Comedian Paul Reiser realized he could think like a producer when he made a key decision on a HBO special he was making.
For one scene he had written: “A cow walks by in the background.” The production coordinator wanted to know what kind of cow he had in mind.
“A cow,” Reiser said. “I don’t have any particular cow in mind.”
“Well,” the production coordinator asked him, “do you want a Holstein or a Jersey?” Reisner inquired what the difference was and learned that one was brown and cost $ 400, and one was black and cost $ 200.
“Black, I think, is funnier,”saidproducer Reiser.
The 36-year-old standup comic-turned-actor is co-creator (with executive producer Danny Jacobson), producer, and star of “Mad About You,” a situation comedy that debuted on NBC last fall. The show follows “Seinfeld” at 9:30 p.m. Wednesdays, in a block facing ABC’s winning combination of “Home Improvement” and “Coach,” and CBS’s stalwart “In the Heat of the Night.”
(As of Feb. 6, the show moves to a 9:30 p.m. Saturday slot.)
Reiser is hopeful that his show will find its audience and all the critical praise it has received boosts his confidence. Critics have lauded the chemistry between the comedian and Helen Hunt (“The Waterdance”), who co-stars as his wife.
They’re a yuppie Manhattan couple whose everyday musings and minicrises form the basis for the show’s humor. Reiser sold the show to NBC as “‘thirtysomething ,’ but funny.”
Having worked successfully as an actor in such movies as “Diner,””Aliens, “”The Marrying Man,” both “Beverly Hills Cop” movies and the series “My Two Dads ,” Reiser says that having the title of producer on his current series gives him permission to say things he would have said anyway.
“Coming from standup, where you write for yourself and do all the fixing yourself, it becomes intrinsic that you probably have a good idea of what you want,” he says. “On the other series, I would try to rewrite my own stuff, throw in my two cents.”
Wearing different hats presents no problems, he says, because he believes that all hats on a project feed the same animal: The show that goes on the air.
“We’re all helping each other,” he says. “There are times when it helps to have somebody else, the director or one of the other producers, pick apart where the problem is.”
Reiser’s instinct is usually to rewrite, even when he’s written the original himself. “Sometimes it’s an acting problem,” he says. “Someone says, ‘Wait a second, let’s play it this way,’ and it works. I go, ‘Oh, I didn’t see that.’ ”
Before each show, Reiser and Helen Hunt spend their lunch break going over the script simply as actors. “It’s good for me to take off the other hats then,” he says. “To not rewrite, and not worry about the things I tend to worry about. To look at it as an actor–asif I’d just received the script.”
He says that going from the single focus of standup comedy to the ensemble business of acting presented no difficulties because of the generosity of the actors he has worked with.
“Certainly that was true on ‘Diner,’ ” he says. “And on’Aliens.”‘
It was a very nice feeling, he says, to have the confidence that: “This guy knows how to make these movies and all I have to do is this little part and the whole will be greater than the sum of the parts.
“I may not be in it for 30 or 40 minutes, but I’m part of this great movie–most of which has nothing to do with me,” he says. “That is fun.”