"Hi, I'm Ray and I live here in Long Island with my wife Debra. She's great with the kids, the house, everything. Oh, I don't know how she does it. We've got a daughter Ally and twin 2 year old boys (it's not really about the kids). My parents live across the street. Yes, that's right. And my brother lives with them. Now, not every family would go by on a conveyor belt for you, but mine would because..."

Everybody Loves Raymond

After making a successful impression on late night broadcaster David Letterman during an appearance on his show in 1996, comedian Ray Romano was offered the chance by Letterman to create and star in a prime time sitcom to be produced by the host's production company, Worldwide Pants. Romano jumped at the chance, the cast and scripts were assembled, and on September 13, 1996 the first episode of Everybody Loves Raymond hit the air on CBS. The show revolves around New York sportswriter Ray Barone and his loving-yet-wacky family: caring wife Debra, daughter Ally, twin boys Michael & Geoffrey, meddling mother Marie, grumpy father Frank, and jealous brother Robert. The catch is that his parents and brother live right across the street and are prone to popping in at any time, often unannounced and uninvited. While there are three children in the cast, the show really isn't about the kids, as unlike most sitcoms featuring children the kids merely serve to advance plot developments for the adults. There has never been, nor will there probably ever be, an episode that features the kids more than their parents. Raymond's appeal comes from the relatability factor, as most everyone can relate to one of the characters or the situations presented. In fact, this appeal has kept the show on the air for eight years and cemented its place in television history as one of the best sitcoms to grace our screens (some have even pronounced it heir to the Seinfeld throne based on number of hearty and hysterical laughs per episode).

The series got off to a somewhat shakey start as, like most new sitcoms in 1996, nobody paid much attention to it. These were the days of Must See TV on NBC that wasn't so must-see (save Seinfeld, Frasier, and Friends), and this dissatisfaction with unentertaining television spilled over to the other networks. The show began on Mondays, was quickly bounced to Saturdays (where shows go to die), but was then sent back to Mondays where it became a hit; after the rough early years the show consistently ranks in the Nielsen Top 10 for the week. While the show is stand-alone episodic in nature, there are plot developments that show growth in the characters from time to time. Robert, for example, goes from lonely bachelor living in his parents' house to happily married in a span of eight seasons. There are a number of running gags as well, such as Robert's habit of touching his food to his chin before eating it or Marie's fanatical disdain for the Fruit of the Month Club. Also, as per tradition, the season finale each year is a flashback show that depicts a milestone in the Barone family, such as how Ray and Debra met, the birth of Ally, and so on.

"Men don't like to cuddle. We only like it if it leads to... you know... lower cuddling." - Ray Barone to his wife Debra on why he isn't more romantic in bed

Behind the scenes Romano and show co-creator Phil Rosenthal have said in various interviews that the sharp writing and storylines come from the cast and crew, as most episodes are based on real-life incidents that have happened to someone affiliated with the show. Rosenthal has remarked numerous times that the series will end before the well of ideas runs dry, as he and Romano don't want to overstay their welcome on television and will walk away from any amount of money that CBS offers to stay when the time comes (recalling a similar pledge from Seinfeld star Jerry Seinfeld). Indeed, at the end of both Season 6 and 7 there was talk that the following year would be the show's last, but in the end all concerned decided to go for "one more" season. In fact, in March 2004 Romano and CBS reached a deal for a final season comprised of less than the usual 22 episodes. Speaking of money, after news of Romano's $40,000,000 per season salary made headlines in entertainment papers, actor Brad Garrett (Robert) staged a walkout during hiatus in 2003 until his own pay was raised from $140,000 per episode. The other cast members made similar demands (without the walkout, however) and by the time Season 8 hit the air all cast members had been given pay raises and a share of the lucrative backend syndication deal that has been lining Romano's pockets since September 2001. All of that money seems to be worth it: the series won the Emmy award for best sitcom in 2003 as well as numerous awards for writing and acting in years prior.

While it doesn't happen very often, Raymond characters have crossed over to other CBS sitcoms. The most notable example is Ray's multiple appearances on The King of Queens in episodes "Road Rayge", "Rayny Day", and "Dire Strayts". The Raymond universe also overlaps with Cosby and Becker, although those connections have only been made once during a crossover Monday event at CBS's behest. Kevin James's Queens character Doug Heffernan has also appeared on Raymond in episodes such as "The Lone Barone" (do not confuse these appearances with James's appearances pre-Queens as "Kevin"). And no discussion of crossovers is complete without noting the proposed post-Raymond spinoff that would feature Robert and his wife Amy as they move away from Long Island (but not so far away that his mother or other family members couldn't visit just in time for Sweeps).

"I can't believe you're still living with them. If it was me I'd be cleaning off my fingerprints and rehearsing my 9-1-1 call." - Ray Barone to his brother Robert on living with their parents at age 38

After 180 episodes Everybody Loves Raymond is just as fresh and relevant as it was in 1996. The series currenly airs Mondays at 9pm ET on CBS and can be found in syndication (check your local listings) and on cable channel TBS. DVD sets of episodes are beginning to become available, but if you check the online auctions you'll probably also come across the screener tapes/discs sent to Emmy voters that feature four of the best episodes of a given season. Many people like to deride the standard sitcom format, as most of the plots are clichéd; they are hacked together from other plots and are generally stale. If you've never seen Raymond, I urge you to give it a chance. It's genuinely entertaining and warmhearted, covering teritory that most sitcoms are either too indifferent or afraid to touch, not to mention the fact that it's downright hilarious.



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