Psychiatrist Dr. Frasier Crane (Grammer) returns to his hometown of Seattle, Washington, following the end of his marriage and his life in Boston (as seen in Cheers).
His plans for a new life as a bachelor are complicated when he is
obliged to take in his father, a retired detective from the Seattle Police Department, Martin (Mahoney), who is unable to live by himself after being shot in the line of duty. Frasier and Martin are joined by Daphne Moon
(Leeves), Martin's English, live-in physical therapist and caretaker,
and Martin's dog Eddie (played by Moose and Enzo). Frasier's younger
(Pierce), a fellow psychiatrist, frequently visits their apartment.
Niles' infatuation with, and eventual love for Daphne—feelings which he
does not confess to her openly until the final episode of the seventh season—form a complex story arc that spans the entire series.
Frasier hosts the popular The Dr. Frasier Crane Show on the talk radio station KACL. While his head producer Roz Doyle
(Gilpin) is very different from Frasier in taste and temperament, over
time they become very close friends. Frasier and the others often visit
the local coffee shop Café Nervosa, the scene of many of their comic adventures.
The sons, who possess fine tastes, intellectual interests, and high opinions of themselves,
frequently clash with their blue-collar, down-to-earth father. Frasier
and Niles' relationship is often also turbulent; while very close,
their intense sibling rivalry frequently results in chaos. Other recurring themes include the breakdown of Niles' marriage to the never-seenMaris,
Frasier's search for love in his own life, and the various attempts of
the two brothers to gain acceptance into Seattle's cultural elite.
The lead actors were with the show for all of its 11 years.
Grammer was briefly the highest paid television actor in the United
States for his portrayal of Frasier, while Jane Leeves was the highest
paid British actress. Following his many appearances in Cheers, Grammer tied the record for the longest running character in prime time, equalling James Arness' twenty years as Marshal Dillon on Gunsmoke, but this was beaten by the principal cast of The Simpsons, although Grammer and Arness still hold the record in live action.
In addition to the ensemble, a number of additional characters were
introduced to advance the storyline. These included characters from
Frasier's former incarnation on Cheers, such as his ex-wife Lilith Sternin, played by Bebe Neuwirth. Some other characters, such as Bob 'Bulldog' Briscoe, played by Dan Butler,
the host of a radio sports show that aired following Frasier's show,
made regular appearances. He was billed with the main cast for three
seasons (seasons 4-6) before that he was a recurring character. After
season 6 he was placed back on recurring guest status.
Three of the main cast members reunited in an episode of The Simpsons. Grammer reprised his role for the tenth time as Sideshow Bob, Pierce reprised his role for the second time as Sideshow Bob's brother, Cecil Terwilliger, and Mahoney appeared as Cecil and Bob's father, Dr. Robert Terwilliger, in the episode "Funeral For A Fiend".
As Cheers approached its last season in 1993, Grammer
approached Angell, Casey, and Lee. The actor had enjoyed his appearance
on an episode of the three men's Wings,
and hoped that they could create a new show for him. Grammer did not
want to continue playing Frasier Crane, and Angell, Casey, and Lee did
not want the new show to be compared to Cheers, which they had worked on before Wings. The three proposed that the actor play a wealthy, Malcolm Forbes-like paraplegic publisher with a "street smart" Hispanic live-in nurse. While Grammer liked the concept, Paramount Television disliked it because it was unrelated to the enormously popular Cheers. Although Grammer agreed to star in a Cheers
spin-off, the producers set the new show as far from Boston as possible
to prevent NBC from demanding that other characters from the old show
make guest appearances on the new show during its first season. After first choosing Denver, Angell, Casey, and Lee ultimately chose Seattle as the setting.
The creators did not want Frasier in private practice so the show would not resemble The Bob Newhart Show,
and conceived the idea of the psychiatrist working in a radio station
surrounded by "wacky, yet loveable" characters. After finding that such
a setting resembled WKRP in Cincinnati,
Lee's experiences with caring for an aging parent very different from
the son caused the creators to emphasize Frasier's home life and family
history, which Cheers had rarely explored, and "the relationship between an aging father and the grown-up son he never understood."
Originally there was to be no brother because Frasier told his bar friends at Cheers that he was an only child. After a casting director noticed Pierce's resemblance to Grammer, the creators were "blown away" by his acting ability and created a role for him. Martin Crane is based on creator Casey's father, who spent 34 years with the San Francisco Police Department; Grammer, who lost his father as a child, and the childless Mahoney immediately built a close father-son relationship.
NBC suggested that Martin's nurse be English instead of Hispanic as it
favored Leeves for the role. Grammer was initially reluctant as he
thought the casting made the show resemble Nanny and the Professor, but approved Leeves after a read-through with her. The only main role that required auditions was Roz Doyle, named in memory of a producer of Wings. She was originally to be played by Lisa Kudrow,
but during rehearsals, it became apparent that she did not fit the
role. The creators quickly hired Gilpin, their second choice.
As Pierce's role as Niles became a breakout character,
focus shifted to the brothers' relationship. The cast had an unusual
amount of freedom to suggest changes to the script. Grammer used an
acting method he called "requisite disrespect" and did not rehearse
with the others, instead learning and rehearsing his lines once just
before filming each scene in front of a live studio audience.
