I’m Mad About You Baby: BTS of the ‘90s Sitcom

During the ‘90s, Mad About You was a mainstay on NBC. It might have been one of the most underrated shows of the decade because Friends and Seinfeld often overshadowed it. Mad About You followed the lives of Paul and Jamie Buchman, newlyweds who were living in New York City.

Paul Reiser, Helen Hunt / Paul Reiser, Helen Hunt / Paul Reiser, Helen Hunt / Paul Reiser, Helen Hunt, Anne Ramsay, John Pankow, Leila Kenzle.
Source: Getty Images

Starring Helen Hunt and Paul Reiser, the sitcom focused on everything from humorous daily problems to major struggles people encounter in married life. After seven seasons on the air and a revival season, there is a lot to discover about this ‘90s classic sitcom. Find out what went down behind the scenes and what the cast is up to today.

The Original Pitch to NBC Was About Something Completely Different

Paul Reiser and Danny Jacobson initially pitched a series to NBC executives Warren Littlefield and Jamie Tarses about a couple’s private life. There were enough shows about couples in social settings, and they wanted to show a more honest version of what goes on behind closed doors – or car doors, for that matter.

Paul Reiser and Helen Hunt as Paul and Jamie Buchman.
Source: Getty Images

Tarses explained the pitch: “When you leave a party or dinner, it’s you and your wife in the car.” Reiser and Jacobson compared their idea to the 1987 drama Thirtysomething but funnier and more concise. However, they had to tweak it because it wasn’t the most appealing pitch.

Helen Hunt Was Skeptical

While he was writing the pilot for Mad About You, Reiser met Helen Hunt at a dinner party through his wife’s friend. Hunt was interested in focusing on her flourishing movie career, but the pilot script changed her mind. She was intrigued by the idea of a show that showed the more intimate moments between a couple.

Paul Reiser and Helen Hunt during an interview.
Source: YouTube

In an interview, Hunt said, “Paul said he wanted to do a show about the moment a couple has left a party and just gotten behind closed doors and then the truth comes out. To do a whole series about moments like that – that was the only kind of show I could see would warrant five years of work.”

Initially, It Didn’t Test Well

In 1999, the former NBC executive VP of programming and planning, Paul Beckman, told the LA Times that the testing for Mad About You didn’t go well. However, research showed that viewers loved the couple played by Reiser and Hunt and wanted to see even more of them.

Paul Reiser and Helen Hunt in Mad About You.
Source: Getty Images

Larry Charles, the executive producer for Seasons 4 and 5, admitted that Reiser and Hunt made the show work so well. The network’s research found that viewers didn’t show much interest in the scenes that didn’t feature the couple. Charles said, “You just felt like no one cared” when they weren’t on screen.

The Show’s Name Was Chosen at the Last Minute

During the summer before the show’s fall debut, it was known as The Paul Reiser Project because they hadn’t come up with an official title, and it couldn’t be called “Reiser.” Richard Kind, who played Dr. Devanow, heard about the final title in a hilarious way.

A photo of the cast behind the scenes.
Photo by Lawrence K. Ho/Los Angeles Times/Getty Images

Kind said that when he pulled into the studio one day, he saw a sign that said, “Mad About You.” He thought it would be the perfect title for the program and ran in to tell everyone about his idea. They all laughed and said, “Yes, that is the name of the show.”

They Had to Find an Appealing Title

NBC executive Warren Littlefield shared some insight on the pushback against calling the series “Reiser.” He explained that “Paul’s manager pushed hard for it to be called The Paul Reiser Show, but I told him no, the show is about this couple. Don’t ask me again.”

Helen and Paul in a promo shot for the show.
Source: Moviestillsdb.com/ Copyright: Columbia Pictures

Reiser was the co-creator and star of the series, so his manager only thought it would be fitting that the show was named after him, like Seinfeld. However, Seinfeld was just about Jerry Seinfeld, whereas Mad About You focused on the couple’s life together.

