In his upcoming travel diary and cookbook, Phil Rosenthal, star of the hit Netflix series “Somebody Feed Phil,” and previously showrunner of the longtime sitcom “Everybody Loves Ray,” writes how his star, Ray Romano, inspired his food and travel show.
Read an excerpt below, and don’t miss Dr. Jon LaPook’s interview with Phil Rosenthal and Ray Romano on “CBS Sunday Morning” on May 8!
One person’s life I wanted to change through travel was my good friend Ray Romano. I asked him where he was going when we were on break after the first season of Everybody loves Raymond. He said, “We always go to the Jersey Shore.” I told him that was great, but had he ever been to Europe? “Nope.” I asked him why not, and he replied: “I’m not really interested in other cultures. I couldn’t understand how anyone could feel this. Not even Italy? Ray’s family was Italian. I knew instantly this was a story I wanted to tell Raymond, do an episode set in Italy and send his character, Ray Barone, there, that guy who doesn’t want to travel. He would come back as Italian as Roberto Benigni, or me, someone who has been transformed by the magic of travel – the food, the people, the beauty, especially of Italy.
So after a lot of persuading, we got Raymond on a plane and filmed the episode in Rome and out of town in a little town called Anguillara Sabazia on Lago di Bracciano, the lake there. After shooting one night, Ray and I, along with thirty cast and crew members, ate at a huge table in the middle of the square in Trastevere, Rome’s former Jewish ghetto. Ray saw an ice cream shop on the corner of the square and said, “We’ll probably have dessert here, but we should buy ice cream afterwards, right?” As he and I were enjoying our second dessert of the night, he saw a pizzeria and said we had to try that then. Then he saw another ice cream parlor and said, “The best combination is coconut and chocolate. Shouldn’t we try that here too? I saw what happened to the character I wrote happen to Ray the Person. And watching my friend discover the joys of travel for the first time was as good as doing it myself. I actually remember thinking, “If only I could do this for other people.”
So after Raymond finished, and several failed attempts to make another sitcom, I decided to pursue my dream. And you know what? Nobody wanted it. “Why are you doing this? Stick to sitcoms” is something I would hear from everyone, including my agents and my parents. But I kept trying for years. I wanted to use everything I had learned about how to tell a story in service of everything I loved in life: family, friends, food, travel, and laughter.
Finally, the nice people at PBS saw some clips I had made of travel videos and liked them, and I had a date. Here’s how I introduced the show: I said, “I’m just like Anthony Bourdain, if he was scared of everything.”
After the meeting, I called Richard. I told him that PBS offered me six episodes on the air where I would try to take you on a journey by showing you the best places in the world to eat. He said, “Really? What are they going to call the show? The lucky bastardI told him to quit his job (he was already a TV producer) and come produce this show with me, and we’ll call our production company Lucky Bastards. We got Zero Point Zero (the production company that did the Anthony Bourdain shows) to join us, and that show became I’m going Have what Phil has.
We brought my parents into every episode, and they were always not only supportive and fantastic, but a great source of comedic material. You can see their debut in my 2011 documentary about my trip to Russia to try to help them turn our sitcom into Everyone loves Kostya. It’s called Export Raymond. And what you see on these video calls to my parents is really what they are. I realized that these calls home are the modern equivalent of a postcard from wherever you travel. And we realized they were comic book geniuses on camera. My mother was a complete natural and absolutely hysterical. (Unlike Dad, she never wanted to be on TV, but later liked people recognizing her. I loved that.) Then we had Dad with his jokes. He had done stand-up here and there when he was younger. He always amazed me, because he got really nervous going up there, but then he owned the stage. He had accumulated a lot of jokes over the years, but as the show progressed, Monica would tell me that Dad would go online and look up old Jewish jokes before I called. He wanted to make sure he understood the joke correctly so that it would appear to the audience as if he had just remembered it. The dynamic of the two together, my mother and my father, first on IHWPH and on our first four seasons of Netflix someone is feeding Phil, was unbelievable. They are just as funny in this series, being themselves, as the actors who played them in Raymond were on the sitcom. They weren’t just the best part of the show, they were one of the best parts of my life. This book, like everything I have been fortunate enough to do thanks to them, is dedicated to them, Max and Helen Rosenthal.
It is also dedicated to the rest of my family: Monica, Ben and Lily, Richard and his family, Monica’s family and my extended family: our crew and production staff, all the chefs and friends we have made, and y’all, who really should drop this book just now.
Excerpt from “Someone Feed Phil the Book.” Copyright © 2022, Phil Rosenthal. Reproduced with permission from Simon Element, an imprint of Simon & Schuster. All rights reserved.
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