CULVER CITY, Calif. — “I’m not moving anything out of my dressing room just yet,” said Leah Remini, still holding out hope for a 10th season of “King of Queens.”
The cast and crew of the stalwart CBS sitcom, along with network and studio executives and hundreds of others, had gathered earlier this year to celebrate the show’s 200th episode — only the seventh time a TV comedy has done that since 1990. And there have been hundreds of them.
The cake was enormous and the steins of Heineken overflowed, yet the mood was bittersweet. Despite Remini’s optimism, series star Kevin James — with a film career looming — had decreed he was abdicating as “King.”
“All good things must end and unfortunately this is,” he would say.
The end came two weeks ago in a gush of tears during nearly six hours of filming of the series’ finale before a live audience on Sony Studios’ Stage 28. Then there were the scores of executives, friends and family members crowding the wings.
There weren’t enough tissues in co-star Gary Valentine’s giant-sized Kleenex box to go around. The scene was not unlike a typical graduation, with long embraces, group pictures and the signing of autographs on copies of the final script.
“It’s so unusual for any show to last this long,” said a weepy Merrin Dungey, a regular on the series, which returns April 9 at 9:30 p.m. ET for its final seven episodes.
‘We were like a cockroach’
For the past nine years, despite lackluster promotion and scheduling changes, “King of Queens” proved to be a consistent success for CBS, with 8.7 million viewers tuning in to the show each week. And it delivers like gangbusters in syndication.
“We were like a cockroach — you just couldn’t kill us,” says James.
The blue-collar comedy follows the hilarious conundrums of deliveryman Doug Heffernan (James) and his secretary-wife, Carrie (Remini), as they cope with life in the New York City borough of Queens.
Although the April 9 show is the series’ 200th episode, the producers opted against any special anniversary theme. The Heffernans find out how best friends Deacon (Victor Williams) and Kelly (Dungey) can afford a vacation home when they can’t.
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Then the following week, Doug decides to become a vegetarian after accidentally hitting a chicken with his car and keeping it as a pet.
After that, the remaining episodes will begin tying all the show’s loose ends together, including whether Doug and Carrie will finally have a baby, and how Carrie’s cranky old father, Arthur Spooner (Jerry Stiller), moves out of their wood-paneled basement.
“This was an opportunity for me, for the first time, to test myself as an actor because I never saw myself as more than just a decent actor,” says the genteel Stiller, explaining how James lured him out of retirement after “Seinfeld.”
“He literally begged me to be in this show. He kissed me. He hugged me. He said, ‘I can’t do it without you,”’ Stiller grins. “I’m susceptible to praise.”
James won't miss his costume
But the show got little of that from critics.
“I never really understood why the show didn’t get more recognition,” says creator-executive producer Michael J. Weithorn.
Slideshow: Celebrity Sightings But, he continues: “The thing that really irked me over the years is that Kevin, Leah and Jerry never won an Emmy — and Kevin wasn’t even nominated until last year ... The work they were doing was so first-rate and definitely on par with the other nominees.”
While other networks have pushed out comedy after comedy about young, good-looking, upwardly mobile characters — including NBC which developed, then passed on “King of Queens” — CBS cashed in on its funny, overweight delivery guy.
“It’s the simplicity of regular folks that people respond to — and in such an overwhelming way, it was kind of surprising to me initially,” says co-star Williams. “But then it made sense. There’s a sort of honesty in that simplicity that I’ve really enjoyed and I’m really going to miss.”
What he won’t miss, he says, is his pea-green delivery outfit. “I can not wait to never put on another ’I.P.S.’ uniform!”
With sitcoms continuing to struggle on television — and studios, networks and producers looking at ways to reinvent the genre — the irony of the success of “King of Queens” is that it was rooted in a format that many would say is dead.
“If you look at the younger generation, they want to see something other than the traditional family with the couch in the living room and the staircase going upstairs,” says Steve Mosko, president of Sony Pictures Television.
“But these types of comedies work,” he adds. “It really gets down to: Can they execute the format? Is the writing good? In the case of ‘King of Queens’ it was, and it stood the test of time.”
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