Teri Hatcher Almost Played Jamie

When the show was being cast, the role of Jamie Buchman ultimately came down to two actresses, Hunt and Teri Hatcher. Hatcher was still an up-and-coming actress, while Hunt had more experience under her belt. However, their experience wasn’t what helped producers decide.

Teri Hatcher attends an event.
Photo by Mike Marsland/WireImage/Getty Images

Hunt earned the part over Hatcher when she hilariously imitated Reiser trying to decide where to eat, a scene that made it into the pilot episode. Although she didn’t get the role of Jamie, Hatcher ended up starring as Lois Lane on Lois and Clark soon after.

Reiser Ruined Steve Buscemi’s Comedy Dreams

In the late ‘70s, Steve Buscemi hadn’t made a name for himself as a stand-up comedian yet. He would hang around at The Improv, hoping for a chance to take the stage. Buscemi was usually passed over until the manager finally gave him a chance.

A photo of Steve Buscemi during an interview.
Photo by Phillip Faraone/Getty Images

Unfortunately, when he went to take the stage, Reiser entered the club and was put on stage instead. Buscemi later told NPR this was why he gave up comedy to focus on acting, and he held a grudge about the incident. However, Reiser gave him a platform to vent about it.

Buscemi’s Storyline Mirrored Real Life

After the 1978 incident at The Improv that changed Buscemi’s career path, he was later asked to appear on Mad About You. In the show’s seventh episode, “Token Friend,” Buscemi plays Howie, a Paul’s former film student who blames Paul for the fact that he dropped out of school.

Steve Buscemi in Mad About You.
Source: YouTube

Reiser’s character used the last editing machine, which meant that Howie was not able to get his assignment in on time and he had to work in a NY subway toll booth for the rest of his life. On the last day of shooting, Buscemi told Reiser that it was like real life, but Reiser had no idea he had hurt him.

Lisa Kudrow Wasn’t Supposed to Appear on the Show

Lisa Kudrow, known for playing Phoebe on Friends, portrayed Karen for one episode in the first season of Mad About You. Karen was a woman who went on a date with Paul in the flashback episode, “Met Someone,” and she only had two lines.

Lisa Kudrow in a still from Mad About You.
Source: YouTube

Kudrow was struggling to find work and almost had to get a day job when her agent called to tell her Jacobson was offering her the part that would become Ursula Buffay. Her agent told her to turn it down, but Kudrow ignored the suggestion because she needed the money.

Hank Azaria Based His Character on Someone He Knew

Hank Azaria played Nat Ostertag for 15 episodes of the series, and he based his character on a guy he knew growing up who really talked that way. Without realizing it, Azaria was using this guy’s voice but claimed the person he was mimicking loved the character.

Hank Azaria in Mad About You.
Source: TV Line

Azaria was dating Hunt at the time, so he hung out on set often. He became well acquainted with all the cast and crew and decided to pitch the character of Nat. Azaria had been working on the character during his downtime.

The Fourth Season Had a “Blue Period”

After Season 3, Jacobson left the show, and Charles took over as showrunner. Charles was tired of perpetuating the romantic myth of marriage and wanted to shake things up. The Buchmans were supposed to be married four or five years by that point.

A still from the show.
Source: Getty Images

Charles wanted to show the couple for who they really were and see how they dealt with struggles such as infertility or the dark side of motherhood. It made them more relatable because these were issues that many couples experienced. But NBC wasn’t happy with the less optimistic turn.

A Baby Meant the Series Was Over

In the early days of Mad About You, Jacobson and Reiser agreed that the sound of a baby crying meant the show was coming to an end. The two wrote based on their own experiences in married life, and neither had kids when the show started, so it didn’t fit into the script.

Reiser and Hunt during an ultrasound in a scene from the show.
Source: YouTube

However, the fifth season ended with the birth of the couple’s daughter, Mabel. NBC pushed for the couple to have a baby the whole time. Reiser probably caved because he had his first child around the end of Season 4.

