Nearly three years of suspense and nail-biting anxiety are over, at least for CBS executives. After protracted negotiations, the makers of ''Everybody Loves Raymond'' announced over the weekend that they would deliver one more season of the top-rated sitcom to CBS, albeit a shortened season of just 16 episodes instead of the usual 22. The announcement came just days before CBS was to unveil its fall schedule to advertisers at its annual ''upfront'' presentation on Wednesday. ''The decision about coming back was always about maintaining the quality, and not feeling like we've overstayed our welcome,'' star Ray Romano said in a statement. ''I look forward to being a hapless, sexless husband once again in year nine.''
Since 2001, Romano and series creator Phil Rosenthal have been saying that they wanted to end the show before it jumped the shark. ''You don't want to get repetitive, and I've never seen a show get better after seven seasons,'' Rosenthal told Variety in 2002, before the start of the seventh season. Over the weekend, he said in a statement, ''Ray and I met with the writers a few months ago to see if we could come up with any more stories -- and we were able to. Our decision had nothing to do with money for Ray or me.''
If it wasn't about money for Rosenthal or Romano -- who, at an estimated $1.8 million per episode, was the highest-paid performer in primetime TV last year -- it may have been for the rest of the cast, who would have missed out on millions of dollars in contractual bonuses had the show not gone on for a ninth season. Not to mention for CBS, which will now be able to boast to advertisers that it has the top-rated sitcom on TV, now that NBC's ''Friends'' is gone. The sticking point in the negotiations may have been the length of the season, Variety reports, but there was a precedent after the examples of ''Friends'' (which bowed out with just 18 episodes this season) and ''The Sopranos,'' which will also have a shorter-than-usual final season next year.
Still, it seems clear that Rosenthal is counting the days until ''Raymond'' wraps. As he said in his statement, ''We look forward to these remaining episodes as a few encores, and a few more meals with our staff. Can I see my children now?''