Wednesday, December 06, 2006
How FRASIER came to be
While I’m in New York, I have a guest blogger. Be nice to the substitute teacher, kids.
A number of readers have asked about the creation of FRASIER. Instead of giving my version, which has ME responsible for the whole thing, I asked Peter Casey, one of the show’s creators if he wouldn’t mind telling you the real story. Not only was he gracious enough to say yes but he filed a wonderfully detailed and comprehensive account. There’s even stuff that I didn’t know… and I was there. Enjoy!
Hello, everybody from beautiful Los Angeles, California. Peter Casey here, co-creator of FRASIER. I want to thank Ken Levine for offering me this space on his blog and I especially want to thank those of you who showed such interest in the creation of FRASIER.
As best I can recall, and these days that’s a real iffy proposition, we (David Lee, David Angell, and myself) were approached by Kelsey Grammer in the spring or summer of 1993. He wanted to know if we would be interested in creating a new tv series in which he would star. He felt that CHEERS was coming to an end and it was time for him to have his own show. At the time, the three of us were working on our first creation, WINGS. The previous season on WINGS, Kelsey and Bebe Neuwirth had been guest stars on a very funny episode written by Ken Levine and David Isaacs. We had worked for a number of years with Kels on CHEERS, and he apparently enjoyed the WINGS experience and hoped that we could re-unite.
David, David, and I had always felt that the Frasier character was the most interesting and complex on CHEERS. However, we were skittish about doing a spin off of one of the most popular sitcoms of all time. When we had created WINGS, most of the reviews were favorable, but the phrase, “CHEERS in an airport” was mentioned a few times and not in a favorable fashion. We frankly feared that anything we created for Frasier would pale in comparison to CHEERS. Kelsey wasn’t particularly interested in continuing the character of Frasier either, so we came up with a new concept. Kelsey would play this very high-brow, eccentric multi-millionaire publisher (think Malcom Forbes) in New York who was paralyzed from the waist down in a motorcycle accident. He would run his publishing empire from his bed in his fabulous Manhattan penthouse. His live-in nurse would be a very street smart, dedicated Hispanic woman (we pictured Rosie Perez) who would be a thorn in his side, but bring out the humanity in him.
Kelsey liked it, Paramount hated it. They said we were crazy if we didn’t capitalize on the popularity of CHEERS and the huge audience that would tune in to the finale. They ultimately persuaded Kelsey they were right and when he told us he was willing to do the CHEERS spin-off, we reluctantly agreed.
Okay, we’d do a CHEERS spin-off, but there was no way it was going to stay in Boston. NBC was enamored of this scheduling stunt called the crossover. A crossover is when a character from one series “crosses over” and appears as that character on another series. We did it on WINGS with Norm and Cliff and also with Frasier and Lillith. It was logical because Nantucket is not that far from Boston and we were struggling some in the ratings. It gives the show a temporary bump in the numbers, but you frankly don’t feel good about yourself. You’d like your show to succeed on its own merits and not need a boost from another show. We only did those two on WINGS, but we felt if Frasier stayed in Boston, NBC would be demanding guest appearances from all the CHEERS cast throughout the first season. How could we form our own identity and make people forget we were offspring of CHEERS if those characters were constantly visiting Frasier? So, we decided to move Frasier out west.
Our original city was Denver, but soon after that decision the state of Colorado voted in a law, with which we disagreed, that was very unfavorable toward gays. So we decided to move Frasier even farther west. Kids, it doesn’t get much farther west than Seattle. Ultimately, it was a much better choice. Seattle was pretty cutting edge at that time. It was the center of the grunge scene, the coffee revolution was taking off, it had a great arts community, and their restaurants were exploring new and exciting cuisines. All in all, it was fertile ground for Frasier and an inconvenient schlep across the country for the CHEERS gang. We didn’t have a problem having Lilith visit because she was his ex-wife and they shared a son. It was organic. The other characters would take some fancy footwork, but after the show established itself that first season, we didn’t have a problem doing one CHEERS character a season.
The original concept was for Frasier to work in the radio station surrounded by a group of wacky, yet loveable characters. (The term “wacky, yet loveable” is music to the ears of the network execs. “Stern, yet despicable” gets you shown the door) This idea came from a story idea at CHEERS which we were never able to make work where Frasier sat in for a local Boston radio host. We didn’t want to have Frasier in a private practice because we felt like it would look too much like the BOB NEWHART SHOW. Yet, the more we worked on the radio station concept, it sounded like WKRP IN CINCINNATI. What to do? Well, like a lot of writers we went to our own lives for material. David Lee’s father had recently had a stroke and David, being an only child, was helping his mother by taking on a lot of the responsibility of arranging the care for his disabled dad.
One day David came into the office and pitched the idea of Frasier having to care for an ailing, aging parent, something many people Frasier’s age were facing. We could keep the radio station, but now add a home life. David Angell and I both liked this idea immediately. We had seen very little of Frasier’s home life in CHEERS so this seemed to open up the possibility for lots of stories. Frasier didn’t have much of a family history so we pretty much had free rein to create what we wanted. (It was only after we were in rehearsals for the pilot that Kelsey mentioned that he had said his father was a research scientist in a episode of CHEERS which was produced after the three of us had left the show. At that point we pretty much said, “Screw it. We’re not changing our concept . We’re moving on”)
To create Frasier’s father we wanted to have someone very different than Frasier. Those differences create conflict; conflict creates humor, so we came up with Martin, a down-to-earth, no-nonsense ex-policeman. (We took Martin’s career out of my life. Both my father and grandfather were San Francisco policemen) Initially, some people said how do two such sophisticates as Frasier and Niles come from a guy like Martin? We told them the truth…David Lee is every bit as different from his father as the Cranes.
Tomorrow, the story behind Niles.