With its season premiere, "Everybody Loves Raymond" is finally strong enough to challenge "Ally McBeal"

The CBS sitcom “Everybody Loves Raymond” is kicking off its third season Monday night at 9 in an unusual position: A safe one. The show, which ranked a dismal 82 at the end of its first year, seemed on the verge of cancellation till it was saved by critical raves. After a move from Friday to Monday nights, viewers finally began paying attention, lifting the show to 33rd place last year. This year, CBS is even counting on “Raymond” to help stabilize its Monday nights against “Monday Night Football” and “Ally McBeal,” and the cast is finally feeling appreciated. “What really kept us going was that we had the show that CBS was spending the least money on and that was doing the best,” says costar Patricia Heaton. “So it probably didn’t hurt to have a critical hit that wasn’t costing them too much. Of course, we’re making up for that this year.”

Heaton may be more comfortable professionally, but she’s becoming less comfortable physically, as she is expecting her fourth son in January. (Her belly will be hidden for the show, as it was during her first-season pregnancy.) “When we were shooting the first episode this season, I was thinking, ‘I look good, I don’t even look pregnant,'” says Heaton, 39. “But then they made me walk around carrying a Long Island telephone book in front of me. I thought, ‘I guess I don’t look so good.'”

Everybody Loves Raymond
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