You may think I’m a bit compulsive about many things, and there’s probably some very deep issues with roots in my childhood to explain some of them. One particular thing I freely admit to having a biopsychological need for is bonding, something that’s been exceptionally difficult for me to do in the nearly three years since the pandemic’s outbreak, a cataclysmic event that dovetailed with my own professional and personal life’s changes and challenges.
During some of my most trying times, I found salvation by attending many tapings of Sony’s situation comedies that filmed in front of live audiences, and in years prior would find whatever reason I could to hang around on tape nights. I have absolutely loved jobs where I worked on lots, and have found tremendous enjoyment in seeing the process of a show come together, warts, mistakes, retakes and all. I’d eagerly stay late into the night despite whatever glitches or issues would arise. When I was a executive, I’d have free reign of the soundstage or studios, Craft services at my beckoning, and an upfront view and appreciation for the complex, often tense, but ultimately rewarding process of making a show and feeling like an extension of the many familial environments I’d see among cast and crew.
Which is why what may have been a very simple gesture from a longtime friend, now an executive producer on the upcoming Paramount+SHOWTIME’s (that name just rolls right off the tongue, huh?) “reboot” of FRASIER to be a VIP guest at a taping was a most joyous and oh-so-needed aberration in a life that has lately been more than dominated by rejection and caution than the freedom and joy I experienced in the pre-pandemic world. Indeed, last night was the first time in 154 weeks that I was in an actual TV studio; my last moments on the Sony lot before the world shut down as one of the few people allowed into a very limited audience for the reboot of WHO WANTS TO BE A MILLIONAIRE, with tbe executive producer already greeting people with elbow knocks and paranoia rampant among the few that showed up.
Last night was just like old times. The audience was rocking and the taping fairly smooth, all the more notable as this was only the third live shoot they had done to date. And while the title character, one that now co-executive producer Kelsey Grammer has portrayed for four decades, is indeed back, at least last night no one else from the original run that ever appeared on camera was there as well. Though, as several recent articles that have dropped hints as to how we now find the snarky but troubled Dr. Crane explained, there are more than enough off-camera references to past lives to more than pacify the show’s fans. As Parade Magazine’s Paulette Cohn reported last month:
Frasier will continue the life journey of TV’s most popular fictional radio psychiatrist. When Frasier returns, we have been promised that “he’s more exactly the same than ever.” We expect to see Frasier moving to an entirely new city, similarly to how the Cheers-spinoff began.
“He’s our brave little soldier that continues on in life, finding new challenges and a new love and new people and a new city and stuff like that,” Grammer told People. “I’m really very excited about it, and we’ll certainly always honor the past. We have to honor the fact that John Mahoney died and that Martin is no longer with us. We’ll be dealing with that for sure.”
Indeed, the first new episode catches us up on what has happened since spring 2004 to Frasier and his family and friends. There are Easter eggs aplenty for astute observers, and as Grammer alludes the fate and legacy of both Martin Crane and Mahoney are addressed quickly and reverently. And while the ensemble that produced 108 Primetime Emmy Award nominations, with 37 wins, over 264 episodes for 11 years, actually a longer run than Grammer’s character enjoyed on the series it had spun off from, a little show about friends in a Boston bar called CHEERS, isn’t back, a new one has been assembled.
You may not recognize many of these faces, or the names Jack Cutmore-Scott, Nicholas Lyndhurst, Toks Olagundoye or Jess Salguerio quite yet. But you soon will, or should. And when you see what Anders Keith, the young man who plays Frasier’s nephew David, in his first-ever TV role looks like, you’ll likely appreciate the acumen of the casting directors and decision-makers who discovered him. If one could literally merge DNA and personality traits from David Hyde-Pierce, Jane Leeves, Niles Crane and Daphne Moon, and incubate it in a laboratory, you’d likely emerge with something akin to how Keith portrays the young man who refers to Frasier as “Uncle”.
And, truth be told, it’s all coming at a time of life and career that I can fully identify with. Since the original FRASIER ended, Grammer’s professional career has been littered with three disappointing sitcom failures that failed to get renewals for even a second season. An acclaimed dramatic turn on the Starz series BOSS which won him a Golden Globe didn’t make it past two seasons. And Grammer’s been divorced and remarried, his third wife Camille Donatacci becoming a Real Housewife of Beverly Hills after a 90s run as a Playboy model who appeared in its Book of Lingerie. Hoo yah, I can identify with Grammer on those beats alone.
So making a return trip to a time and world that was far more successful appears to be an elixir for the rejuvenated Grammer, whose current wife and young daughter were steps away from me as fellow VIP guests, and I could see the joy and vigor in Grammer’s face and step whenever he dropped by to see how they were doing. They’re all doing great, you’ll be pleased to know.
Don’t expect any specifics from me on how the plotline evolved or how these new faces now factor into the third act of Dr. Crane’s life. It’s been reported that the reboot returns Frasier to Boston, but don’t expect to see Carla, Woody or Sam, or even the bar. Let’s face it, how many bars that you hung around at 30 years ago are still around, anyway? But the bonding, indeed that feeling where “everybody knows your name” is back. Even if they didn’t know it when they first laid eyes on you.
Much as I felt most of last night, surrounded by other VIPs and fans, exuberantly singing and dancing trolling for gift cards (I won one!), and making mental notes of exactly why we loved what we saw as much as how those in charge would hope we would.
One of the more recent “reboots” I was involved with was that of another 90s NBC hit, MAD ABOUT YOU. It was more than a decade in the making, and was a passion project of Paul Reiser, who, like Grammer, enjoyed his most enduring success decades previously and while hardly struggling from money had been part of several short-lived and poorly received shows since. I’ll share this much: that reboot did an awful lot wrong, not the least of which being Reiser’s miscalculated effort to drag Helen Hunt kicking and screaming back into the fold and try to resume everything as it essentially was when it ended its original run in 1999, save for the drama of finding strong enough cell phone towers in midtown Manhattan. Happily, this incarnation of FRASIER makes none of those missteps.
And perhaps its timing may not be more ideal. Both of the sitcoms with roots in the 90s that returned earlier this year, THAT 90s SHOW on Netflix and NIGHT COURT on NBC and Peacock, have been renewed. They’ve been embraced by critics and audiences, many of whom were way too young to be in the target advertiser demo for their original incarnations, but in the exact sweet spot being targeted today. That Megacon convention in Orlando at the end of this month is nearly fully sold out, and plenty more familiar faces from the era will be mingling with their fans (some scattered tickets for the conference and some adjacent events remain, and I can’t more robustely endorse it; and definitely find room to buy some merch!). Paramount+SHOWTIME, or whatever it may be rebranded before FRASIER drops at some point, likely later this year, needs its own piece of that rock. It’s a franchise with a deep, bingable library that’s been largely ignored in ubiquitously sold reruns over the last two decades. Kickstarting even a smidge of the level of viewership by new generations that fellow 90s hits FRIENDS and SEINFELD have acheived will materially impact the Paramount Global bottom line, not to mention improve the chances Grammer finally gets another long-term acting gig.
I’m glad Dr. Crane is back. I’m even happier to be back myself. I’m grateful to my “Uncle” for the chance. Lay praise on us both if you can. Go ahead, we’re listening.
Until next time…