Everybody may be loving Raymond, except perhaps Romano himself.
The recently Emmy'd Ray Romano says his six-year run as the star of CBS' monster sitcom Everybody Loves Raymond will likely end after next season.
The reason? He wants to go out on top and exit gracefully, à la Seinfeld.
"It could be one more after this," Romano tells this week's issue of TV Guide. "You don't want to leave when you're sliding down."
Based on Romano's stand-up routine about a harried dad and his wacky family, Raymond is second only to Friends among top-rated TV comedies. Romano's show averaged 20 million viewers a week last season and anchored CBS' Monday night comedy lineup.
Not only is the show a top 10 fixture in the Nielsens, it's a critical smash. It was nominated for 11 Emmys this year, with Romano winning his first Emmy for Best Actor in a Comedy Series. His TV brother Brad Garrett also won his first statuette, for Supporting Actor, Comedy, and TV mom Doris Roberts claimed her second consecutive trophy for Supporting Actress, Comedy.
Despite the show's tremendous success, Romano tells TV Guide he fears the show's shtick may be starting to wear thin, and the show could be heading to shark-jumping territory.
"In the beginning, people didn't know us and they never laughed," Romano added. "Then there was a middle period where they laughed at what they thought was funny. Now it's totally gone the other way--they're laughing way too much.
"It's easy to get complacent when people love your characters so much," Romano says. "They'll go anywhere with them at this point. We could stand on stage naked and say nothing, and people would actually think it's funny. Well, that would be pretty funny, actually."
Romano's current contract is worth a reported $40 million (he gets upward of $800,000 an episode and commands a hefty chunk of the show's syndication sales). That deal expires in May 2003, which would give him an out, should he want his eponymous series to end.
It's not the first talk of Raymond shutting it down after its seventh season ends. Romano's comments echo those of Raymond creator Phil Rosenthal, who told Daily Variety in July that the series was getting repetitive and "when it's over, it's over"--even if ratings remain strong.
Romano also says he's already making post-Raymond plans, including returning to stand-up and expanding his big-screen résumé.
Aside from voicing the character of Manfred the woolly mammoth in Fox's hit 'toon Ice Age (which he'll reprise in the planned sequel), Romano recently signed on to star in Action Abramowitz, in which he'll play an accountant who gets bonked on the head and believes he's a real-life action hero. That film starts shooting next spring while Romano's on hiatus from Raymond and is scheduled to hit theaters sometime in 2004.