1 of 3 | Paul Reiser's dramedy "There's... Johnny" debuts on Peacock on Sunday. File Photo by Christine Chew/UPI | License Photo
NEW YORK, Nov. 1 (UPI) -- Paul Reiser is thrilled that his little-seen, 2017 dramedy There's... Johnny is getting a second life on Peacock starting Sunday.
With a cast led by Jane Levy, Ian Nelson and Tony Danza, the series that Reiser co-created and wrote is a fictionalized look at the folks who worked behind the scenes of NBC's The Tonight Show when it was hosted by Johnny Carson. It takes place in 1972, against the backdrop of the Vietnam War, rise of feminism and the civil rights movement.
Real footage of the late Carson and some of his legendary guests is woven throughout episodes.
"I get very impatient or frustrated when things just disappear," Reiser told UPI in a phone interview, recounting how he spent years developing the concept for There's ... Johnny, securing the blessing from the Carson estate and filming seven episodes, only to have Seeso, the streaming platform that ordered it, collapse before it could debut.
According to the 64-year-old standup comedian and author, Hulu later acquired the show, but didn't tell viewers about it and, after two years, dropped it.
"It was sort of like a state-mandated, foster child," he laughed. "It was like: 'We'll feed him, but he's not getting the good food like our regular kids. He'll get a bowl of hot steam.' So, they put it on the air with zero promotion and nobody saw it."
Reiser remained optimistic that people would enjoy There's ... Johnny if they stumbled upon it, but he learned a few months ago that it wasn't even on Hulu anymore.
"The thing that amazed me was that somebody had to actively say: 'Alright. Take it off. Don't even let it be accessible if somebody by happenstance wanted to see it,'" Reiser said.
He came to this painful realization as NBCUniversal was launching Peacock and immediately lobbied the company to pick up his show.
"It's about NBC. Our opening credits have the peacock in it. Not to mention Jane Levy is now a big star of their big show [Zoey's Extraordinary Playlist]," Reiser said.
"Luckily, they understood that and said, 'You're absolutely right,' and they took it on, so I am very excited that all this work that everybody did will see the light of day."
The series likely will appeal to those 50 and older who are nostalgic for a time when The Tonight Show was appointment viewing, since there was no YouTube or DVRs.
Younger viewers who never heard of Carson can relate to Nelson and Levy's characters Andy and Joy.
"It's about this wide-eyed kid who comes off a farm and meets this very, very complex Beverly Hills girl-child-woman, and he gets a run for his money," Reiser said.
"We always said if we just make one season, that would be great, but it would be delightful if it got enough of an audience and they said, 'Why don't you kids go make some more?' There are a lot of stories to be told there."
To young comedians working in clubs in 1960s, '70s and '80s Los Angeles, booking a spot on Carson's Tonight Show was the "gold standard," and Reiser appeared on the program during Carson's reign between 25 and 30 times.
"He made you welcome and really was a host in a way that nobody else was. He wanted you to do well. Nothing made him happier than a guest doing well, specifically a comic. He loved comedy. He loved comedians," Reiser said.
"He wasn't our buddy. He was like the father or the really hip uncle that you wanted to impress. Nothing made you happier than getting a laugh."
These appearances helped his family understand Reiser's career and recognize his success.
"That's when my parents went, 'I guess he's going to go through with this and he must be OK because Johnny likes him,'" Reiser quipped.
Reiser's own career has another connection to There's ... Johnny.
"My first big break was an accident just like this kid [Andy] in this show," he said, explaining he got his role in the 1982 movie Diner after he walked into an office by mistake and the casting director asked him to stay.
"Within a week, I was in a movie and I got my first Tonight Show. So, that was a good week."
'Mad About You'
Reiser -- who also appeared in the Alien and Beverly Hills Cop film franchises -- went on to co-create and star in Mad About You.
He and Helen Hunt reunited last year for a limited revival of the Emmy-winning, 1990s sitcom, although Reiser had some reservations about returning.
"We landed the plane and everybody got off safely. Let's not fool around. Don't stay any longer than you need to and we did everything we wanted to do in the first go-around," he described his thinking about revisiting the much-admired marriage of New Yorkers Paul and Jamie Buchman.
However, as TV reboots and reunions became increasingly popular, Reiser and Hunt were pressured to make more Mad About You.
They started thinking about how much fun it could be and decided to get the band back together.
It was important to the cast and writers that they not pick up where they left off and try to be the exact same people they were. Instead, they wanted to give the audience the chance to check in with the Buchmans as if they had been living their lives out of the spotlight all this time.
"Your relationship, obviously, changes. You're not newlyweds. You're not talking about each other. You're talking about your children and how does that relationship survive that moment when the child leaves?" Reiser said.
"We thought that was a really fun place to write from and we got to do it. It felt like we took a weekend off, not 20 years. It felt so comfortable."
Because the original Mad About You episodes aired in a pre-social media era, Reiser didn't realize how influential it was until he started doing stand-up comedy again a few years ago and met people who told him they quote lines from the show, have the same fights as its main characters and got married to the Mad About You theme song.
"All these things about how it was part of their lives, in sometimes very silly ways and sometimes very important ways," Reiser said. "It's very flattering, but -- I feel stupid to say this -- I didn't know that! I didn't know that people were feeling this. It was a lovely thing to hear."
After writing and producing so many projects, Reiser enjoys being an actor-for-hire on established shows like The Kominsky Method and Stranger Things.
"It's all a vacation now," he said. "If there's a problem, well, it ain't my problem. It's this other poor guy that's gotta stay late and fix that scene."
He was stunned by the level of anticipation for new seasons of fan-favorite shows such as Stranger Things, and how quickly viewers demand more episodes once they have binged what's already available.
"It's like, 'Now what do you have for us?' Well, go watch it again! You don't gobble it down. Slow down! Enjoy!" Reiser said.