Now that the taping of Everybody Loves Raymond‘s series finale is only days away, Ray Romano should be using this downtime to pack boxes in his Burbank office. But old habits die hard. Clad in his typical workday ensemble (flannel shirt, blue jeans, gym shoes), Romano is hunched over his laptop computer, scanning the Internet for nitpickers. It doesn’t take long to find them; after years of frantic post-episode surfing, Romano knows exactly where to locate Raymond‘s harshest critics. (Today, they’re on an entertainment Web page spouting words like mediocre and awful.) ”It keeps you humble,” explains the 47-year-old comedian. ”People come over to me on the street and are nice, nice, nice. But people who hate you aren’t coming over to say they hate you. The Web is a venue to say it.”
Wait, is this Ray Romano talking? Or his alter ego Ray Barone? After spending nine years with both of them, it’s hard to tell where one stops and the other begins. This relatability — an Everyman blend of insecurity, hound-dog expressions, and benign buffoonery — 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? It’s certainly a question even Romano’s costars would like answered as they tape the show’s final episodes.
”They are finding some great stories,” says Patricia Heaton, who plays Ray’s wife, Debra. ”We did one last week called ‘The Power of No,’ where Ray realizes if he turns down sex, I’m more likely to be nice to him and want to have sex with him. That’s such a universal kind of thing, I’m surprised it took us nine years to get to that episode.” Marvels creator Phil Rosenthal’s wife, Monica Horan, who plays Robert’s spouse, Amy: ”I’m not being overly dramatic when I say I get the script, read it, and go ‘How are they not repeating themselves?”’ Even Romano’s boss wants the big guy to do another round. ”I know it could go another season and I’ve said that to Ray and Phil,” says Les Moonves, co-COO of Viacom, which owns CBS. ”They want to leave on top — but I still think they’re leaving a year too early.”
So why not, Ray? It seems like the world that lives outside your laptop wants more. Romano says that shortly after Raymond‘s debut in 1996, he and 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. 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.”