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EVEN ROMANO CAN'T PATCH LEAK IN 'SIMPSONS' PLOT

Ray Romano helps Homer Simpson and family celebrate the 350th episode of "The Simpsons" (8 p.m. Sunday, Channel 29) by playing an irresponsible roofer.

The episode featuring Romano's voice won't be remembered as one of the series' loftiest in a TV run that has lasted longer than many roofs in Western New York.

Romano stars as the roofer that Homer befriends just as his family house springs a leak. An animated Ray shows up to repair it, only to get sidetracked and disappear. This makes Marge, Homer's wife, wonder if the roofer actually exists. With no concrete evidence to prove that Ray does, Homer is forced to undergo shock therapy before Ray shows up to finish the job.

As the closing credits role, Romano and Homer have an extended, repetitive and unfunny discussion of when "Everybody Loves Raymond" airs on CBS for a few more weeks.

Romano, of course, is retiring his series because he and the writers have run out of ideas. It looks like "The Simpsons" may have a similar problem. Fox, however, doesn't have to pay the voices of its series the same salaries that Romano and his sitcom cast members receive. And the animated characters are ageless, so the sky would have to fall before Fox would end "The Simpsons."

The series has experienced some ratings slippage and it has extended to Fox's local affiliate, Channel 29. "The Simpsons" averaged a 6.8 rating in February on WUTV, more than a 20 percent drop from the 8.4 it had in February of 2004. But it still does well in key demographic categories. It wouldn't be surprising if it went past 500 episodes.

It really has become the "Law & Order" of comedies. You can't put on the television without finding episodes of "The Simpsons" somewhere. And, of course, sales of its DVDs go through the roof as well.

I didn't know whether to laugh or cheer Monday during Chloe's (Mary Lynn Rajskub) Rambo moment on the Fox series "24." (For the record, I laughed first, then cheered.)

In case you missed it, the meek and extremely competent computer expert reluctantly had to go out in the field to a whistleblower's house. When they were confronted by a terrorist assassin, Chloe and her new friend hid in a bullet-proof vehicle before Chloe was able to get a machine gun from the back and blow the terrorist away. It seemed to shock her as much as the audience. It was another tense, great hour so I'm not going to dwell on how preposterous it ended.

Stephanie Hoey, who has been at 7 News for about two years, will be leaving the ABC affiliate shortly for a job in Hartford, Conn. She took the job after her husband, a Fredonia State College teacher, got a job at Trinity College in Connecticut.

"It was a surprise," said News Director Bill Payer. "I think a lot of her. I think she's a heckuva reporter. I preferred she stayed here forever but two career-families are a constant juggle."

Previously, meteorologist Kristin Wedemeyer left Channel 7 when her husband, a lawyer, got a job in Cleveland. Payer said Wedemeyer recently did some freelance work at a Cleveland station.

"Sometimes you hit a streak like this," said Payer. "Both people professed to like it here."

My warning about how silly the CBS' "Locusts" movie was appeared to pay off for local viewers. The movie only had an 8.6 rating here. It was overwhelmed Sunday by a clip special of the unstoppable "Desperate Housewives" (19.9) and a new episode of "Grey's Anatomy" (15.7), but it did manage to beat NBC's one-two punch of the anemic "Contender" (4.4) and "Crossing Jordan" (8.2). If NBC can't beat "Locusts," then you understand why it wanted to make a deal for Sunday Night Football in 2006.

"American Idol" can only bring viewers to shows that follow it on Fox, it can't force them to keep watching. On Wednesday night, the 22.3 local rating for "Idol" gave Pamela Sue Anderson's new one-joke comedy, "Stacked" a tremendous lead-in. The rating for "Stacked" slipped to a 9.4 at 9:30 on WUTV and fell to a 5.5 at 9:45. In other words, about 75 percent of those watching the finish of "Idol" had fled. It appears that "Idol" host Ryan Seacrest was premature for congratulating Anderson on Wednesday, when she and the show's cast were in the "Idol" audience.

e-mail: apergament@buffnews.com