LOS ANGELES - As a steel drum band plays and drinks with little umbrellas in them are served, Drew Carey stands in a corner at a party talking about how cool his death was.
"I thought I was supposed to keep it a secret," the comedian said with a laugh.
But he let it slip anyway: On the Feb. 7 episode of "The Drew Carey Show" (9 p.m. Wednesdays on ABC), Carey is in a car accident, leaving him comatose and eventually dead. For a while.
"It has great special effects. It's going to be fantastic," he said of his on-screen coma.
The accident itself will happen off screen, but Carey's fatal experience will be a February sweeps story arc that could have a long-ranging influence on the character.
"When he slips into the coma, he kind of goes into this fantasy world where nothing goes wrong," says Dan Doran, publicist for the ABC sitcom.
His fantasy will also include guest stars, such as game show host Ben Stein as well as historical figures such as Abraham Lincoln and William Shakespeare.
As if that wasn't enough going on, the two-part story will also include the birth of Mimi's baby. The Feb. 21 episode will continue focusing on the newborn.
Meanwhile, Carey's life hangs in the balance, but don't fret too much. Carey still has another year on the show. And there are no plans to re-title it "The Drew Careyless Show."
Going into a coma could be simple compared to other attention-getting stunts the show has pulled in the past. Last year, there was an episode seen on the network and the Internet at the same time. There have been live episodes done for all four time zones in the United States, and shows that have been improvised.
Such stunts have helped keep "The Drew Carey Show" on the air for six seasons and makes it one of ABC's most durable, if not fully appreciated, hits.
"No one ever mentions it, but we beat 'West Wing' (its competition) regularly in the (target audiences) all the time," he said. "The younger the (demographics), the better we kill them. It goes from a beating to a trashing to a murder (of 'West Wing').
"That's the dirty secret of 'The West Wing.' It gets beat by 'The Drew Carey Show' in the major demos all the time. "
Carey makes no apologies for "ratings stunts" such as the coma.
"It gives people a reason to watch," he said.
In the past few seasons, Carey's character, a lonely, middle-aged personnel director at a large Cleveland, Ohio, department store, has been through the mill. He's had an identity crisis and formed a rock band, had a short-lived marriage, found love with his longtime gal pal only to break up with her, lost his job, lost his home and gone to the altar with his male boss, though both of them are straight.
The show has even mocked the fact it has gone Emmyless despite being a critical favorite.
"This year has been a lot of work. It's been a lot more work than what I thought it would be," said Carey. "It's harder to think of stories after a while. If you've done a hundred and something episodes, it's hard to pitch something. (You hear) 'We've done that and done that."'
Quitting has crossed his mind.
"I wish I could end it a la 'Seinfeld,' going out No. 1," he said with a laugh. "... I've always said I would end the show if the ratings went bad. So far, they haven't. It's bad enough I have to go out and do well in my time slot.
"I don't know. It's just a lot of work."
Even if he does end "The Drew Carey Show" next season, he says he will want to remain with his other series, "Whose Line is it Anyway?," for as long as possible. The improv series, opposite "Friends" and the recently debuted "Survivor 2: The Australian Outback" at 8 p.m. Thursdays on ABC, also holds its own with younger audiences.
"I wouldn't mind doing 'Whose Line' the rest of my life," he said.
"With 'The Drew Carey Show,' well, it's a lot more work."
ABC wouldn't mind Carey staying with "Whose Line" either. If a Screen Actors Guild strike happens this year, the network is prepared to air multiple episodes of the show to fill scheduling gaps.
Carey says he and the comics are already taping episodes of "Whose Line" for the 2001-2002 season now.
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