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''Raymond'' tapes series finale this week

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After nine years, Everybody Loves Raymond is likely to end not with a bang but a whimper — probably Ray Barone (Ray Romano) whining about his meddlesome parents or pleading for sex with wife Debra (Patricia Heaton). In other words, it’ll be a typical half-hour episode of the long-running comedy. Still, CBS is preparing a Friends-like wave of hype to count down the weeks until TV’s top sitcom calls it a day on May 16.

The final half-hour will be preceded by an hour-long retrospective. After two of the remaining five episodes air in February, CBS will air five of Raymond viewers’ favorite episodes, as chosen by an online poll, just as NBC did last year before Friends ended its run. There’s even a possibility for a Joey-like spinoff, with Brad Garrett continuing to play Ray’s sad-sack brother Robert. The network is still in the early stages of developing such a spinoff, but on Tuesday at the Television Critics Association’s winter gathering in Los Angeles, Garrett told the press: ”I love the character. I’m open to it.”

As with Friends, we’ll also be hearing a lot about the cast’s emotional experience of taping of the last episode, which takes place this Friday, following a read-through of the script on Tuesday. Romano told the critics that Heaton had been crying all day; for her part, she likened herself to a ”functioning alcoholic: I had this wonderful drug for nine years, and we’ve been cut off and you suddenly go cold turkey.” Less sentimental is series creator Phil Rosenthal, who says he and Romano decided to pull the plug on the still successful sitcom because the pair and their writing staff have run out of ideas. ”We’ve done every single thing we can think of,” Rosenthal said. ”We’re bone dry.”

As for what will happen in the final episode, simply entitled ”Finale,” Rosenthal and CBS are keeping mum. Quipped Garrett: ”I become a medium; I see all the arguments we haven’t had yet.”

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