Many people have moments when their lives feel like sitcoms. For actor Mark Feuerstein, that moment turned into a CBS television series. “9JKL” premieres on CBS on Monday, Oct. 2 at 8:30 p.m.
Feuerstein had made his Broadway debut in “Last Night at Ballyhoo,” acted in “Defiance” and other films and been named one of People magazine’s “50 Most Beautiful People” when he moved back to New York City from Los Angeles in 2008; at the time, he was playing Hank Lawson in the television show “Royal Pains.” He lived in the apartment next door to his parents on the Upper East Side — where he had grown up — and his brother and sister-in-law and their baby lived on the other side. His loving family knew no boundaries: He saw a lot more of all of them than he anticipated. Late at night, he’d come home after a day of acting, and his mother Audrey would open her door the moment he returned, inviting him in for some salad.
In the television version of his life, Feuerstein, playing Josh Roberts, can’t slip by the door of his parents’ apartment without his mother appearing at the door. Turns out she’s paying the doorman to tip her off on his arrival, so that she can greet and debrief.
“It’s all fiction,” the real Audrey likes to say. “I didn’t tip the doorman.”
Audrey’s alter ego Judy Roberts is played by Linda Lavin, and Judy’s bow-tie wearing husband Harry Roberts is played by Elliott Gould.
“They are pure gold as my parents,” Feuerstein tells The Jewish Week, in a telephone interview from Los Angeles. Feuerstein conceived the “loosely autobiographical” series with his wife, Dana Klein; they are executive producers.
About his father Harvey, he says, “He’s a larger-than-life pillar of the community. He’s a teacher, friend and father to all.” The real Harvey thinks that Elliott Gould is a quieter version of himself. Audrey jokes that Linda Lavin, with her strong personality, should have played Harvey.
Harvey Feuerstein, a lawyer, is a partner and chairman emeritus of Herrick, Feinstein. He and Audrey, who does teacher training at Fordham University, have been very involved at Park East Synagogue for more than 40 years, Harvey as pro bono counsel and board member, and Audrey as a founder and chair of the day school.
Mark recalls, “In the mornings, my father would burst into my apartment in his tighty whities and say, ‘Mark, you want some scrambled eggs? How about a fresh plum from Fairway?’” Elliott Gould wears similar briefs on camera.
In the pilot, Josh is on a date and on his terrace when his parents come out onto their adjacent terrace. His brother and sister-in-law also come outside, all in loud conversation, as though their side-by-side terraces are a front stoop in the old neighborhood. The date says she has to run.
“Culturally speaking, this family is very Jewish. I am, like my father and my mother, a proud Jew. It will [only] be a matter of time and feeling when we might incorporate a Jewish theme into the show.”
About old neighborhoods, Harvey grew up sharing a bedroom with four brothers in a tenement on the Lower East Side, where his father owned a shoe store on Rivington Street; he worked there before heading to Columbia and Harvard Law School.
Anything like “9JKL,” I ask Harvey.
“Are you kidding?”
According to Mark, when his parents visited the set, they and the cast got along famously. Gould recently called Harvey; he said he missed him.
Turns out that the senior Feuersteins will get a turn on the show. On an upcoming episode, they play Fred and Marsha Bernstein, good friends of Harry and Judy, FaceTime-ing, or FacePhone-ing, as Harry says.
“They play the people they always made me do my performances for,” he says. In the show, the Roberts parents are always trying to use connections of connections to get Josh auditions.
So far, the show isn’t overtly Jewish, but as Mark says, “Culturally speaking, this family is very Jewish. I am, like my father and my mother, a proud Jew. It will [only] be a matter of time and feeling when we might incorporate a Jewish theme into the show.”