Friday, April 27, 2012

Does Frasier make too much money?

Friday Questions sometimes spark much  heated debate. Such is the case with our first Q. This was originally posted last Friday in the comments section (where you should file yours). Many responses followed. Join the fun.

Craig asked the lightening rod question.

How is Frasier so wealthy??

He seems to spend at will and is never wanting for anything. He is a semi successful radio guy, but radio does not pay well at all. Yes, he's single with no dependents to provide for, but I'm assuming he makes alimony and child support payments. It seems to me he is living FAR ABOVE his means. I've been wondering about this for years as Frasier is one of my favorite shows. Thanks!

Several reasons why I have no problem with it:

Certain radio performers do make very good money. Or at least they did back in ancient times. (BC means Before Clear Channel and Before Cumulus.) Frasier’s shift was afternoon drive in a major market so it’s conceivable he pulled in well over six figures.

Also, sitcoms take a certain license that’s just accepted. Mary Richards was a lowly Associate Producer for a low rated local newscast in Minneapolis and yet she wore exquisite clothes and never donned the same thing twice. If she sold drugs on the side and had a brothel she still couldn’t bring in enough to pay for that wardrobe.

The FRIENDS apartment is rather spectacular for young New Yorkers just starting out. They explain it by saying it was inherited and rent controlled, but still, who we kiddin'?

The truth is, audiences don’t want to see people in dingy uninviting hovels. And if the show is shot before a live studio audience, the apartment set has to be big enough for four cameras to get in and shoot.  For awhile, when shows starred young people with very limited means, producers hedged by putting them in "lofts".  Lofts were funky.  And lofts had room.  Lofts have now become a cliche.

And finally, last weekend at the Veterans Writing Workshop I asked fellow mentor, Peter Casey (one of the creators of FRASIER) this question. He laughed and said Frasier made a killing when he sold his place in Boston. So there ya go.

Anonymous asks (and again, please leave your name):

Is it true "the writers often gave Kelsey Grammer deliberately bad lines as a game to see if he could make them funny"? (imdb trivia page)

I don’t need to consult Peter Casey or anyone on this one. I can answer with absolute assurance. That is FALSE. More than false. It’s ridiculous. We FRASIER writers always gave him the very best material we had. And he still made it better.

From Mark:

Would you ever consider trying the other Ken Levine's game out (even like, the first ten minutes or so), and sharing your reactions?

I’m not a video game person. I think I maybe got to the third level of Mario Brothers. That said, I would love to try out one of his games. You have one.  How hard is it to learn?  Who knows? I might get hooked like everybody else. That Ken Levine made the TIME magazine list of 100 most influential people so obviously someone likes his work.

Michelle wrote in.

I wonder what you think of recording and archiving seasons of shows on a computer, or recording a show and automatically having the commercials edited out. This is separate from Hulu or Netflix which pay a fee to carry and stream the shows over the internet. This is one person with a catalog of shows recorded from cable or antenna in HD (1080 or 720).

Years ago I watched a couple of episodes of Lost without the commercials and it was so much more enjoyable, the show just flowed better. If I had the technical wherewithal to set up such a process, I probably would. It is really convenient.

You know you can rent or buy the DVD’s of any current show and they come without commercials. No real need to clog up your hard-drive with seasons of television you can easily access other ways. Unless you’re talking about some rare shows that you covet and can’t get elsewhere… like say ALMOST PERFECT. Then it makes perfect sense. 

But if you do save shows you’ve recorded off the air – this will surprise you – I recommend you keep the commercials. Trust me, years from now when you revisit that show, you’re going to have more fun watching the commercials than the show itself.

When I used to record MASH and CHEERS off the air back in ancient times (BC means Before Cable) I saved the commercials, and it’s a hoot going back and seeing them again. You’d be surprised how many current big stars you spot hawking soap or soda. And how nostalgic you get for the old cheesy jingles you haven’t heard in years.

Looking back, there are a number of our old episodes where I wish I kept the commercials and edited out the show.

What’s your controversial or non-controversial question?


chris said...

