In A Family Way

BY DENISE ABBOTT

Hollywood Reporter, Wednesday, May 21st, 1997




For the producers of 'The Nanny,' work and home are entwined.

The turmoil and politics that plague so many sitcoms are noticeably lacking on the set of "The Nanny." The producing quartet of Fran Drescher, Peter Marc Jacobson, Rob Stemin and Prudence Fraser appears to be a match made in heaven. When then CBS president Jeff Sagansky paired Drescher and Jacobson with Sternin and Fraser at the inception of the series, it quickly became apparent that all shared a similar sensibility. "We met with them, and their ideas were right on target," says Jacobson, a former actor who occasionally makes a guest appearance on the show. "We've been together four years and never had a fight. We know one another's strengths and weaknesses and fill in the blanks."

"At the beginning of the show we all did everything," concurs Sternin. "Then we found our niche and realized if we all did everything, things take too long." As it stands now, Drescher and Sternin write every story outline. Jacobson presides over the writing team, while Fraser observes every run-through and gives notes on what works and what doesn't.

The four do not necessarily agree on every matter. In those cases, whoever feels the most passionate about a particular point gets his or her way, with Drescher's vote having perhaps a slight edge. "In any star-driven vehicle, the star ultimately has the final say," says Fraser. "Fran has to be comfortable with the words coming out of her mouth. But she is very reasonable. I can't think of a single instance where there has been total disagreement."

As for the back story, Stemin and Fraser met while drama students at Tufts University in Boston. "Pru was actually my girlfriend's roommate, but that's another story for another time," says Stemin. The duo fell in love and made their way out to Los Angeles, where they married in 1981. Fraser acted while Sternin got his master's degree in playwriting from UCLA. Producer Gary David Goldberg happened to see a play Sternin had penned (in which Fraser was starring) and, as a result, gave him his first writing assignment for a show called "The Last Resort." "It was over and out before they aired my episode," Stemin says with a laugh. "But at midnight the night before I was supposed to tum in the script I said to Pru: 'Oh my God, I hate it. Nothing works. Read it. Help me.' From there, we started working together."

The two went on to produce "Who's the Boss?" and created "The Charmings" and "Married People." What makes Fraser and Sterpin such a great team? "Not to be glib, but she's smart, and I'm funny," says Stemin.

Fraser offers an even simpler explanation: "We're each dysfunctional without the other."

The success of "The Nanny" has given them the green light to explore other ideas they've been kicking around for years. They just shot a CBS pilot, "The Simple Life" in which Judith Light plays a Martha Stewart-type character who moves to the country in search of the simple life, only to learn life isn't simple at all. A second pilot, "Knight Life" for Fox, is, says Stemin, "a medieval Pythonesque action-adventure we've been trying to make for 10 years." A third pilot, about the trials and tribulations of parenting, is in the works for NBC.

If one or all the shows get picked up, the couple's organizational skills will surely be put to the test. "The writing team on 'The Nanny' is so great, we may be able to go off to launch the other shows but, of course, be available if problems arise," offers Stemin. "I'm not sure how we're going to do it, but it's a high-class problem to have."

As for Jacobson and Drescher, it was love at first sight when they met at age 15 at Hillcrest High School in Queens. They began dating, appearing jointly in drama-club productions and spending hours watching and analyzing sitcoms such as "Bewitched," "Father Knows Best" and "I Love Lucy." After graduation, the two budding thespians attended Queens College -- a distinction they share with Jerry Seinfeld -- but dropped out in their freshman year because all the acting classes were filled. At Drescher's urging, they enrolled in beauty school as a backup in case their showbiz plans didn't work out. "I always wanted to make money and be my own boss," says Drescher. "I figured we could be the Vidal and Beverly Sassoon of our neighborhood, wherever we ended up. At least we'd be in charge of our own hair."

Before they could get that business going, however, Drescher landed her first film role in "Saturday Night Fever." A part in "American Hot Wax" followed. That was enough to convince her and Jacobson to move to Los Angeles. Jacobson acted mostly in commercials and did a little writing and producing while Drescher landed occasional guest appearances on television and in movies such as "Ragtime," "Cadillac Man," "This Is Spinal Tap" and "Doctor Detroit."

Throughout the ups and downs, each was the other's biggest supporter. "I always told her she was a major star," says Jacobson. "And she was a primary force in my making the transition to behind the camera. She always told me this is where I belonged."

In her current role as Fran Fine, the one that's really clicked for her, Drescher and Jacobson have taken pains to create a character to play off Drescher's image. "None of her previous roles ever captured her full essence," says Jacobson. "She was always written to accentuate the loud, pushy, Queens side because that's the obvious thing. The warm, sweet, vulnerable side of Fran that those of us close to her know got ignored."

Though Drescher and Jacobson had no producing experience prior to "The Nanny," they've taken to it like seasoned pros. "They're naturals," says Sagansky. "There's an esprit de corps that comes directly from them."

Today, the two find themselves in a whirlwind of work. In addition to "The Nanny," they recently co-produced their first film, "The Beautician and the Beast." Their company, High School Sweethearts Productions, has development deals at TriStar and Paramount. But being together day and night and weathering the pressures of work have taken their toll. After 22 years of togethemess, the couple separated earlier this year. As they try to reconcile their differences, they have not allowed their personal issues to affect the production in the least. "They remain best friends, great collaborators, and it's business as usual," says one insider.

For no one believes in the Hollywood adage "the show must go on" more than Jacobson and Drescher. "Our work is all consuming," Drescher says. "It's what we have always wanted. This is our creation, our baby."



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