Friday, December 08, 2006

FRASIER starring Lisa Kudrow??

Peter Casey, one of the creators of FRASIER, has been kind enough to share with us the complete story of how that classic series came to be. Here’s the final segment. Again, thanks Peter. GREAT stuff and it’s nice to have a couple days off.

As I mentioned earlier, Roz was the least developed of all the main characters in the pilot. We hadn’t really come up with a definitive take on her, so as a result, we told our casting director, Jeff Greenberg, to bring us the whole rainbow coalition of actresses to read for the part. We saw every age and ethnic background. We read dozens of actresses. One thing we felt pretty sure about was that we wanted the character to be ballsy and salty. She was supposed to be someone who Frasier was smarter than, more educated than, but was completely inferior to in the setting of the radio station. That was her stomping ground and she was the alpha dog there.

After all the casting sessions we had narrowed our choice to two actresses; Peri Gilpin and Lisa Kudrow. Lisa didn’t exactly fit the mold of what we were looking for in terms of a strong-willed character, but she was really funny. Her quirkiness made lines that weren’t intended as jokes hilarious. So we brought both of the ladies to NBC for the executives to see. Both read, and in the end it was decided to cast Lisa.

Shortly thereafter we had the first reading of the script. It was the first time we gathered the whole cast together. Paramount and NBC executives were there. Agents and managers were there. And apparently the guardian angel of comedy was somewhere in that room, too, because the reading was hysterical. Huge laughs. Everyone felt we were embarking on something very special. As is always the case, the script was long and there were jokes that either needed sharpening or were just plain duds so we set about re-writing. This is how each day of the pilot production went; the cast would rehearse, the writers would come to the stage in the afternoon for a run-thru, then we’d go back to the offices to re-write and cut.

By the third day of rehearsals it was becoming apparent to Jim Burrows, Kelsey, and the three of us that things weren’t going so well with Lisa as Roz. Although she remained funny in her quirky way, we found that each day we were re-writing the character less strong because Lisa just didn’t play forceful. More importantly, what Jimmy noticed was that Kelsey was pulling back in scenes with her because if he went all out like he usually did, he completely overpowered her. This was a big problem. We didn’t want the star of the show to have to compensate like that in every scene with one of the regulars, so with great regret we called Lisa and told her we were going to have to recast the part. We felt awful because she was a really, really lovely person with whom to work. And I know she was heartbroken that it had come to this, but she handled it with a lot of class. (Our consciences were assuaged the next year when she was cast in FRIENDS)

Jeff Greenberg contacted Peri, who was having lunch at a restaurant, and told her to report to Paramount the next day to play Roz. Jeff said he could hear her scream from across town without needing the phone.

So, finally our cast was set. From that point on through the rest of rehearsals things went smoothly. We re-wrote Roz back to her original character and Peri made it work wonderfully.

Our art director, Roy Christopher, had created amazing sets for us, and he would be rewarded that first year with an Emmy nomination. Frasier’s condo was stylish and contemporary with multi-levels and lots of doors and hallways to provide us with a multitude of exits and entrances. It had a piano (which both Kelsey and David could play) for a big prop and a balcony (equipped to rain when needed) and that gorgeous Seattle skyline (day and night). The radio station was modeled on the KABC radio studios in Los Angeles which we had visited while doing research. Café Nervosa was completely Roy’s creation and was designed so our character could sit and play a scene at any table in the café (after all, you rarely get the same table every time you go into your favorite haunt)

The night we filmed the pilot was magic. We’d had a dress rehearsal that afternoon with an audience (the first time we’d let the public see the show) and it had gone better than we could’ve hoped. They were laughing from the beginning to the end. And when Jimmy Burrows finally called out, “That’s our show!”, the audience rose to their feet for a standing ovation. We all said we should’ve filmed that show because that evening’s audience couldn’t be any better…but they were. Again, big laughs in all the right places and again a standing ovation. Two things about that filming have stood out over the years for me. First, Jane Leeves had invited her friend, Valerie Bertinelli, to the filming. Valerie must’ve really loved the show because you can hear her laugh all the way through the show on the soundtrack. Second, all the NBC executives were in a glassed-in booth above the back of the audience during the filming. At one point during Frasier’s first scene with his father, Martin makes a sarcastic remark about his ratty chair fitting in with Frasier’s expensive furniture because “it’s eclectic.” It’s a great callback joke from earlier in the scene and the audience just erupted. I turned around and looked up to the NBC booth to see their reactions. Not only were they all laughing, but all I could see of Warren Littlefield, the president, was the soles of his shoes because was tilted back in his chair he was laughing so hard. I nudged David Angell, pointed to Warren’s shoes and said, “We’re in.”

