Whole lotta 'Loves'

Whole lotta Loves

everybody loves raymond star 248.88 (photo credit: David Brinn)
everybody loves raymond star 248.88
(photo credit: David Brinn)
Phil Rosenthal and Monica Horan are still trying to please audiences. However, four years since Everybody Loves Raymond ended its wildly successful nine-year run as one of the most beloved sitcoms in the history of television, for Phil - the show's creator and producer - and his wife, who played Robert Barone's sunny-natured wife Amy on the show, the stage has shifted slightly from the living room to the kitchen. The couple has filled up the downtime since Raymond by handpicking gifted Californian chefs and investing in their restaurants. "I think we're up to 10 or 11 now," said Rosenthal, a few hours after landing in Israel with Monica for a working visit last week, the couple's first. They were in the country to speak at a benefit evening on Thursday - Everybody Loves Sha'are Zedek - for the Shaare Zedek Medical Center's new Wilf Children's Hospital in Jerusalem, and to hold discussions about a new reality show Phil is creating with Steven Spielberg for the Sundance Channel revolving around importing American doctors into the fast-paced environment of Shaare Zedek. According to the 49-year-old Rosenthal, the entertainment and restaurant worlds are not that far apart, from the production end. "When you walk into a restaurant that you've had something to do with, and it's bustling and people are happy, and talking about the place, and the food is great, it is a lot like a hit show. That's what if feels like," he said. "And there are a few places we've invested in now that we feel that way about. It's a thrill, and it's better than a show, in a way, because you can eat it." "He's been this way since we were starving actors in New York. He would save up all year to go to a four-star restaurant on his birthday," added Horan, who met her future husband while attending Hofstra University in the 1980s. "Little did I know then this is the passion he has, and he has an amazing eye and palate and he knows food really well. Every restaurant he's invested in has been because he's had a relationship with the food and particular chef," she said, belying the fact that she had just flown 24 hours by displaying the same peppy disposition that characterized Amy on Raymond. "Like finding a great show, the thrill for us has been finding a great talent and supporting that talent in that particular art form. We don't own any restaurants, we did once and that's not something we want to do, because then it's work. This is just supporting another artist in another realm." "I'm excited to be here," added Rosenthal, "because all I've been reading about is how great the food is, and I'm so excited to try it." WHEN ASKED if she had perfected any Jewish dishes in the kitchen, Horan, who converted to Judaism in 1990 before marrying Rosenthal, just smiled and shrugged. But Rosenthal piped in, "You make good matza ball soup." "That's right, I do make good matza ball soup; I don't use a mix; I make it from the actual chicken," beamed Horan. "He asked about the good thing you made - we won't talk about the other things," said Rosenthal. "He only makes fun of my cooking - see what happens in the Holy Land?" countered Horan, revealing where some of the husband and wife banter on Everybody Loves Raymond originated. Rosenthal, who grew up in the New York area and worked as a character actor and comedian before moving to Los Angeles in the late 1980s, wrote and produced a number of shows, like Coach and Baby Talk, before hitting on the winning formula with his friend Ray Romano, based on Romano's stand-up act. With its superb cast operating on all cylinders, it could have been a daunting experience for Horan to join the cast midstream as the love interest for Ray Barone's brother Robert, even if she was the boss's wife. "I had a very nice reception. I had been hanging on anyway whenever I would visit or bring the kids," said Horan. "So this one morning I was there for the table reading, and I was with Patti Heaton [who played Raymond's wife Debra], and she said, 'OK, I have to go get ready,' and I said, 'OK, let's go.' 'What are you doing?' she asked. 'Well, I made the show this week.' And she screamed 'Aghhh.!' I was very happy to be welcomed like that." "I tell people we're lucky she was good, because I was going to put whoever I was married to into whatever show I was doing," Rosenthal laughed, adding that it had not been his idea to bring his wife onto the show. "You can't push your wife in front of everyone like that - it was the writers in the room, they knew her as an actress," said Rosenthal. "We had a part for a date for Robert - this was early on in season one. They said, 'what about Monica?' "I said I don't know, I don't want to push her. They said, 'No, we're saying you should have her come and read for it.' Over the years, she got more and more lines, and they were a good couple. In season seven, when we needed new story ideas, we said, 'Well, why don't we get