When Paramount+ revealed the key art for the new “Frasier,” which premieres Oct. 12, fans were up in arms … because the character was wearing jeans and Allbirds sneakers. Sure, the dressed-down look might be out of step for the Frasier Crane we knew on “Cheers” or the original “Frasier.” But this is “Frasier” 3.0.
“We love that people care,” Harris says. “It’s partly the times and it is also a little bit about how the character is more comfortable with who he is and where he is in life.” Adds Cristalli: “He’s not going to wear Armani suits anymore. It’s 2023. This is what fancy rich guys wear now — they wear comfortable clothes! If that’s the biggest problem people have, we are in a really good spot.”
Welcome back, “Frasier” — same as the old “Frasier,” and yet entirely different. 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).
“You can’t do the original,” says James Burrows, the “Cheers” co-creator who directed the original “Frasier” pilot and helms the first two episodes of the revival. “You have to come up with a new family for him. So you try to get a cast as good as the previous ‘Frasier’ show cast. And I think we came pretty close.”
It wasn’t necessarily going to go this way. Talk of another version of “Frasier” has been ongoing since the show ended on NBC in 2004. Almost immediately, Paramount Network Television and Grammer started kicking around a new concept for a “Frasier” rebirth — but after NBC, and then CBS, passed, the plan went dormant.
Until the late 2010s, when Grammer decided it was time again. In 2018, Grammer told reporters that the idea of a “Frasier” reboot was “in the early stages. It might happen again, it might not. If it’s not a great show and we don’t hear a pitch that really hits it out of the park, it probably won’t happen.”
Turns out, one did indeed resonate: A pitch from Cristalli (“Life in Pieces”) and Harris (“How I Met Your Mother”). Cristalli, who was a “Frasier” super fan who had created a Twitter feed filled with modern-day story ideas, had sent a “Frasier” spec to Grammer’s producers, who then suggested he pair with the more seasoned showrunning vet Harris. (CBS Studios produces the revival with Grammer’s Grammnet NH Productions.)
“Thank God they did, because we wrote the pitch together and then the pilot together,” Cristalli says. “And Kelsey heard, I think, 30 or something pitches and he liked our take the best.”
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. Obviously that was crushing for all of us, including Kelsey, who had hoped to bring everyone back. But it also freed us…. We decided we were going to try to still be a lot like the previous ‘Frasier,’ but as more of its own third chapter.
“We wanted to be able to give it the feel and the intelligence and the heart of the previous incarnation,” he adds. “But we tried to do it a little bit more from the ground up, as opposed to trying to wedge everyone into this story about Frasier and his son.”
Bringing back Burrows was a key part of moving forward. ABC had just passed on a pilot Burrows directed that starred Grammer and Alec Baldwin, and then Grammer told him about the “Frasier” return. “The person I hear from is Kelsey,” Burrows says. “I wanted to work with him again. And the pickings for a multi camera sitcom director are few and far between in the world we live in now. So it was refreshing when I did two episodes of the new ‘Frasier’ show, to hear that laughter, and to feel that invigoration that comes from an audience who appreciate your work.”
Burrows recalls how electric that first episode taping was back in February. “It’s great when you do a show when you have an audience in an actor’s corner already. And Kelsey had them in the palm of his hand,” he says. “Kelsey is certainly still that character. And he looks the same. That’s the eternal gift of an actor — never aging.”
Also keeping tabs on “Frasier” continuity are 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. (“Frasier” aired for 264 episodes between 1993 and 2004. David Angell, Peter Casey, and David Lee created the series based on the “Cheers” character.) Besides Harris, Cristalli and Grammer, EPs include Tom Russo and Jordan McMahon.
Grammer and the producers debated setting the show in Chicago or New York before settling on Beantown. “Kelsey was like, ‘You know what? He’s got unfinished business in Boston. He’s not happy with the self he was in Boston. Let’s bring him back to Boston,’” Cristalli says. “That’s ostensibly where his son would still be living, and that’s where he grew up. It really clicked into place then. There were a lot of stops and starts but we ended up, I think, in a pretty good place. I kept pitching that Stanley Tucci could just play Niles, but nobody seemed to respond.”
It all made sense after that, and so did bringing in Freddy’s mother, Lilith (Bebe Neuwirth), later in the season. But beyond that, Roz (Peri Gilpin) is the only other familiar face from the “Cheers”/“Frasier” universe in Season 1. “It feels like maybe we haven’t earned that yet,” Cristalli says of heading too far down memory lane. “Any more than that in Season 1 probably would have been a bit too far. But like I can’t wait to bring back BB Glaser or Gil or Bulldog. Niles, if he’ll do it, or Daphne. Anybody that wants to would be great. Just as long as it feels organic to the story and isn’t just a shameless, ‘Hey, look, it’s Bulldog!’”
Says Harris: “We’re sort of conscious about not seeming like we’re just trying to grab anything from the past and cram it into our show just as a way to get people to cheer or or get people to watch. Frasier has mixed feelings about returning to Boston. He’s there for his son. And he knows he has some unfinished business there.”
And yes, that includes the prospect of Frasier dropping by Cheers, the bar that started it all. In the first episode of the new series, Frasier makes a brief comment about “the bar” he spent too much time at back in the day, but that’s it for now. “It is a little bit by design that he hasn’t mentioned it or gone back there,” Cristalli says. “He’s not ready. He left Boston with his tail between his legs. So hopefully it gets to a place where he can do it. I would love to see Norm and Sam. How great would that be?”
Adds Harris: “It might just take him a little bit of time to warm up and get up the courage to set foot in that bar again. And we like the idea of stretching it out. If or when he goes back to Cheers, that’s going to be a big moment. We want to make sure we do it right and give it what it deserves.”
Since it’s on Paramount+, Season 1 of “Frasier” runs between 24 and 29 minutes per episode — a luxury not seen on broadcast, where most episodes tap out at 21 minutes. (When it repeats on CBS, the timeslot will be expanded to allow the full episode to run.)
“It allowed us to open up those moments that were working and that were funny and live in them for a while,” Harris says. “And also emotional moments that were serious, we could live in them for a while and not chop them down and hurry them up. Especially with Kelsey, who can walk out onto the stage and get three continuous ways of laughter just from a look. We get to play that out as opposed to if we were on network.”
Says Burrows: “I thought Joe and Chris did a really good job. The two shows I did were funny and incredibly poignant.”
Now, the duo is awaiting word for a Season 2. “Hopefully now that we can write again, we’ll be back in the writers room soon — there’s nothing more that we’d like to do,” Harris says.
Meanwhile, because of the ongoing SAG-AFTRA strike, Grammer himself hasn’t been available to chat about the “Frasier” revival, including his take on the character now. But prior to the strike, he did offer up his thoughts for a Paramount+ press kit, which Variety has exclusively attained: “I think Frasier appeals to multiple generations because they recognize themselves in him,” Grammer says. “He’s a flawed human being, trying not to be a victim of his flaws. He’s doing his best to get up every morning and be the hero of his own life. He fails miserably pretty much once or twice a day, but he keeps going. And I think they see that. They recognize in him a, you know… a brother, a son, a father, all the things that they are themselves—youthful, foolish, past his prime in some ways, right at his prime in others.
“He’s a wonderful, loveable, staggering human being who is, I think, familiar to most people. Maybe just a little bit sillier. And I think that is part of where Frasier is now. He’s willing to see the humor in his own life a little quicker and understand that sometimes the world is absurd and to kind of embrace it a little more.”
From Variety US