At a time when we could all use something to distract us from other news, FRASIER’s long-awaited return drops today on Paramount+, and not a moment too soon. It’s been waaaaay too long since we were able to get a visit from Dr. Crane, and if ever we needed a good session with a Harvard-degreed shrink, we all need one now.
I’ve been personally waiting since February, when these 10 episodes for this “reboot” were taped, to share details. As many regulars to this space may remember, I was fortunate enough to attend one of those tapings, done the way it was when dinosuars ruled the Earth–in front of a live studio audience, with actors being able to respond in real time to the reactions of human beings, as anyone in comedy will be certain to tell you is the preference. I was also fortunate enough to see the first episode that sets up this new iteration, which will be the first of the two that are available to you this week.
So now I can tell you. It’s really, really good.
Grammer is surrounded by a new cast of colleagues and foils this time around, much as he was when his breakout character from CHEERS was moved cross-country to Seattle, where we met his father and brother and some memorable new characters that this time had a radio station and a wine bar as its gathering spots, not a place where “everybody knows your name”. As VARIETY’s Michael Schneider recounted, since the first FRASIER series ended 19 years ago, he had indeed moved on and now we finally get the chance to catch up:
The new series centers on Kelsey Grammer’s titular character, 20 years after we last saw him preparing for a move to Chicago. Frasier spent the next two decades as a talk show host in the Windy City, but now that has wrapped, and he’s moved back to Boston to reconnect with his grown son, Freddy (Jack Cutmore-Scott), and nephew David (Anders Keith). An old Oxford chum, Alan (Nicholas Lyndhurst), soon convinces him to try his hand as a Harvard instructor, in a psychology department run by Olivia (Toks Olagundoye).
The names and roles may be different, but the touchpoints of how someone so consistently successful in his professional life yet so consistently running into challemhes in his personal life are still there. His son, a Boston fireman, deftly fills the void left by the late John Mahoney, who as Frasier’s dad was a retired cop. We learned in the original series that it was Frasier’s late mother who gave him (and fellow shrink brother Niles) the interests in arts, music and wine that he guffaws his way through life evangelizing and, we suspect, some of the personality quirks as well. The adult Freddy is a natural extension of his entire 23 and Me tree, grounded and determined to save lives and risk his, yet can hold his own with this dad and anyone else as a oenophile. The rapport that Grammar and Jack Cutmore-Scott have is just like what so many father-son relationships of today are–at times my dad’s a freak, at times my son’s weird to me, but both love each other to death. Come to think of it, that’s pretty much the dynamic son Frasier had with his father, Martin.
I was also fortunate enough to have briefly spent time with Keith, in his first major television role, who brilliantly channels the essences of both of his parents who, at least for now, won’t be part of the new version. That wasn’t how it was planned this time around, as co-showrunner Chris Harris explained:
At first, the plan was to bring back the original cast. But then David Hyde Pierce, who played Frasier’s brother Niles in the original series, passed. “We had ways of getting everyone back there, even though it was a little bit crowded,” Harris says. “David, as we know, decided that he didn’t want to revisit playing that character, at least as a regular on a series.
But much as Cutmore-Scott evokes the traits, if not quite the acting chops, as Mahoney’s character did, thirty seconds with Keith will convince you he could easily be the child of Niles Crane, with looks that show he’s got a little Moon in him as well. It’s up to some of the other newcomers to fill the intellectual and adult voids, and in Lyndhurst, a talented British actor who Grammer co-starred with a few years back in a London performance of MAN OF LA MANCHA, we get some of the magical lines that were so perfectly uttered by the classically-trained Hyde-Pierce. In today’s Left Angeles Times review by Robert Lloyd, where we learn that Frasier has indeed found a new place in Boston to drink at, we get these breadcrumbs:
(T)here’s a bar, where Eve works and Freddy’s legitimately amusing firehouse friends — Jimmy Dunn, Kevin Daniels and Renee Pezzotta as Moose, Tiny and Smokey, respectively — gather, sort of filling in for Norm, Cliff and Woody. Here, Frasier indulges in an uncharacteristic beer: “Sitting here with a cold brew in my hand, I feel amalgamated with the hoi polloi,” he says. (“You are the classic everyman,” comments Alan, dryly — though everything that comes out of Lyndhurst’s mouth is dry.)
Yet, as to the Place Where Everybody Knew His Name, he will muse ruefully, “I’m not sure I was ever my best self [in Boston]; I might have spent too much time in a certain bar” — a reference only the audience would understand.
Most of the reviews are positive, and it’s no surprise. Many familiar faces and hands attached to the 264 original episodes are back, most notably director James Burrows, who helmed tonight’s duo, and, per Schneider, several writers from the original, back to help supervise the rebirth: Bob Daily, Jay Kogen and Chris Lloyd. And Jeff Greenberg, who cast the original, returned for this as well.
I’ll also throw in executive producer and the head of Kelsey’s Gramnet Productions Tom Russo, who first crossed paths with Grammer as a Paramount comedy executive, and who first crossed paths with me a few years before that when he followed me in a station research role in New York when I relocated to California. Full disclosure: we’ve been friends ever since, and he’s moved way beyond number-crunching. But we both know more than a thing or two about the business side, and we when recently chatted he inspired me to offer up this quiet little suggestion to the folks at Paramount Global:
Much as we know you’re focused on growing your streaming platform, you have already demonstrated with the likes of YELLOWSTONE and 1883 that your audience has the capacity to find shows on CBS that have their roots on lesser-distributed services. Indeed, CBS will offer tonight’s first episodes in a special window Tuesday night, expanded to accommodate the longer length of these new episodes (as opposed to the way that they treated ONE DAY AT A TIME when it moved from Netflix to POP and ultimately turned up on CBS as a pandemic patch). Somehow, in spite of all of the supposed algorithms and metrics involved, the “scheduling” braintrust landed on dropping these episodes on Thursdays, which after this week will be on a once-a-week basis. Essentially the exact same way NBC scheduled it 30 years ago. When it premiered as a Top 10 show, filling the void left by CHEERS with the help of the relocated SEINFELD, which moved into CHEERS’ old time slot with the level of success that made it truly successful and iconic.
It took the entire run of FRASIER and FRIENDS, not to mention THE OFFICE and 30 ROCK, for CBS to claim Thursday night as its own comedy beachhead; indeed, Thursday is now the only night on its schedule with a two-hour block. At the same time when FRASIER will be releasing a limited number of episodes for a limited audience, CBS will be importing UK-produced episodes of what it believes to be their new hit, GHOSTS.
I’m gonna go out on a limb and say this has much more upside that GHOSTS UK, strike replacement or not.
So unless almost every critic in America is wrong, maybe consider putting these episodes on CBS sooner, and once the actors finally do get back to work (and I’m still optimistic despite last night’s meltdown) , ordering a few more than 10. Maybe release them on P+ with a short, theatrical-like window before they exhibit on CBS? Perhaps the combined audience of the ad-supported streamer and what is still the most-watched linear network might be enough to cover the costs of a larger order? Might provide enough tonnage for the new version to establish its own significant library bucket, one that can also run on the product-desperate cable networks you still own?
Maybe these are just old school ideas in a brave new world. But so is FRASIER. And that’s evolved pretty well, as I’m sure you’ll also be saying once you see these epsidoes.
I’d love to get feedback on all of this from fellow strategists and schedules who are feeling disenfranchised and ignored. There’s apparently plenty of us out there. If anyone at Paramount Global needs any help figuring this out, I know myself and others are more than available to help.
I sure hope, just like Dr. Crane, you’re still listening.
Until next time…