them married?'" ACCORDING TO ROSENTHAL, the reason Everybody Loves Raymond is still so highly regarded is because the show ended in its prime without lingering on. "It was our idea to end it - and we got to end it on our terms, which is very rare," he said. "Usually, the network tells you when you're finished. But we felt we had really covered everything we wanted to cover, and we wanted to stop before we became lousy. It was very important, because the legacy was important. "We loved the show so much, we cared about the work so much. We all know shows that have stayed too long. They kind of tarnished that legacy they had. Maybe the reason we're on in over 140 countries, and still on at least three times a day back in the US is because we left before they said 'Hey, you should leave'." While leaving the couple financially independent, the show's demise was like losing a family member for the Rosenthals. "It was an adjustment, not because we missed the show, because we thought the show was done, but because we missed our friends. But we still see our friends. We still travel with Ray and his family every year," said Rosenthal, who in addition to his restaurant ventures, wrote his memoirs in 2006 - You're Lucky You're Funny: How Life Becomes a Sitcom. Horan returned to full time motherhood for the couple's two children, teenagers Ben and Lily, who is preparing for her bat mitzvah next summer. "The trip was sort of last minute and it was business, so we figured let's do ourselves first and then bring them," said Horan. "If all you see is cable news, than you think it's explosions all the time," said Rosenthal. "To be honest, it took me my whole life to get here because of the fear that's been perpetrated, so I fully admit to being nervous about coming, but not anymore. "It's not the full picture, but you can't deny that piece of the picture," added Horan. "When Dr. Appelbaum (Dr. David Appelbaum, an emergency medicine specialist at Shaare Zedek who was killed in September, 2003 along with his daughter Nava and five other people in a suicide bombing at Café Hillel in Jerusalem) came to visit us, he said to Phillip, 'you just have to know where to go, it's not the whole picture of what Israel is.' Then a few months later that happened - it had a huge impact as well." "That kept us away a little longer," said Rosenthal. WITH THEIR TIME primarily taken up these days with restaurant and chef scouting, and philanthropic work along the lines of what they're doing with Shaare Zedek, the constant that has connected the past and the present for the Rosenthals has been… their movie nights. Legendary in Los Angeles celebrity circles, with coveted spots being fought over on a weekly basis, the Rosenthals invite 25 friends to join them at a specially built screening room in their Los Angeles home on Sunday for a film and pizza. "It goes all the way back to high school," said Rosenthal. "I think it was when HBO first started, and you had uncut movies, commercial free. 'Come over, we'll watch every Saturday night, there's a new movie. They're going to curse, there's gonna be nudity maybe.' You're in high school, and this is the greatest thing ever. And, of course, we'll order pizza. "This just evolved over the years, through VCR - now we can watch what we want, when we want - now, here comes laser disc, you won't believe the picture and sound on laser discs; then a DVD and a bigger TV. Then we got some success, and now we have the 'thing' - a huge screen, and movie room and blu ray, and a pizza oven in the kitchen. "So it's really grown from the local pizza place delivering cold pizza to a chef coming in and preparing pizza for everyone. And now, even filmmakers come... I think for the pizza," he laughed. Like an excited kid, Rosenthal recounted a movie night last month where he screened The Wizard of Oz on its 70th anniversary, and explained how he invited one of the original munchkins to the screening. "This must be the greatest thing we did - I'll show you," he said, taking out a shiny mobile device and displaying photos and videos of Jerry Maran standing in Rosenthal's screening room. "He was the one who sang 'We Represent the Lollipop Guild' - he's going to be 90 this year. I found out he and his wife were in LA, and I sent a car for them. After the movie, he sang a rendition for us. What's more thrilling than having your childhood step off the screen - it's iconic. It was so moving - we were crying, because it meant so much." It's unclear whether people will look back with such reverence at Everybody Loves Raymond 70 years from now, but Rosenthal and Horan said they wouldn't take any chances and tarnish the show's image by staging a reunion like Seinfeld has done this year on Larry David's Curb Your Enthusiasm. "I think the only way they could have done it with Seinfeld was build it in to another show, like they're doing this year," said Horan in reference to the creator and producer of Jerry Seinfeld's popular series. Rosenthal went one step further. "When I have my own show, I'll have the cast of Raymond on also."