Romano fills a life void with 'Men of a Certain Age'

Men of a Certain Age

10 p.m. Wednesdays, TNT

On tonight's return of "Men of a Certain Age," mild-mannered party store owner Joe has a confusing brush with his ex-wife.

Terry, the failed-actor-turned-car-salesman and perennial bachelor, seems ready to settle down with his new girlfriend.

And Owen, who runs his father's struggling car dealership, makes a pivotal decision about his career.

To put it another way: There are no murders, zombies or superhuman capers. The three lifelong pals who now are coping with midlife are such remarkably ordinary heroes for a TV series, they seem downright exotic. As played by series stars Ray Romano, Scott Bakula and Andre Braugher, these guys are never larger than life, but instead recognizably true to life.

"Men" was rewarded for its special brand of normalness when it premiered in late 2009, winning critical praise and healthy ratings. This year, it won a prestigious George Foster Peabody award; the judges hailed the series as "comical, poignant and harrowing, sometimes all at once."

Over breakfast at their hotel, Romano and "Men" co-creator Mike Royce looked back on how the show had come about. A few years back, both men were feeling a bit of middle-age angst in the aftermath of Romano's hit comedy "Everybody Loves Raymond," on which Royce served as a writer and executive producer.

The CBS show's nine-season run ended on a high note in 2005, Romano, 53, recalled.

"When 'Raymond' ended, I was on the top of the world. Cloud 9, money, free time, golf, go places! And my therapist said, `You want to start coming twice a week?'"

"I had a big identity crisis," he said.

The idea for a new show began to percolate. The character they wrote for Romano was a newly divorced father of two with a gambling problem and a job that seemed to brand him as a variation of the sad clown: a man who runs a party store for whom life isn't a party. He is also looking for a do-over: He wants to qualify for golf's senior tour, which would offer him the chance to resurrect his dream of being a golf champ.

The new show would be more reflective and bittersweet than "Raymond."

Some networks passed - "It isn't loud enough," one network complained - but TNT grabbed it.

"My character is still kind of grasping," Romano said. "He still hasn't gotten to a place of contentment."