Emmy winners talk about their latest collaboration on the TNT hit Men of a Certain Age.
Ray Romano & Mike Royce
Tavis: Ray Romano is the star and co-creator, along with Mike Royce, of the TNT drama “Men of a Certain Age.” The two also collaborated on one of TV’s most popular family comedies, which I believe was called “Everybody Loves Raymond.” “Men of a Certain Age” airs Wednesday nights at 10:00. Here now, a scene from “Men of a Certain Age.”
Ray Romano: Oh, boy.
Tavis: Mike and Ray, let me just start, if I might, by saying thank you. I believe that this may very well be the first time there’s been a TV show that gives an honest portrayal, not demonizing, not making fun of, not casting aspersion on, but a show that really does give an honest portrayal of what it feels like to be a man of a certain age.
Maybe that’s because I am a man of a certain age now, so I’m your core audience, maybe. But thank you for doing a show that’s real honest. I appreciate it.
Mike Royce: Well, yeah, we’re happy you like it. (Laughter)
Romano: And we thank you. It’s only honest because we’re just writing what we know, and we were both kind of in our own little midlife thing for different reasons, and we said, let’s do what we’ve been doing – let’s just write what we know. We don’t try to fancy it up or funny it up or anything. We try to keep it as real as we can.
Tavis: Not that you’ve had experience doing the other part, Mike, but what is the challenge, you think, at least, of trying to roll out a show about midlife crisis for men versus midlife crisis for women? Because I’ve seen a whole bunch of those movies.
Royce: Right. Well, I think first of all it wouldn’t exist without him. We go in the door with, like, “Well, he’s in it, so you like him.” Really, when we were talking about it we felt that this is – first of all, we were just talking as conversation. This is just what we’re going through. Then we decided to start writing about it, and we realized, well, it’s weird that there’s nothing on about this because it’s so relatable.
You get to this age – let’s say somewhere in your 40s, 50, whatever, somewhere in there – it doesn’t matter where you are in your life, how successful you are or the opposite, you question. Something inside of you starts to see I’m going to say death coming. It’s the first time you’re aware of it. So I think it just puts everybody into a turmoil.
Everyone’s turmoil’s different, but we felt like everybody could relate to that particular problem.
Tavis: My friend Cornel West calls that “dancing with mortality.” (Laughter) You start dancing with mortality.
Royce: That’s right. That’s right.
Tavis: You start to wrestle with that. We were talking before we came on the set here about the fact that yours is not – this is not, Ray, the first show to be critically acclaimed by everybody, and yet admittedly having challenges trying to find a massive audience.
You’ve had massive audience before for all those years on “Everybody Loves Raymond.” What’s the journey been like trying to stand in the truth of what the storyline is and struggling to find that massive audience?
Romano: Well, the “Raymond” example is a good one, because the first year they were in trouble also, and the critics kind of kept it alive. Because not for the critics, we could have gotten canceled after six weeks.
They’re kind of doing that with this show. Critically, TNT has never quite had a show like this that’s getting this kind of critical reviews, so they’re giving it some time, and I think it just takes time. I think people are coming to it seeing me and seeing that it’s middle-aged men and they think it’s going to be funny and we’re going to be talking about boobs and Cialis and all that. (Laughter)
Well, they don’t realize that’s it – the audience that would appreciate it hasn’t really found it yet. They don’t really know what it is yet. But little by little, they’re coming.
Tavis: Are men ready for a show like this? Put another way, are we capable of showing our emotions and how we relate to this by watching it enough for the ratings to indicate that men really are trying to get in touch with themselves in this midlife crisis? In other words, will we admit that by watching a show like this?
Royce: See, I think it’s a tough thing to – the show is tough to describe. People have tried to call it “Sex and the City” for men. I don’t think that accurately –
Romano: No, it’s not. There’s no city and there’s not nearly enough sex. (Laughter) Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Royce: It also sounds like first, you’re ripping something off and you’re trying to do it for me.
