Saturday, February 13, 2010

The inside story of the Niles silent scene

David Lee, the co-creator of FRASIER was nice enough to share the whole backstory of the DHP scene used as Comedy Test Part 2. For those who don't read the comments, I thought I'd repost it so everyone can see.

Thanks much, David.

Several thoughts from David Lee.

Prize goes to the poster who said it reminded him/her of Mr. Bean. I had recently been introduced to his work and loved a lot of it. I told DHP that I would like to do something like that for him on the show. Couldn't really come up with anything for a while (we didn't want to crib the "turkey on the head" bit,though that wasn't a concern of another sit-com on the air at the time. I do remember in the room having trouble breaking a Valentine story and hitting upon the idea of doing three short stories instead. Two of them involved every character except Niles, so the idea of something for him alone came up. Then the Mr. Bean thought, and then the fire idea. I remember distinctly that once we hit upon that, the details of it came together very, very quickly in the room.

Because of safety concerns, the scene was filmed without the usual studio audience. ( It was played to a studio audience later, and those are the laughs you hear). It also had to be done in bits and pieces. The problem is, when there is only one person on stage, what do you cut to? That's where the dog came in--not out of an attempt to be cutsie--but rather to be able to piece it all together.

And of course, as many have said, none of it would have worked without the brilliance of DHP. A wonder he is.

And to the poster who wondered who would make all those mistakes with an iron, fire extinguisher and cleaning materials: how about someone who never or seldom uses them?
A side note now that my memory has been shaken: This was the episode that caused a showdown with the network. We had been complaining that they were giving away plot points and great jokes in their promos for quite awhile, and we knew that every promo would for this episode would be nothing but flames galore. So we did not deliver this piece of it until the day of broadcast. Apoplectic, they were. Lawsuits threatened, even. But they finally came up with a better promo that said something like "The producers of Frasier think this episode is so special, they won't even let us see it."

Now back to my couch.

Once again, thanks to David Lee for posting this originally in the comments section. Check out the comments, folks. They're often times better than the posts.


Anonymous said...

I actually thought the reaction shots of the dog were nice touches. Eddie always gives me laugh. Having Eddie watch him change gave Niles something another character to react to without having to speak.

Cameron Yarde said...

It's always interesting reading behind the scenes stories on great comedy moments. Very interesting to hear that they were inspired by Mr Bean..and I knew friends stole the turkey on the head gag from it.

Anyway, it's a very funny scene and I don't think you need to be familiar with Niles to laugh at it.

However when it comes to physical comedy NOBODY can touch Michael Crawford's legendary performance as Frank Spencer in Some Mothers Do 'Ave 'Em a British sitcom from the seventies. Ken you asked if people will still laugh at the Niles scene in 40 years time. Well there is an iconic scene from Some Mothers where Frank Spencer is on rollerskates. It was first broadcast in 1973 and nearly 40 years later people are still talking about it!!

The most jawdropping moment I have ever scene on television.

Unknown said...

*snicker* He commented on my comment.

Hey it was the comedy test. I was asked whether I find _this scene_ all that funny. Which I don't. As a whole I still like Frasier, own it on DVD. Just like "that other show" that copied the Mr. Bean turkey scene. The difference is that I can't watch "that other show" anymore since I don't find it funny anymore. I loved it back then, can't stand it now anymore, while I am popping in the "Frasier" DVDs every two years and watch the whole thing front to back.

It's just that here, my suspension if disbelief broke somewhere between the second and third passing out and when he threw the pants on the couch. Sorry :-)

As a piece offering to you, Mr. Lee, I offer my glowing review of Frasier on Cliqueclack TV :-)

Anonymous said...

D. Lee here again. Sebastian, I'm totally fine with you--or anyone- not thinking the clip is funny. I've sat in too many theaters in my life wondering why everyone else is laughing to object to someone not finding my work amusing.
And I read, and really appreciate your article. Happy to have you as an articulate fan.
Farce is really, really hard to do well. It is often mistaken, wrongly, for sillyness. That's how many shows go wrong when they attempt it, or go right when they don't attempt it at all. I was lucky enough to have worked with Joe Keenan who is an absolute master at the form. I directed all of his farces on FRASIER, and it is those episodes of which I am most proud.

kyle said...

