<EM>King of Queens</EM> King of Queens

It was a most welcome royal proclamation when CBS announced that The King of Queens would be returning to the network's Monday-night lineup — now synonymous with "success" thanks to Everybody Loves Raymond's impressive run and the big buzz born from those Two and a Half Men — effective with the sitcom's eighth-season premiere on Sept. 19. Why was the King rescued from the Wednesday time slot where it was "a lone sitcom in Siberia," as executive producer Michael J. Weithorn puts it? "I feel like we just go out and do good work, and I feel they do appreciate it," suggests Kevin James, who plays lovable lug Doug to Leah Remini's ever-so-patient Carrie. "We're like a utility player, the guy who can lead off and get on base. And that's important."

The King ran the risk of losing his queen this summer when Remini put CBS through contract negotiations described as "tough" by insiders. Luckily, the actress was able to work out a (very lucrative) deal to return for Season 8. But had she not...? "There would have been a big car accident in front of our [characters'] house," James quips. Seriously, though, he rebuffs the suggestion that a Remini-less King could have gone on. "I don't think it could have been done. She is as much a part of our show as any of us. It couldn't have worked."

After all, King of Queens, though created as a vehicle for stand-up vet James, wound up boasting two genuine series leads (hence Remini's solid bargaining position). "The thing I like about us," James says of the show's characters, "is there's nothing special about us in a way. It's just a normal family sitcom without crazy, crazy characters other than Jerry [Stiller's]."

Having a long-running sitcom on the air has made James' stand-up gigs easier in one way, but harder in another. "[Jerry] Seinfeld once said it: They give you the first five minutes now," he relates. "I can't even finish punch lines because they're clapping and going so crazy. But after they settle in, you've still got to be funny. And I used to joke about, you know, driving in my Hyundai, but if I did that now, they'd go, 'Hey wait a second....'"

Speaking of Seinfeld and other comics-turned-hit sitcom stars, James says it's not out of the realm of possibility that Ray Romano will pay another visit to Queens, where he crossed over with his Raymond character in King's early days. "We'd love to [have him on again,'" says James. "I think he's got time!"