Convincing Russians to Love Raymond

Film chronicles man's hilarious adventures making a Russian version of U.S. show

July 27, 2011 — -- Can you imagine "The Nanny's" nasal Fran Fine romancing her boss in Turkish? Or the Jeffersons "movin' on up" in Chile?

It's happening: Other countries are remaking U.S. series at a record clip. The broader a show's appeal, the easier it is to adapt overseas and translate innuendo and context in the local language. Our own "What Would You Do?" has a sister show in Israel.

But how might a more personal comedy, like "Everybody Loves Raymond," fare abroad?

The show was based on the life of its star, Ray Romano.

"The title came from the a true story of my brother, the cop. 'I go to work, and people shoot guns at me, people kick at me, and people spit at me,' he goes, 'but everybody loves Raymond,'" Romano said.

For nine seasons, Romano starred as Ray Barone, blessed with a chronically gloomy sibling, three kids, two overbearing parents and one formidable spouse.

"I had very young kids at the time I was filming 'Everybody Loves Raymond' -- and I had two more just to ensure that I didn't lose touch with the character," Patricia Heaton, who played Barone's wife, Debra, said jokingly.

When Russia decided to do its own version of "Everybody Loves Raymond" (eventually called "The Voronins"), series creator and executive producer Phil Rosenthal flew to Moscow to help -- or so he thought.

"This is a big deal, I was told. So I got excited ... and then my friend said, 'Oh, you're going to Russia? 'Just make sure you have K&R insurance,' and I said, 'What's K&R insurance?'" Rosenthal remembered.

K&R, as it turned out, stood for "kidnap and ransom."

"They said, 'That never happens -- you don't have to worry,'" Rosenthal said, "And I said, 'It happens enough for there to be an abbreviation."

The ensuing culture clash became Rosenthal's hilarious documentary, "Exporting Raymond," available on Blu-ray and DVD on Tuesday, Aug. 2.

Rosenthal soon learned that he and the Russians weren't on the same comedic page. Take, for instance, the over-the-top wardrobe.

The costume designer wanted to dress the Debra character, a housewife, in a cashmere sweater, stiletto heels and jewelry.

"I say, 'OK, you understand she's cleaning the kitchen in this scene, right?'" Rosenthal remembered. "And she says, 'Yes, but she's on television. And I say, 'Yes, but she doesn't know she's on television. She thinks she's cleaning.'"

Whether it was coping with melodramatic, not-so-funny actors, trying to win over a skeptical director, bemoaning his show's fate or downing endless vodka shots at dinner, Rosenthal delighted his famous former cast.

"To watch him be so tortured was hilarious," Heaton said.

Toward the end of "Exporting Raymond," the Russians are getting the hang of it. So is Rosenthal. The show finally gets on the Russian air, and another slice of born-in-America pop culture delights the world.

"At a certain point, you do have to let it go," Rosenthal said. "It's like with your own children: You raise and nurture them as best you can, but then they must be free to go off and disappoint you."

Watch the full story Friday, Aug. 5 on "20/20" at 10 p.m. ET.

ABC News' Kimberly Launier contributed to this report.

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