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The Five Spot: Paul Reiser

It’s a busy time for Paul Reiser. The third and final season of Red Oaks, an Amazon comedy that sees Reiser as a noxious country club president, kicks off Oct. 20. A week later, season two of Stranger Things starts on Netflix.

As Reiser describes it, the Duffer Brothers based a new Stranger Things character on his Carter Burke character from Aliens. They kept referring to the character, a shady government rep, as Paul Reiser. “When it came time to cast it,” he said, “they said, ‘I guess we should call him.’”

Reiser, who will always be known to some as Paul from NBC’s ’90s comedy Mad About You, is also the creator of There’s Johnny. Set behind the scenes at Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show, the series was supposed to be on Seeso, which went out of business. It will instead run on Hulu, premiering November 16.

Reiser spoke with B&C deputy editor Michael Malone about the benefits of streaming, and a possible Mad About You reboot. An edited transcript follows.

What’s the highlight of the new Red Oaks season?
We knew going in that it was the final season, so the writers had to wrap everybody up in a nice, neat way. I just saw the first two episodes at the Tribeca [TV] Festival, and it was striking how far the characters had come. There’s a sweetness to the show. It was billed as a coming-of-age show [for main character David, a college student], but in fact everybody comes of age. Adults find themselves as their kids grow up and move out. It was fun to watch that continuum.

Any frustration that the show hasn’t found a larger audience?
There is so much television that there are very few shows that pop. Stranger Things is something that’s been unbelievably in the moment. That’s an exception. You have to get around to things at your own pace. I’ve never felt the need for things to be instant hits. You’ve just got to focus on making them as good as they can be and hopefully people will find them. Red Oaks is out there — people will find it.

What is your character like on Stranger Things?
I play Zippy the Waterboy! I bring water to the children! [Laughs.]

I play Dr. Owens, who works for the government. He’s brought in to clean up the mess of Matthew Modine’s character from last year. He walks into a lot of mistrust. That’s a lot of fun to play.

Is there talk of a Mad About You revival?
There is talk. For years I was adamant — no, we never want to bring it back. We did everything we wanted to do and we did it well, in my humble opinion. Now, you see so many shows coming back. And so many shows throw out their finale — well, John Goodman [Roseanne character Dan Connor] didn’t die! I’m actually open to it, if we can come up with a way to continue the story.

Tell me about There’s Johnny.
It was an idea we had years ago. It took years to get going because we needed cooperation from the Carson company for their clips. Finally they said, ‘Let’s do it.’

Tony Danza plays [Tonight Show executive producer] Freddie de Cordova. Jane Levy and Ian Nelson are the leads. He plays a kid from Nebraska who stumbles into the Tonight Show through a comedy of errors and ends up with this entry-level position. Johnny was from Nebraska and took a shine to him. It’s about this kid who left the farm and is suddenly thrown into the sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll of Hollywood in ’72. It’s a comedy, but there’s lots of heavy stuff.

The fact that it was on a network that folded right after we finished production makes it an all the more sweet victory that we’re about to launch.