Our biggest struggle after filming the pilot was cutting it down to time. We were something like six minutes long, which is a lot. We cut and cut and cut some more. We cut things we liked and we cut things we loved. Still, after 6 or 7 passes at the show we were still a minute long. We felt we had cut it to the bare bones. Any more cuts could damage the show so we went to Paramount with our dilemma. Thankfully, they agreed with us and asked NBC to give us some extra time. After viewing what we hoped would be our final cut, NBC agreed to give us that extra minute which was a very big favor. So, how do they come up with that extra minute of programming time for us? Don’t think that all they have to do is cut a commercial or two. Are you crazy? That’s money. No, to give us that extra minute, they asked the three other comedies and one drama on that Thursday night to each cut 15 seconds out of their programs. It’s not something that’s done very often and it’s not something the network likes to do, but for that pilot of Frasier they felt it was worth it.

Well, that about covers the creative process that went into FRASIER. I want to thank Ken Levine, funnyman, baseball announcer, and longtime friend for inviting me as a guest on his blog. And I would also especially like to thank you, the fans of FRASIER. You’re the reason we ran for eleven wonderful years and the reason you can still see the show in syndication. I wish I could buy each of you a grande nonfat double espresso latte with caramel, but then I’d have to create another hit series.



Angela said...

Thanks for the wonderful story. To this day, Frasier remains one of my favorite shows to watch. Television comedy and character development at it's finest!

Anonymous said...

Hello, Peter! I've been enjoying this story because I know how it comes out in the end.

I also have a minor TV-historical footnote to chip in: when Sam Johnson and I (and the estimable Glenn Eichler, I should add) were developing the "Daria" pilot, there was a significant faction at MTV that wanted to keep as much of "Beavis and Butt-head" flavor as possible. Understandable, but we were opposed. To support our case, we often used "Frasier" as a touchstone -- specifically, your willingness to move far afield from the source material in order to be true to the character.

I think we may have told you that when we interviewed. I hope we did. I'd hate to think we had a whole piece of flattery available that we failed to deploy.

Anonymous said...

sometimes you see something and you think "well, gosh, I can do that" maybe it's not true but it can get your butt in gear.

other times you see the craft like a good pair of shoes - this is one of those times.

the function of Roz's character, hell, of ALL the characters to serve the whole - wow! it's really very well thought out, isn't it?

thanks for taking the time to post these!

Mike Barer said...

Peri was perfect for the part, I enjoyed her more than Jane. Her fun side always came though. She seemed like a lady you would party with.

Anonymous said...

>I wish I could buy each of you a grande nonfat double espresso latte with caramel, but then I’d have to create another hit series.

I know I speak for many when I say, please create another hit series. There is nothing currently on television that I make a point to watch. In fact, tonight is typical. The TV hasn't even been turned on. But, I looked forward to your post on this blog. Thanks again for the entertainment.

wcdixon said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
wcdixon said...

Invaluable invaluable invaluable. Yes, fates aligned and good fortune shined...but still, seeing how it all came to be was a treat to read.

Thanks much.

Anonymous said...

Roz was always a favourite character. In the second half of the run especially, her relationship with all the characters had real, natural way about them. A relaxed friendship with Daphne, a lightly flirtatious tone with Martin, an fun sharpness with Niles and a proper deep understanding with Frasier.

Grubber said...

Ken, thank you for allowing Peter to entertain us with this wonderful account of the beginnings of Frasier, and a big thank you to Peter for doing so.

Loved both Cheers and Frasier.

kind regards,

Ger Apeldoorn said...

Thanks for these three days, Peter. And Ken thanks for letting Peter take over. Maybe you can elaborate on a personal note, like telling us about your first Frasier script.

There is much to comment about and most of the comments would be about how great the show is. But since you mentioned the set, let me ad that the Frasier set is one of the most clever I have ever seen. It took weeks and weeks to figure out the floor plan. Which I started doing when there was a show that showed that you could see over the piano into the kitchen from the balcony! Huh? I just had to draw that out. And I still haven't figured out the left hand side spatial relation between the front door and the 'ladies room'. It succesfully did what a sitcom set should do: create the feeling that there is no back wall you are looking at, so that any shot seems independend from the others and there is no sense of a missing 'forth wall' making it more like theatre than film - which in these days is essential.

Anonymous said...

Excellent - even the comments are drawing up great supplementary material for the avid reader. It's so rare to fine a place to read not only about the development of a show, but even the critical role a set plays. These past three installments left me wishing for more along the same lines, but then, that's how a good show should leave off, isn't it.

stephen said...

This account of Frasier's origins first appeared in a book called, "The First Time I Got Paid For It," which is several writers' accounts of their first sale, in this case, the first time Peter sold a pilot with minimal interference from the network.

check it out.

Anonymous said...


Thanks so much for relating the story of the evolution of FRASIER. As Ken knows, I was doing some work for Rudy Hornish when he headed up GRAMMNET for Kelsey in its infancy (about the same time FRASIER premiered) and Rudy had told me a few of the details about how the show came to be. It was great getting the whole story. Rudy even gave me an informal tour of the nearly-finished set about two weeks before the pilot was filmed -- it was as grand and so perfectly Frasier Crane just as you described. Hope you and David can come up with another hit soon.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the story. I am a huge fan of Frasier and appreciate it more now that I know all of the hard work it took to get on the air.

