Writing Raymond

Cawley’s work takes him into millions of American households.

By Nicola M. White (English, Foreign Affairs '01)
Cawley.

Cawley.
Courtsey of Corbis.

For a second, Tucker Cawley thought he’d uttered a profanity on live television. Why else would the stagehand grab the award out of his hands?

Moments earlier, on that September 2003 night, Cawley had waded through the audience of “Sex and the City” and “The Sopranos” stars, shaken hands with Conan O’ Brien and accepted an Emmy award for his comedy writing on the hit CBS sitcom, “Everybody Loves Raymond.”

But backstage, an assistant yanked the Emmy away. Cawley (Foreign Affairs ’90) was convinced he’d said something wrong during the speech — which he made in a daze, the teleprompter blinking “Wrap it up!” the whole time.

Luckily, the writer kept it clean. Turns out the Emmy he’d gotten was a prop. He’d get the real thing later.

Whew.

Cawley had come too far to mess this one up.

Before becoming an executive producer on the television show, which won the “Outstanding Comedy Series” Emmy that same night in 2003, Cawley paid his dues.

“My first paying job was getting hamburgers for Dionne Warwick,” he said from his Los Angeles home.

Cawley, brand new to Los Angeles after a mind-numbing, postgraduation job in Washington, D.C., worked as a production assistant for the ’70s-singer-turned-clairvoyant-spokeswoman on “Psychic Friends” infomercials. A couple of weeks into that job, the psychics canned him because he goofed up a hamburger order. He quipped to the Friends, “You should have seen that coming.” And that was the end of that job.

Later, he worked as Tom Arnold’s personal assistant, fielding phone calls and running errands in the middle of the night. When the comedian and his then-wife, Roseanne, split, Cawley was once again jobless.

Then he had a lucky break. He became an assistant to the creator of the comedy “Murphy Brown.” Through that job, he hooked up with a guy who wrote a pilot for a new sitcom. Cawley was funny, the guy thought, so he’d bring him on as a writer once the show got off the ground. The Northern Virginia native ecstatically called his parents, his wife (Aileen, a 1990 Commerce School grad), his friends.

The pilot failed.

“In its place was this show called ‘Everybody Loves Raymond,’ which for a couple of days was my family’s least favorite show,” he said.

Little did he know that he’d spend nine years writing scripts for that sitcom with the dumb-sounding name.

“Four years of terrible jobs and nine years of a good job in Hollywood is as good as you can get. If you are working for two years in one place, you’re blessed,” he said. “It’s great to work on a show that is fun to write and that you love working with the people.”

This spring, the cast of “Raymond” said goodbye to national television after nine years of close-to-home mother-in-law and bad-cooking jokes.

The cast and the writers were tight, Cawley said, with many of the writers developing script ideas from real-life experiences.  The show for which Cawley received the Emmy, “Baggage,” was based on a misunderstanding between Cawley and his wife about who would unpack the suitcase. 

“We never had a fight. But in the back of my head, I’m thinking, ‘Why isn’t she putting that suitcase away?’ That’s a relatable thing that couples go through — that passive aggressive tension,” he said.

Those kinds of story lines made “Raymond” relevant to audiences and critics. In its nine-year tenure, the sitcom won more than a dozen Emmys.

Next up, Cawley, 36, is thinking about developing his own television show or working on a movie.

“And now,” he said, “begins the slow slide into obscurity.”