For seven years in the 1990s, Paul Reiser and Helen Hunt were TV’s endearingly bantering Buchmans, a recently married couple learning that wedded bliss requires more than being “Mad About You.”
The sitcom, with the nimble duo quick-stepping through victories and let-downs with well-placed understatement and heart, won over audiences and earned Golden Globe and Emmy awards for its clever writing and delivery.
Still, both lead actors wanted the hour-long series finale in 1999 to be just that, the show’s final bow.
“We had for a long time been very clear — Helen and I — that we would never want to come back and revisit it,” Reiser said. “We were very happy that we had ended it the way we wanted to. We ... told all the stories that we wanted to tell.”
The episode even included a glimpse of the future and the ups and downs of later years in marriage.
“We said, “Let’s do that so we never have to be tempted to come back,” Reiser said with a laugh. “So, if anybody calls us for a silly reunion show ... “
But that was before a wave of nostalgia brought prime-time reboots of ’80s and ’90s shows like “The Connors,” “Fuller House” and “Will & Grace” to TV.
“It was never something we particularly wanted to do, and then suddenly, of course, there were all these shows coming back and we were having lunch and I said, ‘Well, maybe we should do that. It could be fun...,” said Reiser, giving a little extra punch to words here and there as he talks.
Flash forward to an early March Tweet, when Reiser announced Charter Communication’s premium content initiative, Spectrum Originals, had picked up the limited series. Writer/producer Peter Tolan (“Rescue Me,” “The Larry Sanders Show” and “America’s Sweethearts”) will serve as head writer. Hunt will direct the first episode, and Danny Jacobson, who co-created the show with Reiser, will serve as an executive consultant.”
“We will be writing until April or May, then shooting, and hope to have it out by the end of the year,” Rieser said.
Reiser in the past five years also has returned to a first love — standup. He’ll bring his comedy show to the Capitol Center for the Arts in Concord Saturday night.
“I actually spent my summers in New Hampshire, at a summer camp in Bristol. It’s long gone, but that was my escape from the city,” said the New York-bred Reiser. “That was kinda my first look at utopia. There were these green mountains and beautiful lakes. New Hampshire has a big spot in my heart, and I don’t think I’ve ever performed (there).”
It’s a welcome return to New England and the stage.
“All I wanted to do when I started a thousand years ago was be a stand-up comedian. That was my goal. I wasn’t supposed to be an actor. But a lot of things kind of happened by accident. My first job ever turned out to the (1982) movie ‘Diner,’ ... and it opened so many doors for me,” said Reiser of the now-classic coming-of-age story of college buddies in 1959 Baltimore.
He also memorably played bad guy Carter Burke in the hit 1986 movie “Aliens,” double-crossing Sigourney Weaver in the James Cameron-directed sci-fi hit about nasty colony crashers.
“Three years ago was the 30th anniversary of the film and they got together at (the San Diego) Comic-Con, and it was wild. It was like 8,000 people in this huge conference center,” Reiser said. “There was such a fanaticism for that film that I never knew, and actually since then, I’ve been to a couple of conventions — you fly in and meet people — and I was stunned at how dedicated some people are. Like, ‘Oh, I’ve watched (Aliens) every Saturday for the last 30 years.’”
Slight pause before Reiser wryly quips: “You need to get out of the house ...”
Joking aside, “Aliens” was a genre pioneer and Reiser enjoys seeing how it’s inspired works on the small and big screen. One such example, the Duffer brothers’ “Stranger Things,” put the actor into an upside-down world with lots of ’80s pop culture throwbacks. As Dr. Sam Owens, he offers another character with possibly questionable motives.
“To be honest, they didn’t tell me where (the character arc) was going,” Reiser said of the first six months of filming. “I asked if he was a good guy or a bad guy, and they said, ‘We’re not going to tell you. He may be telling the truth or he may not be telling the truth.’”
By the time “Mad About You” hit TV in 1992, Reiser said he had shelved stand-up comedy.
“I just didn’t have the time or head space to do it, but I always wanted to get back to it,” he said.
As with the next chapter in the “Mad About You” story, Reiser’s stand-up reflects his current phase of life.
“At the time (‘Mad About You’) grew out of my stand-up act. I was newly married, and I was doing material about that. Now all these years later ... all those people have grown up with me. (His show) is new stuff — same look at life but from a different vantage point.
“When I’m talking about my kids, or marriage, or the difference between being 60 or 20, (audiences) are laughing because they’re going, ‘Oh, thank God, it’s not just me,’” Reiser said. “When I’m on stage and I hear their laughter, I’m feeling the same thing, ‘Thank God, it’s them, too. It’s not just me.’ People like to know they’re not alone.”
Reiser initially met Hunt at a dinner party thrown by a mutual friend of Hunt and Reiser’s wife.
“She was funny and obviously bright and just offbeat enough. It was kind of a fortuitous moment,” said Reiser, who was writing the original “Mad About You” at the time.
“Lately (Helen and I) were itching to play together again. We had stayed friends, and it was always so easy from the first time we met,” Reiser said. “We had such a great relationship and a sense of ease and sense of humor, so the idea of playing together again was fun.”
The chemistry and camaraderie will return, but expect some changes in the Buchman household.
“It took us a while to play with the idea and see if there was a creative way to do it,” Reiser said of bringing the couple into 2019. “You know you just can’t come back and pick up and pretend we’re still newlyweds or something.”
Since both the actors and the audience have aged 20 years, they decided to tackle another relatable phase in life.
“When your kids leave the house and it’s just you again, it very closely mirrors that moment when you first get married and you realize, ‘Uh oh, it’s just us,” Reiser said. “You’re starting from scratch. Our show was always about the hard work, the elbow grease that it takes to keep a relationship moving forward and alive and healthy.”
Another project in recent years was 2017’s “There’s Johnny,” a web series Reiser co-created with David Stephen Simon. It’s a fictional account of a gofer (played by Ian Nelson) behind the scenes of “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson” in 1972.
“It’s the story of young kid who wrote a letter to Johnny Carson because he wanted an autographed picture for his father. They sent him a form letter and he read it incorrectly and thought they gave him a job. So he got on a bus and went out there. And he was such a nice kid, they went, ‘Yeah, we’ll find a place for you.’ So we got to see that world through this little innocent guy who literally never left the farm in Nebraska, and here he is dropped into LA’s sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll in 1972. It was a very volatile time.”
Reiser’s quick wit has landed him on top of the New York Times Best Sellers list with commentary on various stages of life: “Couplehood,” “Fatherhood” and “Babyhood.”
So, is something like “Seniorhood” possible in another decade or so? Without missing a beat, Reiser laughs and quips, “Yeah, ‘Deathhood’ is my next book. Or ‘Strokehood.”