are the proud parents of LA-based comedian, writer, director and TV personality Blair Butler. He used to be a dog person but now lives with two cats, thus demonstrating the flexibility of the human condition.