THE KING OF QUEENS just might be the second funniest show on television, so will this be the season CBS' unsung hero finally steps out of Everybody Loves Raymond's shadow?

By Lynette Rice
September 07, 2001 at 04:00 AM EDT
  • TV Show

The King of Queens
CBS, 8-8:30 p.m.
Starts September 17

The emotional finale of The King Of Queens last May — in which Carrie suffers a miscarriage after an unexpected pregnancy — was a painful experience for stars Kevin James and Leah Remini. For the first time in the sitcom’s three-year history, James and Remini felt they were actually required to act. ”If Kevin is really prepared for a scene, I make fun of him, and vice versa,” says Remini. ”So people don’t know what we sacrificed to do that. When I decided to cry in that moment, I thought Kevin was really going to bust my balls.” James actually managed to dig deep and shed a few tears of his own — but only after employing a very un-Strasbergian technique. ”I just really concentrated, squeezed my butt cheeks, and I started to cry,” says the comic. ”That’s my method, squeezing my a–. I should open a school.”

That’s not a bad idea, actually; other networks could learn a lesson from James on how to make a lasting family comedy. Once misunderstood as the lukewarm stepchild of CBS’ Ray Romano hit Everybody Loves Raymond (James’ career on CBS began with guest spots opposite Romano, a longtime buddy from the comedy circuit) King of Queens has finally earned a throne of its own on Monday nights, winning its 8 p.m. time slot last season in all key demographics.

”It’s enduring because it’s endearing,” says Kelly Kahl, CBS’ head of scheduling. ”These characters are real to people.” Adds James, ”There’s nothing really shiny about this show. It’s normal, just like how The Honeymooners was a basic show. They had a crappy apartment with a crappy little icebox. The comedy came from the characters and the relationships. With all the reality TV going on and game shows and this and that, it’s nice to have a show that’s still making it, and that’s very down the middle.”

Perhaps the normality lies in the fact that little has changed since King’s launch in fall 1998. Save a few early, awkward appearances by Carrie’s sister, Sara (”She’s like Chuck with the basketball on Happy Days,” says James. After a while, ”you just didn’t see Chuck anymore”), the ensemble remains intact, as does the premise: Doug’s a delivery man who’s almost as mad for beer and eats as he is for Carrie, his brassy secretary wife with press-on nails.

”We actually just re-watched the pilot and while they look different and the tone is slightly different, you really see them as a couple,” admits scribe Josh Goldsmith, who, together with partner Cathy Yuspa, will run King of Queens this season. ”There was some spark that was partially the writing and partially the actors coming together. They’ve got this life together, and people bought it.”

The key, of course, is getting viewers to keep buying it. While the show occasionally strays from the living room — like last season’s gut-busting episode in which an unemployed Doug teamed up with pal Deacon (Victor Williams) and pop-in-law Arthur (Jerry Stiller) to harass townsfolk in a frenzy of juvenile delinquent behavior — James believes the best stories focus on the Heffernan marriage. That’s why the second episode of season 4 will feature a birthday celebration for Carrie, who receives a shortsighted gift from Doug. ”He always gets Carrie horrible birthday gifts, so this year he wants to get her the best gift in history — laser eye surgery,” says Goldsmith. ”But it ends up blinding her.” There’s also a wedding-day flashback in the works, and a true test of Doug’s devotion to his honey, when the oxygen masks come down during a false airplane emergency. Says James: ”I put mine on and act like I’ve never seen her before.”

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