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Romano Nets $50 Mil for 8th Season

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Not bad for a sportswriter from Queens. Ray Romano has struck a deal that will make him the highest-paid actor in television with a nearly $50 million salary for the upcoming eighth season of "Everybody Loves Raymond," sources said.

At the same time, CBS has quietly struck a deal to renew the show for an additional two seasons at a hefty license fee of nearly $6 million an episode.

After lengthy negotiations, sources said Romano has come to an agreement with CBS and "Raymond" producers Worldwide Pants and HBO Independent Prods. for a one-season deal that will pay him in the neighborhood of $1.7 million-$1.8 million per episode, up from his current salary of roughly $800,000 per episode, sources said.

The new deal puts Romano in a tax bracket ahead of "Frasier" star Kelsey Grammer, who held the record with the $1.6 million-per-episode pact he struck with Paramount Network TV and NBC two years ago.

Reps for Romano and CBS would not comment Sunday on the deal.

The series renewal deal covers two seasons, through 2004-05, sources said, a clear sign that CBS hopes to persuade Romano to extend his stay with the Barone clan even longer. "Raymond" is the anchor of CBS' powerhouse Monday night lineup, ranking ninth this season among all primetime series.

Romano is said to be looking to make a transition into features with his first big-screen starring roles in the upcoming Artisan picture "Eulogy," with Winona Ryder and Hank Azaria, and the 20th Century Fox/Intermedia Film's Donald Petrie-directed "Mooseport," in which he stars opposite Gene Hackman, Marcia Gay Harden and Maura Tierney.

Romano hasn't been shy about letting it be known that he wanted to move on from "Raymond" while the show was still on top. Last fall, he told TV Guide that the show "could be one more (season) after this ... You don't want to leave when you're sliding down."

"Raymond" creator/executive producer Phil Rosenthal has echoed that sentiment. "Never say never, (but) we can't see going beyond eight years," Rosenthal said in January.

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