The Show Was Moved to Sunday Nights

Throughout its time on TV, Mad About You was at some point aired on every night of the week except Friday. When the series was pushed to Sunday nights for the fourth season, Reiser thought it “lost its moment of heat,” and he wasn’t happy.

Paul Reiser, Helen Hunt, and Jerry Lewis in Mad About You.
Source: Moviestillsdb.com/ Copyright: Columbia Pictures

When the series was moved from Thursday to Sunday, Reiser protested by not showing up for NBC’s official fall schedule presentation. People claimed the producers skulked because of the change, causing production to be delayed, but they were just waiting for Hunt to finish filming Twister.

They Didn’t Know How to End the Show

Although the last episode of Season 6 was titled “The Finale,” there was a seventh season because they didn’t know how to end the show. Season 4 also finished with a three-part episode called “The Finale,” which could have been a quick ending.

Paul Reiser and Helen Hunt in a promo shot.
Source: Moviestillsdb.com/ Copyright: Columbia Pictures

However, Hunt told The Los Angeles Times that not being able to come up with a magnificent ending was part of the reason they came back for Season 7. They wanted all the loose ends to be tied up to ensure viewers could enjoy the finale.

Reiser and Hunt Got Massive Paychecks

Hunt was probably glad she decided to take the role in Mad About You because of her massive pay increase. When the show announced it would come back for a seventh season, Reiser and Hunt’s per-episode salary increased from $250,000 to $1 million.

Paul Reiser, Garry Shandling, and Helen Hunt attend an event.
Photo by Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic, Inc/Getty Images

When NBC lost Seinfeld, they had the budget to give Hunt and Reiser more money, and it was an incentive for them to return for one more season. The series finale, “The Final Frontier,” was set 22 years in the future, with an adult Mabel making a documentary about her parents.

Reiser Hated the “Aww”s From the Studio Audience

Mad About You was shot in front of a live studio audience for the first six episodes. The producers wanted to determine if the series was best with or without a crowd. It must have been annoying, but that was the convention of most ‘90s sitcoms.

A portrait of Reiser.
Photo by Newsmakers/Getty Images

Sometimes, the series inspired the crowd to say “aww,” which Reiser said sent shivers down his spine. It bothered him so much that he had to be talked out of telling the audience to cut it out. However, Reiser had the “aww”s edited out of the audience track.

The Dog Was Really Named Maui

In Mad About You, the Buchmans had a dog named Murray. The collie mix dog is actually named Maui, and he was in a few productions. He was initially found in a Castaic, California animal shelter by a Hollywood animal trainer. How could anyone resist that face?!

A picture of Helen Hunt petting Maui during an event.
Photo by Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic, Inc/Getty Images

Maui was in all seven seasons of Mad About You, but that’s not the only time he has appeared on TV. He started in Hollywood in TV commercials, and he was an understudy for the circus dog Bingo. He was also in the 2005 movie Santa’s Slay.

The One With the Friends Cross-Over

Although Kudrow is primarily known for playing Phoebe Buffay in Friends, she first played Ursula Buffay (Phoebe’s twin sister) on Mad About You. Friends and Mad About You ran during the same time, and they were definitely set in the same “universe.”

Kudrow attends an event.
Photo by Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic, Inc/Getty Images

Ursula was a waitress on the show, who worked at Riff’s, the popular dinner spot. In a cross-over episode, Hunt’s character walks into Central Perk thinking Phoebe is Ursula and asks if she is also a waitress there. But that isn’t the only sitcom cross-over.

Kramer’s Guest Appearance

Like Friends, Seinfeld was also on the air at the same time as Mad About You. In one episode, Kramer from Seinfeld took over Paul’s old apartment. Paul also references the comedian across the hall, aka Jerry. Theoretically, this would mean that all three shows are in the same “universe.”

