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Everybody loves laughing

The fallout from the terrorist attacks will continue to cast a long shadow over the nation's psyche, but that could make moments of respite in escapist entertainment, particularly humor, even more important than before there was so much from which to escape.

For example, King World's Everybody Loves Raymond
got off to a strong start last week in its syndication debut. Its two-day average score last Monday and Tuesday, a 3.4/6 in the averaged Nielsen metered markets, was strong enough to approach the numbers of several high-profile off-net vets.

"I think the whole genre of the sitcom is in a good position coming out of all this," said King World's research head, Moira Coffey. "As opposed to some of these reality programs that are too competitive, too dramatic, I think people will be looking for lighter fare right now. I know I certainly am."

And looking down the road a bit, Twentieth Television is in a position to serve the need for escapism. Last week it locked up UPN sitcom The Hughleys
in 65% of the country. Talking about the deal, the studio's chief Bob Cook said that "there's no question" people want humor right now. He noted that comedies from his Fox film colleagues are hot at video stores.

Cook also pointed to the performance of off-net comedies King of Hill
(2.6/5) in its first week) and Just Shoot Me
(1.9/3). Both holding on to almost all of their lead-in audience.

Although Raymond is off 3% from its lead-in average (3.5/6) and off 11% from the year-ago time-period average (3.8/7), that's still impressive given breaking news pre-emptions and continuing signal disruptions in New York, the nation's No. 1 market. Also, the show lost some buzz when the cast canceled its New York promo.

In addition to launching at a time when people seem ready to be distracted, the show also came at a time when off-net sitcoms have been in a bit of a slump. Friends
was the last break-out comedy, and that was in 1998. Though solid performers, highly touted Spin City, Drew Carey
and 3rd Rock
haven't been worldbeaters.

Beyond being in the right place at the right time, Raymond
seems to have brought some of its network fan base along (its season debut on CBS drew 22.8 million viewers last week, its most ever). The syndicated Raymond
is still behind Friends
(4.5/8 after two days) and Seinfeld
(4.0/7), which along with Frasier
have been the top off-net sitcoms.