''Everybody Loves Raymond'' may follow in ''Friends''' footsteps. If the show sticks around next year, it would be TV's most popular returning sitcom, but it would also likely offer only a shortened final season. So says CBS chief Leslie Moonves, talking to reporters on Tuesday. While Ray Romano and series co-creator Phil Rosenthal have repeatedly expressed reluctance to do a ninth season, lest they run out of ideas, they haven't ruled it out, and they'll decide within the next few weeks, Moonves said. ''We're talking, which is good,'' he said. ''It's better than not talking.'' He described himself as ''very guardedly optimistic'' that the show would return.
In fact, according to The Hollywood Reporter, a deal for a shortened season (with less than the usual 22 episodes, à la ''Friends,'' which is concluding this year with an 18-episode season) is all but in place, with the only sticking point being money. Romano, currently TV's highest-paid performer, earns nearly $44 million per season, or almost $2 million per episode, and CBS would want to lower his annual salary for a shortened season. Plus, the rest of the actors are all entitled to bonuses if a ninth season is shot.
In case Romano and Rosenthal nix a ninth season, Moonves has a Plan B: a spinoff revolving around Brad Garrett, who plays Ray's brother Robert. There's also a script for a season finale of ''Raymond'' in the can, though Moonves has tried to persuade Romano and Rosenthal that a series finale this year would be overshadowed by those of ''Friends,'' ''Frasier,'' and ''Sex and the City.''
Romano has expressed a desire to expand his career into film. Given the lukewarm welcome given to last month's ''Welcome to Mooseport,'' his first live-action leading role in a movie, maybe he'd do better to stay in a place where everybody still loves him.