So far, Drew Carey's current TV marriage is still in its honeymoon stages. Everything is going great.

If you've seen "The Drew Carey Show" (7:30 p.m., Ch. 4), you know that Carey's TV character isn't married. But he is in a figurative marriage with his hand-picked executive producer, Bruce Helford."I wanted a good partner," Carey said. "I don't like being told what to do. But I like working with people in partnership and getting their ideas and working as a team sort of hashing things out."

Carey said that he "courted people" in his search for a compatible producer.

"I had an idea of what I wanted in a `mate' . . . and I wanted to have this kind of show and this kind of working relationship," he said. "And I met with a bunch of different executive producers. We had lunch and stuff, and Bruce is the guy I clicked most with. So I kept on going until I found somebody I really fell in love with and really wanted to work with.

"And it's worked out great. Man, I couldn't be happier."

Which wasn't the case on the last sitcom Carey had signed up for - something called "Akron Man," which never made it on the air, much to Carey's relief.

"A lot of sitcoms are like forced marriages," he said. "You've got a deal with a studio, and they go, `Oh, you're really funny. We want to be in the Joe Blow business.' So they hire Joe Blow.

"And then they look around for one of these $5 million-a-year producers that they have hanging around and they go, `Oh, let's have this guy work with Joe Blow. He's a nice guy.' And they kind of force you together.

"And then, like a lot of shotgun marriages, it doesn't work out. You don't get along and stuff, and you end up getting a big, bitter divorce."

In Carey's case, the studio was Disney, and the high-priced producer was David Jacobs, whose credits include everything from "Charles in Charge" to "Boy Meets World" to "The Torkelsons" to "Maybe This Time."

"I'll be glad to send anybody a script if they want to see a sample of Mr. Jacobs' quality writing," Carey said sarcastically.

Jacobs, for his part, remembers the entire incident rather differently. He insists that there were no bad feelings between him and Carey, although he did say that "we had to spoonfeed him a bit" when Carey made an appearance on "The Torkelsons" and that "I wasn't sure that Drew was ready to do a pilot yet" when "Akron Man" came along.

Jacobs attributes the rift to the fact that Carey's "personification that he wanted to portray was not right for the piece. . . . What was right for Drew at that time was to discontinue the piece with Drew in it. And that's what we did, and that's what I think he's talking about. I know he has held a grudge, and I'm sorry that he has."

Carey's "love affair" with Helford stands in stark contrast to what has happened to so many other stand-up comedians who star in their own sitcoms. Roseanne and Brett Butler have had very public battles with their producers, and even Ellen DeGeneres is on her fourth set of producers as the show enters its third season.

And the problems often come when the stand-up, who has created his or her comedic persona, sees others trying to translate that persona onto the small screen.

"Sometime it really works out," Carey said of those "shotgun marriages" behind the sitcom scenes. "And sometimes it doesn't because you figure this is your one big chance and if somebody's messing up the persona you've created on stage - it's like they're really messing with you personally. And you don't take it as an actor in a role, you take it as a personal thing. And that's why they rebel so much."

Helford has first-hand experience with battles like that.

"We have a big advantage in the fact that I ran `Roseanne' for a year, and I learned from that experience how you can get off on the wrong foot," he said. Helford was there when Roseanne had a meltdown with her first executive producer, Matt Williams.

(Their battles are now legendary, and he ended up leaving the show at the end of the first season.)

"Matt Williams is a wonderful writer and a great guy and everything else, but in some ways, (Roseanne) did feel locked out of the process in the beginning," Helford said. "And I have learned the result of what that brings, when (Carey) and I sat down, we said, `We're doing this together from the very beginning.' "

And he's not afraid to let people know that Carey is as much in charge as he is.

"I think there are a lot of producers who are too ego-involved to let a good comic mind into their process, whether they're insecure or they just feel it's a hard way to go procedurally because there are so many more layers of people you have to go through," Helford said.

Helford actually hired Carey as a writer on another series he produced, the short-lived "Someone Like Me," "so that he could learn the process."

Helford and Carey co-wrote the pilot episode of "The Drew Carey Show," and Helford has vowed to keep his star involved in the writing process.

"I insist on Drew being in the writing room as much as possible because it's great to have him there and it's great for the writers to know what he likes, doesn't like, (and) what he feels he can do best and not do best," Helford said. "So we have that advantage.

"Usually when you're on a show it's, `A star is coming! Quick! Pretend you're doing something else!' "

At the moment, Carey's biggest worry about his executive producer is that he may not be around enough. Helford is also the executive producer of the CBS sitcom "Bless This House."

"He's got two shows now," Carey said. "I said I was going to be the only comic that has his own show who's going to be fighting to keep his producer on the show."

ROAD COMPANIONS: Like his character on TV, Carey is Cleveland born and bred. And proud of it.

As part of their getting-to-know-each-other indoctrination, Carey and Helford traveled to Ohio together.

"We actually drove to Cleveland together," Helford said. "I don't fly, so we took some time to do some research and we drove together."

"That was in January," Carey interjected. "And at first ABC and Warner Bros. didn't want to pay for the trip. And Bruce is going, `What, do you think I want to drive to Cleveland in January for (expletive deleted) fun? . . . You think this is my vacation?' "

EGOMANIAC: Although he's now the star of his own sitcom, Carey said he has no plans to stop doing his stand-up act.

"I love doing stand-up. And I hope to do it the rest of my life," he said.

So why do a TV show - which will, inevitably, mean less time to go out on the road and perform?

"There was my secret egomaniac inside me saying, `You have to be the star of your own show like every other comic. And if you aren't, you're just not as good as everybody else,' " Carey said. "So that was my big goal."