Fran Drescher says she had to fight to let 'The Nanny' be Jewish

Fran Drescher as Fran Fine in "The Nanny." (Cliff Lipson / CBS)

On her hit 1990s sitcom, "The Nanny," Fran Drescher's fashionable titular character was distinctly Jewish — but only because its star put her foot down.

In Tuesday's debut episode of Los Angeles magazine's new podcast, "The Originals," Drescher recalled having to defend her identity after she and her cocreator (Drescher's ex-husband, Peter Marc Jacobson) pitched the series to CBS.

"When we got green-lighted to write the pilot for 'The Nanny,' I guess the network was already talking to major sponsors like Procter & Gamble, who said, 'It sounds great — we'll buy the show outright. But the nanny has to be Italian, not Jewish,'" the 62-year-old actress-producer told podcast host and journalist Andrew Goldman.

At first, Drescher said she was "taken aback" by the demand, but she considered making the compromise if it meant securing her big break in Hollywood. Instead, she stood her ground.

"I do not like living with regret, and I don't want to rush into doing something to get the job and then when it doesn't go right or it fails, I kick myself because I thought, 'Why didn't we follow our instincts? Why did we listen to them?'" she said. "I thought, 'I can't live with that regret. I know this character needs to be written very close to me and all the rich and wonderful characters that I grew up with.

"Peter and I have a brand of comedy that's rich in specificity, and not only couldn't we have written it that way — if the character were Italian — but I couldn't have performed it that way. So we kind of mustered up our chutzpah and said, 'No, Fran Fine must be Jewish.'"

Drescher also reflected more broadly on the lack of representation for the Jewish community in TV at the time, deeming herself the first series lead to play "an openly Jewish character" in a prime-time slot since Gertrude Berg, who starred as Molly Goldberg in 1949's "The Goldbergs."

When reminded of Valerie Harper, who played Jewish New Yorker Rhoda Morgenstern in the hit "Mary Tyler Moore Show," Drescher pointed out a key distinction.

"She wasn't Jewish in real life — that's the difference," she said. "It was almost like gilding the lily. They didn't want to have Jews playing Jews in a starring role."

Drescher exuded her signature candor throughout the hourlong podcast episode, which also touches on creative disagreements behind the scenes of her new NBC comedy ("Indebted"), her eyebrow-raising opinions on vaccines, her confrontation with ousted CBS chief Les Moonves and much more.