No one expected that it would be "Everybody Loves Raymond." The title seemed a little gratuitous, and at the time, most people didn't even know who Raymond was. But the show, with its star, Ray Romano, blossomed into a huge hit without anyone really noticing how it happened.
With the final episode set to air next week, it seems that everybody does love Raymond. The show, which is owned by HBO, CBS and Worldwide Pants, is going out as the No. 1 comedy on television, and Ray Romano is the highest paid actor in television history. reports.
The cast and crew were still writing and filming the final episodes when 60 Minutes visited the Burbank studios last December, but Ray Romano and the other actors were already picking out their favorite heirlooms, like relatives at a family funeral.
"That couch is coming home with me. That's -- everybody's picking one thing that they're gonna take," says Romano. "And my wife and I are in a discussion, which means fight -- because I want the couch and she doesn't think there's anywhere to put it. But I'm gonna bring that home with me."
When "Everyone Loves Raymond" debuted in 1996, the show was taped before a live audience recruited mostly from nursing homes and rehab clinics.
No one was lining up to see an old-fashioned sitcom based on the comedy of Ray Romano, which was based on Romano's life, or at least the persona that he created during years of doing stand-up comedy about parents, siblings, children and marriage.
But placed in the hands of talented writers and skilled producers, the jokes were translated into classic television.
"I think people just see themselves. And they laugh at it. Or cry," says Romano. "Either one -- laugh because it's funny, and then cry because it's truth. And I think that was the secret to it."
And, he adds, he had a great cast. He's surrounded by one of the most accomplished ensembles in television comedy ever, with eight Emmy's among them. Peter Boyle, Doris Roberts, Patricia Heaton, Monica Horan and Brad Garrett make up Romano's extended family -- a study in suburban dysfunction.
"There was always, I think, somewhat of a chemistry, you know, we all really come from different arenas in the industry," says Garrett.
Did they think the show would ever be this successful?
"The pilot was really good," says Boyle.
"Ray worried me, early on," says Garrett, laughing.
"I came in to audition, and you know, met Ray. Actually, I didn't know that was Ray," says Heaton. "I was sort of like waiting for the star of the show to come, while this guy sat in the corner behind like Boo Radley with hair. … I was like, 'Can you get me a coffee until Ray gets here? I need some.'"
To begin with, Romano is incredibly shy, slightly awkward, reluctant, even, to make eye contact. What's the difference between Romano and his character, Raymond Barone?
"This is gonna seem impossible," says Romano. "But I would say he's a dumbed-down version of me – which is like splitting the atom almost."
"He's a little more selfish. A little more naïve, a little more ignorant," adds Romano. "I think he's still a good person. The wife and, you know, my TV wife, my real wife. I don't sleep with either of them, to be honest with you."