Thursday, May 13, 2004
Los Angeles When the blue-collar barroom comedy "Cheers" ended its run in 1993, it managed the neat trick of turning beer into champagne.
"Frasier," the "Cheers" spinoff about psychiatrist Frasier Crane and his dysfunctional family, became its own vintage blend of sparkling wit and dependably funny highbrow neuroses.
The NBC comedy's last episode airs tonight, closing a remarkable 22-year chapter in television history in which it matched the 11-season run of "Cheers" and became one of TV's most successful spinoffs.
Only the prime-time soap opera "Knots Landing," derived from "Dallas," lasted longer (14 seasons), and it certainly couldn't boast of the record 31 Emmys, including five consecutive best comedy series awards, bestowed on "Frasier."
It's an accomplishment a demanding sort like Dr. Crane would relish. Series star Kelsey Grammer certainly does. He believes "Frasier," with David Hyde Pierce as Frasier's brother and partner-in-repartee Niles, raised the TV bar.
"I'm proud of it. I have something I can look to, point out and say, 'Well, I did that,"' Grammer said. "There is an audience for these guys. We proved that. Most of America, frankly, is much smarter than television assumes they are."
Created by "Cheers" alumni David Angell, Peter Casey and David Lee, "Frasier" shoved Dr. Crane out of an unhappy marriage, off his Boston barstool and into a Seattle radio job as host of an advice show.
"I cannot call 'Frasier' a spinoff," Pierce said. "I know it is, but it seems to me that, from the beginning, it so stood on its own."
The series debuted Sept. 16, 1993. Effete, erudite Frasier's style was matched by fellow shrink Niles but clashed with dad Martin (John Mahoney), a down-to-earth, disabled policeman who ended up bunking with Frasier.
Others in the ensemble cast included Jane Leeves as Daphne, Martin's caregiver and the object of Niles' yearning, and Peri Gilpin as Frasier's sassy producer.
There was a succession of romantic entanglements for Frasier.
The latest flame is Charlotte, played by Laura Linney, who features prominently in the two-hour finale, which includes a retrospective beginning at 7 p.m. CDT.
Now-married Niles and Daphne, awaiting the birth of their baby, and Martin and fiancee Ronee (Wendie Malick) share the spotlight.
Why did viewers take to a spinoff in which an intellectual snob went from one of the "Cheers" barflies to the hero?
"He wasn't a cold intellectual," co-creator Casey said. "I can't say he never lorded it over people, because there were times that he did. But deep inside he was a good guy, and his motive were usually pretty good."