‘Everybody Loves Raymond’: CBS Wanted a Specific Actor to Play Debra – and It Wasn’t Patricia Heaton
The popular sitcom Everybody Loves Raymond showcased the loving yet sometimes volatile marriage between Ray Barone (Ray Romano) and his wife Debra (Patricia Heaton). When casting for the role of Ray’s wife, showrunner Phil Rosenthal revealed that CBS originally pushed for an established actor to play the part of Debra.
Patricia Heaton nails the part of Debra Barone
Heaton was already a married mom when she tried out for the role on Everybody Loves Raymond, so she immediately related to the character. Rushing through the audition due to a babysitting conflict, Heaton picked up the pace on her reading with Rosenthal and Romano.
“I finally said … I’m kind of in a time thing; do you mind if we read?” Heaton recalled to the New York Daily News in 2002. “So I read it really fast. I was like, come on, let’s do this; I’ve got to go. And they were so lovely.”
Romano noted that the audition required a kiss in the scene between Ray and Debra, and Heaton rose to the challenge.
“She came in and Phil and I thought this is it, this is her,” Romano said. “Not only do I think she bought it, but the scene calls for the actress to kiss me and she was the only one who kissed me on the lips. So I said, ‘She’s in, she’s dedicated.’”
“I was the only actress who would kiss him.” Heaton joked.
CBS exec make a strong recommendation
In his book You’re Lucky You’re Funny: How Life Becomes a Sitcom, Rosenthal described the casting process for the show. Apparently, then-Chairman and CEO Les Moonves already had a frontrunner who he felt was perfect for the role of Debra.
“I get a call from Network Guy,” Rosenthal wrote of an associate of Moonves. “He says, ‘Well Les Moonves wants this one actress [we’ll call her So-and-So]. So you should cast her.’ I say, ‘Oh, but I think she’s completely wrong.’ He says, ‘You didn’t hear me. Les wants her. If you don’t cast her, you don’t have a show.'”
Never revealing the identity of “So-and-So”, Rosenthal had his reasons for not wanting this actor to play Debra Barone. Clearly stating it had nothing to do with the person’s talent, the Everybody Loves Raymond creator sensed that she wouldn’t be a good fit.
“I called my agent, and I say, ‘Can you believe this? They’re making me take this actress,” Rosenthal recalled. “‘This So-and-So is horrible for the part. She won’t be funny in this. They only want her because she’s a blonde. … She’s totally, completely wrong for the show … What do I do?’ And my agent says, ‘I would cast her.'”
Phil Rosenthal takes a stand with CBS
Rosenthal agreed to meet with “So-and-So” to show he was keeping an open mind. Once he heard her take on the part of Debra, it confirmed his instincts.
“She’s very nice,” Rosenthal said in his book. “During the meeting I kind of talk her into reading And she reads for me … and she’s ten times worse than I though she would be for this part.”
After the meeting, Rosenthal headed to CBS to let Moonves know his honest opinion. Needless to say, the Everybody Loves Raymond creator was apprehensive of the exec’s response.
“‘I love her – I think she’s great,'” Rosenthal recalled telling Moonves. “‘I’ve loved her in everything she’s done. And I met with her today, and she’s beautiful and charming … But then she read for me, and I have to tell you, it’s just not what I wrote … I don’t really buy them as a couple. Could she do it? Maybe. But I also think, maybe, we could do better.'”
Thankfully, Moonves went along with Rosenthal’s recommendation. In the following days, Heaton auditioned to play Debra.
“A week later, Patty Heaton walked into our office,” Rosenthal wrote, “was perfect, met with every quality I mentioned at the beginning of this chapter and then some, and was cast. That simple. When it’s right, it’s right.”