Leah Remini and Kevin James, <EM>The King of Queens</EM> Leah Remini and Kevin James, The King of Queens

The King of Queens — which presents its series finale tonight at 9 pm/ET — ruled as long as

Seinfeld and Everybody Loves Raymond. Abdicating after nine seasons, Kevin James will match Jerry's and Ray's marks for longevity, even if King never achieved the same critical or ratings success. "We were TV's bitch," says cocreator David Litt. Still, flying under the radar had its benefits. "It helped us because the network let us do our own thing," James says. "We were the little show that could." That underdog work ethic was a key to the sitcom's appeal. "It's a simple show about a blue-collar worker and his wife in Queens — nothing about it screams, ‘Nine years!' " says costar Victor Williams (delivery-driver pal Deacon). "Yet that's exactly what people needed and identified with most."

The finale packs more twists than Lost. It might sound like standard fare: The episode features a wedding (with Jerry Stiller's Arthur as the groom) and baby talk, when Doug (James) and Carrie (Leah Remini) ponder adopting a child. But stay tuned, because it might not play out the way you expect. "We wanted to end on a note that felt like The King of Queens where everything's f---ed up," says cocreator Michael J. Weithorn. "No one's life ever improves."

Grey's Anatomy can't top King for behind-the-scenes drama. "It was a very tense show to do," Weithorn says. "There was a lot of conflict." Start with two emotional stars who aren't afraid to express opinions. "Leah's a strong cup of coffee, and I can be, too," James says. "If I feel something's not goin' my way, I get upset." Add in the septuagenarian Stiller, who early on threatened to quit unless the show was moved from L.A. to New York, where he lives. "He said the commute was killing him," Weithorn recalls. After CBS lent Stiller a plane, he agreed to stay.

Nepotism ran rampant. James' and Remini's spouses guest-starred multiple times, and other cast relatives — including Stiller's son Ben — did cameos. James' brother Gary Valentine landed a regular role as his loser cousin. "It just proves if you sleep with the right people, you get a job," Valentine jokes. "Kevin and I had bunk beds growing up."

Germans love The King. The show might not get too much respect in Queens, but they worship it in Berlin. "I'm on a stamp in Germany!" marvels Stiller. "I never dreamed a nice Jewish kid like me would be so big in Germany. I'm kvelling from all this."

James hated wearing Doug's IPS uniform. "Especially when I gained weight — the shorts were tight and they'd cut into my hips," he complains. "I'd feel like writing scenes around it, like, ‘Oh, I don't need a uniform.' They'd be like, ‘But you're at work!' And I'd be like, ‘Whatever. I show up without it!'"

Remini was the easiest cast member to crack up. "There were times when I had to cross my legs because I was going to pee from laughing," she confesses. "Kevin would say, ‘If you screw up this take, I'm gonna punch you in the face!' And I'd try, but he acted so stupid! Those were my favorite episodes."

King was a rebel. On the surface, it seems like a nice little show, but it wasn't afraid to take dark turns (check out the episode when Doug takes an obscene photo of himself with a disposable camera at a wedding). "It's such an anti-sitcom," says Patton Oswalt, who costarred as Doug's depressed friend Spence. "There's a lot of weird stuff smuggled in." That includes the main characters, adds Weithorn: "Doug's a lazy liar, Carrie's kind of a bitch, and Arthur is so narcissistic and paranoid, yet you still like him." Hmmm, sounds like the endearing freaks on Seinfeld and Raymond. No wonder King reigned so long.

Let our new Online Video Guide show you some classic King of Queens video clips.

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