Ray Romano Victor Spinelli/WireImage.com
Gary Susman
March 15, 2004 AT 05:00 AM EST

Apparently, there are still laughs to be mined from Ray Barone’s whining about his sex life and his meddlesome parents. Although Ray Romano has been hinting for two years that he and ”Everybody Loves Raymond” creator Phil Rosenthal wanted to pull the plug on the series after its eighth and current season, lest the show jump the shark, Romano now says he’s ”almost sure” the show will be back next fall, Reuters reports. However, it may have an abbreviated final season, à la ”Friends.”

”We’re going to try to make it happen,” Romano said at a comedy benefit on Saturday night in Beverly Hills. ”We’re trying to do something, but how many episodes we don’t know yet.” His comments echoed those made two weeks ago by CBS chief Leslie Moonves, who told reporters he was ”very guardedly optimistic” that the network would work out a deal with Romano and Rosenthal for a probably shortened ninth season of the top-rated sitcom.

One reason Romano may now be reluctant to give up his post as the highest-paid performer on TV (he earns almost $2 million per episode) is the far-from-welcoming response that greeted his first leading role in a live-action movie, last month’s ”Welcome to Mooseport,” which he joked about at Saturday’s benefit. ”I owe you all $8.50,” he apologized.

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