Dominates Television Comedy

Frasier was the first television show to win five consecutive Emmy Awards for Outstanding Comedy Series. The situation comedy’s popularity demonstrated that the American public welcomed literate writing and highly intelligent characters.

Summary of Event

The television show Frasier originated with the character Dr. Frasier Crane, who was introduced on September 27, 1984, in the opening episode of the third season of the popular situation comedy (or sitcom) Cheers (1982-1993). Cheers (television program)
Television programs;Cheers Frasier, played by actor Kelsey Grammer, was a pompous yet likable psychiatrist and the love interest of Diane Chambers, a major character on Cheers. Originally, Grammer was hired for only seven episodes, but the character caught the audience’s attention, and Frasier became a regular on the show. The character was so successful that in 1989, three years before Cheers ended, Grammer was approached by executives at Paramount about doing his own show. Although committed to staying with Cheers for its duration, Grammer began planning a new show in 1990, meeting with a number of people, including the writing team of David Angell, Angell, David Peter Casey, Casey, Peter and David Lee, Lee, David who would also become the show’s producers. Frasier (television program)
Television programs;Frasier
[kw]Frasier Dominates Television Comedy (Sept. 16, 1993-May 13, 2004)
[kw]Television Comedy, Frasier Dominates (Sept. 16, 1993-May 13, 2004)
[kw]Comedy, Frasier Dominates Television (Sept. 16, 1993-May 13, 2004)
Frasier (television program)
Television programs;Frasier
[g]North America;Sept. 16, 1993-May 13, 2004: Frasier Dominates Television Comedy[08680]
[g]United States;Sept. 16, 1993-May 13, 2004: Frasier Dominates Television Comedy[08680]
[c]Radio and television;Sept. 16, 1993-May 13, 2004: Frasier Dominates Television Comedy[08680]
Grammer, Kelsey
Pierce, David Hyde
Mahoney, John
Leeves, Jane
Gilpin, Peri

The initial idea was that Grammer would play a new character, a bedridden mogul crippled in a motorcycle accident. The script was written, but the consensus was that the concept was not funny. After more discussion, it was decided that the character of Frasier would continue, but in a different place, Seattle, playing a radio talk-show host dispensing psychiatric advice, and with a different group of characters. The show was going to be set at radio station KACL, but Lee, whose father just had a stroke, was inspired to make the show both a workplace- and a home-based comedy, having Frasier taking care of his disabled father.

When Cheers concluded in 1993, additional actors for Frasier were hired. John Mahoney played Frasier’s father, Martin, a retired Seattle policeman whose “blue-collar” habits and mind-set contrast with the professional, elitist attitudes and demeanor Frasier exhibits. Niles, Frasier’s brother, also a psychiatrist but in private practice, was not part of the original concept until a casting director showed a picture of David Hyde Pierce to the producers. Pierce, who looked like a younger version of Grammer, was hired and instructed to play the role like Frasier, only “stuffier,” to act as Frasier might if he had not relocated to Boston and “become an actual human being.” Jane Leeves, an English actor, was hired to play Martin’s physical therapist, the occasionally psychic Daphne Moon, whose working-class background combines with Martin’s to puncture the pompousness of the Crane brothers. The final principal cast member was Peri Gilpin, who played Roz Doyle, the sexy, savvy producer of Frasier’s radio show. Gilpin was not the first actress cast as Roz; the producers had initially hired Lisa Kudrow, but they found that the dynamics between her version of Roz and Frasier did not work. An additional cast member, who received more fan mail than any other character, was a Jack Russell terrier named Eddie.

Angell, Casey, and Lee wrote the pilot script, “The Good Son,” in two weeks. The story was simple: Frasier now has the perfect life. He is single, has a fabulous apartment, and is just starting a new job. However, life intrudes when his father needs a place to live while recovering from a gunshot wound sustained in the line of duty. Martin comes with a dog, Eddie, who has a tendency to stare, and Martin’s disability requires a live-in health care worker. Frasier’s life and his apartment are turned upside down. His peace is shattered by “my father, Mary Poppins, and the hound from hell.”

Both the script and the episode’s director, James Burrows, Burrows, James won Emmy Awards. Emmy Awards The pilot episode was shot on May 4, 1993, two months after Cheers ended, before a live studio audience. When the filming concluded, the audience gave the cast a standing ovation. The show first aired on NBC on Thursday, September 16, 1993, at 9:30 p.m., following the popular Seinfeld. Reviews were good, praising the writing and applauding the cast. The show was a success and became NBC’s “best-performing rookie.”

