Cleveland rocks on national TV again this summer, but it will be the last time for a while.

Missing in action since last summer, “The Drew Carey Show” returns to ABC with its final set of episodes starting Wednesday. The sitcom, which premiered in 1995, will offer two new episodes each Wednesday until the series finale. Expected to air just before the new season starts in September, the wrap-up will bring things full-circle for the fictionalized Carey and his comrades, executive producer Bruce Helford vows.

When things left off, Drew had become a loser in romance again – at the altar, no less – prompting him to realize whom he truly loved: his longtime friend Kellie (Cynthia Watros, a Daytime Emmy winner from her tenure on the CBS serial “Guiding Light”). Don’t expect things to be any easier for Drew this time around, since he can’t get Kellie to commit to spending the rest of her life with him.

Also continuing to challenge Drew’s peace of mind is his ultimate nemesis, sarcastic cosmetics overuser Mimi (Kathy Kinney), who moves in with him after she’s abandoned by her husband – Drew’s brother. The desertion leaves Mimi a single parent, arguably the only scenario in which Drew would take enough pity on her to actually open his home to her.

Back as well are Drew’s buddies Oswald and Lewis (Diedrich Bader and Ryan Stiles), whose friendship is threatened when sudden riches let Oswald become a partner in the gang’s favorite hangout, The Warsaw. Additional returnees include Drew’s former boss, Mr. Wick (Craig Ferguson), and matchmaker Larry (Ian Gomez, “Felicity”).

Although the show hasn’t been part of ABC’s in-season lineup since early 2003, the network’s license agreement calls for it to air the entire run of the series.

“ABC had always told us if we weren’t on the regular-season schedule, they would put us on in the summer,” Helford says, “because of the need now for original summer programming. I’m glad we’re going back on the air in our old timeslot; that was a big plus for me. Being back where our original and loyal audience knew where to find us will be terrific, so I see the way this has worked out as a real positive thing.”

Thanks in part to reruns on many local stations across the country, Helford says that “People have not forgotten the show by any stretch. Also, the great thing about Drew is that he recommitted himself to making sure this would be a great season. It’s as good as it’s been, one of the best seasons we’ve done. We start out with a bit of catch-up to bring people up to date, and once they’re there, I think they’ll really enjoy this.”

Except for original cast member Christa Miller Lawrence – who played Drew’s friend/girlfriend Kate and now has a recurring part on husband Bill Lawrence’s NBC show, “Scrubs” – “The Drew Carey Show” has kept its other founding players, a relative miracle for a series that has been on the air for the better part of a decade.

“In fact,” Helford says, “at the end of the series, the characters go back and reopen Winfred-Louder (the department store where many of them worked). We wanted to invoke that feeling again, and it comes through a really weird twist.”

Understandably, Cleveland has loved “The Drew Carey Show,” the city itself being a star of the energetic “Cleveland Rocks” opening sequence the series long used.

“No matter what was going on with our ratings, Cleveland was always the highest,” Helford says. “They supported us all the way through, and when we were actually there, it was just fantastic. It was like Beatlemania. People camped out near hotels where we stayed, shouting, “I love you, Lewis! I love you, Oswald!’ I think we also did a lot for the city, and if so, I’m glad we did. We showed what a fun city it was and is.”



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