By Dave Gil de Rubio And Betsy Abraham
Writing what you know about is usually the easiest path to creative success. So it goes with 9JKL, the new CBS sitcom created by actor Mark Feuerstein (Royal Pains) and his wife/writer Dana Klein. The series’ main character is Feuerstein’s Josh Roberts, a new divorcée and actor between projects who moves home to New York to regroup, living in an apartment sandwiched between his doting, meddlesome parents on one side and his brother, sister-in-law and their new baby on the other. The roots for this project were drawn from a period of time in Feuerstein’s own life.
“While I was shooting Royal Pains, I was living in an apartment my parents owned next to the apartment I grew up in. That was very generous and great that I got to stay there for free, but also challenging because I’d wake up to my dad asking me what I wanted for breakfast or as I would get off the elevator and my hand would graze the doorknob, my mom was in her nightgown asking if I wanted a salad,” he recalled. “For a period of two years my brother and his wife and baby lived next door as well.”
The relatable nature of having a scenario with a tightly knit family is given an extra boost by the casting of Elliott Gould and Linda Lavin as the main character’s parents, Harry and Judy Roberts. As stage-trained actors, these industry veterans are both thrilled with the show’s concept, as well as the caliber of writing that they’re getting to work with, week in and week out.
“What I bring to my work usually is my soul and my heart and that’s part of the substance of [this] family. As funny as we are, as peculiar as we act and think, this show has a heart, a soul and is very funny,” Gould explained. “When it gets down to it, this form of television is very, very, very fast. The writers and the producers are rewriting all the time and we just have to be prepared. I love to work and I work to live and live to work. I am sincerely grateful for the opportunity. Plus Linda Lavin is great. It’s more than just a privilege working with her. She’s very gifted, very giving, very experienced and we are a very funny couple.”
Lavin is equally effusive about being involved with this project and working with Gould. And given the fact that she and Feuerstein played mother and son in the late 1990s NBC sitcom Conrad Bloom, 9JKL has become a sort of homecoming for her.
“It’s an electric writers’ room and they’re a wonderful group of people who care about actors and writing for the characters as the actor develops the character, and that doesn’t always happen. Elliott Gould is the iconic costar and he too comes from the theater. He’s a wonderful guy, a very brilliant actor and a great joy to work with every day. He and I know, of course, Broadway musicals like nobody’s business, so we sing a lot together on the set. When you’re performing in front of an audience, you know in the moment if it’s working. If it’s not, these writers, en masse, get onto the stage and start rewriting while we’re performing on show night,” she said. “My connection with Mark has been immediate. I liken us to jazz musicians. We’re in the moment. We feed off of each other. His skills are highly developed as a comic actor and I’ve got a few of them myself. We make each other laugh and listen to each other with a great deal of respect. It’s a seamless and encouraging relationship. I wish it for everybody.”
That connection with Lavin is one that Feuerstein cherishes and is a smaller reflection of what he feels the appeal of 9JKL will be to viewers.
“Linda Lavin has played my mother and we were meant to play mother and son. As a Jew, there’s an expression, bashert—meant to be. She is my meant-to-be TV mother. Nothing has changed. Hopefully this version of our mother and son relationship will be more successful,” he said. “It’s been 15 years since the other show didn’t work. This is going to be in the hands of this writing staff and the amazing cast we have around us. This show works. When we tested it, people just instantly get this family and it’s not only because of the writing or the fact that it’s based on real life, but the cast. There’s a glue there, a connective tissue you can’t fake.”
9JKL premieres on CBS Monday, Oct. 2 at 8:30 p.m.