Patricia Heaton won two Primetime Emmy Awards for her portrayal of Debra Barone in "Everybody Loves Raymond," but she nearly never had the chance to ever read for the part at all.
For the 25th anniversary of the pilot, which aired Sept. 13, 1996, "Everybody Loves Raymond" creator Phil Rosenthal reflected on his 15-time Emmy-winning sitcom with Yahoo Entertainment's Ethan Alter, and one detail stood out.
"CBS wanted someone hotter to play Debra," Rosenthal revealed. "I almost quit the show over it."
Alter then provided a detail backstory as to how Rosenthal maneuvered the situation and eventually cast Heaton.
"Before submitting his resignation letter, Rosenthal agreed to meet with CBS’s first choice for Debra, an actress he avoids naming in interviews or in his Raymond memoir, "You're Lucky You're Funny." 'They insisted on this actress. 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!'
"Next, Rosenthal had to sit down with network executives — including then-CBS head, Leslie Moonves — to discuss casting. He entered that meeting with his three choices for Debra, which included CBS’s preferred pick plus two other performers, and a strong suspicion that he would be leaving the room unemployed. 'Again, I didn’t have Patty yet; I didn’t even know she existed. I did know that [Moonves] was going to say, ‘What about so-and-so,’ 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.' Fortunately for Rosenthal, that’s not how things played out.
"When Moonves asked, 'What about so-and-so,' Rosenthal gave him the only answer he could — the truth. 'I said, ‘I love her and I’ve loved everything she’s been in. I think she’s terrific and beautiful, but then she read for me and I have to tell you it’s just not what I wrote. I just don’t see them as a couple. I think she could do it, but I also think that maybe we could do better. [Moonves] said, ‘Well, it’s just an idea.’ In other words, he let me slide and we agreed to keep looking! Two weeks later, Patty walked in and within five minutes she had the part. When it’s right, it’s right, and you know it immediately.' (Moonves resigned from CBS in 2018 over allegations of sexual misconduct.)"
"Everybody Loves Raymond" starred Ray Romano as Ray Barone, a sports columnist who lives across the street from his parents, Frank (the late Peter Boyle) and Marie (the late Doris Roberts), and his brother, Robert (Brad Garrett), with his wife, Debra (Heaton) and kids (Madylin Sweeten, Sawyer Sweeten and Sullivan Sweeten) in Long Island, New York.
The series ran for nine seasons from 1996 to 2005.
"I don't think it's possible now with Peter and Doris gone," Heaton, who more recently was a fixture on "The Middle," told Us Weekly in 2018 about a possible revival. "It just wouldn't be the same show."
It wouldn't have been the same show without Heaton, either.