15 Happy Facts About Mad About You
Mad About You was an understated and underrated NBC sitcom mainstay in the 1990s. It followed the lives of Paul and Jamie Buchman (Paul Reiser and Helen Hunt), newlyweds living in New York City. Reiser and executive producer Danny Jacobson, who got married within weeks of one another and had similar discoveries about married life, developed the show together.
1. THE ORIGINAL PITCH TO NBC WAS ABOUT CARS AND THIRTYSOMETHING.
Paul Reiser and Danny Jacobson pitched NBC executives Warren Littlefield and Jamie Tarses a show about the life of a couple in private—not the version you'd see at a party, but the more honest version that comes after that. "When you leave the party or the dinner, it's you and your wife in the car," Tarses recalled of the pitch. The two also compared their show to thirtysomething (1987-1991), but promised that it would be "shorter and funnier."
2. PAUL REISER MET HELEN HUNT WHILE HE WAS WRITING THE PILOT.
Reiser met Helen Hunt—who at the time was sharing a house with a good friend of Reiser's wife—at a dinner party. Though Hunt wanted to focus on her burgeoning movie career, the pilot script changed her mind. "Paul had said he wanted to do a show about the moment when a couple has left a party and just gotten behind closed doors and then the truth comes out," Hunt told The New York Times in 1994. "To do a whole series about moments like that—that was the only kind of show I could see that would warrant five years of work."
3. TERI HATCHER WAS ALMOST JAMIE.
The role of Jamie Buchman ultimately came down to two people: Hunt and Teri Hatcher. Hunt won out when she "brilliantly" imitated Reiser trying to decide what to eat, one of the scenes in the pilot. Hatcher ended up playing Lois on Lois and Clark soon after instead.
4. IT DIDN'T TEST WELL AT FIRST.
"The testing on Mad About You was not great," Preston Beckman, NBC's then-executive vice president of programming and planning, told the Los Angeles Times in 1999. But the research indicated that everybody loved the couple. Larry Charles, who would serve as executive producer of the series in its fourth and fifth seasons, admitted that it was Reiser and Hunt who made the show work; he said that with scenes that didn't feature the couple, "you just felt like no one cared."
5. IT TOOK THEM A WHILE TO COME UP WITH THE NAME OF THE SHOW.
Richard Kind, who played Dr. Mark Devanow, recalled that the show was not allowed to call itself Reiser, so was known as The Paul Reiser Project deep into the summer before its fall debut. Kind found out about the final title in the studio lot. "One day I pull into a parking space, and I see a thing that says Mad About You. And I go, 'Oh, my God! That’s a great name!' And I run in and I go 'Guys! Guys! I’ve got it! I’ve got the name: Mad About You!' And they go [Calmly.] 'Yes. That is the name of the show.'"
Warren Littlefield shed some light on the pushback from calling it Reiser. "Paul's manager pushed hard for it to be called The Paul Reiser Show," he said in Top of the Rock. "I told him no, the show is about this couple. Don't ask me again."
6. A BABY MEANT THE SERIES WAS OVER, ACCORDING TO THE CREATORS IN THE BEGINNING.
Jacobson and Reiser agreed in the early days of their series that the sound of a baby crying meant the show was over. But the fifth season ended with the birth of the couple's daughter, Mabel. NBC had pushed for the couple to have a baby all along.
7. REISER REALLY HATED THE "AWW"S FROM THE STUDIO AUDIENCE.
For the first six episodes, the show was shot both with an audience and without one. While they decided Mad About You was best with a live crowd, Reiser said the "awww"s that the series sometimes elicited "shriveled" his spine. After getting talked out of telling the audience to cut it out, Reiser had the "awww"s edited out of the audience track of episodes.
8. STEVE BUSCEMI'S STORYLINE ABOUT HOLDING A GRUDGE AGAINST REISER MIRRORED REAL LIFE.
In 1978, Steve Buscemi was an aspiring stand-up who would hang out at The Improv, waiting patiently to get a chance to take the stage. He was never called, until one night when the manager looked at him and said it was finally time. But before he could get up on the stage, Paul Reiser entered the club, and was put on stage instead. Buscemi told NPR in 2015 that the incident was what led him to give up on comedy and focus on acting instead—and he still held a grudge about it.
