Sunday, March 4, 2012

TV Reality

Anyone who has every collaborated to produce a television show, knows it’s an imperfect process. Getting creatives to cooperate is a little like herding cats. By nature, people who make TV are fiercely free spirited and tend to be stubbornly committed to their individual visions. And then there are the egos.

Now you can see this dysfunctional yet magical dynamic in HBO’s amusing documentary, “Exporting Raymond.” It features the creator of the Emmy-winning show, “Everybody Loves Raymond”, as he attempts to produce the sitcom in Moscow for Russian television.

This is no ordinary behind-the -scenes feature. Cameras follow Phil Rosenthal through the ordeal of translating the whacky family life made famous by Ray Romano and cast. But in Russia, Rosenthal struggles to convince the production team that his way is funny and theirs is … well, Russian.

Even the czar of Moscow’s high theatre gets involved, and Rosenthal is genuinely in awe of his stature and brilliance.

Although humorous at points, to industry insiders, “Exporting Raymond” will feel painfully real. The conflict between producers, directors, actors and Rosenthal is classic and all too familiar. It is from this friction that the heat of great productions is born. That is if those involved are mature and honest enough to seize the best ideas once they boil over.

In fact, there’s one scene where the head of comedy for Russian broadcasting is watching the taping. Even he sees that it isn’t funny. And at this point when all seems lost, the director finally turns to Rosenthal to ask him how he would change the scene. And then he follows his advice. Suddenly, everyone is on the same page. The lines are clicking. The audience that has been paid to laugh is genuinely cackling.

I won’t spoil the ending for you in case you haven’t seen it. It’s worth the 90 minutes for any audience. But if you’re in the biz you’ll see that it speaks the international language of TV.

Nyet invented here. 

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