Anonymous said...

This has been a fantastic read. Thank you, Peter.

And thank you, Ken. If you're still in NYC, allow me to buy you a drink. Something to keep the cold away.


Anonymous said...

Great contribution, these posts. Thanks. What about a blog titled, By Peter Casey?


Thank you, Peter.
Interesting and entertaining story-telling...much like "Frasier," itself.

The Bumble Bee Pendant said...

my wife were talking about this last night, funnily enough.

we were watching Friends and we were saying that it's amazing that they couldn't take a funny actor and character like Joey and create a decent sitcom from it.

and we said that its amazing how they could take a character like Frasier and create a completely didn't show from Cheers. Because Cheers and Frasier have nothing in common in terms of style of humor.

The amazing thing about Frasier is that it used the same core cast the whole time it was around. No additions (not counting minor characters) and no actors leaving.

That's a rarity in TV.
Only other shows I can think of that were able to do that for its entire 6 seasons or more run:

and maybe
Seinfeld (though they had so many minor characters that it shouldn't count)

Dave Olden said...

>>Instead of giving my version,
>>which has ME responsible for
>>the whole thing,

Ken, had you have posted that version, the response it would have brought from Peter would have been a gas to read. I would have made popcorn, and invited friends, and who knows... there may have even been a betting pool.

Peter, I have to ditto all the commenteers; loved the origin story.

Peter and Ken and everyone at "Frasier," thanks for one of the best contemporary sitcoms.

Do it again, please.

--Dave O

Dave Olden said...

>>Instead of giving my version,
>>which has ME responsible for
>>the whole thing,

Ken, had you have posted that version, the response it would have brought from Peter would have been a gas to read. I would have made popcorn, and invited friends, and who knows... there may have even been a betting pool.

Peter, I have to ditto all the commenteers; loved the origin story.

Peter and Ken and everyone at "Frasier," thanks for one of the best contemporary sitcoms.

Do it again, please.

--Dave O

Anonymous said...

Thank you for such a wonderful story. I kept thinking there would be some Hollywood-ish disaster in there somewhere, but what a wonderful surprise to see that these things sometimes work out well. I loved the show when it was on.

Miles said...

Thank you Peter.

More of stories like these, please, Ken!


Anonymous said...

Really enjoyable reading. Thanks, so much!

Just one question: what about the theme song? I read one theory that it was all about Frasier as a talk shrink: "I hear the blues a callin'...tossed salads and scrambled eggs (meaning nutballs.)" Is that about right?

Anonymous said...

DHP's scene with Eddie and the flaming ironing board is an absolute MARVEL!
Thanks for the great laughs

Anonymous said...

What a great story, all three parts of it. Thanks, Peter, and thanks to Ken, too, for inviting Peter to relate it.

Frasier, I thought, went out as strong as it came in--that final episode could just as easily have been a season finale as a series finale, and it would have worked perfectly well if we'd come back in the fall to find Frasier building a new life in a new city once again.

Richard Cooper said...

I have seen people fall down laughing at so many scenes from this show. Remember the one where Niles had the bird on his head and they put a towel over it to hide it? Don't get me started! Thanks for the inside story!

Tooomz said...

Frasier is one of my favorite shows. Thank you for taking us back to the beginning. Hope you'll be back as a guest writer on Ken's blog again.

Anonymous said...

What I want to know is, why the actor who played "Bulldog" kept getting into publicity pictures as though he was one of the leads of the show. I thought his character was generally of a minor nature, and for to be treated otherwise always confused me.

Mike Barer said...

Bulldog was starting to apear regularly and was responsible for some great gags.

Anonymous said...

Frasier was a great sitcom, but you had to suspend your belief often.

Early in the series, Martin stated he had no brothers. Then there was the classic episode with Patty Lupone playing Martin's sister-in-law (keeping him from a relationship with his brother).

The classic "Ski Lodge" episode (which I think is the best) has Niles basically declaring his interest in Daphne in her presence but that is ignored for a few seasons.

This is a sitcom, not a chronicle of life. But, it is a great sitcom.

Gordon said...

Wonderful. Thanks so much for writing that up, I'm a big fan and this was a fascinating series of posts.

Buttermilk Sky said...

Has nobody mentioned Frasier's evil twin, Cam Winston? The episode where they negotiate a truce is one of my favorites. Even better is the two-part involving the gigantic flag -- a sharp comment on the hyper-patriotism of the post-9/11 period. The casting of Brian Stokes Mitchell was inspired.

Anonymous said...

Frazier was such a great show.... I liked it much better than Cheers.

Moe said...

FRASIER is my all time favourite sitcom. In fact I have all but 2 seasons on DVD. However I do have one question. Why does the out of reach cheerleader whom Frasier had a huge crush on back in high school have her first name change from Lorna to Lana In in later episodes?

Also thank you very much Ken for being so thoughtful, and Peter for being so generous in providing all this great info for the many many FRASIER fans throughout.- Moe

Anonymous said...

More Frasier. Please.