Romano: And who am I? If it’s “Sex and the City,” which one am I? That’s what I want to know.
Royce: You’re probably – no, no, you’re not Samantha.
Tavis: Not Samantha, yeah.
Royce: That’d be Scott, and apparently I watch “Sex and the City.” Yeah, it’s a tough thing to classify. I always go back to “Friday Night Lights” also had similar struggles, and it’s kind of a touchstone show for us, even stylistically. It’s a show about football, but it’s not really about football.
Tavis: Which raises a question, though, Mike – so to your point, when you go in, when you went in, then, to pitch this, other than the fact that Ray Romano was with you, which got everybody’s attention when you walked into the room, other than that, what was your pitch? How did you sell this to TNT? How did you say, “Here’s what this show is about” in a way that they got?
Romano: Well, TNT was – we went to a bunch of other places –
Tavis: I can imagine.
Romano: – before we landed at TNT, yeah. (Laughter) One network said – they liked the script, they enjoyed the script because they thought it was well-written and it was about something, but they just thought it didn’t fit. One network said, “It’s not loud enough for us. It’s just not loud enough.”
Tavis: What does that mean in TV speak, that it’s not loud enough?
Romano: Not enough car chases and sex and whatever and drama.
Royce: People have tried this before, I guess, for lack of a better – a show about men and men talking. I think the trap that you fall into is you write it from that perspective – here’s how men are – as opposed to just writing about these specific characters.
We try to never fall into the trap, hopefully, of portraying men, well, here’s how men behave. We’re trying, at least, to just keep to these three guys and how their lives unfold.
Romano: But TNT, Michael Wright, the president of TNT, he’s a man of a certain age so he fell in love with the script. For them, I’ve got to give them credit because there’s nothing like it on their network. They have a lot of procedural, a lot of –
Tavis: On TV, period.
Romano: Yeah, yeah.
Tavis: Not just on TNT.
Romano: Yeah, but there are a couple other networks that have shows that are a little – tone-wise might be more the same way ours is. But TNT took a risk putting it on and they’re giving us a lot of help, they’re giving us the promos and all and they’re behind it. They’re behind it.
Tavis: So Mike, to your point, for those who might not have seen the show as yet but will once they see this conversation tonight, we hope, how would you describe these three characters? Top-line for me these three characters, because to your point, it’s not about every man of a certain age. To your point, it is about these characters. Top-line these characters for me.
Royce: Well, he’s recently divorced, Joe, and he kind of got the rug pulled out from under him a little bit, so that came as a bit of a surprise, which we’ve explored the causes of that. He also has a bit of a gambling problem that played into his marriage breaking up. He’s basically out into the world in this whole new world of dating, not having a wife, his kids are almost grown up. Also questioning what he’s even doing as his job – he has this dream of golfing.
So in many ways, I don’t want to say he’s adrift, but he has a lot of questioning going on.
Tavis: Is he as funny as the Ray Romano that we know from his previous work? Does the humor fit into his character?
Royce: It does. I think the thing about this show is that these characters make each other laugh as opposed to jokes that are necessarily for the audience. I think people feel good when they watch these guys. They see they’re good friends and that they have fun together, and our goal, and I think we’ve at least gotten close to it, is when it’s dramatic, it hits you, that it has real teeth, hopefully, but that the comedy is also funny.
Tavis: So we got Joe.
Royce: Yeah, and Andre Braugher plays Owen, who is married, three kids, lot of financial pressure on him, and he works for his father at a job at a car dealership that was never his dream. Then Scott Bakula plays Terry, perpetual bachelor, also perpetual actor trying to make it.
He’s a great actor, the character, but he never quite got over the hump and now suddenly he’s 50 and you’ve kind of got to go am I still doing this, or what’s happening?
