Friday, September 25, 2009

The REAL story of how FRASIER came to be

This is why you need to read the comments. Readers pose interesting questions. Others respond. And occasionally a show's creator weighs in with the real scoop. That's what happened today. David Lee, one of the co-creators of FRASIER responds to a discussion thread.

Here's the original comment:

Michael R, Singapore said...

I have always wondered where the idea came from to spin-off the Frasier character into his own show. Was the idea first to spin-off a CHEERS character, then producers/writers met to discuss which one? How close did we come to getting CLIFF or WOODY? Personally, I thought the show would flop because I thought Frasier was insufferable on CHEERS and the most unsympathetic character to base a show around. So, how did you know that he was the one to spin off? Though I still hate Frasier (the character), I was shocked at how good the show was just by the supporting characters and the writing.

Followed by:

Brian Phillips said:

To answer "Michael R, Singapore"

"I have always wondered where the idea came from to spin-off the Frasier character into his own show."

In Kelsey Grammer's autobiography, Grammer said that the original show that he wanted to do after "Cheers" was a variant on "The Man Who Came To Dinner". He would play a bed-ridden screenwriter (or producer, I forget), who ruled the roost from his bed and made life miserable for all the other people in the house. NBC's Brandon Tartikoff either read the script or saw a pilot and he told Grammer, "I think comedies should be funny."

Having taken that note to heart, he decided that it would be best to go with a character that the audience already knew and liked. I don't recall whether the spin-off was pitched to him before he tried the bed-ridden curmudgeon idea or not, though.

And now the REAL answer, graciously submitted by one of the gentlemen who actually MADE the decision -- David Lee.

To answer Brian Phillips:

The decision to spin the character of Frasier off CHEERS was actor driven at first. Kelsey had done a guest spot on WINGS and won and emmy for it. He decided he'd like Angel Casey and Lee (that would be me) to develop a series for him. We did not want to do a spinoff at first, so we pitched him an idea based on a Malcolm Forbes type mega millionaire who is injured on his motorcycle. The series would revolve primarily about his relationship with his home health care worker (are you starting to see echoes of what would later evolve?) It was not about him driving the household crazy, though I'm sure that would have happened. Kelsey liked it. We pitched it to John Pike, then head of Paramount TV, and it was he who uttered the ""I think comedies should be funny" line. (This was, I thought, a ridiculously dismissive comment. Think of pitching a series about a medical unit in the midst of the carnage of the Korean War and the response being ""I think comedies should be funny.")

Still, we abandoned the idea (it was never a script or an outline.) Pike then pushed us toward the spin off. He said we had a tremendous asset and we might want to take advantage of it. We agreed, but with the caveat that there would be no other characters spun off from the show. So that is why you never saw CARLA! or NORM! or CLIFF!

PS Peter David and I always credit John Pike with really being the executive who made that show happen, despite the thousands of people who would lay claim to that credit. Sadly, he was fired by the time the first episode aired.

Thanks again to David Lee. I now owe him eight lunches, five dinners, and a Manny Ramirez bobblehead.

30 comments:

A. Buck Short said...

Wow, not only true and enjoyable, but logical. What a country. Now if you can only get James Madison to explain how the Federalist Papers came to be spun off of the US Constitution, we've got a shot at PBS.

PS: If this is still open for Friday questions, can anybody suggest why in God's name the Nasonex bee in those commercials has a Spanish accent?

briddie said...

I second the Nasonex bee question. Especially since I had a discussion with my sister who was sure it was a French accent. And she's even been to Spain so she should know better.

Richard Y said...

I'll chime in on a Friday Question regarding the Nielsen television ratings. I have read (or heard) that they claim to have a 50,000 household list (also heard that it is only 5,000). Regardless of the number it is what advertising rates are established by and if a TV program fails or succeeds.

With that low of a number generating what the rest of the country watches long term why can't they tap into the two largest cable providers, Cox and Comcast, for example to generate the figures? They would be able to see not only what is being viewed 'live' but what is also being recorded (Tivo, DVR) and does not make any difference when it is watched.

Wouldn't this be a more accurate figure for the networks and advertisers to go by. No privacy issues as only the program information is gathered not where you live although they could also include geographical areas. Just a thought.

YEKIMI said...

Believe it or not the Nasonex Bee is voiced by Antonio Banderas, therefore the Spanish accent. The tried to get an American bee but due to Colony Collapse Disorder they couldn't find one, so it was outsourced to a foreign bee.

