Always reliable when you need audiences overnight

“The King of Queens” never wore the comedy crown at CBS, but it has served the Eye royally over the past nine seasons.

In the shadow of “Everybody Loves Raymond” for most of its run, the Kevin James/ Leah Remini domestic laffer excelled in a variety of timeslots and played an especially key role around the turn of the millennium in anchoring the Eye’s Monday laffer lineup, a block that stretches back to “I Love Lucy” in the ’50s.

“To say it did yeoman’s work doesn’t do it justice,” says Kelly Kahl, CBS senior exec VP of programming operations. “Our Monday comedy lineup is very important, and here’s a show that won its time period four years in a row Monday at 8.”

And while its numbers weren’t quite up there with “Raymond,” which held down the 9 p.m. slot, it’s worth noting that primetime television viewing levels for comedies are at their lowest in the evening’s opening half-hour.

“You’ve seen a lot of great comedy blocks over the years, and they always had a show that got viewers there early,” Kahl says. “When 8 o’clock is cooking, the rest of the night really flows right out of it.”

“King of Queens” launched Mondays at 8:30 p.m. in the fall of 1998 — opposite tough competition like “Monday Night Football” and “Melrose Place” — and averaged 12.5 million viewers, running second or third in various categories. It didn’t mesh very well with its “Cosby” lead-in, but it consistently built on it in key demos.

That gave CBS confidence to let “King” kick off Monday nights in the fall of 1999, where it grew to 12.7 million viewers and led in adults 18-49.

Although “King” typically played to an audience that was roughly 60% female, its ability to draw a sizable chunk of male viewers was vital for CBS, which was transitioning out of a femme-focused comedy era with the likes of “Murphy Brown,” “The Nanny” and “Cybil.”

CBS had also just regained the National Football League as a promotional base, and promos of Kevin James as an everyman Jets fan with a pretty wife resonated well with audiences.

“Queens” continued to win its timeslot for the next three seasons, averaging well over 13 million viewers. But as CBS was beginning to look at ways to improve its overall sked, it assigned the show a tough Wednesday 9 p.m. slot.

Opposite “The West Wing,” “The Bachelor” and “The OC,” the CBS comedy placed third but improved the net’s time-

period performance by about 25% vs. the previous year.

“The strength it exhibited at 8 made us look elsewhere to see where it could make an impact,” Kahl says. “It took us from also-ran status to competitive.”

See RATINGS page A5

The show has bounced back and forth between Wednesday and Monday the last couple of seasons, serving as a handy utility player to launch series like comedy “How I Met Your Mother” on Monday and drama “CSI: NY” on Wednesday.

“King” becomes the last of the live-action half-hour comedies to premiere in the ’90s to sign off the air. And certainly the skedding of its final episodes — in the Monday 9:30 p.m. slot during the May sweeps — is an indicator that CBS believes it will go out with a bang.

“This is a show that viewers could relate to from the beginning, and always delivered,” Kahl says. “It never disappointed us, wherever we put it.”

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