Thanks Ken & David -- for me, one of the funniest and most memorable moments from FRASIER; the other being the image of the barcalounger cascading down on to the sidewalk... Still, my favorite episode is when Niles finally confesses his love to Daphne on the night of her wedding to Donnie... THE BEST series arc I've witnessed, and I strive towards your brilliance in my own career. Thanks for the work and all the inspiration.

Marianne said...

I watched it without sound and it's just as funny.

The Elephant in the Blog Post said...

Friends was the other show!

There, I said it.

benson said...

@cameron yarde

Didn't expect to laugh, and even though I'm a big fan of britcoms, have never heard of this show, but I laughed out loud in a couple of places in the video clip.

Jim said...

As a follow-up to David Lee's latest comment (and I suppose I should be posting it as a Friday question rather than here), is there an etiquette among scriptwriters, both inside and out of the writers' room, of how to let your colleagues know that you don't get the joke, or even worse that you get it but you think that it stinks? Or does everyone else just quietly move on and let you work it out for yourself? And is there a further etiquette for when you think that you've just come up with the funniest line ever, all these other fools want to move on but you refuse to give up so easily?

Mike said...

But they finally came up with a better promo that said something like "The producers of Frasier think this episode is so special, they won't even let us see it."

Wow - if the NBC promotional folks were always this clever -- or even half so -- I have a feeling the network would be in much better shape.

In fact, now that you mention it, I remember tuning into this episode just because of that tagline -- and though I respect the show as much as any sitcom that's come out in my lifetime, I wasn't a regular Frasier viewer. I wasn't disappointed.

Garrett said...

As an homage to "Mr. Bean", it was a little TOO on the nose.

I felt that Niles had been replaced by Bean, particularly in the first minute or two with his reactions, his grunting, body language, facial expressions, etc.

I was a pretty big fan of "Frasier", but this piece didn't do much for me.

l.a.guy said...

Hey maybe David Lee will take Friday question? Whenever the topic turns to classic television comedy it reminds me of what I consider to be one of the five best episode in sit-com history, the Cheers episode Simon Says (part 1,part2, part 3) written by non-other than David Lee & Peter Casey.

I'm curious how the appearance of John Cleese came about and was the part (for which Cleese won the first ever "Outstanding Guest Performer in a Comedy Series" Emmy Award) written for Cleese specifically or was it just good luck?

By the way David-- we live across the street from you but since we're not likely to cross paths I thought I'd take the opportunity to say "hi."

Buttermilk Sky said...

I guess I don't watch enough TV (!), so I was mystified by the turkey-on-the-head reference. However, I remember a particularly funny FRASIER where Niles had to host a dinner party with a bird clinging to his head. Hyde Pierce is indeed a great physical comedian.

Happy birthday, Ken!

Louise said...

Age 53 female from the UK (old enough to marvel that modern technology means I’m able to reply to Ken Levine and David Lee – you are both gods!)

Thanks so much for the background info David, as a fan I love to hear this. I can't thank you and all involved enough for Frasier, my all time favourite TV show. I put this post on Ken's original thread but thought I'd post here too.

Answering the question is the Niles clip funnier to those familiar with the character.

I’m presuming Ken your premise is that in 40 years time people are only going to get to see the clip you’ve shown from that episode. This disappoints me, for them and from a personal viewpoint, as I’ve been picturing myself in my dotage chortling through re-runs of Frasier, my last pleasure. I suppose by that time I’ll be able to get Frasier implants or some such - but I digress.

If they were fortunate enough to see the episode from the beginning viewers would get plenty of information re Niles’ character. Even in the clip the incomparable David Hyde Pierce with typical conciseness, gives the audience enough information to go on. His bearing, his little movements, his attention to the trousers portray an effete, fussy man, a man who, as David Lee points out, would be unused to ironing or cleaning.

Humour is a very personal thing. For me the pleasure in this kind of slapstick ( I love John Cleese as Basil Fawlty too) is that it takes situations vaguely familiar to those of us who are, or know those who are, clumsy, awkward and impractical by nature, and pushes them to comic extremes. (Anyone else often tripped over the iron cable?) There are those of thus who fear that household appliances are constantly plotting against us. Niles often reminds me of my late brother.

It’s also familiar to those of us who’ve shared private moments with our dog.

I particularly love the little bits of business in this scene, the scissors moment (remembering what mother taught him), and reading the cleaning fluid instructions by the light of the candle. Sorry this is long but I must mention to the musical accompaniment which accentuates David Hyde Pierce’s impeccable timing.

