Every morning, there was an update: Brad Garrett didn't come to work for the 10th straight day.... ''It kinda felt like the Iran hostage crisis,'' quips Garrett. ''You should've seen the hood they made me wear.'' Only it was Garrett who was making the demands. After seven years of playing Robert Barone, Ray Romano's perpetually undervalued brother on CBS' ''Everybody Loves Raymond,'' he was earning $150,000 an episode, less than 10 percent of Romano's record-setting $1.8 million salary. ''It was a very low number for the No. 2 comedy,'' says Garrett of ''Raymond,'' which trails only ''Friends'' in the ratings (and the latter's six costars each cash seven-figure weekly paychecks).
So the 6'8'' stand-up sat out the season's first taping and returned to work only after getting bumped up to $250,000 a week, equal to TV parents Doris Roberts and Peter Boyle but still less than small-screen sister-in-law Patricia Heaton. Garrett and the other three costars, all of whom called in ''sick'' at some point during the renegotiation, also received one-half percent ownership of the show -- millions of dollars that'll come out of the deep pockets of Romano, creator Philip Rosenthal, CBS, and producers HBO and Worldwide Pants, since each gave up a sliver of their stake.
If the sitcom returns for season 9, Garrett's take will increase to $315,000 an episode, but Rosenthal and Romano are leaning toward pulling the plug in May due to the difficulty of coming up with fresh stories. (A final decision will be made early next year.) ''It can go at least another year,'' counters Steve Sternberg, senior VP of the media buying firm MAGNA Global USA. ''People tune in for the characters, not for the plots.'' But according to a ''Raymond'' insider, the behind-the-scenes tension created by Garrett's walkout ''doesn't help'' the chances for another season. The Emmy winner, who's moonlighted as a blowfish in ''Finding Nemo'' and the Great One in CBS' ''Gleason,'' spoke -- or, rather, joked -- exclusively with EW about playing hardball and planning for an uncertain future.
So you're back on the show?
Well, actually, I just came by to get my things.
What was the mood like on the set when you returned?
I was getting Ray his towels and robe, and everything was back to normal. It was a very warm reception in front of and behind the camera. The bottom line is, it's always made to look uglier than it really is. This is just business. When you're talking about millions of dollars, it's gonna get intense, but I don't think it was ever taken personally.
Were you surprised at the amount of coverage the negotiation got?
It was amazing. There are a lot more important things going on in the world, like what happened to ''Jiggly.'' Am I saying that right -- ''Giggly''?
Do you think the renegotiation hurt the chances of another season?
I don't think it's going to make a difference. With Ray and Phil, it's just going to come down to the stories. No one wants to jump the shark. Look, if I walk into a room wearing a sombrero, it's over.
Do you still think it's possible you'll do a spin-off?
I have never been approached about it, so there's a lot of stuff that has to go down before that happens. We have to see who'll run the show and if we can get the right casting. That was never touched on during the negotiations.