I always thought it was obvious that Frasier and Niles had so much money because their dad was a crooked cop. Frasier's apartment was in his name but his dad was really paying the bills with his dirty money. I always assumed that's why Frasier had to move all the way across country - because the heat was on his dad's criminal enterprises.

Or was I reading too much into the situation?

Johnny Walker said...

If you fancy giving on of your namesake's games a go, then I'd recommend BioShock. It's a "twitch" game, so it does rely on fast reactions to a degree, but the artwork, characters, and story all make it stand out. (For a video game.)

Otherwise I'd suggest waiting for BioShock Infinite. (You can watch some game footage from there game here.)

Video games still frequently take themselves too seriously, but you may enjoy the story. Some folk just enjoy watching someone else play a game. That way you can enjoy the story, without having to invest time in developing the necessary skills to play it.

I prefer slower games with denser story, myself, but Levine manages a great balance between high-action and storyline compared to most developers. I really enjoyed BioShock and am looking forward to Infinite.

Anonymous said...


knowing you're a fan I have a question for you regarding JUSTIFIED:

I've never seen a show with so many spectacular "bad-guy-of-the-week" characters. Every single of these cleverly written villains (or, sometimes, victims) seems to have a life, and most of them made such a big impression on me that I wished they'd come back next week. Imagine that happening on CSI: Miami.

My question: does the JUSTIFIED writer's room seem to have a very special, unique approach to writing minor characters? Is there anything different you as a pro writer recognize in contrast to other shows? Or is this just the result of everyone involved being on top of his game?



Jesse T said...

I figured Frasier supplemented his income being a spokesman for Sleep Country, Honda of Puyallup and the Boston Medical Group.


Thomas said...

Ken, if your computer has a mouse, then buy the original Bioshock. It has perhaps the single best intro of any videogame - meaning if you only spend 15 minutes playing, it will still have been worth the $10 or whatever it costs on Amazon now. I would buy it for you, if I knew your address. (And if you did a blog entry on it.)

Brian Phillips said...

I remember seeing an Entertainment Tonight or a similar show, in which Kelsey Grammer was handed a line that he had an issue with. If Niles lied, his nose would bleed. Frasier was supposed to say something along the lines of "Niles, if you don't stop bleeding, I'll give you something to bleed about!"

It was changed to, "Only the truth shall make you clot".

I am a huge fan of Grammer's delivery. Listen out for the episode (eighth season?) when Frasier is riding a bus and he says, "I stepped on what I can only assume was an old burrito". The last two words are delivered in a lower register and while the line is funny, the drop in his voice REALLY sold it.

Charles H. Bryan said...

I always presumed that Frasier and Niles embezzled vast sums from Maris.

Also, what you say about the commercials is absolutely true. Some of them are hilarious artifacts, even from shows just a couple of months old. The funniest are promos for shows that tanked.

The Curmudgeon said...

The truth is, audiences don’t want to see people in dingy uninviting hovels.

You're so right, Ken! That's why no one watches The Honeymooners anymore.

(The young people are invited to imagine a snarky, ironic emoticon inserted here to convey tone.)

Gary Glasscott said...

Apologies if it's already been done, Ken, but I have a question:

Referring to an example in which Frasier and Niles are described as the Duke and Duchess:

Although I believe DHP to be the kind of guy who can see how comical Niles' reaction would be, have you ever had an actor refuse to accept a nickname given to their character?

Aaron Hazouri said...

THe old commercials. When I was a kid in the 1980s I recorded The Real Ghostbusters every afternoon. Now I have the whole series on DVD but I save the tapes because - those ads! Rice Krispies! 900 numbers for everyone from New Kids to MC Hammer! Hilariously bad hairstyles on local anchors!!

J. Allison said...

I have a MASH question for you Ken. There's a good amount of Groucho Marx in Hawkeye Pierce. Was this a conscious thing or simply a matter of this character being similar to characters that Groucho would play? If conscious, was it something Alan Alda did or something the writers thought about?


- Jeff

Bill said...

I think Grammar did say that his best lines were often taken by a fellow cast member. The challenge was to make what remained funny.

Bill said...