Matt said...

QUESTION: From time to time during opening show credits you'll see the list of actors/actresses in the show and there is always one actor (or actress) who is listed along with the name of the character they play. Why is this?

Take Taxi as an example:

Judd Hirsch in

TAXI

Also starring Jeff Conaway
Danny DeVito
Marilu Henner
Tony Danza
Randall Carver
and Andy Kaufman as Latka Gravas

Why is Andy Kaufman listed along with the character he plays?

Allen L. said...

Bees that fly off and harvest pollen are neither spanish nor male.
They are female. The males are drones that service the queen.
Nasonex knows nothing.

Bob Chesson said...

Hi Ken - One of my all time favorite CHEER'S episode is the Thanksgiving Orphans episode where the CHEER's crew goes to Norm's and a food fight ensues. Having unfortunately not viewed ALMOST PERFECT until directed to in your blog to youtube, I watched the WRAP PARTY episode where there is a food fight in the restaurant involving desert tarts. Did you and your partner write either? Was the WRAP PARTY episode a type of homage to the CHEERS episode? Am I just a conspiracy nut?

Thanks in advance.

Bob

Dave Creek said...

I second the credits question. I first noticed this on HOMICIDE: LIFE ON THE STREET, where the only actor identified by his character was Ned Beatty, the most recognizable name on the list. In those pre-IMDB days, it was years before I knew who all the other actors, besides Yaphet Kotto and Richard Belzer, were.

My favorite, thought, was STAR TREK: GENERATIONS, where the only ID was William Shatner as Capt. James T. Kirk. Yeah -- thanks for telling me.

Peter J. said...

I hate to bring it up---I really do---but there was another Cheers spinoff: The Tortellis. I guess "the caveat that there would be no other characters spun off from the show" holds in that Nick and Loretta were recurring characters rather than regulars, but they didn't exist before (or for long after) Cheers....

Shelia said...

Thank God the Nasonex bee issue has been resolved. I wondered about the Spanish accent too. I tell ya, this is the most educational blog ever.

Peter J. said...

@Richard Y: I've worked in software development for both providers (and others) for a long time and asked the same question several years ago. At that time the answer boiled down to "yeah, that does sound like something they'd want to do, doesn't it?" (Of course, that was when we were a little "interactive television" startup, and Nielsen had no idea who we were.)

The technology for them to get the viewer data has been around for quite a while. There is a substantial chunk of the market that's not watching on cable (notably satellite and OTA) that they couldn't measure as easily and probably don't want to discount, although they could adjust for that. If I were pressed, I'd have to guess it's partly due to competition and proprietariness, but mostly because the current system is "good enough". It's been a while since my stats classes, but somewhere between 5000 and 50,000 is probably a valid sample size.

chalmers said...

...and I always thought the Nasonex bee was an homage to the Simpsons' "Bumblebee Man" character who appears on Channel Ocho.

Lawrence Fechtenberger said...

Actually, the Bumblebee Man is himself an homage, to a character on the Mexican TV show CHESPRITO (which used to run frequently on Univision, and perhaps still does--I have not looked recently). I do not think the original character was a bee, but he was some sort of anthropomorphized insect.

Re: credits in which only one actor is identified by character. My understanding is that actors who have some clout, but who are not able to get billing as high as they would like, insist on this as a way of making their credits stand out.

Mike said...

Re: the credits question: I think it mostly has to do with the name recognition of the actor. In the case of Taxi, while Latka was by no means the star of the show, Andy Kaufman was a very big name at the time, bigger than most of the other names in the cast. But he wasn't the main character in the show, so he couldn't get top billing. By listing Kaufman with his character's name, he stood out from the other names in the cast, but in a way that doesn't give him top billing, which would make his character seem bigger than it really was.

Bewitched, which listed "and Agnes Moorehead as Endora," and Happy Days, which listed "and also starring Tom Bosley as Howard Cunningham, were two other examples of this. Neither Endora nor Mr. C were the main characters of their shows, but (at least when the shows started) the actors playing the roles were better known than most of the other characters in the cast.

Chris L said...

Do a YouTube search for "El Chapulin Colorado" if you want to see the original bumblebee man. Man, is that stuff corny.

Michael said...

