“Will & Grace,” “Roseanne,” “Murphy Brown” and now “Mad About You.” The list of multicamera revivals is only continuing to grow, although unlike the first three on this list, “Mad About You’s” return will be for Spectrum, rather than its original home, NBC.
But the network is one of few things that has changed. The series reunites original stars Helen Hunt and Paul Reiser as Jamie and Paul Buchman, respectively, a married couple living in New York City. (The duo also executive produces, Reiser wrote the premiere script, and Hunt directed the premiere episode.) Original series regulars such as Anne Ramsay, Richard Kind and Jerry Adler will also appear in the new batch of 12 episodes. The production team painstakingly recreated the Buchmans’ apartment, and the key to the storytelling will be the relationship tension, according to Hunt.
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“We wanted it to be the things that it always was, which was funny, No. 1; about something we give a s— about; and that it had that tension between how beautiful love can be and how hard it can be to love someone. That tension is the show,” she told Variety at the PaleyFest Fall Preview event for the show Saturday.
An important element of any revival is the “why now” aspect, noted executive producer Peter Tolan. Although he admitted that at one point in the writers’ room they had worked out a joke that would reveal “Ursula was actually working for the Trump White House. They were watching a White House press conference, and she’s in the back row, and that makes perfect sense, of course,” rather than commenting on where the world is 20 years after “Mad About You” first went off the air, the show is more interested in commenting on where the Buchmans, specifically, are. (Tolan said that although he hopes Lisa Kudrow, who played Ursula, will be able to appear in the new season, she is not yet confirmed to reprise the role.)
“The first thing you have to do is say, ‘Here they are again’ and be true to the characters,” Tolan said. “Then show some growth for the characters — because ultimately it’s the audience investment over time that makes them want to watch it again.”
The revival of “Mad About You” will pick up with the Buchmans now-adult daughter preparing to leave for college. In fact, the very first shot of the premiere episode will pan some of the items she is readying to move out of the apartment.
“I thought, if I do the first one, something will be lost because there will be one less set of eyes and I’ll be doing a bunch of jobs, but something will be gained, too, because I’m a detail freak,” Hunt said. “And the details of the first episode matter: the first shot we have is the things [Mabel’s] taking to college, and I stole some things from my daughter’s room and made sure they aged the guitar. I care about all of that in a way that maybe somebody else wouldn’t care as much.”
The original seven-year run of “Mad About You” ended with a flash-forward 22 years into the future when Mabel was all grown up (played by Janeane Garofalo then; now played by Abby Quinn). The revival is set to debut on Spectrum this fall, two years before the events of that future-set finale, and Tolan hopes “that not many people remember the finale” because in picking the characters back up at this time in their lives, “we’re futzing with time a little bit” and “the things that you saw in that might happen in the future, but some of it won’t, so we’re not strictly being held to that finale. I’m pretending it didn’t happen.”
Tolan added that when the trio was originally working on the show, they worked on an idea of starting with Jamie and Paul separated. But they changed their minds because “most of the viewers are just waiting to see those people again and there’s some comfort level that has to be there,” he said. So instead, they decided to pick up with their “usual rhythms” and “then take them to a new place,” Tolan explained.
“We had to keep in mind who we’re doing this for,” Reiser added. “I don’t know if anyone who didn’t watch the original will watch this.”
The first episode of the new batch of episodes taped the night before the team appeared at PaleyFest, with Reiser, who was most recently seen on the single-camera, visual effects heavy, dramatic “Stranger Things,” noting that “it felt so comfortable” to return to the four-camera, live setup of “Mad About You.”
“It just felt like sense memory,” he said, noting that the only thing he felt he had to readjust to was the live audience. “It’s not theater, it’s not standup but it’s not film. You have to hold a second if they’re laughing, but you don’t want to wait as if you’re waiting for the laugh.”
The second episode, which tapes next week, will introduce one big change to the “Mad About You” canon: a new dog. “They get the dog in the second episode, they don’t name it until the fifth — they just don’t what to name it — and he certainly has a lot of character,” Tolan said. “We wanted a distinctive dog.”
“Mad About You” premieres with its first six episodes Nov. 20 on Spectrum.