Wednesday, June 15, 2022

The Frasier episode a reader "despised"

One of my readers commented recently that he despised a FRASIER episode my partner, David Isaacs and I wrote called “Wheels of Fortune.”   If I’m being honest, I didn’t love it either (I didn’t despise it but it’s sure not one of my favorites).   

There are many reasons why an episode doesn’t work.  Writing is certainly one of them.  And I will admit there are episodes of ours I don’t love that I look back and think the script is at fault. 

In this case I blame the actor.  I rarely do that, but I honestly believe had the actor played the character the way we envisioned and wrote him the episode would have played waaaaay better.   And the irony is, it wasn’t just any actor.

It was Michael Keaton.

Initially we were thrilled that he signed aboard.  A little backstory:  This was the fall of 2001.  The story had been broken and David Angell was slated to write it.  He then perished in one of those doomed flights on 9-11.   Peter Casey & David Lee asked me and David to write it, which we felt was a tremendous honor.  

The character was supposed to be a charismatic televangelist who Frasier suspected was a fraud.   We knew that Keaton could play comedy.  We saw this character as somewhat of a throwback to the character he played in NIGHT SHIFT — a freewheeling unpredictable high energy scamp.  

If we were going to use Michael Keaton we wanted him to really shine.  And I thought we wrote the hell out of that role.  But Michael chose to play him very internal and intense.  We had a terrific director, Jerry Zaks (who continues to win Tonys on Broadway), and he was just as frustrated.  Nothing anyone could say would dissuade him from playing the part as if it were his tortured Bruce Wayne.  

My opinion of course, but that show should have played better.  I think if we weren’t committed to a movie star, if we just had a guest actor who was refused to budge from this choice we would have fired him and gotten someone else.  

That said, I haven’t seen it for years since I don’t like it.  Who knows?  I might see it now and not dislike it as much.  In any event, I do like the residuals I receive from it.  So keep wheeling it out. 

UPDATE:  This is one time where I'm happy so many of you disagreed with me.  As a writer, my goal is for YOU to like it; not me.   So if you thought the episode worked and Keaton played it perfectly -- GREAT.  I hope the majority of people feel that way about a number of shows I wrote that are flying around on various platforms. 

67 comments :

Anonymous said...

I think Michael Keaton played the character well.
In his interpretation you weren't completely sure until the last 30 seconds whether he was a fraud or not. It was the doubt he created in the audience's mind, along with the interplay between him and Frasier that created the dramatic tension.

Like it or not, it says something that the episode stands out today.

"He even went to the Galapagos Islands to help clean the oil off some fowls" said...

I guess this is a prime example of subjectivity, because I not only love the episode, I love Keaton's performance. I didn't get any internal angst/Bruce Wayne type feeling from him at all. Some of my favorite moments are his line deliveries, like when he pleads with his audience of rubes to forgive Frasier for not believing him, or when he says "Am I picking up a vibe here?"

My suggestion is you watch it again, Ken. I think seeing it with fresh eyes may change your mind about it.

Kevin FitzMaurice said...

Agree.

Manic Man said...

I really enjoyed the episode and liked Michael Keaton in it, but then if you wrote it for one style in mind, and an actor gave it another, I can see how that would put you off it.

That said.. I think my favorite episode wasn't written by you.. but David Lloyd.. Series 4's "Ham Radio".. Probebly cause it's a pretty standard idea and way of doing things but well carred out.

Rashad Khan said...

For decades, Michael Keaton has made a conscious and concerted effort to steer clear of his early, comic persona. Apparently, being a naturally funny performer isn’t enough; he wants to be a highly regarded “serious” actor as well. Which is a shame, because I really miss early Michael Keaton (just as I miss early Tom Hanks).

whynot said...

The other thing is, none of us will ever love Mr. Keaton as much as he loves himself.

"He even went to the Galapagos Islands to help clean the oil off some fowls" said...

Rashad, don't worry. Keaton is going to do the long, long awaited Beetlejuice sequel with Tim Burton.

Sean said...

