When Everybody Loves Raymond creator Phil Rosenthal was asked to help adapt the show for a Russian audience, he was ecstatic. But that feeling didn't last long.
"I was quite flattered that the Russians would want me to go, until I heard that I needed kidnap and ransom insurance," Rosenthal tells TVGuide.com with a laugh. "Then, my fear of getting kidnapped was replaced by my fear of what they were going to do to the show."
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From casting to costumes, every step along the way was a bit of a fight. (And the language barrier didn't help any.) Luckily, Rosenthal, also the show's executive producer, brought a film crew to document every fish-out-of-water moment. The result: Exporting Raymond, a film that is more an exploration of the struggles of communication than a celebration of the long-running CBS sitcom.
"When you make a documentary — if you're going to be honest — you don't know really what you're going to get," Rosenthal says. "You have to be lucky that when you turn the camera on, you're going to get something worthwhile. I thought we had something that transcended the experience of just our show. Forget that it's another country. I mean, everybody has [communication] problems in their own house."
That of course was the basic conceit of Everybody Loves Raymond, which starred Ray Romano as a Long Island sportswriter whose dustups with his wife (Patricia Heaton), jealous brother (Brad Garrett) and obtrusive parents (Doris Roberts and the late Peter Boyle) were grounded in real, everyday problems. That was a concept the Russians had problems with, Rosenthal says.
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"If we had any success here in America, we think it's because it was relatable to the American audience," Rosenthal says. "So it's not that [the adaptation] had to be faithful to the American version; I just wanted it to be relatable to their audience. The way to do that is to keep it in the real world, to ask: 'Could this happen?' But that seemed to be too much to ask.
"I didn't know if the problem was that they didn't understand this concept of realism and naturalism or that they didn't want to understand," Rosenthal continues. "That was the biggest thing to overcome — figuring out, 'Was it me and my unrealistic expectations being a foreigner in this country? Or did they just not want to connect?'"
It's only a mild spoiler to say that eventually, Rosenthal and his comrades found some common ground. And now, versions of Everybody Loves Raymond are being adapted in Poland, Egypt, Israel and India.
"They're telling me that this may end up being the most produced show in the world," Rosenthal says. "We all have parents, we have a significant other, we have siblings. These are universal themes. We tried very hard in the show to make it very specific to our lives.... but we tried to make the show have a timeless quality. It seems to be working around the world."
Does that mean we'll get a sequel? Still Exporting Raymond? "We were actually just talking about a sketch for Funny or Die for that very thing," Rosenthal says. "But I have agreed to only go to the countries that I would like to eat in."
Exporting Raymond is available on DVD and Blu-ray. Watch a clip: