Creating a sitcom on your living arrangements with family? Better tread carefully

Actor Mark Feuerstein plays Josh (centre), a divorced and struggling actor who moves into an apartment right next door to his parents, Harry and Judy (Elliot Gould and Linda Lavin, both left), and his brother and sister-in-law, Andrew and Eve (David
Actor Mark Feuerstein plays Josh (centre), a divorced and struggling actor who moves into an apartment right next door to his parents, Harry and Judy (Elliot Gould and Linda Lavin, both right), and his brother and sister-in-law, Andrew and Eve (David Walton and Liza Lapira, both left).PHOTO: FOX LIFE

Living sandwiched between the homes of his parents and brother inspired Mark Feuerstein to write sitcom 9JKL

When you create a sitcom based on your real family, tread carefully.

This is why actor Mark Feuerstein and wife Dana Klein had to do a bit of damage control after they dreamt up the new series 9JKL - a sitcom inspired by the time the couple lived sandwiched between the apartments of Feuerstein's brother and parents, and lived to tell the tale.

It is loosely based on the period when Feuerstein, 46, was living in New York with Klein, 43. He was there shooting the popular medical comedy Royal Pains (2009 to 2016) "and my parents kindly allowed me to stay in the apartment next door to them".

But this cheek-by-jowl living arrangement also meant regular invasions of personal space, they told The Straits Times and other press in Los Angeles earlier this year. For instance, Feuerstein's father would barge into his son's apartment every morning wearing nothing but tight white underwear and saying: "Mark, what would you like for breakfast - would you like eggs, French toast?"

"And every night, after a 15-hour day of shooting, my mother would be waiting by her door like a gunslinger in a nightgown," recalls the actor, who has three children, aged eight to 12, with Klein, his wife of 12 years.

"And the second my hand touched the doorknob, she'd whip it open and go, 'Hi, Mark. Would you like to come in for a salad?' Which, of course, I would do, and sit with her from 11pm till midnight talking about the day's events."

A fictionalised version of this unfolds on 9JKL, which airs on Fox Life (Singtel TV Channel 301 and StarHub TV Channel 501) on Mondays.

Feuerstein plays Josh, a divorced and struggling actor trying to rekindle his career and love life.

But things get complicated when he moves into an apartment, 9K, right next door to parents Harry and Judy (Elliot Gould and Linda Lavin) in 9J and his brother and sister-in-law Andrew and Eve (David Walton and Liza Lapira) and their baby in 9L.

How do Feuerstein's parents feel about the show?

The actor says "it's tricky", but his mother and father are "so supportive - they only wish the best".

Still, there was a moment in the pilot episode "where (the mother character, Judy) says to (the brother character, Andrew): 'You don't like to visit me' and I scream at her, 'Neither do I!'

"The moment we (yelled) cut, I ran over to my (real) mother, who was sitting right there in the audience, and said: 'Ma, it's not true. I love to visit you. I love it. It's just a show, we're trying to be funny, please don't be offended.'"

But the star, who also appeared in the political drama The West Wing from 2001 to 2005, says his parents are totally on board with promoting the show. "We're having a press conference in New York with my parents to help sell the show, so that should tell you how supportive they are of it."

Lavin, who plays Josh's mother, confirms that Feuerstein's parents are handling it well.

"They're very respectful people and also very savvy. They would not come up after a taping (of an episode) and tell you how you should have done something.

"There are people who would do that, but Mark's parents are not like that. They seem to be so happy to be included and to be written about. If, on the other hand, I were writing a biography, I would have to wait till everybody was dead," quips the 80-year-old, a veteran Broadway actress.

Klein - who, with her husband, is a writer and executive producer on the show - says: "We'd like to see the ex-wife at a certain point, but we thought there would be more stories with the character of Josh dating and we have the married stories with Andrew and Eve.

"We thought that having the parents next door would really complicate his dating life, so we wanted to explore that," adds Klein, who worked as a producer on the hit sitcom Friends from 2001 to 2004, and on Fresh Off The Boat from 2015 to last year.

Asked what sort of person Josh's former wife will be, she says: "We don't know quite yet - we're still thinking about that."

But, prompting a collective "aw" from the room, Feuerstein says: "I can tell you that when Josh finds his 'meant-to-be', which is what Dana is for me, she will be perfection."

• 9JKL airs on Fox Life (Singtel TV Channel 301 and StarHub TV Channel 501) on Mondays at 9.30pm.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 09, 2017, with the headline 'Errr, my parents live next door'. Print Edition | Subscribe