In order to support the idea that he'd been a storied con man of many ruses over the years, I think he needed to be intense/internal in order to be that calculating, devious and successful. Zany antics could have made the backstory less believable. Anyway, I love the line "Matthew, John, Thomas, Bartholomew, Jude, Judas, two Jameses, Andrew, Peter, Simon the Zealot and Philip-- 950 to go, pass the po-TAH-toes, please!"

Gary Crant said...

Ken,

Just from reading this I think I want to re-watch that FRASIER episode again, just to give it another chance, mainly out of respect for you, the producers on the show, and Keaton. I admire the talent all around.

But man, the episode was dreadful. The best laid plans...

Pat Reeder said...

I like that episode and Michael Keaton in it. The only one I have a hard time rewatching is "Beware of Greeks." The situation is way out of left field; it messes with the established narrative (Martin said he never had a brother, now he does?); and Patti LuPone's performance is so over the top, it sets my teeth grinding. I know she's a Broadway star, but she didn't have to pitch her performance to the last row of the balcony.

Leighton said...

Ken,

Thank you for responding. Very interesting. I'll need to watch it again, but I also remember feeling that the established characters fell far too easily under Keaton's spell, particularly at the "revival meeting." I'll try to watch it later today.

Call Me Mike said...

Huh, see, that's one of my favorite Frasier episodes. Loved Keaton in it. And I'm always a fan of watching Frasier lose his cool.

@Pat Reeder, yep, Martin never had a brother. But... Frasier in Cheers was an only child with a dead father and a living mother, so, hehe.

Katana said...

Huh? How many free wheeling unpredictable high energy scamps do you see paralyzed from the waist down? Wasn't the premise supposed to be Keaton fooling the others into thinking his handicap forced him to question his past? Yes the writing was excellent, but so was Keaton's performance.

Anonymous said...

Michael Keaton has never gotten the acclaim that Tom Hanks has.
But Keaton is the far more versatile actor.

Malcolm Burns said...

Re: Keaton is the far more versatile actor than Hanks. You nailed it. Hanks so desperately tries not to be Tom Hanks in everything he's in. He can't lose himself into a role like Streep or Gary Oldman. Oldman doesn't get enough credit for his work, a truly wonderful actor. Hanks will again attempt to play anti-Hanks in the upcoming "Elvis". Can't wait for Ken's review. Which leads me to a quick Friday question, Ken have you ever tried acting in something?

Lemuel said...

Anonymous: I remember the era when SPLASH got reviewed on Siskel & Ebert, Siskel was famously not a fan of Hanks, preferring to champion Keaton as his up-and-coming comedy genius.

Anonymous said...

I’ve always loved that episode. I find it hilarious. And I think Keaton’s acting does a great job of maintaining that plausibility that, maybe Blaine really has finally changed. Without that- if he’s just a manic, charismatic stereotype- the final revelation has no/minimal impact.

"He even went to the Galapagos Islands to help clean the oil off some fowls" said...

The reviews of Elvis that I've read say Hanks is very unlikeable, which is great news, because it means he isn't the usual nice guy Tom Hanks we're used to seeing. Colonel Parker was a slimeball, so he SHOULD be unlikeable. I personally can't wait to see the movie.

Bradley said...

I watch reruns of Frasier constantly, but this is one of the few episodes I skip. I like the idea of it, and it's not a poor episode by any means, but Keaton's performance never quite works. I'm pleased to hear you feel the same way.

Mike Doran said...

Fun Fact:
When Tom Hanks was starting to break through in feature films, one of his severest critics was Gene Siskel.
Siskel's main criticism of Hanks was that he seemed to be "trying to copy Michael Keaton".
Once Hanks's career started to outstrip Keaton's, Gene Siskel conveniently forgot about this prior opinion ...
... but hey, them's the breaks ...

Cap'n Bob said...

Put me in the I Liked It camp.

D. McEwan said...

Michael Keaton rises ever higher on my list of the Highly Overpraised.

He was a good stand-up comic, though not a social one. Which is to say that during my years on staff at The Comedy Store, 42 years ago, when Keaton was unknown, I set eyes on him once. He never hung out and befriended and partied with the other comics, as Robin Williams did. He was distant, aloof, and came across as considering himself too good to associate with the other comics.

But his opening line onstage had me roaring with laughter. "I was almost late. I hit a guy with my car as I was driving here.. --- I HATE when I do that!"

And yes; he's a leadweight on that episode. It's one I do tend to skip when it repeats. For that matter, I've been avoiding his movies for ages now.

Kosmo13 said...

I appreciated Tom Hanks' performance in THE CIRCLE. He was playing it like a standard Tom Hanks character, but it was clear he was one of the villains.

Mitch said...

You probably worked with Keaton when you wrote for Mary.

.

JessyS said...

I honestly think you should have fired Michael Keaton and went with somebody else. My pick for the role as envisioned by you and David would have been Ted McGinley. He was used to playing a slimeball on Married with Children as one of the next door neighbors.

"He even went to the Galapagos Islands to help clean the oil off some fowls" said...

D. McEwan, don't deny yourself Keaton's great performances in Birdman, The Founder and Spotlight. I've not seen Dopesick and Worth yet but he's apparently terrific in those too. As a bonus, he also despises Cheeto Mussolini.

Call Me Mike said...

If we're talking alternate actors, I don't know if the age would've been quite right, but Bob Odenkirk would've also made a great Blaine Sternin.

Joe said...

D. McEwan,

You don't like Keaton because he went home after work?

Cheryl Marks said...

You mention residuals.

A Friday Question

Eli Wallach said he once received a residual check for one cent and it got me wondering if an actor or a prolific writer ;> could make a decent living off residuals. Some cable stations are broadcasting long-playing series, usually in heavy rotation, that is two or three episodes a day.
Can the series regulars live off the residuals they collect from those broadcasts? Do unions determine the structure of the residuals?

Brian said...

Friday Question: On the topic of Frasier episodes you don’t much care for, you also mentioned not being a fan of the Woody episode from season six. You once said it took a lot of rewriting, and Christopher Lloyd even said in his archive interview that Woody Harrelson threatened to quit unless the story was fixed.

Do you recall what the original story was that didn’t work? And what is it about the finished product you found unsatisfactory?

VincentS said...

The one FRASIER that made me cringe was the one where Frasier and Roz slept with each other. I still think it was a terrible idea. It made me think you guys were running out of ideas and I was afraid the show might have jumped the shark.

Anonymous said...

I have seen the entire 11 seasons of Frasier at least 20 times. But each time I skip over this and a handful of other episodes. I don’t think it was just the actor. The writing didn’t work for me. Maybe it was an issue I had with the fraudster winning at the end. It was inconsistent with the prevailing theme of the show as a whole.

Robbie Lewis said...

Keaton is incredibly good in Dopesick. That said, I imagine some will still despise him.

Leighton said...

Well, I finally watched it again, and my reaction is the same. Aside from Frasier, the other characters come across as far too gullible. The episode is also missing the usual bounty of jokes. Because it is Keaton, he is given too much dialogue, it appears to me.

I don't believe that ANYONE in that family, would have gone to the revival meeting. Frasier would not have accepted the word from a doctor in another state, regarding the wheelchair. I guess using an operator to get the doctor's phone number, is an attempt to offset that fact.

I expected more biting comments on religion, considering the episode "Merry Christmas, Mrs. Moskowitz," four years earlier.

I like Keaton, but I think he is miscast in this episode.

Anonymous said...

It was one of the very funniest episodes loved it, in my opinion Frasier flew off the handle too much and made it more of a soap opera, his brother was the better character. I assume the writers made it with way to much yelling and soap opera screaming for Frasier.

Leighton said...

Robin Williams was the same age as Keaton - could you imagine him playing that part? It would certainly have been manic.

Leighton said...

@ Anonymous,

Actually there are several times when Frasier "looses out," in the end. But usually due to his own pompousness. The many girlfriends, social appointments, etc.

Spike de Beauvoir said...

@VincentS

I agree about the Frasier and Roz episode, it just seemed so wrong. Like the forced kiss with Lou and Mary, yuck. No one wanted to see that.

I wonder if the Michael Keaton episode would have played differently if he wasn't Frasier's brother-in-law. It seemed something was added to Lilith's backstory that somehow didn't ring true. I think sometimes shows unearth family members of the main characters and it robs them of a bit of their mystique. As much as I love the Golden Girls, the appearances of Rose's family throughout the series seemed too limited and real for her outlandish character.

My go-to Frasier episode is Radio Wars. Love the opening when he's invited to join the Hall of Thinkers.

Mark said...

I'm very fond of that episode and I like it for almost exactly the reasons you don't. I'm a great admirer of the manic Night Shift/Beetlejuice Keaton but I don't think I would have found Frasier's mounting frustration nearly as funny and I suspect the ending wouldn't have had the same impact.

Anonymous said...

As a big fan of Frasier I have to disagree on the quality of this episode. Not only would I rank this episode as one of the highlights of the show's later seasons, Keaton is one of the best guest stars in the entire run, second only to Patrick Stewart. His performance, while understated is goofy and the responses he gets from the regulars (especially Jane Leeves) are great. The subtlety of the performance works towards the end gag of the empty chair which is brilliantly set up and staged.

Anonymous said...

Mike Davis here: literally just watched that episode last week! I thought it was great, and very funny. Like one commentator said above - you are kept guessing until
the very end. I thought Michael Keaton did a good job.

D. McEwan said...

"Joe said...
D. McEwan,
You don't like Keaton because he went home after work?"


No, I don't like him because he's over-praised and full of himself.

Anonymous said...

I thought Keaton was brilliant throughout the episode as he concealed his malevolence so well. I remember questioning until the end whether he was reformed or not. Keaton acted tremendously and he made Frasier look completely derailed and unhinged and looked to be the antagonist for most of the episode. Brilliant writing and acting; awesome episode!

flurb said...

Mileages vary widely, I guess. I didn't think I'd be defending Keaton today, but I am. I think Birdman was seriously overrated, and wouldn't care to see his (or any) Batman again. But Keaton's performances are regularly terrific. Spotlight is one of his best, and I also recommend the fore-mentioned Dopesick; also I loved Worth in which he gave a prickly, layered character performance. Lovely.

I don't really care how standoffish or egocentric he may be in his private life. I know a few actors, male and female, who are boorish jerks, sure; and even more who cripplingly shy, and once the curtain is down, they rush for home. Both groups consider they have done their job - it's on the stage or on the screen, and they don't want to, or simply cannot, deliver more. Look, George C. Scott could be an asshat - but it doesn't erase his brilliant Patton, or Scrooge, or Mr. Rochester, or any number of others. Roseanne Barr is a pretty horrible person, sure, but for several years, her show was appointment viewing for my family, no matter how horrid the workplace might have been. Everybody's welcome to their opinions, of course; but I try to base mine on what works, and what works well.

"He even went to the Galapagos Islands to help clean the oil off some fowls" said...

I read the episode transcript online to refresh my memory. I think this bit is my favorite.

Blaine: Because until this happened, I was not a whole man. I was a gambler, I was a liar, I was a cheat! Everything you can imagine, that was me, I did it! Ooh, I was a BAD man. Go ahead, name something!

Woman: A thief!

Blaine: Oh, a thief! Not a day passed that I wasn't. Anybody else, come on!

Man: A womanizer!

Blaine: Yeah, in between affairs.

2nd Woman: A tax evader!

Blaine: Yeah, but that was on principle.

The way he said "I was a BAD man" and "Yeah, in between affairs" was hilarious.

Anonymous said...

I really loved that episode. So funny!

Jennifer said...

For those who didn't like Frasier and Roz sleeping together, check out the episode Enemy at the Gate

Andrew said...

I agree with those who think Keaton pulled it off well. If he (or someone else) had played it differently, the end would not have been a surprise.

