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‘Men of a Certain Age’ Aims for Relatability

Everybody may love Joe, but he's no Raymond.

In "Men of a Certain Age," Ray Romano's character, Joe, is some distance removed from his married family man in "Everybody Loves Raymond." He's a separated father of two with a gambling problem, navigating middle age with his fortysomething friends.

There are similarities, however, because Romano based both men on parts of his personality.

"Just like Ray Barone was a slice of me, this guy is a slice of me. He's got a bit of the neurotic in him and a bit of a penchant for obsessing," he says. "But Joe's searching for something and trying to get somewhere, where Ray was happy with the status quo - 'Just leave me alone and let me watch TV.' (Joe) is having an existential crisis."

In "Men," Joe is a decent guy, a party-store owner who dreams of being a professional golfer. His best friends are single Terry (Scott Bakula), a Peter Pan-ish actor and ladies' man who is doing temp work, and happily married Owen (Andre Braugher), "an overworked, overstressed, overweight guy with an overbearing father who's a poor-to-middling car salesman," Braugher says.

The 10-episode "Men" isn't a sitcom, either, as "Raymond" was. "The perfect label is the cheesy 'dramedy' word," says Romano, who created the show with former Raymond writer Mike Royce. "I'll go with light drama with comedic moments in it. But that's not to say some of the dramatic moments won't be heavy."

As with the characters, Romano and Royce hit their own crossroad after Raymond finished a successful nine-season run.

"I was in an identity kind of void and I was missing something. I started wondering what was next," says the longtime stand-up comic, who didn't want to do another sitcom.

He and Royce approach drama as they did comedy: "It's write what you know. We had success with what we knew in the sitcom world, so let's write what we know in this world," Romano says.

Would men who appear so different bond so tightly? "It's always something mysterious," Braugher says. "You look around at friends and they seem unlikely, but yet there they are. It's love. It's not something men have long, sensitive talks about, but they care about each other and really understand each other."

The situations ring true, too, Braugher says.

"There are some heartbreakers there," he says. "To think you're struggling in a business where your father (and boss) thinks you're a loser. That hurts. Or Joe's got a gambling problem and he's lying to his wife on the phone that he quit gambling. And she just leaves him hanging. The loss of that love and relationship is a painful moment."

Unlike Romano, Bakula says he's nothing like his commitment-phobic character. But he relates to Terry in at least one way: acting. "I think the nature of our business is we've all had times when we've been on edge, wondering about the next paycheck. Once you've had those experiences, you can put your finger on them pretty fast."

Although the show is about men of a specific age, Bakula says a broad range of viewers should be able to relate to it.

"We all reach different points in our lives that have an impact or you're at a crossroads. It can be at 35, 45 or 55. These guys are hitting these moments together, and I think what people do under stress, under crisis, can be compelling television. And I don't think there's anything else on TV like it."

That also goes for a quirky sensibility that features guys talking about various body creams and novel theories of weight loss, Bakula says. "This is coming out of the mind of Ray Romano, and it's a little scary in there sometimes."

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