Much has been said about Patricia Heaton’s turn as Debra, but she only just barely became part of the show anyway. Philip Rosenthal and Ray Romano wanted an actress who could pass as a thirty-something housewife, while the network wanted someone younger, hotter, and more Hollywood. They were at an impasse.
However, Rosenthal was so adamant about the casting choice that he almost quit the show in protest. Rosenthal met with the actress CBS wanted, but he knew she wasn’t going to be the proper person. Two weeks later, Heaton auditioned, and Rosenthal knew he had the right woman at last.
The Opposite of “Seinfeld”
Like almost every sitcom that came after it, “Everybody Loves Raymond” took plenty of influence from “Seinfeld.” Romano's first idea for his show was to do what “Seinfeld” had done – witty talks about current topics from the writing of a stand-up comic, but that show was already made. It went by the name of “Seinfeld.”
Instead, they changed tracks and made their show about things that would have more lasting value. Family ties, arguments, and relationships became the show's identity. Plenty of other shows have realized how smart the move was since people of all ages enjoyed it even after it ended.
An Early Ratings Slump
Nowadays, “Everybody Loves Raymond” is remembered as a titan in the ratings, but that was not always the case. Like many successful shows, "Raymond" struggled to begin with. In the first season, they had to drag every episode they could out of the network. Becoming a big hit in your first season is a tough sell, but it seemed like this show was destined for the dustbin of history.
However, somebody at CBS – Les Moonves, the head of the network – liked it enough to give them more chances, and ratings started climbing from then on. And the rest was history.
Made up on the Spot
One of the endearing throughlines of the entire show was the nicknames that Raymond calls Debra. As it turns out, every single one of those nicknames was improvised by Ray Romano, and he would even come up with a new one if he had to shoot the same scene several times. He seemed to have an unlimited number of names for her.
Each and every time, it was a different nickname, no matter how many takes were required for a scene. Must have been hard for Patricia Heaton to not break character if he came in with a different weird name every time.
A Different Kind of Audition
There are a lot of clear reasons why Patricia Heaton got cast as Debra – she has great acting talent, she has a good mom/wife look to her, and she worked perfectly against Ray's parents. However, according to Ray Romano, there is another reason that she was his pick for playing his on-screen wife – she was the only one that was willing to kiss him on the lips during the audition.
This raises a number of other questions, such as why wouldn't anyone else kiss him on the lips, as well as why this was the most important part. It was baffling.