‘Raymond’ returns

Deal cut for ninth, final season of CBS laffer

This article was updated at 5:26 p.m.

“Everybody Loves Raymond” will return for a final victory lap next season.

After weeks of legal wrangling over every last detail, CBS chairman/CEO Leslie Moonves announced Sunday what’s been assumed for weeks: A deal has been reached to bring back the Ray Romano laffer for a ninth — and final — season. Following in the footsteps of the “Friends” swan-song season, 16 episodes of “Raymond” will be produced next yearinstead of the usual 24.

A few “Raymond” clip shows will likely be produced next season as well. And if the writers are inspired, it’s possible one or two more episodes may result.

Moonves said announcing the new deal “is very bittersweet.”

“The show really did start the rebuilding process for us,” he said. “It provided the foundation for us and has had a significant role in the rebuilding of CBS to its current status.”

Some broad points of the deal had been reached weeks ago, but an announcement was delayed as parties on all sides nailed down every point of the deal.

“Ray and I met with the writers a few months ago to see if we could come up with any more stories — and we were able to,” “Raymond” creator and exec producer Phil Rosenthal said. 

Rosenthal and Romano didn’t have deals in place for season nine; the rest of the cast did. That led to buzz that all of the drama surrounding the renewal was really about money.

Romano and Rosenthal are expected to get small per-episode bumps, however, with Romano cementing his status as TV’s highest-paid performer with a per-episode salary just north of $2 million. With the show producing only 16 episodes, however, it’s unlikely anyone will be raking in more overall coin next season than they did this season.

“Our decision had nothing to do with money for Ray or me,” Rosenthal said.  “Emotionally, we never want the show to end, but everything must.  We look forward to these remaining episodes as a few encores and a few more meals with our staff. Can I see my child now?”

Romano concurred, noting, “The decision about coming back was always about maintaining the quality, and not feeling like we’ve overstayed our welcome.”

Moonves said he believed the protracted decision-making process “was legitimately about Phil and Ray’s feelings about whether they had the creative impetus to continue. They would have rather been off the air one year too early than stay on one year too late.”

Romano and Rosenthal have kept CBS brass guessing over the past two years. As early as two seasons ago, Rosenthal and Romano hinted at their desire to end the show.

“When it’s over, it’s over,” Rosenthal told Daily Variety in July 2002. “You don’t want to get repetitive, and I’ve never seen a show get better after seven seasons.”

It took a protracted negotiation last spring to convince the duo to come back for an eighth season, but in an 11th-hour deal — also on the eve of upfronts — Romano signed on for one more year. The thesp agreed to a paycheck worth between $1.8 million and $2 million an episode, making him the highest-paid actor in TV comedy.

CBS also agreed to pay HBO Independent Productions and Worldwide Pants between $5 million and $6 million a seg for one more year of the show.

Those huge paydays convinced Rosenthal and Romano to keep the lights on through the 2003-2004 TV season — but the duo also made it clear that this would be the final season.

That didn’t sit well with supporting castmembers Brad Garrett, Patricia Heaton, Peter Boyle and Doris Roberts, who were already signed for a ninth season and stood to miss out on millions of dollars if the show didn’t return. They expressed their displeasure at the start of the season, missing work days until CBS, HIP, Worldwide Pants, Rosenthal, Romano and other parties agreed to share some of the show’s backend profits.

“Raymond” is produced by HBO Independent Prods. in association with Worldwide Pants and Where’s Lunch Prods.