By People Staff
March 03, 2004 06:12 PM

Don’t send the Barones packing just yet.

Speaking to reporters Tuesday, CBS president Leslie Moonves said, despite earlier reports, that he’s “very guardedly optimistic” that his network’s most popular sitcom, “Everybody Loves Raymond,” will be back next season.

Just in case, however, he’s discussed a spin-off, purportedly featuring Robert, the put-upon policeman brother on the show, played by Emmy winner Brad Garrett. There also has been talk that a new series would revolve around Robert’s in-laws, played by Fred Willard and Georgia Engel.

“We’re talking, which is good,” Moonves said about continuing the original, eight-year-old hit series, which stars Ray Romano, 46, as sports writer and family man Ray Barone and still pulls in some 17.8 million viewers each week, according to Nielsen Media Research. “It’s better than not talking,” he said.

Moonves also said that with “Friends,” “Frasier” and “Sex and the City” all ending their runs this year, a “Raymond” finale would be diminished. He added that he hoped to conclude negotiations on a return of the Monday-night comedy within the next few weeks, the Associated Press reports.

According to the Hollywood Reporter, series creator Phil Rosenthal and Romano have agreed to a ninth season, but one that would be shorter than the usual 22 episodes.

What remains, says the news service, is whether Moonves can cut new salary deals at shortened-season rates for Romano, who currently ranks as primetime’s highest-paid star (nearly $2 million per episode). New contracts also will have to be negotiated for costars Garrett, Patricia Heaton, Peter Boyle and Doris Roberts.