Yes, this scene is probably more pleasurable to those who know Niles, but I’m certain it will stand the test of time. Surely there will always be those who enjoy this kind of comedy. I pray that future generations will have the opportunity to watch the brilliance of Buster Keaton, John Cleese and David Hyde Pierce.

An addendum. I showed this episode to my son (21) for the first time a couple of years ago. He loved it but didn’t give it his full attention first time round as he was playing air violin (presumably accurately) throughout. I always say that Frasier is practically a documentary in our house.

blogward said...

A marvellous spring blossoming of TV-insider gold for Ken's birthday: as to what people might make of this clip in 40 years, it'll probably be like when they recount thr story of Buster Keaton and the collapsing house-front. "How could anyone willingly expose themselves to such danger?". I wonder if the idea was ever mooted of a Niles spinoff?

Matt Tauber said...

What killed it for me when it first aired was the voiceover right before the show started, something like "Don't miss the funniest seven minutes in the history of television!" The scene is funny, but it was never going to live up to that hype.

Paul Duca said...

It was nice of David to get of his stylish couch in Dinah Shore's former Palm Springs house to answer people. Now he can go back and have a schvitz in the sauna that took the place of Dinah's fur vault

Cameron Yarde said...

Okay I swear this will be the last time I hijack this place with my love of Frank Spencer. But this is another reason why, for me, Michale Crawford is the master of physical comedy.

Alice said...

I love David Hyde Pierce, I wish to see him as a regular on a TV show sometime soon again.

A bit off topic I have a new Friday question.

Do ensemble casts, after the show is over, keep in touch? Do you talk or gather even? I mean not to do a reunion show, but just to see how everyone's doing?

Alan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Dana Gabbard said...

David Lee by the way just directed a brilliant reimagining of Lerner and Loewe's Camelot at the Pasadena Playhouse, stripped down with a small cast. Ken was kind enough to pass along to Mr. Lee kudos from myself and friend who is a big theater buff and liked it just as much as I did. Hope no one objects to my do an off topic public shout out of praise. It was good stuff.

Fie on goodness!

Unknown said...

It's 2/14/14. I watch "A Valentine for Niles" every Valentines Day, and other days that tickle my fancy. Fan of Bean, and fan of this Niles skit. "Brilliant" is the only way I can describe it. Thank you thank you thank you!

Mike said...

Quite frankly I'm very surprised that no one has mentioned how perfectly this episode is timed to Mozart's Magic Flute.

Kat said...

Kat said...

You know that scene in Pretty Woman where Julia Roberts laughs her ass off at Lucille Ball? That's how I feel watching this scene. And I have watched everuy couple of years for ages. Brilliant comedy.

Anonymous said...

This is the funniest scene EVER! I watch it and cannot control myself! Anyone with a sense of humor will laugh, and for the record, I don’t like the “bean”.... no apologies! I do hope they do a few seasons with the frasier cast now, knowing Martin has passed and it won’t be the same, I love comedy and I love frasier! Thank you for the years of frasier!

lidija said...

This scene and the show mean so much to me. This sequence in particular exemplifies the brilliance of DHP, his talent and that of the writers. Tons of love to the lady above who mentions Basil Fawlty...for me as well, it's the exaggeration of everyday mundane little things that not only hits home to by funny bone, but it highlights the power packed and the skill required for that subtlety. It's a form of intelligence truly, anyone can trip and fall or crack a sarcastic joke. This is special.

lidija said...

This scene was so cleverly woven together. If it doesn't make you can you possibly criticize it from the standpoint of timing and elegance. Gets me every time and exemplifies the power of subtlety and the talent it takes from eh writer and performer. Incredible sequence...incredible show. I was sitting at the cafe, thinking I'm the only young person watching this OLDer show. Nope. Student next to me was watching it on her our little free wifi millennial world. This show will stand the test of time. Love to the lady above who mentions basil fawlty...haha, it is that same brilliance- it's easy to trip and fall or be sarcastic, it's much more difficult and for me, satisfying, when you can make the mundane the reason people dry heave and tear up with laughs.

Dale Patterson said...

Dale said...

Not knowing it was a vignette, I watched the show waiting to see what happened next - Frasier coming home to see his apartment burned down and his reaction. I was disappointed when they didn't pick up the story again. I understand now why this didn't happen, but also think this should have been made into a full episode.