The 1990s hit series The Nanny is now streaming on HBO Max. Taking place in New York City, the sitcom focuses on cosmetics saleswoman Fran Fine (Fran Drescher), who hails from Flushing, Queens. Broadway producer and widower Maxwell Sheffield (Charles Shaughnessy) hires Fran to be nanny to his three children (Nicholle Tom, Benjamin Salisbury, and Madeline Zima). Rounding out the incredible selection of characters are Maxwell’s business partner, C.C. Babcock (Lauren Lane), Niles the Butler (Daniel Davis), and Fran’s mother, Sylvia (Renée Taylor).
I had an opportunity to speak with series co-creator, executive producer, and actress Fran Drescher about the recent news. A 20-year cancer survivor, she also shared updates about her latest projects as Founder and Visionary of the Cancer Schmancer Movement. After you enjoy the highlights of our in-depth conversation, check out the cast’s 2020 virtual table read below and catch The Nanny on HBO Max.
Let’s start with two icebreakers. What would Fran Fine make of all the department stores closing in recent years?
I think it would certainly have saddened her, but you know, shopping is shopping. If she could do it online, then that would be satisfying, too. Then the boxes come in the mail. That would be its own kind of new way. I think as long as she could shop, she’s a happy camper.
If Fran were to hold Zoom calls, which topic would she pick?
At this point in her life, she would probably be gathering together women for all kinds of civil liberties and things: helping the underdog and getting organized, even if it was not in favor of what Mr. Sheffield would want.
How do you feel about The Nanny coming to HBO Max?
I’m absolutely thrilled. I’m over the moon. We have such a healthy following and an enthusiastic fandom to this day. So many millennials absolutely love the show, grew up watching it, and now are appreciating it on a whole different level. I think everybody was always writing, “Why isn’t it on a streaming channel where we can watch it, binge it, and see it without commercials?”
I never quite knew what to think because it was a mystery to me. I’m very happy that they had the good sense and the awareness of their audience that it’s a perfect fit! You can see by the way the news has been trending on social media … that everybody is very excited.
Tell us more about what it was like making the scripts.
It was a very, very big job. We were always involved with many many scripts at various stages of completion throughout the season. Back then, they did much longer seasons. A short season was considered 22 episodes. Then they were asking us [for more] and they wanted to extend it. There were some years we did 28 episodes, which is so daunting to me to even think about now.
We were either breaking a story, assigning a script, reviewing the script and giving notes, working on the script in the writer’s room with all the other writers, rehearsing a script on the stage, and editing the week before the show that’s in the can. That was always happening at the same time. It was a very big job. [Before] the actors go into the studio … we would start preparing the season with some scripts, so that when you start you have at least a three setter ready to be shot and that’s already network-approved.
It’s a big deal and takes not only fortitude, but organizational skills. Producing is something that you really have to keep that engine going and all the moving parts constantly moving! Or you start to lag behind and you’re chasing your tail. You don’t want to have to do that with anything that is creative because then you’re not going to make as good a product.
Is there anyone you wanted to book as a guest star, but schedules never synced up?
It took me like two years to get Elton John, but eventually I got him. I can’t really recall us pursuing somebody that I didn’t eventually get, except Barbra Streisand herself. She wasn’t interested in doing [it], but years later, she thanked us for constantly talking about her on the show. She said it kept her alive in the public without having to do anything and she was very appreciative of that.
How did you and other cast members help one another maximize your performance potentials?
It was a very well cast show and really well-written. In the rehearsal process, it was opportunity to be creative and contribute. If you had an idea for a direction that the character should go, or you had a pitch for something, it was a very welcoming forum for that sort of thing. I was wearing so many hats. I was very satisfied and fulfilled.
The actors were happy, too, I think, because Peter [Marc Jacobson] and I as executive producers were also actors. Peter had stopped acting, but we both started as actors. We’re very respectful of actors and appreciative not only of their gifts and talents, but what they’re able to contribute because they know their characters.
It looked like you were having so much fun with the blooper reels. Do you have a favorite outtake?
That was something that the network was a little concerned about. We really dug our heels in. People loved them. They were worried because it breaks the fourth wall. None of that matters. This show is an anomaly. The performances are larger than life. You get into your bed or TV chair. You’re watching and you take a ride and you just have a great time. At the end when most people were looking in their TV Guide when the credits are rolling, everybody stayed tuned because so many times we did show bloopers and they were great.
There’s one where I’m sitting with my mom in the kitchen, Renée Taylor, and we just – I start laughing over who are these people we’re playing? Because we were flirting with the local butcher to get better cuts of meat. Fran Fine says, “I’ll take it, Ma. I’ll do it this time.” Then she kind of pushes up her boobs. I guess I suddenly found the whole thing so funny that we broke character.
We decided to produce that almost immediately because we approach health in a more forward thinking, radical, [and] innovative way. We have web episodes with a lot of very accomplished medical doctors who look at the whole body, not just individual parts. They call themselves functional medical doctors, integrative, or holistic. They incorporate both Eastern and Western, as well as indigenous wisdom when it comes to whole body health.
I think there is a noticeably absent conversation about how we can use this as an opportunity to become a healthier populace. That is something [where] I can only influence so many people and I can live an exemplary life. The truth of the matter is that unless we start examining how industrial farms, lab animals, and the importing of exotic animals caused this to happen and we make global regulations against it – and we start detoxing our lives the Cancer Schmancer way so that we aren’t constantly eroding and compromising our immune system – there will be another virus, another virus, another variant, and this or that. The problem with most Western medicine is that it tries to resolve the end symptom but doesn’t really look at causation. If you’re going to resolve causation, then you’re putting out a little fire here. Then it’s going to pop up again right away because the cause of the fire is still there.
I’m determined with my organization to pivot the way Americans think about their health. How you live equals how you feel. How you live for the most part for many people, is highly toxic and compromising of your overall well-being. We have to make more mindful choices when we go to the market. At Cancer Schmancer, we have a very progressive program called Detox Your Home because the home is the most toxic place you spend the most time in.
What we’re eating, all of our personal care items, cosmetics, as well as cleaning and gardening supplies have to be reexamined and changed to things that are non-toxic and eco-friendly. We’re not doing ourselves a service. This pandemic has been a rude awakening. Some people got very sick and other people didn’t even get it. I think a lot of this has to do with the quality of their immune system.
Thank you for today’s interview.
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