Moving next door to your parents isn’t the same as moving back home with your parents and Josh Roberts doesn’t want you to forget it. But to actor Mark Feuerstein, it’s a moot point. The “Royal Pains” actor is back in the sitcom realm with “9JKL,” a CBS comedy based on his own life in Manhattan — well, loosely based — where he lives part-time in an apartment adjacent to his parents and brother.
“Living next to my parents was an incredible convenience, life saver and money saver,” the 46-year-old says on his decision to reside on the Upper East Side in 2008 while filming “Royal Pains” on Long Island. “I got to have all this experience with them that not many people get at this stage in life.”
The half-hour comedy, which premiered Monday, sees the recently divorced Josh (played by Feuerstein) move into the apartment neighboring his parents after his 12-year acting stint in Los Angeles went south. On the heels of a failed sitcom (“Blind Cop”), Josh spends much of his day dodging his overbearing mother (played by Linda Lavin), who bribes the doorman to call her whenever her son comes home, and boundaryless father (“Friends” actor Elliott Gould), who wanders out of his apartment lacking crucial pieces of clothing.
While Feuerstein does indeed still reside in the apartment next to his parents (when not staying in Los Angeles), he says the series is more of a comical take on the family’s unusual living situation rather than a realistic representation.
“To make a show about how the four of us really live our lives, the show would last 12 seconds and no one would watch it,” his dad, Harvey Feuerstein, adds. “Mark takes snippets of life and he and his wife Dana Klein [a writer on the show] turn it into something funny.”
Last week, we headed to the UES to scope out the area where Feuerstein grew up, a quiet street overlooking the East River, where if you’re not walking a small dog, you’re stopping to pet one. Chatting with the actor and his parents, Harvey and Audrey Feuerstein, we found out how NYC apartment living paved the way for the sitcom and what the family really thinks about their TV impersonators.
At what point did you decide your living situation was perfect material for a sitcom?
Mark Feuerstein: I was living in the apartment right next to this one because my wife and three kids were in L.A. I was shooting “Royal Pains” and to save money, and because I got to live next to my parents, I took their very generous offer to live in the apartment that they bought years ago. For eight years, for five months of the year, I got to stay in that apartment and my father would come in in the morning and ask if I wanted breakfast and at night I would come home to my mother who was waiting up so we could sit and talk about the day’s events right there at that table with either a salad or a black and white cookie. When I shared this with a producer and he’s like, “That’s a show!” I let it sit for a while. I turned to my wife and said would you join in this crusade to join in this true to life but not exactly like life story that’s grounded and also funny.
So, it’s definitely loosely based on your lives?
Audrey Feuerstein: I like to think it’s very loosely based. There’s always a little bit of truth but it’s somewhat exaggerated. I could hear his door slam [when he came in] so I would come in and say, “Mark, would you like a salad,” but I didn’t pay the doorman.
M.F.: And I never crept by her door trying to sneak into my own apartment.
Do you put emphasis on letting people know you haven’t actually moved back in with your parents like your character does?
M.F.: I think because I got so much mileage out of the situation on talk shows that I was happier to say I was living like I was when I was 10 years old. To me, it was funny to go from being the star of a TV show, No. 1 on the call sheet, on a set where people are waiting on you hand and foot and then to come home and you’re living like you’re 10 years old again next to your parents and brother.
Harvey Feuerstein: Mark! He’s not living like he’s 10 years old. He was working his tail off all day when he was doing “Royal Pains” acting on set, learning his lines. Maybe we’d see him in the morning and maybe at 11:30 at night when he has a salad before he goes to sleep and is up at 4 in the morning. So, to say it’s like it was when he was 10 years old is hyperbolic. The whole show, as far as how we live our lives, is hyperbole.
This living situation doesn’t sound too bad.
H.F.: It was wonderful for us.
M.F.: There may have been moments where he might have emailed me to say, “Can you meet with the daughter of my partner’s second cousin who wants to be an actor.” Those things only happen when you’re living next door to your parents at the age of 40.
What was the reaction to finding out your lives would be projected in a sitcom?
A.F.: At first I was a little scared. Then when I was at the pilot being made, I didn’t really identify with Linda Lavin because she’s a very big personality and very strong. If anything, she should be playing Harvey.
Did you give the actors any direction on how to play your roles?
A.F.: We chatted with them to give them a sense of who we are, but they’re their own characters.
M.F.: Elliot Gould watched the 25-minute toast my father gave to me at my wedding, which I sent him as source material.
How does the Manhattan setting come up in the script?
H.F.: You’ll see in the first episode, there’s a scene on the terrace. If you took down the divider, you could be with the people who live next door. They have a scene where there are three terraces next to each other and they talk over it. The sounds, everything, to me it’s a great New York scene. And these are very New York characters, Linda Lavin, Elliot Gould, Mark. Also the doorman scene. I don’t know how that doorman downstairs is going to take it!
What are some of your favorite spots in the area to dine out as a family?
A.F.: The two local restaurants we go to the most are Parma (Third Avenue between 79th and 80th streets) and Quatorze Bis (79th Street between First and Second avenues), a French bistro.
H.F.: Excellent chicken at Quatorze.
Will we see your favorite spots pop up in the series?
M.F.: We were debating having a restaurant that’s like our Sunday night dinner place, but we haven’t really gone to that yet. We have not built our Parma [on the L.A. set] yet, but I hope to.