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TELEVISION

A Grown-Up Series Grown Old

With 'Mad About You's' final episode coming Monday, it's time to look back at a marriage made in reality--and the forces that can keep series alive too long.

May 23, 1999|PAUL BROWNFIELD | Paul Brownfield is a Times staff writer who covers comedy and television

"They had the courage to sort of take it in this direction and let the chips fall where they may," Charles says. "A lot of that credit goes to them. We all decided to pursue our artistic instincts, even though it might not sync up with the audience."

Adds Hunt: "We wanted to see the couple in trouble, we wanted to see them struggle with infertility, the dark side of motherhood--all of those things that we or our friends [experienced] we wanted to express through this show."

Among the sitcom's principals, there was also a certain measure of obstinacy involved. A dark, unfunny cloud passed over the Buchmans' marriage, coincidentally enough, the same season that "Mad About You" was slotted at 8 Sunday nights, a move that so angered Reiser he declined to show up to the presentation of the network's fall schedule. NBC had wanted the couple to have a baby all along. But the network wasn't thrilled about introducing infidelity into the Buchman equation, though the show hit a false note on that score, finally, by backing off on having Jamie or Paul actually consummate an affair.

Still, Charles noted that the mood among the producers toward NBC was: "As long as you're not taking care of the show, we'll take care of the show."

That credo continued to the end. Last year, there was the episode titled "The Conversation"--a one-take, commercial-free installment in which Paul and Jamie sit in agony outside their wailing infant's bedroom.

In a way, the episode said all you needed to know about where the sitcom had come and where it was going. Still adult, still sincere, still about the couple--but also not about the couple anymore.

Indeed, "waaa," as the vow between Jacobson and Reiser had gone, was not the end of the series. Instead, it was the beginning of a new and more problematic era. "If there was an underlying theme to the show it was that relationships are hard, and the only way they survive is through work," Reiser says.

The nice thing about syndication is that it paves over the rocky stuff; episodes that were clunky, story lines that didn't exactly work--they all disappear into the seamless rotation of reruns. The core of "Mad About You" will emerge.

"We'd always go back to square one," says Reiser, to the same question--what's happening with the couple?

For those who've lost track, you can find them these days living in syndication.

*

The hourlong series finale of "Mad About You" airs at 9 p.m. Monday on NBC.

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