No more ‘Ray’ of sunshine?

Creator Rosenthal suggests end is near for Eye hit laffer

LAS VEGAS — Here’s an alert for CBS chairman-CEO Leslie Moonves: This may be a good time to start begging.

Last week, Moonves said he would do everything in his power to keep hit sitcom “Everyone Loves Raymond” on CBS for at least another season — even beg.

Yet even that may not be good enough for “Raymond” exec producer-creator Phil Rosenthal, who hinted Monday that the show could be nearing a natural end. His comments came during a NATPE-sponsored sesh with AMC’s “Sunday Morning Shootout” co-hosts Peter Bart — editor-in-chief of Daily Variety — and Mandalay Entertainment Group chair Peter Guber.

“Some shows have gone on for too long, and we know which ones they are. You want to get off the stage before someone tells you to get off the stage,” Rosenthal said during the early-morning discussion. “I’m in love with the experience, but my main priority is to go out well.”

After eight years, Rosenthal said, it is getting tougher to find fresh storylines for “Raymond.” He told Daily Variety he faces a “tough decision” and doesn’t know exactly where the line is. “Ideally, you want every episode to be the best it can be,” he said.

Rosenthal, who has made his concerns known to CBS, said he “hasn’t really seen any begging yet” on the part of Moonves. He credited Moonves with being very supportive of the show over the years. Star Ray Romano is among the highest-paid actors on television, drawing a salary of $50 million for the current season.

If “Raymond” goes off the air this season, viewers next fall will face a comedy crisis of sorts in primetime, since this also is the last season for NBC’s “Friends” and “Frasier.”

Bart asked why broadcast nets are having such a hard time launching successful new comedies, considering comedies are doing well on the movie side, even those that get bad reviews.

Many show creators chase the “hip and trendy” vs. developing classic comedies such as “Raymond” that don’t address topical issues and hence can continue to be syndicated for decades, Rosenthal said. “Raymond” is one of the top sitcoms in syndication.

Rosenthal agreed with Guber that comedies are being dumbed down on the film side, adding it’s also happening in television. He referred to an episode of NBC’s gross-out series “Fear Factor” in which someone “literally ate a horse’s ass.”

“I think it’s the end of civilization,” Rosenthal quipped.

Rosenthal said he believes Romano can make the transition from TV to film. To date, thesp has done voiceovers for feature animation; he has two live-action films in the can, “Welcome to Mooseport” and “Eulogy.”

This morning, Bart and Guber will host another NATPE-sponsored breakfast, interviewing Westwood One chairman Norm Pattiz, who is leading Washington’s effort to launch a Middle East TV network.

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