At the risk of seeming disrespectful to those wonderful performers identified with their characters, I much prefer Gary Owens announcing, "And Morgul, as the friendly Drelb," at the beginning of Laugh-In.

Joe said...

Maybe it's just me being wildly inattentive, but I have never read a story involving a studio executive that referred to him (or, let's be fair, her) along the lines of "X, who was the head of ____ Studios and is still there."

Bobomo said...

What did he do to you that you owe him a Manny bobblehead?

Brian Phillips said...

Thank you for the clarification. I stand corrected. It's been a long time since I heard the Grammer autobiography and it's better to get the straight story than to see my vague recollections surface as "fact" somewhere else.

Thanks to David Lee to set the record straight and I apologize for my factual goofs!

Brian Phillips said...

Another reference to "El Chapulin Colorado" is in the movie "My Family". One of the grandsons is called, "Mi Chapulin".

Paul Duca said...

I;m sure that Manny bobblehead will look lovely in David's Palm Springs residence. I've posted about it before after I read about it in a magazine. He lives in Dinah Shore's old place and has a sauna where her fur vault was.

Interesting point about credits including the name of the character the actor plays. I'm a fan of the show I like to call CSI: OLD SCHOOL but everyone else refers to as QUINCY, M.E.

The title sequence just shows "Jack Klguman as", and the other series regulars are listed during the opening scenes of Act One. along with the episode title/guest star/producer/writer/director credits.
In the later seasons of the run, the rest of the cast has their character name added to the credit. I've wondered about that.

chalmers said...

Jeff Conaway claims that coming off of "Grease," he was promised above-title billing a la "Judd Hirsch and Jeff Conaway in Taxi."

"Man on the Moon" does a pretty good job recounting the desperation to have Kaufman join the "Taxi" cast and become the show's breakout "Fonzie" character.

Kaufman was reluctant to do the show and made a series of outrageous demands that he figured would ruin his chances: he'd only do half of the epsiodes; he'd only rehearse one day in the weeks he worked; he wanted an ABC primetime special and two network appearances for his alter ego, Tony Clifton.

Amazingly, ABC capitulated. The only hitch was that "Clifton" was fired for boorish set behavior during one of appearances--as Louie's gambler brother on a Taxi Christmas episode. His other network appearance, on a Muppet special, did occur.

Craig McNamara said...

"I hate to bring it up---I really do---but there was another Cheers spinoff: The Tortellis."

Actually, that short-lived show was "spun off" while "Cheers" was still on the air. I think the point Lee was making was that he didn't want "Frasier" to have to compete with other "Cheers" characters in their own shows.

Anonymous said...

Sorry for the anonymous post, but Google/Blogger is vexing me.
Yes, "The Tortellis" was long in its very short coffin before "Frasier" was even a gleam in ACL's eyes.

We were in a pretty strong negotiating position with the network re: other "Cheers" spinoffs, but did not have enough muscle to alter history.

And I graciously accept the Manny Bobblehead with hope that it comes with an explanation of exactly what it is.

Kirk Jusko said...

You also sometimes see those kind of credits on the big screen. In the 1970s, there was a movie called METEOR that credited "Henry Fonda as the President"

Oddly enough, he got no such special credit 10 years earlier in FAIL-SAFE

Cap'n Bob Napier said...

I've always believed that the longer the credit, the more important the actor supposedly was. The one that stands out in my mind is The Big Valley: "Starring MISS BARBARA STANWYCK as Victoria Barkley."(Your spellings may vary.) I'm amazed they didn't list her as Mrs. Victoria, etc., and squeeze in one more word.

I thought the Nasonex Bee was one of those killer bees from Mexico, hence the accent.

Vermonter17032 said...

Just one clarification: Isn't "Manny Ramirez bobblehead" a redundancy?

dicentra63 said...

Bob Cheeson:

Correction: The Thanksgiving episode with the food fight happened in Carla's new house.

God bless Netflix, I know that one.

Anonymous said...

My favorite credit of all time is from Hawaii Five-o.

"Zulu As Kono"

SuperBK said...

Hi Ken, question for you: Why do some DVD's have a different theme song on them? Is it so the studio doesn't have to pay royalties to the singer and musicians? If they make a deal to use it for TV, they don't negotiate the deal right then for DVD distribution? Two instances of this are Married with Children DVD's I just bought and some old Beverly Hillbilies VHS tapes from some years ago. Shows just aren't the same without the songs!
Thanks, Brian