MALIBU, Calif. – Fran Drescher's (search) distinctive voice cuts through the noisy chaos of actors and production people crowding the deck of her beachfront home.
"Hi, everyone. How you doing?"
The star, known for her nasally whine, Yiddish exclamations, and ability to make a word like "wow" last as long as a sentence, was hosting a reunion of the cast from "The Nanny." The gathering was staged as a dinner party where the leading lady and her co-stars reminisced. Their semi-scripted chatter was then intercut with clips from the series, which ran on CBS from 1993 to '99.
The result: "The Nanny Reunion: A Nosh to Remember" (search) airing 8 p.m. EST Dec. 6 on Lifetime, which shows weekday reruns of the sitcom.
At first, Drescher was reluctant to do a reunion special about Fran Fine, the middle-class girl from Queens who stumbles into a job taking care of a rich man's kids.
"Much as I love the show -- I TiVo reruns so I can watch it whenever I want -- I was feeling like I need to grow as an artist and let the audience see me doing other things," Drescher says.
In a case of classic Hollywood deal making, a compromise was struck: To get Drescher to agree, Lifetime offered her the chance to direct and appear on "Strong Medicine."
The episode she directed aired in September, and the guest shot came on the medical drama's 100th episode in October. She played a uterine cancer patient who sues an insurance company for not including basic tests in their policies.
(The 47-year-old Drescher, who survived the same kind of cancer, is a vocal advocate for women's health care and wrote the best sellers "Cancer Schmancer" and "Enter Whining.")
So was the use and disruption of Drescher's home also in the reunion deal?
Seems it was more about correctness than career.
"I stuck my foot in my mouth and said, `Wait a minute. Why don't we do it at my house?' never thinking it was going to be such an enormous undertaking," Drescher says. "But I'm an overachiever and if I was going to do this reunion show it was very important to me that it be done correctly. That means being inventive, being original, making it better than the regular run-of-the-mill ones, having it be funnier."
She co-opted ex-husband Peter Jacobson, with whom she created the series, to direct. The lavish food was prepared by one of Wolfgang Puck's restaurants. The one thing she couldn't arrange was the weather, which lacked the sunset-over-the-sea that had been hoped for.
The cast members who attended included everyone but Daniel Davis (the butler) who was working out of town.
Drescher's parents, Morty and Sylvia Drescher, were there, her mother being a look-alike for Renee Taylor, who played Fine's mother, Sylvia.
The series included many familial incidents drawn from Drescher's real upbringing. "I tapped into a simpler time in my life surrounded by all the rich and wonderful characters I grew up with," says Drescher.
She describes Fine as "fun, funny, immature and sexy. Her life was much less complicated than mine and I really liked being in her skin everyday."
Charles Shaughnessy, who played Fine's boss and love interest, Maxwell Sheffield, says the series was a "blend of great slapstick -- Fran is a wonderful physical comedian and obviously had studied Lucille Ball a lot -- but it was also a very sweet, romantic comedy, and a fish-out-of-water story."
Drescher is getting back into sitcoms next year in a WB series currently titled "Shacking Up." She describes her character as "a sexy divorcee who's living with a man much, much younger -- closer to her son's age."
But moving from Fran Fine in "The Nanny" to Fran Reeves in the new sitcom won't mean leaving behind the essentials that made Drescher famous.
"It's always more or less that larger-than-life persona. They wrap it in another story, but the audience kind of accepts it, because it's really me," she says, laughing, well, just like Fran.