Star-Bulletin Features

Thursday, August 30, 2001

The cast and executive producer of the Emmy Award-winning
hit comedy, "Everybody Loves Raymond," from left: Ray Romano
with his son; Brad Garrett; executive producer Phil Rosenthal;
Doris Roberts; Patricia Heaton; Peter Boyle; and Madylin
Sweeten. The show celebrated the taping of
its 100th episode last October.

Hit TV show
creator has secret
to good scripts

A Maui conference for writers
will discuss trends in television

By Tim Ryan

WHETHER ASPIRING SCRIBES attend a writers conference in Maine or Maui or Michigan or Manhattan Beach, advice from the pros is the same. A writer writes regardless of inspiration. And then you rewrite, over and over and over again, until you at least understand the fundamentals of the craft.

Writing is a job, often a solitary one, and the most successful writers put in a full day, five days a week, or more. And this is just the apprenticeship without a guarantee of even meager success.

Then there is the Hollywood phenomenon with all its quirks and trends and fads and demographic priorities that call on screenwriters to make the story fit a formula.

Phil Rosenthal, creator/executive producer of the hit CBS television show "Everybody Loves Raymond," has his own advice for wannabe screenwriters.

Write on!

Maui Writers Conference:
When: Labor Day Weekend, tomorrow through Sunday
Where: Outrigger Wailea Resort
Cost: $595 kamaaina; $695 non-Hawaii resident
Call: (888) 974-8373 or (808) 879-0061

"Write what you know best, which is you and your experiences; don't follow a formula just because something happens to be popular that television season," said Rosenthal, who will speak during this weekend's Maui Writers Conference at the Outrigger Wailea.

Rosenthal, who will be discussing trends in film and television, holds nothing back when talking about the "blatant scams to film and television viewers."

"I hate almost everything in film I see, certainly this year," he said. "Look at the crap we're seeing on the big screen.

"It's all formula; the public is being conned," said Rosenthal, 41. "A studio gets a big-name director, a big-name star, fills the picture with special effects, spends millions on advertising, boycotts reviews prior to the opening weekend, all so they can make that first weekend big gross.

"The public should sue for being scammed or at least to get their money back. It's a premeditated crime."

Rosenthal was born in Queens, raised in Rockland, N.Y., and attended Hofstra University on Long Island.

He started out as an actor in New York, and wrote and directed some plays before relocating to Los Angeles in search of more acting opportunities.

"If you think getting a writing job is hard, try acting, especially in New York," he said.

Once in L.A., Rosenthal teamed with Oliver Goldstick, a longtime friend from New York. The pair would write for such series as "Man in the Family," starring Ray Sharkey, and "A Family for Joe," starring Robert Mitchum.

They then became supervising producers and writers on "Down the Shore," moving later to similar roles on "Coach." Rosenthal then wrote the pilot for "Everybody Loves Raymond," now in its fifth season.

"There should be no snobbery about films over television," he said. "Television is a writer's medium, where writers have a say as to what goes into the product. In film the formula is the priority."

Rosenthal says a key to "Raymond's" success is good writing and acting and a simple premise.

"A story doesn't need to be complex or dumbed down for audiences," he said. "Here, basically, was my pitch for 'Raymond': A family lives across the street from their parents.

"On 'Raymond' we don't do topical stuff; it's about the characters and the relationships, an old formula executed with good writing and acting."

"Everybody Loves Raymond" revolves around Ray Barone, a successful sportswriter living on Long Island with his wife, Debra, 9-year-old daughter, Ally, and 5-year-old twin sons, Geoffrey and Michael. Ray's meddling parents, Frank and Marie, live across the street and embrace the motto "Su casa es mi casa," infiltrating their son's home.

Brother Robert, a divorced policeman, is constantly moving in and out of his parents' house, and loves to drop over and resent Ray's successful career and happy family life.

The majority of stories come from Rosenthal's or star Ray Romano's personal experiences.

"It's what we all know best," Rosenthal said.

"If you pay attention, most of our shows begin with the words 'Well, they finally went down for a nap.' It's not about kids, it's about people who have kids. It's about Ray being caught between the generation under him and the generation on top of him."

New writers "must stand up and buck formulaic trends," Rosenthal said. "No one ends up happy or successful doing formula -- not the studio, producers or the actors."

Romano reportedly interviewed 11 writers to write the pilot script and settled on "Coach" vet Rosenthal, a fellow Queens native.

"The first thing I thought was, Here's a comedian who hasn't acted before; you should do something that's close to his own life," Rosenthal said. "He starts telling me about the twins and the parents who live close by and the brother's a police officer who lives with them, and I'm like, 'Lemme get a pencil.'"

The initial script wasn't a big hit with CBS execs, who wanted Ray's parents living in the house with him.

"I said, 'Can we compromise?' because that's very sitcommy," says Rosenthal. "OK, across the street, fine, you don't lose the store over that. But then they said, 'Can you move it to the suburbs, and could their name not end in a vowel?'

"We moved it from Queens to Long Island, but I cheated because their name still ends in a vowel -- Barone."

Rosenthal has the distinction of having directed President Bill Clinton in the 2000 White House Correspondents Dinner video, shown to wide acclaim at the April event.

"I suppose that gave me some credibility, too," he said.

New writers should write a spec script for a show they like, then rewrite it until perfect before seeking an agent to read it.

"Take a class to learn the specialized structure for a television comedy or drama," he said. "You have to know the same rules as the working professional because that's who you're competing against.

"It's a never-ending process of writing, rewriting, submitting, resubmitting, then starting over again," Rosenthal said. "Don't take rejection personally because, believe me, you will be rejected over and over again.

"But believe in yourself and keep on writing. Do the show you want to write, because in the end it's going to get canceled anyway."

Do It Electric
Click for online
calendars and events.

E-mail to Features Editor

Text Site Directory:
[News] [Business] [Features] [Sports] [Editorial] [Do It Electric!]
[Classified Ads] [Search] [Subscribe] [Info] [Letter to Editor]

© 2001 Honolulu Star-Bulletin