Everybody Loves Raymond was a smash hit in prime-time, remains ever-present in syndication, and is currently running—dubbed or subtitled—in 148 countries. So when entertainment executives approached creator Phil Rosenthal about going to Moscow to remake Raymond for Russian television, it wasn’t unreasonable for him to assume that Russians would embrace Everybody Loves Kostya. The fact that remakes of three other American sitcoms—The Nanny, Who’s the Boss, and Married with Children—succeeded in the marketplace, was another encouraging sign.
But when Rosenthal arrived in the Russian capital to help cast the show and put it into production, he discovered that the locals didn’t care for his Ray Romano character, who they regarded as “soft.” Even more humbling, he discovered that his co-workers were—at best—indifferent to him and his opinions. The working conditions were no joy either, as the foreboding-looking Russian TV studio had much in common with a concrete bunker, and was hardly conducive to laughter. Predictably, when Rosenthal suggested that episodes be filmed in front of a live studio audience, the network offered a “Russian compromise.” That is, they said, “Nyet!”
Fortunately, Rosenthal had the foresight to chronicle his experiences, which he’ll share with American audiences beginning April 29, when the documentary Exporting Raymond arrives in select theaters around the country. Late last month, I saw the film at the Sedona Film Festival (Sedona, Arizona), and immediately afterwards spoke with Rosenthal, who describes his role as “a guy who thinks he’s an expert and goes to a country where nobody cares.” Don’t feel too bad for the native New Yorker, however. Despite the trials and tribulations, Exporting Raymond has a happy ending, as the show (the title is translated as Voroniny) ultimately becomes a hit, and Eastern Bloc countries like Poland clamor to produce their own remakes.
This isn’t to say that the Russian version is entirely faithful to the American Raymond. In the film, Rosenthal repeatedly clashes with a stubborn costume designer who insists that the Russian Debra (Vera) should always be wearing the latest and greatest fashions, even when cooking or doing housework. Never mind that such attire is inappropriate for the character—and the show, which has nevertheless been instilled with uniquely Russian quirks.
“All of a sudden, in the middle of a scene, they have a sexy nurse,” offers Rosenthal, who was afforded a modicum of creative control while in Moscow, but wielded no power whatsoever once he returned to the United States. “I leave, and they do whatever they want,” he laments.
But Rosenthal’s experience is testament to the importance of perseverance, especially in regards to creative endeavors. Early in the movie, our protagonist ponders purchasing K&R (Kidnap and Ransom) insurance before leaving for Moscow. Later, after repeated unsuccessful attempts to “reach” his Russian colleagues, Rosenthal quips that getting kidnapped suddenly seems like an attractive alternative. Yet no matter how maddening the experience gets, Rosenthal never throws up his hands and walks away. “That show is my kid. And you don’t leave your kid with just anyone,” he explains.
Notably, Exporting Raymond also makes clear that many of the challenges Rosenthal faces—like communicating with a director who refuses to make eye contact, and reasoning with the Russian network’s humorless head of comedy—illustrate how show business is show businesses wherever you go. “The ‘no’ you get creatively is the same in any language,” he concludes.