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The Real Inspiration Behind The Nanny

This content was paid for by Sony and created by Looper.

"The Nanny" was one of the most popular and enjoyable sitcoms of the 1990s, mixing broad physical comedy, tenderness, romance, and wacky, modern-family antics. It made a star out of Fran Drescher, the force of nature who played the unforgettable and daffy Fran Fine, a fired bridal shop worker from Flushing, Queens, who lands the unlikely job as the caretaker for a trio of high-strung private school kids in Manhattan. Fran also shares a spark with their father, stuffy theater producer Maxwell Sheffield, adding a healthy does of "will-they/won't-they" tension to the mix. 

But as it turned out, the comedy and characters on "The Nanny" resonated so well and for so long with viewers — evidenced by a highly-rated, Emmy-nominated, six-season run on CBS in the 1990s — because it was actually all grounded in reality. In addition to starring on "The Nanny," Drescher co-created the comedy, and saw to it that her fellow show-makers pulled from and reflected her history and personality as much as possible. Here are all the ways Drescher's reality inspired "The Nanny."

Fran Drescher has a lot in common with Fran Fine

The theme song from "The Nanny" spells out the setup and premise of the sitcom in terms both catchy and precise. Fran Fine was "out on her fanny" after a split with her boyfriend led to her losing her job at his bridal shop in Flushing, Queens, only to land on her feet with a job as a child care provider for the Sheffield family in Manhattan. 

However, "The Nanny" co-creator, producer, and star Fran Drescher didn't come to show business in quite the same way. She'd had small roles in films and TV shows throughout the '70s and '80s, but like the character she played on "The Nanny" for six years, Drescher hails from Flushing, Queens, born in that neighborhood in 1957 to a mother who, like Fran Fine, helped prepare brides-to-be for their wedding day, working as a bridal consultant.

Many characters on The Nanny are named after real people

Fran Fine, title character of "The Nanny," is obviously named after Fran Drescher, the person who created her and then played her for more than 100 television episodes. That's one of many names from Drescher's real life that she used for characters on her very own sitcom. Drescher and Miss Fine share the same middle name, Joy, and the fictional nanny's parents were given the same names as Drescher's: Both have a mother named Sylvia and a father named Morty. They've also both got a grandmother known as Yetta and an older sister named Nadine.

Drescher graduated from Hillcrest High School in Queens, much like Fran Fine, only a few years earlier than her TV counterpart. And while Miss Fine went to cosmetology school, worked in a bridal shop, and then fell back on her training to sell cosmetics door-to-door, Drescher went to cosmetology school while laying down the foundations of her acting career.

Fran Drescher pitched The Nanny before she knew what The Nanny would be

Much like how Fran Fine of "The Nanny" was in the right place at the right time, finding herself on the Sheffields' doorstep right when they were desperately in need of a nanny, and she was desperately in need of a steady job, Fran Drescher similarly seized the moment during a time of underemployment to go after something she wanted and could appreciate. In 1991, just after the cancellation of her would-be star-making CBS sitcom "Princesses," Drescher didn't have anything to do. So she traded in her frequent flier miles for a first-class airplane ticket to Europe to go visit her friend and "Princesses" co-star, Twiggy

While she was waiting for the flight to take off, Drescher noticed then-CBS Entertainment president Jeff Sagansky take his seat in first class. "I started talking to him and he was a captive audience, because where was he gonna go, coach?" Drescher recalled. After chatting him up for the duration of the nine-and-a-half-hour flight, Sagansky agreed to hear a formal pitch and refer to development a sitcom pitch from Drescher and her husband/collaborator Peter Marc Jacobson, once they all got back to Los Angeles. And so, as Fran Fine would later charm a powerful man into letting her into his life on a professional basis, so too had Drescher.

Fran Drescher babysitting a friend's kid inspired The Nanny

Drescher's visit to Europe to hang out with her "Princesses" co-star Twiggy wasn't just the path that led to her encounter with CBS Entertainment president Jeff Sagansky. It also helped inspire the show's premise itself. 

An in-demand model as well as an actress, Twiggy was already working on something new by the time Drescher arrived. As such, Twiggy sent her 12-year-old daughter to bop around London with Drescher. One encounter in particular stood out in Drescher's mind: "The kid says, 'oh Fran, my new shoes are hurting me. And I'm thinking, well, what's she telling me for? So I said, 'well, honey, step on the backs of them.' And she says, 'won't that break them?' and I said, 'break them in!'"

Unable to stop thinking about this tit-for-that between herself, a working-class, no-nonsense American and a posh British child, Drescher called Jacobson in the middle of the night with what would become the pitch for "The Nanny" fully inspired and almost fully formed. It would be a spin on "The Sound of Music," except instead of a prim and proper Julie Andrews type filling the nanny position, it would be someone like Fran Drescher. After thinking about it for only about a minute, Jacobson agreed. They had their sitcom.

Art imitated life on The Nanny

So what's "The Nanny" based on really? Well, it's based on Fran Drescher's personal history, her background as an ex-bridal shop worker form Flushing, Queens, entrusted with looking after the offspring of a wealthy British person. Drescher, writing partner Peter Marc Jacobson, and the rest of the creative team that brought "The Nanny" to life and kept it alive for six full seasons, fleshed out the world of the show with some more personal flourishes from Drescher's past.

That's right: Fran Fine's trademark — and Drescher's too, for that matter — is her laugh, a loud, low-pitched bray. That's played up for the sake of character and television, but it is based on the actual boisterous sounds that the real-life Drescher makes when she finds something particularly funny. Similarly, Fran Fine's speaking voice resembles Drescher's off-screen voice, it's just heavily exaggerated.

Actor Chester Drescher appeared on 14 episodes across the nun of "The Nanny," playing Chester Babcock. He was Fran Drescher's dog, and he portrayed the pet of Fran Fine's rival C.C. Babcock (Lauren Lane). When the cameras weren't filming, Chester adored Drescher but didn't much care for Lane, so the writers made it so Chester the character didn't like CC. As they say, arf imitates life.