‘Everybody Loves Raymond’s Creator on the Moment He Knew the Show Would Be a Hit: ‘We’re All Gonna Be Millionaires’
The hit sitcom about the Barone family of Long Island — Everybody Loves Raymond — may be considered one of the best comedy series of the last 25 years, but it wasn’t always that way. The show at first struggled to gain ground in the ratings.
For the comedy’s creator and executive producer Phil Rosenthal, however, the series’ success was obvious to him from the start.
‘Raymond’ didn’t do well at first
“It was a tough time because we were trying to figure out what the show is,” Rosenthal told the Television Academy Foundation. “I really did think I could be fired from my own show. Even though I feel like it’s going well, the critics responded well to the show; I feel like we always had them, from the pilot on, we had most of the critics.
“And the little audience that we were getting on Friday kept coming back. It kept growing a little bit. What happened was, a couple of episodes after that, Les Moonves called me in his office and said, ‘We’re gonna try the show on Monday nights. But if you don’t perform there, I can’t help you anymore.’ So it was thrilling and scary at the same time.”
As it turned out, the show did perform well on Monday nights, with ratings doubling.
Rosenthal saw promise in the CBS comedy
Even before the show had aired, the former Coach writer told TAF there was one telling moment when he knew the comedy would be a hit.
“Early on, there was a show where [Debra and Ray] took an IQ test,” Rosenthal said of one of the comedy’s earliest episodes, ‘Standard Deviation.’ “When it’s revealed that Ray actually has a higher IQ than Debra, when we thought for sure Debra had the higher IQ, she doesn’t take it very well. She’s eating ice cream, and she just takes the bowl of ice cream and puts it right on his lap.”
The audience laughed for so long, Rosenthal had their reaction measured: “That laugh was 38 seconds. And that was the third episode in. The audience that was coming to the taping of that show, they don’t know these characters. The show hasn’t even been on television yet.”
Rosenthal revealed that he joked to a crew member during the audience’s sustained laughter: “‘We’re all gonna be millionaires.’”
Rosenthal saw that audiences were connecting to a relatable dynamic
Even though no episodes had yet aired, the producer saw that the studio audience was reacting to the very familiar experience of the marital relationship.
“I thought, ‘If they’re laughing at that and they don’t know them, that’s more than just a physical gag,’” he recalled. “This is a character thing that we understand how she feels about him, what their relationship is, the psychology behind the rivalry of husband and wife. And we had something.”
The comedy, of course, was a nine-season success that Rosenthal and the cast agreed to end while it was still on top.