Kramer’s appearance in Mad About You.
Source: YouTube

However, there was an episode of Seinfeld where George and Susan watched an episode of Mad About You in bed. It’s possible that they are all in the same New York, even with the minor hiccups that would suggest otherwise.

The Paul Reiser Show Eventually Made It to TV

After Mad About You concluded, Reiser was featured in a few TV movies and an episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm as himself. After taking a break from acting, he wrote and starred in the 2005 drama The Thing About My Folks. Unfortunately, his next series didn’t end well.

Paul Reiser attends an event.
Photo by Tibrina Hobson/FilmMagic/Getty Images

Since Mad About You wasn’t called The Paul Reiser Show, he eventually brought it to life in 2011. The show only aired for two episodes before it got canceled. Reiser played Martin in The Kominsky Method most recently, which went much better than his previous series.

Helen Hunt Never Slowed Down

Hunt got nothing but positive reviews for her role as Jamie, which only helped boost her career further. In 2000, Hunt played the lead roles in Cast Away, What Women Want, Dr. T and the Women, and Pay It Forward. Her career never slowed down.

Helen Hunt attends an event.
Photo by Phillip Faraone/Getty Images

Besides her work in movies and TV, Hunt became the poster child for women having children later in life. When she was dating producer Matthew Carnahan, she had her daughter in 2004. Hunt was 41 at the time. Even as a new mom, Hunt continued working.

Anne Ramsay Had No Problem Finding More Roles

Anne Ramsay played Lisa Stemple, Jamie’s older sister, because everyone needs a dysfunctional sibling. After Mad About You, Ramsay focused on TV movies and shorts. She found success with minor roles on The L Word and Six Feet Under. Ramsay also appeared on a few episodes of Dexter.

Anne Ramsay in a still from the show / Anne Ramsay attends an event.
Source: YouTube / Photo by Michael Loccisano, Getty Images

Most recently, Ramsay was in the movie Bombshell and had a recurring role in Hart of Dixie. People thought she was actually related to Hunt for many years because they looked so similar and played sisters on the show, but they are not.

John Pankow Has Been in Many Popular Series

After playing Ira, Paul’s cousin, a musician/sporting goods store owner, John Pankow went on to star in many other popular series. In 2002, he had a two-episode role on Ally McBeal. After, his career slowed down for a while in the mid-2000s with only a few guest roles.

A dated portrait of John Pankow / A current photo of John Pankow.
Photo by Ron Galella, Ltd., Ron Galella Collection, Getty Images / Michael Loccisano, Getty Images

In recent years, Pankow has had recurring roles on shows like Madam Secretary, Lucifer, and Episodes with Matt LeBlanc. Interestingly, his Mad About You character, Ira, was known for having a crush on Ursula, and LeBlanc’s Friends character briefly dated her.

Leila Kenzle Retired From Acting

As Jamie’s best-friend Fran, who eventually goes into business with her, Leila Kenzle was loved by viewers. She got her start in acting in an off-Broadway production of Tony n’ Tina’s Wedding. After Mad About You, Kenzle had a few roles before she retired from acting in 2003.

A dated photo of Leila Kenzle.
Photo by Sam Levi/WireImage/Getty Images

When she took a step back from acting, Kenzle earned her master’s degree in Clinical Psychology from Rutgers University. Today she works as a therapist with a focus on fertility. She and Kerry O’Reilly co-founded Fertility LA, a counseling program for people struggling with fertility issues.

Richard Kind Stayed in the Business

Kind, who played Fran’s ex-husband Dr. Mark Devanow, has a reasonably extensive resume. Since he started acting in 1985, there hasn’t been a year that he hasn’t had multiple projects in the works. After Mad About You, he performed in Scrubs, The Goldbergs, and Curb Your Enthusiasm, to name a few.

A photo of Richard Kind.
Photo by Araya Diaz/Getty Images

Kind is well-known for his voice work in series like Kim Possible, Big Mouth, and American Dad. He has also voiced characters in A Bug’s Life, Inside Out, and Cars 2. He is a hard-working actor who continues to redefine the term character actor.