Two major contributions to the success of the show were the writing and directing. The pilot episode introduced Frasier’s signature “hello” to those calling in to his radio program: “This is Dr. Frasier Crane. I’m listening.” What he heard were bizarre stories. The callers were played by celebrities who recorded their lines over the telephone. They included Linda Hamilton playing a woman with boyfriend problems, Christopher Reeve playing an agoraphobic, and Mel Brooks playing a man who had been traumatized by receiving a dead puppy from Santa. Witty dialogue from the cast included Frasier introducing himself to his radio audience by speaking about his past life in Boston and his wife who had left him, “which was very painful; then she came back, which was excruciating.” In another episode, Niles comments: “Oh dear, look at the time. I have a session with my multiple personality. Well, not to worry. If I’m late, he can just talk amongst himself.” The writers also created a character who is never seen—Niles’s wife Maris, described by Frasier as “bleached, 100 percent fat free, and best if kept in an airtight container.”

On stage and screen, direction is critical in establishing character. James Burrows helped create the cachets that typified the characters in Frasier. For example, in the pilot episode, Niles was to sit down in a chair at the Café Nervosa, a trendy coffee bar, to speak with Frasier; Burrows suggested that before Niles sat down, he should first wipe off the chair, showing his fastidious nature.

Following a successful first season, for which the show won four Emmys, Frasier was moved to Tuesday at 9:00 p.m., for the 1994-1998 seasons. It was moved back to Thursday in September of 1998, and in September of 2000, to Tuesday, where it remained until the final hour-long episode that aired May 13, 2004.


In its eleven seasons, Frasier won a record thirty-nine Emmy Awards. One of the reasons for the show’s success, as Grammer stated, was that it was “not like a sitcom.” Grammer and the producers agreed that the show would have neither stupid jokes nor stupid characters. Unlike many sitcoms, Frasier’s major character was not played by a comedian. Much of the humor of the show was developed through the contrast of the characters. The conflict between the brothers, a sophisticated version of sibling rivalry, generated humor, as did the opposition of down-to-earth, beer-drinking Martin to his sons’ sophistication, love of good wine, and knowledge of opera. While the sons dine at gourmet restaurants, Martin prefers Hoppy’s Old Heidelberg, featuring the “steak trolley.” The comedy, which Grammer described as minimalist, was also created through situations. Producer Peter Casey’s idea was to find “something small” and build an episode around it.

As noted by television critic Joseph Adalian, the show “succeeded by being distinct.” Rather than speeding up its pace, as many shows were doing at the time, Frasier did the opposite. The show’s executive producer, Christopher Lloyd, Lloyd, Christopher decided that, rather than having multiple scenes, the stories would be told “in the least number of scenes possible.” Settings were restricted to three: Frasier’s high-rise apartment, with its panoramic view of the Seattle skyline; the radio studio; and the aptly named Café Nervosa. Scene changes were indicated by catchy subtitles rather than by music. The song that accompanied the closing credits was “Tossed Salads and Scrambled Eggs,” by Bruce Miller and Daryl Phinessee, sung by Grammer. Miller said that the title referred to things that were “mixed up,” like Frasier’s callers.

What set Frasier apart from other sitcoms was that there were not always “perfect endings” to the stories. Moreover, as Grammer remarked in a 2004 interview published in USA Today, “No show has ever played up to its audience as well as ours did. We respected the idea that everyone in America is probably smarter than television gives them credit for.” Frasier (television program)
Television programs;Frasier

Further Reading

  • Adalian, Joseph. “The Doctor Is Out.” Daily Variety, May 13, 2004, p. A1. Detailed commentary of the various elements that contributed to the show’s success.
  • Angell, David, Peter Casey, and David Lee. The Frasier Scripts. Introduction by Christopher Lloyd. New York: Newmarket Press, 1999. Fifteen scripts, selected from seasons one through six, include “The Good Son,” the pilot script.
  • Gates, Anita. “Yes, America Has a Class System.” The New York Times, April 19, 1998, sec. II, p. 35. Lengthy discussion of the class system as explored in Frasier. Provides detailed information on what made the show a success.
  • Graham, Jefferson. Frasier. New York: Pocket Books, 1996. Includes material on the origins of the show, discussion of characters, biographical information on the actors, abstracts of episodes one through seventy-two, and a list of awards.
  • Grammer, Kelsey. So Far. New York: Dutton, 1995. Autobiography provides background information on the role of Frasier in Cheers and Frasier.
  • O’Connor, John J. “A Cheers Spinoff, Set in Seattle.” The New York Times, October 21, 1993, p. C22. Lengthy, favorable review of the first episode of Frasier.

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