UM, He was referring to Cheers, tho.

Antin Verfews said...

"It's conceivable he pulled in well over six figures."

"Well over six figures" has to mean at least seven figures; more appropriately, it means eight or nine, even ten.

So, Frasier's salary was at least a million dollars, perhaps a billion? That seems a bit unlikely.

Eduardo Jencarelli said...

I think Chandler is the only Friends character who could plausibly be able to afford that apartment. He was the only one who had a job that paid respectably.

So, you lasted until the 3rd Mario Bros. level. Not bad. The original one is definitely not easy, especially compared to current games.

It's definitely a trend to revisit old commercials, especially those cheesy ones from the 1980's.

Larry said...

One of the things I like about The Mary Tyler Moore show is they often discussed money. In the first season we even discover Mary's salary--in 1970, Mary Richards made $8000!

I think the explanation for all her clothers was she never ate. Or maybe there was a fire sale at the old models' home.

John said...

I always assumed Frasier had earned his money from being a psychiatrist. Is that unrealistic?

Amy K. Bredemeyer said...

I assumed that Frasier initially got that apartment because of a signing bonus and whatnot. And, on Cheers, it was noted that Lilith makes more money than him, so between that and the fact that she re-married, he likely wasn't stuck with much alimony for very long. That said, one particular episode drives me batty with the money he drops - he takes Madeline to Bora Bora, but sees Lilith and they leave early. A week later, he returns to Bora Bora, this time with Niles. He dreams of being with Madeline and seeing Diane, but he's still in Bora Bora... that's one expensive trip to make TWICE in such a short period of time!

Anonymous said...

Friday Question: (Probably been asked at some point)

I was watching Wings (I'm going through them all on NetFlix) and I swear I saw an actor (he was a vacuum salesman) that was in an earlier episode (several years back) from another episode.

This made me think about The Practice where John Laroquette was a great villan character and THEN he showed up in Boston Legal (same universe) as a different character and a series regular.

So here's the question: Why do that? Are there not enough actors out there? I love John Laroquette (Stripes) as much as the next guy but surely someone else could have played the part?

Anonymous said...

I agree with trying out BioShock-1. Great game but you should play something simpler first so you get to understand how the controllers work. However, Ken Levine did NOT do BioShock 2 which is the visual you used. He is doing BioShock-3. You should swap that out with the art for BioShock-1.

Kirk said...

@Curmudgeon--I think The Honeymooners was the exception that proves the rule. Most 1950s sitcoms seemed to be solidly middle-class, even upper middleclass. Also, Jim Anderson, Ward Cleaver, Ozzie Nelson, etc, all had white-collar jobs, even if the exact nature of those jobs weren't well understood.

True, Mary Richards had a large wardrobe, that she somehow kept in a single closet in that studio apartment she lived in (unless there was another closet on the unseen "fourth wall".) After about five seasons she moved into an upscale apartment with a fantastic view of downtown Minneapolis. Of course, by that time she had been promoted to producer. Must have got one helluva raise.

kevin said...

Hi Ken

I'm taking a screenwriting class that focuses on learning how to create solid beat sheets and outlines. I'm told this is the first skill set that needs to be mastered in order to be a successful screenwriter. Is this true and how long did it take you to get good at it?

Jeffrey Mark said...

Are we forgetting the Bunker's Houser Street house on ALL IN THE FAMILY? It was a rather dreary kind of interior, nothing bright and cheery about the place. But, it worked. It wasn't about the interior and all looked past the dreariness because all you really cared about was Arch, Edith, Mike and Gloria every week. What the Bunker's owned, what money they had, how their house looked just didn't matter. You were invited in each week, you took a look around, and accepted it for what it was.

chuckcd said...

Frasier made money from being a psychiatrist and also being a published author.
He also invented the internet.

Mark said...


BioShock (the original) is the Ken Levine game that I recommend.

It is generally considered to be a pretty easy game, but initially learning the controls might take some time, as most of the target audience had already played games with controls similar to it.

So, learning the controls might be difficult at first, but after that learning curve, it shouldn't be too hard. There's even an easy mode which is good for newcomers.

Kyle said...

Here's a Friday question about directing shows with a studio audience...

I think of live sitcoms as kind of like making two different shows simultaneously. The home viewer only sees what one camera at a time can see (unless there's a split-screen or whatnot). But the studio audience can see the entire stage. So, when you're directing, how do you account for the two different types of viewing experiences?

What got me thinking about this was the Monty Python "Hitler in England" sketch. If you were watching that at home for the first time ever, you would've had no idea Hitler was going to be in the scene at all. (Unless you're watching it on Youtube, with the title "Hitler in England" right there above the screen). So, when Hitler does show up, it's a total surprise to the home viewer.

But, if you were in the audience at the BBC that day, you would have seen Cleese as Hitler sitting there on the set the whole time.

So I guess my followup question is, if you were given the Hitler in England script and had to film it in front of an audience, how would you have approached it?

Cap'n Bob said...

$8000-a-year in 1970 was damn good money. I think I made about $2500 that year and I lived well.

James said...

Bioshock 2 (the pic) actually isn't a Ken Levine Joint :)

Bioshock and Bioshock Infinite are, though

gottacook said...

VegasGuy: Sometimes the right actor for a recurring role is the same one who did something totally different a few years earlier on the same series. Not only is Harry Morgan an obvious example - no one could have been a better Sherman Potter, and he was also great as the crazy general in the Henry Blake era who tap-danced out of his final scene - but also I can easily think of Dennis Franz, who was a series regular as Norman Buntz in the last two seasons of Hill Street Blues but also had a great story arc a few years earlier as the malignant cop Sal Benedetto.

I do understand that it would be nice to have as many actors working as roles created, but someone has to make casting choices, and they are human and sometimes make mistakes (some of which are even rectified, as when a role is recast after shooting begins, or after a few episodes are shot - such as when Linda Kelsey replaced Rebecca Balding after the first few episodes of Lou Grant in 1977, with a new character name but nothing else changed about the role).

D. McEwan said...

"Craig said...[Last Week]
Even Kelsey Grammar believed Frasier had a lifestyle that was out of his range. Mcewan, what say you? Still think this middling radio guy in small market Seattle was a rich man??

I wish/hope Ken answers this and clears it all up! Mcewan definitely needs to be cleared."

Ken Levine said: "Certain radio performers do make very good money. Or at least they did back in ancient times. (BC means Before Clear Channel and Before Cumulus.) Frasier’s shift was afternoon drive in a major market so it’s conceivable he pulled in well over six figures."

Happy now, Craig? There's Ken plainly stating exactly what I stated repeatedly. Your theory that people who do not know what they're talking about know more than people who do know what they're talking about is refuted. I said I'd accept what Ken had to say on the subject, before knowing what that would be, and I stand by that. What about you? Because I've scanned down this list of comments, and your apology is conspicuous by its absence.

Adam White said...

I was wondering, as an aspiring staff writer, how to get agents to focus on reading specs vs original material. It seems that every time I get an agent or manager wanting to see my work, they just want to read the pilot. I have a solid original pilot, but I feel like my specs are out-and-out better displays of my talent/funniness as they don't have to waste as much time laying pipe and can focus on my strong points: nailing character voices and being funny.

Richard Y said...

Mary's salary--in 1970, Mary Richards made $8000!

In 1968-69 I was making $2.00 an hour full time - comes to just slightly over $4000 a year. Mary was 'rich' :)

D. McEwan said...

"chris said...
I always thought it was obvious that Frasier and Niles had so much money because their dad was a crooked cop. Frasier's apartment was in his name but his dad was really paying the bills with his dirty money. I always assumed that's why Frasier had to move all the way across country - because the heat was on his dad's criminal enterprises.

Or was I reading too much into the situation?"

Well you clearly missed the pilot episode, and the conditions Marty Crane was living in before Frasier rescued him.

"Larry said...
I think the explanation for all
[Mary Tyuler Moore's] clothers was she never ate."

theory! I think you've got it!

John said...
I always assumed Frasier had earned his money from being a psychiatrist. Is that unrealistic?

Frasier did not have a private psychiatric practise during the Frasier series, except for one episode. And I assume Lilith cleaned out his old private practise money in the acrimonious divorce.

Kyle said...
What got me thinking about this was the Monty Python 'Hitler in England' sketch. ..if you were in the audience at the BBC that day, you would have seen Cleese as Hitler sitting there on the set the whole time."

Not necessarily.

First off, not all the sets, due to studio space restrictions, are visible to the studio audience. On Murphy Brown The FYI set (The set they did FYI on, not the homebase/Murphy's office set) was beside the audience bleachers. Unless you were in the last seat on each row, you could not see the set from the bleachers, and saw the scene only on the monitors.

And also, when a laugh depends on a a surprise, they often put up screens to hide the set until the moment for the revelation.

Sometimes, though rarely, when an episode requires more set space than the stage has, a set may even be on a neighboring stage.

Also, a big revelation gag may be pre-shot, and only shown to the audience on the monitors. At a Murphy Brown shoot I attended, the episode button involved seeing Tom Poston naked. Needless to say, it was pre-shot, and the laugh in the bleachers when it was run was HUGE!

Mike Schryver said...

To the extent I thought about it at all, which wasn't much, I assumed Frasier had made a lot of money in private practice before moving to Seattle, and that Lilith had a lot of money herself, and didn't clean him out.

A friend and I recorded all the episodes of Mystery Science Theater 3000 between us. It's great fun to see the commercials now, although I seldom revisit the full broadcasts, having moved them to DVD without commercials some years ago.

D. McEwan said...

"Mike Schryver said...
A friend and I recorded all the episodes of Mystery Science Theater 3000 between us."

I miss MST3K. A close friend of mine's mother was the heroine of The Thing That Wouldn't Die which ran on MST3K once. There are few stranger experiences than hearing puppet robots make jokes about your friend's mother's boobs.

Jkesller said...

I've heard the Frasier writers' room was very tense; that people only pitched when they absolutely had a great idea. Other writers' rooms have been described as raucous, where people are much looser with their pitches, everyone riffs more, etc.

Could you categorize the typical kinds of writers' rooms and which you prefer?

Paul Duca said...

I came across a download of "Rhoda's Wedding"--and comments from a man who says the centerpiece of the episode was based on a true story...because he was there. Several years before, his bride had to ride the subway in her wedding gown to their ceremony after her ride didn't show. He subsequently told that story to Lorenzo Music, and voila...

You can check it out for yourself at:

RP said...

I recorded every episode of Wings off NBC and USA back in the 90s and then later bought the whole series on DVD. I still rewatch a couple of episodes a week on DVD or Netflix while getting ready for work. But sometimes I pull out the old recordings just for the ads.

I also have some CD's of old Abbott & Costello radio shows from WWII. The ads are really great, especially the Camel and Grape Nuts ads.

Johnny Walker said...

Actually Frasier returns to private practice during the last season, in addition to his radio show. (I feel like such a geek.)

pumpkinhead said...

I don't know who takes the time to put 'em up, but you can find seemingly any old commercial you want on Youtube.

Are you a Pepper and proud? You're in luck.

Did you tell two friends? And did they tell two friends? You're in luck. And so on, and so on, and so on...

And this one... You and your Johnson.

Becca said...

$8,000 in 1970 has the purchasing power of about $47,000 today. Not bad for an "associate producer" who was actually behind "secretary" on the WJM pay scale. Considering Mare lived in an efficiency apartment inside a funky old house in Minneapolis, had no dependents, and presumably had at least three dinners a week paid for by her dates, I assume that over the years she built quite a nice little nest egg (we can just tell ourselves she had a wealthy cousin who donated her cast-off Evan Picone wardrobe after one wearing).

Anth said...

This may have been asked in the past but...

When you're writing a script and you envision a non-specific celebrity cameo of some sort (like, say, last year's The Muppets), is it considered presumptuous to include that note in the script? And is it preferable to leave it anonymous or "assign" the role to give the reader a better way to envision the scene?

Paul Duca said...