One Episode Stands Out From the Rest

In the Season 6 episode, “The Conversation,” Reiser and Hunt’s characters have a 20-minute conversation outside the baby’s room. Most fans remember this episode because the scene was filmed and shown in a single uninterrupted take. This is rare and showed how professional these two were.

A still from the show.
Photo by Al Seib/Los Angeles Times/Getty Images

In the episode, Paul and Jamie try to get Mabel to fall asleep on her own by letting her cry for more extended periods before going in to comfort her. As they wait it out in the hallway, they have a random conversation. The episode was shown without commercial breaks.

People Didn’t Like the Baby’s Name

When Paul and Jamie have their daughter, they name her Mabel, a name given by Jamie’s mom (played by Carol Burnett). When they were looking for a name, Jamie’s mother said, “Mothers always bring extra love,” aka M-A-B-E-L. The name got mixed reviews.

A scene from the show.
Source: YouTube

Some people thought using the acronym was clever, while others found it cringey. Besides the baby’s name, many viewers thought the addition of a child made the show tedious to watch. Some people felt that they doubled down on Mabel, which took away from the couple.

Many Different Parents

Throughout the series, we see Paul and Jamie’s parents many times. While Paul’s parents were always played by the same actors (Cynthia Harris and Louis Zorich) for seven seasons, Jamie had three pairs of actors play Theresa and Gus Stemple.

A still from the television series.
Source: Tv Line

In their first appearances, Nancy Dussault and Paul Dooley played the Stemples. Then, Penny Fuller and John Karlen took over the roles, followed by Carol Burnett and Carol O’Connor. No one knows why they changed the actors, but Carol Burnett was by far the most famous.

The Show Wouldn’t Work Today

Despite making a revival season, Reiser has stated that the show wouldn’t work in a modern setting. He said that everyone would be on their cellphones instead of talking face-to-face. When the rumors circulated about the revival, he revealed a promise he and Hunt made.

A photo of Paul Reiser and Helen Hunt.
Source: YouTube

At the end of the original series, Reiser said that he and Hunt made it clear that they would never go back because they were proud of how it ended. However, Reiser later thought it would be fun to act with Hunt again.

Mad About You Got a Revival

Like many ‘90s sitcoms, Mad About You was brought back for a limited revival in 2019. The 12-episode season starred Reiser and Hunt and Abby Quinn as a grown-up Mabel. This time, Paul and Jamie Buchman return as angsty empty nesters after Mabel goes to college.

Paul Reiser and Helen Hunt in Mad About You revival.
Source: Tv Line

The revival didn’t follow the ending of the original series and confused many people. When the show ended in ’99, Mabel followed in her father’s footsteps to become a documentary filmmaker, and her parents separated and then reunited. However, that was not the story in 2019.

The Revival Was Unnecessary

In the revival, Mabel starts her freshman year at NYU while her parents deal with marriage fatigue, menopause, and the death of a friend. By the end of the season, Mabel reveals that she dropped out of NYU to live on a boat and clean plastic from the Pacific Ocean.

Hunt and Reiser pose for the press.
Photo by David Livingston/Getty Images

Unfortunately, the revival mainly got negative reviews. One review said that the revival only works in a parallel universe. It was unnecessary, and the revival show’s head writer, Peter Tolan, said they pretended like the flash forward in the original series finale never happened.

Jamie Had a Good Reason to Go Back to Work

In the original series, Jamie worked in PR. However, in the revival, she is older and trying to figure out what she wants to do next. The story behind her going back to work is one of the good things to come out of the reboot.

Helen Hunt attends an event.
Photo by Noam Galai/Spectrum Originals/Getty Images

In Season 8, Jamie wants to work as a therapist, and it feels like a good fit for her. The career change comes with its trials, like when she gets too invested in an older woman and goes to her apartment. Seeing Jamie figure out her next phase in life was compelling and charming.

