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''Everybody Loves Raymond'' leads the pack of TV winners

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Ray Romano, Brad Garrett, ...
Everybody Loves Raymond: Tony Esparza/CBS

Now that the fall TV season is nearly over, several established shows have emerged as Nielsen winners. The most remarkable improvement, however, comes from CBS’ ”Everybody Loves Raymond.” Ray Romano’s Monday night hit jumped from No. 13 last year to No. 5 — a nearly impossible leap for an established series. ”I don’t think I’ve seen such an improvement since ‘Cheers,”’ says Marc Berman, a TV analyst at Mediaweek.com. ”This is a show that still hasn’t peaked after five years.”

”Raymond” has bested its 1999- 2000 average by 20 percent, a ratings spike executive producer Phil Rosenthal never expected. He credits ”Survivor” with boosting viewership for ”Raymond”’s summer repeats and making it that season’s highest rated sitcom. ”It was definitely a water cooler summer for CBS,” he says.

According to Rosenthal, ”Raymond” also reaped ratings when Patricia Heaton won the show’s first Emmy in early September, increasing the cast’s profile. A month later, the ”Raymond” premiere reached 22 million viewers — a series record. Then came even better news: The sitcom had beaten ABC’s fall ratings monster, ”Monday Night Football.” ”It’s sweet revenge for me,” Rosenthal says. ”I was a horrible athlete growing up.” Or as Brad Garrett, who plays Ray’s romantically retarded brother Robert, tells EW.com: ”We’re the little show that could.”

Here’s EW.com’s roundup of the fall season’s other big gainers and losers among veteran shows.

GAINERS

?”WEST WING” Up 51 percent
NOW No. 8, with 19.1 million viewers
THEN No. 27, with 12.6 million viewers
WHAT’S CHANGED Winning a record setting nine Emmys contributed to the drama’s high buzz factor. Not to mention a ”Who got shot?” cliffhanger that helped draw 25.1 million viewers to the season premiere. ”It’s a thinking man’s show,” says TV analyst Tom Watson of Initiative Media, who adds that cerebral dramas take longer to jell with audiences than other series.
NEXT Sandwiched between NBC’s quirky critical hit ”Ed” and the unstoppable top 10 series ”Law & Order,” ”West Wing” could help NBC turn Wednesday’s dramas into ratings gold. ”Who doesn’t want Martin Sheen to really be the president?” laughs Watson.

?”KING OF QUEENS” Up 10 percent
NOW No. 26, with 14.0 million viewers
THEN No. 39, with 12.7 million viewers
WHAT’S CHANGED ”Third season’s a charm,” Berman says of comedian Kevin James’ family show. After two years of solid but not stellar performance, ”King” has finally broken through the prized top 30. Berman says CBS’ patience has paid off: ”The chemistry between the two leads is now flawless. It’s the perfect companion to ‘Yes, Dear’ and ‘Raymond.”’
NEXT As long as ”King” and ”Raymond” are on the same night, CBS can’t seem to lose. ”Those two sitcoms are nearly perfect,” Berman says. ”They appeal to everybody.”

?”FRASIER” Up 3 percent
NOW No. 6, with 20.5 million viewers
THEN No. 7 with 20.0 million viewers
WHAT’S CHANGED Despite Kelsey Grammer’s fears that the time period switch with ”Will & Grace” would usher in ”Frasier”’s last days, the eighth season comedy is NBC’s only thriving Tuesday night series (”The Michael Richards Show” was axed, and ”3rd Rock From the Sun” is lagging at No. 72). ”It’s singlehandedly saving the night,” says Berman. ”People know there are few quality shows to see, so they’re willing to go out of their way to follow this one.”
NEXT If NBC can strike a deal with ”Frasier”’s studio, Paramount Television, it looks like people will be calling the doctor for another three seasons.

LOSERS

?”NORM” Down 40 percent
NOW No. 96, with 6.4 million viewers
THEN No. 64, with 10.7 million viewers
WHAT’S CHANGED According to Watson, ABC erred by moving ”Norm” from Wednesday — where it was surrounded by established sitcoms like ”Drew Carey” and ”Spin City” — to Friday nights. Part of ABC’s lowest rated Friday night lineup ever (including No. 89 ”Two Guys and a Girl” and canceled newcomers ”The Trouble With Normal” and ”Madigan Men”), ”Norm” is ABC’s worst performing sitcom. ”There are more people on this phone conversation than are interested in this show,” says Watson. ”I do not know why it got renewed to begin with.”
NEXT Watson says ABC needs to put ”Norm” out of its misery, and soon. Its only hope is the fourth installment of ”Millionaire,” which is moving to Fridays at 8 p.m to prop it up. If Reege can’t help, nobody can.

?”ONCE AND AGAIN” Down 21 percent
NOW No. 66, with 8.6 million viewers
THEN No. 46, with 10.9 million viewers
WHAT’S CHANGED Even an Emmy for star Sela Ward couldn’t spice up the numbers on this divorce themed drama. Despite critical praise, the creators of ”thirtysomething” can’t seem to generate a sizable following. ”Hitchcock once said good drama is life with all the dull parts taken out,” says Watson. ”But this show leaves all the dull parts in.”
NEXT Starting in January, ”Once” will switch to Wednesdays at 10 p.m., opposite decade old behemoth ”Law & Order.” ”ABC thinks women will watch it there,” says Watson. ”Personally, I think it’ll get creamed.”

?”TOUCHED BY AN ANGEL” Down 14 percent
NOW No. 20 with 14.9 million viewers
THEN No. 11, with 17.1 million viewers
WHAT’S CHANGED Once CBS’ guardian angel (and top rated show), this ”God is good” drama is going the way of ”Murder, She Wrote” and ”Dr. Quinn: Medicine Woman.” In other words, its viewership is grayer than the early bird special. ”The younger demos have steadily left,” says Watson. ”I doubt it will ever be a top 10 show again.”
NEXT ”It doesn’t deserve the showcase hour on Sunday night,” Watson says of the seven year old series. Instead, he suggests the Eye put it on Saturday nights for the ”goody two shoes crowd.” Fine with us — we’ll be out dancing.

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