Anonymous said...

Weird because that's one of my favorite episodes

Anonymous said...

Best Frasier guest star performance
Keaton and Stewart awfully good.
Nathan Lane and Laurie Metcalf right there.

But you'd have to go a long way to top Bob Hoskins.

Anonymous said...

The only thing that I really dislike are the Sternins, especially his sister! 🤣 I like Michael Keaton except for that “Pacific Heights” ooo, I couldn’t stand him I that. I didn’t like his character in the Frazier episode either, I agree he could have wailed portraying that character. Sorry, you didn’t get your way.

Chuck said...

While no where near what I would consider a "Classic" episode, I don't despise it.

Now, can we discuss the "Freudian Sleep" episode? From the 11th season, this is the one with the dreams/nightmares. This one is probably at the bottom for me. In my opinion, it just doesn't work. Well, the dreams themselves are what, for me, don't work. I remember that when watching this for the first time, I felt bad for John Mahoney as he appeared quite uncomfortable in the song and dance sequence. This one seems to be another You Love It or You Hate It episode of Frasier. This isn't one of Ken's though, so perhaps this isn't the place.

Anonymous said...

Growing up under the power of a charismatic, anti-social narcissist (which drove me to become a licensed therapist who has worked with the victim/survivors of many of them), I thought Keaton’s personality and affect leant themselves very well in the part. Keaton is convincing enough in the roll to remind me of the plethora of destruction and trauma the character’s personality disorder creates. For that reason I can appreciate its validity (in its comedic setting) while not enjoying it. For those who have difficulty seeing past narcissistic charisma I am happy it ended the way it did.

Anja said...

https://gizmodo.com/gravity-falls-disney-censorship-alex-hirsch-lgbtq-1849070186 Gravity Falls creator reveals censorship notes. Hilarious!

Anonymous said...

I've pronounced potatoes that way ever since, and it drove my wife crazy lol

Anonymous said...

Well said. I completely agree!

Anonymous said...

I found it unbelievable that such a person would have been the brother to the Lilith character. It just didn't make sense that the could have come from the same family.

Anonymous said...

Wow. Just a guess, but I'm assuming this commentor is not a fan. Sheesh.

Anonymous said...

Two words John Glenn!

Anonymous said...

I saw the episode and thought it worked out just fine. Keaton protrayed the shady character adequately in my opinion. No worries. Wasn't nearly as dreadful as the Lana and Claire back and forth episode. The Man is a psychiatrist for God's sake and appeared to need one hisself for two straight episodes. Very lame

Anonymous said...

I agree 👍

Abby B. said...

I love Blaine Sternin as Lilith’s brother because she is so deliciously ascerbic that I can only imagine her developing such a tight-laced intellectual/psychiatrist persona precisely due to having to deal with such a slippery fellow her whole life!

MikeN said...

This might be a case of what Norm MacDonald said: 'It's difficult for a famous comedian to bomb.'

Abby B. said...

Thanks for giving us a way to interact with you, Ken, being a writer for my favorite show ever. I am a writer myself and I watch Frasier probably a thousand times a day (Slight exaggeration) because it keeps me sharp. Anyhoo, I happen to love Wheels of Fortune thanks to the absolutely hilarious dialogue and watching Frasier get so bent out of shape in his typically pompous way. Between the antique salt cellar (and it’s tiny spoon!) and Marty the ex-cop being oblivious to Blaine’s true tendencies, the whole episode is a total knee-slapper! I am biased toward Michael Keaton because I think he nailed the slimy charmer character perfectly.

Plus, it contains arguably one of my all time Frasier lines: “Well, of course he sounded charming. Charm is the viscous grease with which he oils his flim-flam machine.” Just the best!! *standing ovation*

Bob said...

I liked the episode! I still chuckle at "charm is the viscous grease with which he oils his flim-flam machine!"

Anonymous said...

Keaton is better than hanks.

Anonymous said...

That line is the best! Kelsey Grammer’s delivery of it just makes it so extra hilarious, too. Never fails to make my day.