The Original Series Had More Humor

Even though Mad About You had a “Blue Period” in Season 4, the first seven seasons were much funnier than Season 8. Paul always had witty one-liners, like “Would a mango need body wash?” That light ‘90s dialogue was absent from the latest season.

Yoko Ono’s appearance in an episode from the show.
Source: Getty Images

Fans of Mad About You didn’t want to watch Paul freak out about going into the steam room with his friend Mark. However, this was a storyline in the fifth episode titled “Boundaries and Nakedness.” Some things are better left in the past.

A Network-Wide Blackout

As we mentioned earlier, there was some overlap between Friends and Mad About You. In the Season 3 episode, “Pandora’s Box,” Jamie causes a city-wide blackout in New York City. Coincidentally, two other shows see the effects of that same blackout.

A still from the episode.
Source: Tv Line

In the Friends episode, “The One with the Blackout,” the city goes completely dark, and many viewers think it was the same blackout caused by Jamie. Also, in Madman of the People, there is a blackout in the episode “Birthday in the Big House,” which people believe is also connected.

Short-Term Memory

In one episode, a character asks if anyone has seen the movie about all those aliens that burst from people’s chests. The person is referencing the Alien films, and Reiser’s character says, “Only the first one.” However, at the time, there were already two Alien movies.

Paul Reiser in a dated studio portrait.
Photo by George Rose/Getty Images

Paul said he only saw the first one because Reiser starred and got killed in the second movie of the series. Many people thought that was a funny nod to Reiser’s life outside of Mad About You. It was also comical because his character died, so he wouldn’t be able to see the second film.

Lack of Women

Before the 2010s, comedy writing was a male-dominated career field. Also, there was a lack of female directors in the industry. In Seasons 3 and 4 of Mad About You, the show didn’t hire any female directors, and behind the scenes lacked diversity.

A still from the show.
Source: YouTube

During Seasons 5 and 6, there was only one female director, lead actress Helen Hunt. However, when the Season 8 revival came around 20 years after the finale, the show had a majority of female directors. Everyone loves some female power behind the scenes.

Lisa Kudrow Has Become an Icon

Although most people associate her with Friends, Lisa Kudrow was also on Mad About You for a good chunk of the series. After her massive fame in the ‘90s and early 2000s, Kudrow wrote and starred in HBO’s The Comeback. It only lasted 13 episodes before it was canceled.

Courteney Cox, Lisa Kudrow, and Jennifer Aniston pose for a portrait.
Source: Getty Images

The show itself made a comeback in 2014, and Kudrow earned an Emmy nomination. The actress also appeared in Web Therapy, PS I Love You, Grace and Frankie, and Netflix’s Space Force. Kudrow is a cultural icon, and we can only imagine how busy she was balancing two shows simultaneously.

Another Familiar Face

Ellen DeGeneres was already a TV star when Mad About You came out. She appeared in one episode of the series as Nancy Bloom during the Season 6 finale. Her character meets Paul while shooting a documentary about the making of the Titanic.

A dated portrait of Ellen DeGeneres.
Photo by Victor Malafronte/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Paul inadvertently gets Nancy, who is the set caterer, fired. To make it up to her, he hires her as Mabel’s nanny. Sadly, we never saw DeGeneres on the show again, but they really could have used her comedic skills towards the end of the series.

Many Famous Guest Stars

Mad About You boasted many famous guest stars like Al Gore, Jerry Lewis, Eugene Levy, and Cindy Lauper. In one episode, pop singer Cindy Lauper appeared as Ira Buchman’s ex-wife, Marianna. She makes a grand entrance to share that her most recent husband has died.

The original cast attends an event.
Photo by Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic, Inc/Getty Images

Lauper’s character tries to give money to Ira, but things get complicated. Marianna and Ira even try to get back together, but it ultimately doesn’t work out. She was the perfect person for this role because she has such an over-the-top personality.