Becca...maybe Mare was friendly with Ali McGraw. She was married to Paramount head Robert Evans at the time, and his family was the "Evan" in Evan-Picone, so she could have kept her in clothes

Paul Duca said... is the, ahem, EXTENDED version of "You and Your Johnson"

I've seen a dealer sales film presenting the entire 1963 Johnson line, filmed at Cypress Gardens, Florida--and hosted by Bud Collyer, of (radio) SUPERMAN/BEAT THE CLOCK/TO TELL THE TRUTH fame.

Curt Alliaume said...

Paul Reiser once noted the "Mad About You" apartment he shared with Helen Hunt was originally set up to make it easy to shoot much of the action in the living room; he said after he saw it that he knew it was ridiculous and would have been unafforable for the two of them.

A Non-Emus said...

Don't wanna see "uninviting hovels"? What about Sanford & Son? They lived in a junkyard! What about your show MASH? They lived in a tent! On Good Times, they lived in a small apt in the projects. If I recall correctly, Rhoda's New York apt was pretty small. And Taxi had the dreariest sitcom sets ever. Be honest, it's just easier to shoot on a large, comfortable set. The audience has nothing to do with it because we're all saying "how the hell can they afford that?"

Jeff Badge said...

Mr. Levine,

I watched TALES FROM THE SCRIPT on NetFlix instant watch over the weekend. At one point, someone says that the shooting script of AMADEUS was the 46th revision. Antwone Fisher states he had well over one hundred drafts of his own biopic. What version of VOLUNTEERS was accepted to be shot? (I acknowledge how different this is than the version which went to editing.)

Unknown said...

I have no idea why I remember this but in one of the first scenes of Frasier he mentions selling his Boston place for a lot of money.

I also recommend the first Bioshock.

Get the PC game. If you don't already have a wide screen monitor get (or borrow) one.

Play for at least 15 minutes. Then blog about it.

Unknown said...

I have no idea why I remember this but in one of the first scenes of Frasier he mentions selling his Boston place for a lot of money.

I also recommend the first Bioshock.

Get the PC game. If you don't already have a wide screen monitor get (or borrow) one.

Play for at least 15 minutes. Then blog about it.

PokerFool said...

Here's a Friday Question for you:

You might have answered this in the past, but what is your view on a salary cap in baseball, like the ones used in the NFL and NBA? I feel really bad for any Kansas City Royals fans (if there are any), because how the system is now, there is no way they will ever make the playoffs, let alone be in a pennant race anytime soon. Do you think there will ever be a salary cap in MLB any time soon?

Maybe I'm just bitter, because my MN Twins are so horrible this year, and it looks like they won't be competitive for a long time (their pitching and farm system is in shambles, in my opinion).

toscler said...

Friday Question:
When you're watching a sitcom, can you tell when an actor is actually good vs an actor supported by good writing, a good ensemble playing a character similar to who they are/limited range? To list just a few, I never really knew how good Bryan Cranston, Ray Romano and Kelsey Grammer were as actors until I saw them in Breaking Bad, Men of a Certain Age and Boss respectively. I was going to list some sitcom actors that I thought were terrible, but figured that was in poor taste.

Ben said...

I have a whole stack of SNLs with original commercials. Cool to see vintage promos for NBC shows famous and forgotton. Man, they gave Bob Hope a lot of specials.

Serviced Apartments Lady said...

People always seem to be represented as disproportionately rich in sitcoms. Like in Friends, they don't seem to do hugely high grossing jobs, but they live in that huge loft apartment in NY! The same goes with Seinfeld! I guess they need a large apartment setting otherwise the set would look odd.

Anonymous said...

I just started binge watching 'Frasier' on Netflix recently, and my wife and I were discussing his apparent wealth. I figure that between his salary plus his endorsement deals (all successfully negotiated by his shark/agent Bebe), his savings from having been in private practice, and from the investing he's mentioned, which we can assume has been lucrative, it was believable for me. All that stuff was mentioned on screen in one form or another.

Jackpoint188 said...

Ross Geller was a Professor with a PHD so I believe his income to be at least on par with Chandlers.