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Thursday, October 13, 2011

Another Recommendation

"Exporting Raymond" is a documentary by Phil Rosenthal, the showrunner behind "Everybody Loves Raymond." The sitcom went from huge network hit to huge syndication hit to being produced in foreign countries in different languages. When a Russian TV network wanted to do their version, Rosenthal agreed to go to help with casting, re-writes, and to make sure their "Raymond" had the same sensibilities as his.

Rosenthal took along a film crew to document his adventure, and got pure gold. From Russian TV executives and writers who want to turn the show into something else -- including the wardrobe lady, who wants all the women on the show to dress like the "Real Housewives of Moscow" -- Rosenthal faces obstacles at every turn yet turns it into a funny running commentary.

It also gives you a peek inside the process of putting together a successful sitcom, starting with understanding the basic theme and never straying from it. Rosenthal is a master at that, but has a hard time getting the Russian to see it.

One of the best scenes in the movie is when Rosenthal, who doesn't speak Russian, is watching the actors do a scene that's been translated from one of his scripts with some modifications. He sits there for several minutes before pointing out that no one in the room is laughing; no one seems to be enjoying themselves. That's not good for a comedy. He knows that the lead actor has been terribly miscast, but can't convince the Russian network execs to make a change. The way he voices his frustration and his "I can't believe you don't get this!" expression are funnier than anything the Russians are doing.

"Exporting Raymond" is one of my favorite showbiz documentaries, on DVD now. Here's the trailer: