Sun May 1, 2011
Movie Interviews

Lost In Translation? TV's 'Raymond' Goes To Russia

Writer Phil Rosenthal thought he knew how to create a successful sitcom.

After all, he'd built Everybody Loves Raymond into a nine-season sensation on CBS. So when he was asked to help adapt the show for a Russian audience, he jumped at the chance.

Rosenthal chronicles that quest in a new documentary film called Exporting Raymond, which hit theaters this weeekend.

His sitcom had universal appeal. Or at least he thought it did.

"Our show was about the minutia of daily life and the petty family squabbles that we all have and how we take the little things in life and blow them up to become big things," Rosenthal tells Guy Raz, host of weekends on All Things Considered.

The Russians didn't have a strong sitcom tradition — at least until The Nanny, the 1990s Fran Drescher comedy, was adapted for Russian TV.

Still, Rosenthal flew to Russia to work with a local production team on the renamed Everybody Loves Kostya. And he brought along a documentary crew to film the process.

What he found was more than he'd bargained for, with everyone from the writers to the head of the network fighting to change his show.

"When I got to Russia," Rosenthal says, "They said to me, 'Real life is terrible, why would we put that on television'?"

Even the costume designer had trouble, he says.

"I'm saying, 'Look at this character right now in front of us.' She's wearing a cashmere sweater, fancy pants, high heels, jewelry. I said, 'You understand she's cleaning the house, right?' "

Mostly, the Russian crew found the show boring, not funny, with characters they couldn't relate to, including the show's title character, who they though was weak and emasculated.

"I was told that the Russian men are way more macho than American men. And no way does the wife rule the house. And I thought just listening to this that this was baloney," Rosenthal explains. "I think you could be the most macho guy in the world and as soon as you get in the house, the wife is telling you to pick up your socks."

Ultimately, Rosenthal was able to work with the Russians and adapt his sitcom for their audience. He says he's been contacted by networks in Poland and Israel to come and adapt Raymond there, too. But he says he's not going.

"I'm here if they want to call me and ask for anything, but I don't think they need to, and I don't think I should expect them to," Rosenthal says. "I learned that it's for them — they have to do it their way and I have to let go. I have to be a big boy." Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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