We’ve heard of art imitating life, but Fran Drescher’s latest TV project takes the concept to the extreme. In 1999, the star of “The Nanny” split up with the show’s co-creator and her husband of 21 years, Peter Marc Jacobson. Two years later, Jacobson came out of the closet. Now, that unhappy episode in Drescher's life has become the basis for at least 10 more episodes--of her new sitcom, that is. “Happily Divorced,” which premieres on TV Land Wednesday night (10:30 p.m. ET/PT), stars Drescher as an L.A. florist whose husband (played by John Michael Higgins), ends their decades-long marriage when he announces “I’m gay.” Drescher and Jacobson teamed up to create and write the series, which chronicles the ups and downs of their fictionalized doppelgangers, who are forced to live together out of necessity (and, we’re guessing, also out of comic relief), as they navigate life after their split, which includes post-divorce dating, awkward co-habitating, and at least one “Sound of Music” Sing-a-Long. We wondered, what’s it like to work with your ex on a project that so closely mirrors your own life? Drescher dished us via telephone from her Los Angeles home.
Huffington Post: Your story is pretty incredible--you and Peter were high school sweethearts who then married and worked together for years. Then after 21 years together, you divorced, he came out as gay, and now you're friends. How'd you get to this good point with each other?
Fran Drescher: It’s taken years. I think one of the silver linings of my [uterine] cancer survival as that it brought us closer together. Once that happened, it kind of re-calibrated everything. It led to a better life, and showed us what’s really important.
So it wasn’t amicable from the get-go?
No. He didn’t want the divorce, and he was very angry at me for leaving him, when “The Nanny” ended, he moved to New York--he couldn’t get far enough away from me.
Tell me about the genesis of this project--did it take shape in one particular moment?
We actually took a vacation together and realized that we were kind of slipping into our old ways---him more than me. At the time, it wasn’t that funny. In hindsight, it felt funny. We decided to start writing a movie about it called “Happily Divorced.” Then TV Land approached me and asked if I wanted to pitch a series, I went in with a few ideas, but not this one. And they said, ‘what would be your idea if you were to star in it?’ And I said, ‘That’s easy--the relationship between me and my ex gay husband and the boyfriend that I date now who helps me with that.’ And they bought it. That was the beginning of "Happily Divorced." And I called Peter immediately and I said, ‘I just sold an idea and I think we should do it together and be partners.’
You weren’t originally going to star in this show. How did you come to do so?
We wrote it for me, and then if I didn’t wanna do it, we would have had to have found an actress that could do it. The more I wrote the character with Peter in the pilot script, the more I wanted to play her.
How much of the character is modeled on your experiences? How much is different?
On the show, they split because he’s gay. In real life, Peter came out after the divorce; we split because I kind of had a midlife crisis, and I couldn’t find myself within the relationship. He was very controlling. After the success of “The Nanny,” I thought, ‘I have everything I’ve ever strived for. I should be happy.’ But I wasn’t. That was when I kind of started to realize that something else was wrong.
On the show, the characters end up living together after the divorce. We wanted them to be stuck in a situation--they can’t afford to live separately and they can’t unload the house. I know at least three couples that are doing that right now, and it’s not easy. We fortunately did not have to deal with that. I packed a bag and walked out. When you have money, it’s much easier to separate.
In the show everyone asks your character 'how'd you miss the signs you ex was gay?’ In retrospect, were there signs you missed?
Yes. He was very into my wardrobe, picking out my clothes, buying my clothes, picking out my shoes, discussing my makeup. But he was a very controlling person, and I kind of assumed it was him being a Svengali, which he was. He was also very into musicals, show tunes, Judy Garland, Diana Ross, Cher. At the time, the “metrosexual” was becoming a part of pop culture, so I chalked it up to that.
People weren’t surprised he was gay, and that the only people who weren’t willing to face it were Peter and I. We replicate that on the show. Fran is constantly un-connecting dots—seeing things that were blatantly red flags of being gay that she chose not to see.
The name of the show is 'Happily Divorced' Is it possible to have a happy divorce? Would you describe yours as happy?
Most definitely. We had a life together. We had a love together. And we were sort of obligated to figure out how to put it on another shelf and reinvent it. It takes as much work to be angry divorced as it does to be happily married. And it’s an effort that’s well worth exercising.
Cancer helped bring us together, but I wouldn’t suggest that you wait for life to bite you in the ass before you realize how fleeting it is. Look within yourself, though--if you’re holding onto anger, ask why that is. If you can turn it into an opportunity to learn about yourself, grow as a human being, and feel peaceful and forgiving and loving, you’ll be doing yourself a favor.
WATCH Fran Drescher on "The View"