In "Token Friend," the seventh episode of Mad About You's first season, Buscemi got to vent his frustrations at Reiser when he portrayed "Howie," a former film school student of Paul's who blamed Paul for his dropping out of school (after Reiser's character used the last available editing machine, leading him to not get his assignment in on time and into a life working in a New York subway toll booth). It was on the last day of shooting that Buscemi told Reiser, "This is kinda what happened with you and me." Reiser had no idea.
9. LISA KUDROW WENT AGAINST HER AGENT'S WISHES TO DO THE SHOW.
Lisa Kudrow portrayed "Karen," a woman who had two lines on a blind date with Paul in the first season flashback episode "Met Someone." The future Friends actress said she was about to be forced to get a day job when her agent called to tell her Jacobson was offering her the part that would become Ursula Buffay. The agent suggested she pass. Because Kudrow needed the money and thought it was "the best show on television," she ignored the suggestion. (Ursula is the twin sister of Phoebe Buffay, Kudrow's character on Friends.)
10. HANK AZARIA BASED NAT ON A GUY HE GREW UP WITH WHO REALLY TALKED THAT WAY.
Hank Azaria claimed that the man he was mimicking told him he really loved the character Nat Ostertag, without realizing Azaria was using his voice. Azaria got the part by hanging out on set all the time (he and Hunt were a couple from 1994 to 2000) and eventually pitched the powers-that-be the character of Nat, which he had been working on during his downtime.
11. MURRAY'S REAL NAME WAS MAUI.
The Buchmans' dog, Murray, was actually Maui, a collie mix. He was originally found in a Castaic, California animal shelter by a Hollywood animal trainer. Maui got his start in TV commercials and as the understudy for the titular circus dog in Bingo (1991).
12. THE FOURTH SEASON FEATURED A "BLUE PERIOD."
Jacobson left the show after season three, and Larry Charles took over as showrunner. "I was not interested in further perpetuating the romantic myth of marriage," Charles said. "They had supposedly been married four and five years by then. Well, you've become bored with each other by then, you're onto each other's shtick already ... My goal was to strip away the artifice of the couple and show them for what they really were. And I had two great actors to work with." Reiser and Hunt agreed with Charles. "We wanted to see the couple in trouble," Hunt said. "We wanted to see them struggle with infertility, the dark side of motherhood—all of those things that we or our friends [experienced] we wanted to express through this show." NBC wasn't a fan of the series's less optimistic turn.
13. REISER THINKS BEING MOVED TO SUNDAY NIGHTS HURT THE SHOW.
The show was at some point or another on every night of the week except Friday throughout its seven-season run. When it was moved to Sundays for season four, Reiser said Mad About You "lost its moment of heat." He was so upset about the move from Thursday to Sunday that he didn't show up for NBC's official presentation of the fall schedule. An anonymous network executive claimed production was delayed one week for season four because the show's producers were "sulking" over the day change; Reiser insisted the delay was from waiting for Hunt to return to the studio after shooting Twister (1996).
14. THERE WAS A SEVENTH SEASON, IN PART BECAUSE THEY STILL DIDN'T KNOW HOW TO END THE SHOW.
Reiser felt that the final episode of season six, titled "The Finale" (just like season four's three-part ender), could have served as a "very perfunctory ending." Hunt told the Los Angeles Times that not being able to come up with a grand ending was "part of the impetus to come back" for a seventh and last season.
15. REISER AND HUNT MADE $1 MILLION PER EPISODE IN THE FINAL SEASON.
Another benefit for Reiser and Hunt to come back for a seventh season was the per-episode salary increase from $250,000 to $1 million, given in part by the network because of its loss of Seinfeld. Ultimately, the series finale—"The Final Frontier"—was set 22 years into the future, with an adult Mabel making a documentary about her parents.