What is it about Ray Romano and his TV alter ego, Ray Barone, that everybody loves? Most likely, its his relatability — an Everyman blend of insecurity, hound-dog expressions, and benign buffoonery — that has made Everybody Loves Raymond an unlikely top 10 staple for the last five seasons. (That and the fact that each member of Raymond‘s supporting cast is talented enough to carry his or her own series.) With ratings still strong — the sitcom will finish the season as TV’s No. 1 comedy with 16.7 million viewers — why not go on for another year?
Romano says that shortly after Raymond‘s debut in 1996, he and creator Phil Rosenthal made a deal: Never, never do something the other doesn’t want to do. Rosenthal, in particular, feels this is the perfect time for Raymond to end (the finale airs May 16 at 9 p.m. on CBS after an hour-long retrospective) because he’s simply run out of stories. Never mind that he said the same thing about seasons 7 and 8 — this time he really means it. ”We do pride ourselves in going home, getting in fights with our wives, parents, and kids, and making stories from them. There’s a limit to that,” says Rosenthal, 45. ”If we kept getting in fights with these people, they’ll leave us.” Adds Romano, who at a reported $2 million per episode is the highest-paid actor on TV: ”This sounds obnoxious, but even my wife, who likes to spend money, has enough…. We didn’t want to feel like we were just cranking out another year because they were going to pay us for it.”
Saying goodbye hasn’t been easy for any of the troupe. ”I’m going to miss the camaraderie, and the parking. It took me 25 years to get that kind of parking,” says Brad Garrett, who plays Ray’s perpetually envious brother, Robert. Doris Roberts (nosy mom Marie) is a tad more serious: ”I’ve been crying for two weeks. This was my home.”
Here, the Raymond castmembers reminisce about their favorite episodes — and what they’ll do after the Barones take their final bow.
Favorite Episode Talk to Your Daughter (March 18, 2002) ”I love how the whole family tried their best to answer the question of the meaning of life. All my favorite Raymond episodes start with a small relatable concept and go somewhere bigger and deeper. It also takes place almost entirely in one scene and with the whole cast. That was usually the formula for our best shows.”
Least Favorite Episode The Super Bowl (Jan. 29, 2001) ”Even though I wrote this one, I thought we lost a bit of the reality of the situation with the second act when I ate the Super Bowl tickets. It still works, but I always thought I could have found a better resolution to the fight between Debra and Ray.”
What’s Next Romano reprises his role as Manfred the woolly mammoth in Ice Age 2, due in 2006, and is awaiting release of his big-screen comedy Grilled, costarring The King of Queens‘ Kevin James. He plans to suss out more movie roles with his agent, but doubts the conversation will turn to TV. ”I don’t think I want to do a network sitcom again,” he says. ”I’ve done that.”
Favorite Episodes The Letter (Dec. 8, 1997) & Ally’s Birth (May 21, 2001) ”I had written a letter to Marie, telling her everything I’d ever been angry at her about. I love those ones, where Marie and I can bond. And I love all of our flashback episodes, like the one where I’m giving birth in the back of Robert’s police car and Robert’s trying to deliver the baby. I got to spend hours in the backseat of this car with Ray and Brad looking up my [skirt].”
What’s Next Heaton scored a development deal at ABC, though she doesn’t have a project lined up for September. ”I’ll be really thrilled to just focus on the kids,” she says. ”Maybe show up at their school once in a while, get to know teachers’ names.”
Favorite Episode Robert’s Date (Feb. 1, 1999) ”’Robert’s Date’ was really the episode that put my character over the top. That was where I dated my female partner, who was African-American. And Robert, always trying to find the niche he fits in, which is obviously nowhere, thought he was black for a while. I had to dance [in a club], and that I had to work on. When I was working with the choreographer, he goes, ‘I’m so outta here because I don’t know what you’re doing.”’
What’s Next Now that the rumored spin-off for Robert and wife Amy appears unlikely, Brad Garrett plans to do stand-up on the road before scouting new TV and film projects. ”For the first time in my life, I can be picky,” he says.
Favorite Episode Lucky Suit (Feb. 4, 2002) ”Robert’s trying to get a job with the FBI, and I don’t want him to be in danger, so I do everything in the world to ruin it. I burn his favorite jacket. I fax the FBI a whole history, about how they shouldn’t give him the job. And then there’s a lovely scene between myself and Robert where I say I can’t take another day of worrying about him on the streets getting killed. It’s really sweet, wonderful, and real.”
What’s Next Roberts will star in Adam Sandler’s Happy Madison-produced movie Nana’s Boy, playing — you guessed it — Nana.
Favorite Episode Boys’ Therapy (Nov. 15, 2004) ”Frank and his boys pretend to go to therapy, but they really go to the racetrack, and Frank tells them how he was beaten by his father. That explained why he was a little hesitant and not huggy, touchy, and feely with Ray and Robert. It also explained why he would verbally be a little hard on them. Ray and Robert appreciated that he spared them — so it’s kind of funny and touching at the same time.”
What’s next Boyle is shopping for a new show. ”We’re talking to the network biggies,” he says.
Favorite Episode The Angry Family (Sept. 24, 2001) ”That’s based on a time when my son literally got up in front of his class to tell a story about his angry family. Other kids got up and talked about things like their chicken pox, but Ben Rosenthal, 6 years old, talks about his angry family. At first I was mortified, but then I thought how lucky I was to have a kid who writes for my television show. Everybody cracked up and looked back at us. It was great.”
What’s Next Rosenthal may have run out of ideas for Raymond, but he still needs to fulfill his end of a reported $50 million deal with CBS and Paramount. ”I love sitcoms and I’m sure I’ll do another — I just need a little break.”
(This is an online-only excerpt of Entertainment Weekly’s May 13, 2005, cover story.)