Tavis: Ray, I had here just a few nights ago, it seems – yeah, just a few nights ago – Betty White was here. I was saying to her how much, even as a Black man, not just a man, but as a Black man, I totally loved “Golden Girls.” I still watch it on reruns, because I thought the writing – I really appreciate the writing on the show.
It’s great writing, so I still watch the “Golden Girls,” even though I’m not the core audience for the “Golden Girls,” obviously. I raise that to ask what the value is, what the benefit is, why would women enjoy watching a show called “Men of a Certain Age?”
Romano: Well, oddly enough we have a – the woman audience is bigger than the male audience.
Royce: Little bit bigger than the men’s.
Romano: Yeah. We hear that they like seeing maybe what’s going on inside for real. We don’t let them know that we’re not showing them everything. (Laughter) But I think that’s it – I think it’s kind of a version of something – these guys are really thinking about something. They’re actually – there’s some truth there, that they’re seeing a little bit inside what makes a guy tick.
It surprised me that women are bigger – there’s a larger female audience than male, but that’s great. Even the younger – like you said, the “Golden Girls,” hopefully the good writing and the reality, it’s just – people get connected to it, people get invested in it.
Tavis: I think Ray’s on to something here, Mike – again, for me, at least. Shows work for me because I think the writing is smart, it’s funny, it’s witty. How much of the success for this, long-term, will have to do with the writing on the program? (Laughter)
Royce: Well, it certainly starts with that, and as a writer, thank you, and him too. It’s really all about that, and they’ve been, again, at TNT, good enough – they never get in there and it’s got to be this way or that way. They certainly have opinions, but I think sometimes network television, you get over-noted or you’re trying to make it into something that it’s really not.
TNT has, to their credit, never saying, “Hey, you’ve got to get some big guest star on there, you’ve got to do something to boost.” So I think writing-wise we’ve been allowed to let it grow in this very natural way.
Romano: What did (unintelligible) saying that when you try to write for everyone, you end up writing for no one?
Royce: You’re writing for no one.
Romano: You just have to be as specific as you can.
Tavis: You guys have referenced it a few times in this conversation, Ray – how rare is it in this business these days to have a network that gives you this kind of time to find your legs? Because the story about this town is you don’t hit it in the first few weeks, you’re out the door.
Romano: Yeah, well, like I say, “Raymond” was saved by the critics, and it wasn’t – we were, like, in 110th place. My joke used to be we got “Moesha right on our asses.” (Laughter) We were just ahead of “Moesha.”
Royce: Wow, who knew that joke would come back 12 years later?
Tavis: And it still kills. (Laughter) It still kills. But yeah, especially now where there’s so much on and there’s so little attention span and everything. But it helps – we won a Peabody award last week, so that helps.
Tavis: Yeah, congratulations on that, by the way.
Romano: Yeah, thank you. It’s rare. It’s rare to get a little bit of the leeway that we’re getting, but I think they believe in the show. They really believe in it.
Royce: I want to be clear, too – we’re doing okay. (Laughter)
Romano: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Royce: We’re doing okay. We just want more and they want more.
Tavis: If you weren’t doing okay, you wouldn’t be there and you wouldn’t be here.
Romano: That’s true, that’s true. No, no, all the reviews in the world don’t – eventually, they don’t pay the bills for the network, you know what I mean?
Royce: Right, that’s right.
Romano: Yeah, there are great shows that got canceled.
Tavis: Well, my money’s always on Ray Romano. If anybody can make this work long-term, it will be Ray Romano. Ray, good to have you here.
Romano: Oh, thank you, it was a pleasure.
Tavis: Mike, good to have you on as well.
Royce: Thank you.
Tavis: And all the best on the show.
Royce: Thanks for having us.
Tavis: Now if the show continues to go, which I’m sure it will, you’re going to come back and we’ll do this again.
Romano: Oh, yeah. Absolutely.
Tavis: Because we’re all men of –
Romano: Even if it doesn’t go, we’re coming back, because we’ll have nowhere else to go. (Laughter)
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