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'Everybody Loves Raymond' creator says CBS wanted 'someone hotter' to play Debra

Phil Rosenthal was ready to give up the show if the network insisted.
/ Source: TODAY

The Barone family on "Everybody Loves Raymond" would have looked quite different if CBS had gotten its way back in the day, according to creator Phil Rosenthal.

In a conversation with Yahoo! Entertainment, he explained that the network was looking for someone with serious sex appeal to play the role of Ray Romano's wife, a role that Patricia Heaton eventually landed.

"CBS wanted someone hotter to play Debra," he said in the chat. "I almost quit the show over it."

Ray Romano (as Ray) with Patricia Heaton (as Debra) on "Everybody Loves Raymond."Robert Voets / CBS via Getty Images

This wasn't a specific reference to Heaton, who hadn't yet gone up for the role when the network weighed in on "hotness." Rosenthal said CBS wanted a particular kind of actress, and it had a first choice in mind. He agreed to meet with her, but won't specify who it is. (He avoided doing that in his memoir, "You're Lucky You're Funny," too, Yahoo! Entertainment noted.)

"They insisted on this actress," he recalled. "I thought she was wrong, but I met with her and she was a very pleasant, very nice person. She wasn't going to read for the role, but during the meeting I convinced her to read a little bit with me, and she was 10 times worse for the part than I thought she would be!"

Then he had to tell the network that it was his way or the highway. He brought three choices for Debra, including the preferred actor and two others. "I didn't have Patty yet; I didn't even know she existed."

What he did know was that the then-head of CBS, Leslie Moonves, was going to ask about the "hot" hire. "And if I don't say, 'Yes, let's cast her,'' I won’t have a show. So that was the day I knew that I'd be quitting my own show," he recalled.

The Heaton-Romano pairing worked out fine.Angela Weiss / Getty Images

This required real diplomacy. So when Moonves did ask about the first choice, Rosenthal laid it on the line, saying he liked the actor, but "I just don't see them as a couple."

He went on, "I also think that maybe we could do better."

And to his surprise, "he let me slide"!

Two weeks after that, Heaton came up for casting and "within five minutes she had the part," he said.

She went on to co-star with Romano for nine seasons, winning two Emmys for the role.

"When it's right, it's right, and you know it immediately," said Rosenthal.

TODAY has reached out to CBS about Rosenthal's comments.

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