Although effective, the system often caused panic among guest stars. In
1996 Grammer's recurrent alcoholism led to a car accident; the cast and
crew performed an intervention that persuaded him to enter the Betty Ford Clinic, delaying production for a month.
The radio station callers' lines were spoken by anonymous voice-over actors while filming the show in front of a live audience. This gave the cast something to which they could react. During post-production,
the lines were replaced by celebrities, who literally phoned in their
parts without having to come into the studio. The end credits of season
finales showed headshots of all the celebrities who had "called in"
The closing credits for each episode features the song "Tossed
Salads and Scrambled Eggs", sung by Grammer, and a short silent skit.
Season finales were the exception, usually showing black-and-white
photos of guest callers.
No building or apartment in Seattle really has the view from Frasier's residence. It was created so the Space Needle
would appear more prominently. According to the Season 1 DVD bonus
features, the photograph used on the set was taken from atop a cliff,
possibly the ledge at Kerry Park, a frequent photography location. Despite this, Frasier
has been said to have contributed to the emergence of an upscale urban
lifestyle in 1990s Seattle, with buyers seeking properties in locations
resembling that depicted in the show, in search of "that cosmopolitan
feel of Frasier".
Many regular cast members seen on Cheers made appearances on Frasier, with the exceptions of Nicholas Colasanto (Coach, 1982–1985), who died in 1985 prior to the advent of Frasier, and Kirstie Alley (Rebecca Howe, 1987–1993). Bebe Neuwirth (Lilith Sternin, 1986–1993) was the lone character of Cheers, other than Grammer, to become a recurring character on Frasier. Kelsey Grammer has said that Frasier allowed him the opportunity to settle an old disagreement with Shelley Long, who had played Diane Chambers on the first five seasons of Cheers. On Cheers,
Long did not like the Frasier character and lobbied to get Grammer
removed from the show. The producers disagreed, noting that the
audience liked him. This allowed the two actors to make peace; Grammer
has said "The Show Where Diane Comes Back" is one of his favorite episodes. Long also played Diane Chambers in two other Frasier
episodes. The first was a brief surprise cameo in a 1994 episode and
once again in the 2001 season premiere, both times as figments of
Frasier's imagination.
Some cast members of Frasier had appeared previously in minor roles on Cheers. In the episode "Do Not Forsake Me, O' My Postman" (1992), John Mahoney played Sy Flembeck,
an over-the-hill advertising executive hired by Rebecca to write a
jingle for the bar. In it, Grammer and Mahoney exchanged a few lines.
Peri Gilpin appeared in a Cheers episode titled "Woody Gets an Election" playing a reporter who interviews Woody when he runs for office.
Similar to Norm Peterson's
wife Vera, Niles' wife Maris is never seen or heard from. This style is
used again when Martin meets the woman he has been watching from across
the street via his telescope, and for Senator Adler when he arrived at
In some cases Cheers directly contradicts Frasier or vice versa. Frasier's mother is remembered in Frasier as a sensitive, kind woman and a wonderful mother, yet she appears in a Cheers episode (played by Nancy Marchand)
as a haughty, overbearing woman who threatens Diane Chambers at
gunpoint to end her relationship with Frasier. Mrs. Crane was portrayed
in a 2001 episode of Frasier (on Martin's old cine movies) by Rita Wilson,
who reprised the role during Frasier's imaginary experiences with the
important women in his life. In this case she was once again portrayed
as threatening toward Diane (and Lilith), citing as her reasons her
concern for Frasier's happiness.
In the eighth-season Cheers episode "Two Girls for Every Boyd", Frasier tells Sam Malone (played by Ted Danson) that his father, a research scientist, had died. In the Frasier
Season 2 episode "The Show Where Sam Shows Up", when Sam meets Martin,
Martin brings up the discrepancies. Frasier explains it away by saying
that at the time, he was angry after a recent argument with his father
on the phone. In "The Show Where Woody Shows Up", Woody Boyd
upon meeting Martin says he remembers hearing about him — probably from
Sam talking about his experiences in Seattle when he returned to Boston.
In the ninth-season episode, "Cheerful Goodbyes" in 2002, Frasier
returns to Boston to give a speech and Niles, Daphne and Martin come
along to see the city. Frasier runs into Cliff Clavin (played by John Ratzenberger)
at the airport and learns that Cliff is retiring and moving to Florida.
Frasier and company attend Cliff's retirement party where Frasier
reunites with the rest of the gang from Cheers (sans Sam, Woody and
Rebecca), including bar regular Norm Peterson (played by George Wendt); waitress Carla Tortelli (played by Rhea Perlman); barflies Paul Krapence (played by Paul Willson) and Phil (played by Philip Perlman); and Cliff's old post office nemesis Walt Twitchell (played by Raye Birk).
In the eleventh-season episode of Frasier, "Caught in the
Act", Frasier's married ex-wife, children's entertainer Nanny G, comes
to town and invites him backstage for a rendezvous. Nanny G appeared on
the Cheers episode "One Hugs, The Other Doesn't" (1992) and was portrayed by Emma Thompson. In this episode of Frasier she is portrayed by Laurie Metcalf. She also appeared in the second episode of Season 9 of Frasier, "Don Juan in Hell: Part 2" and was played by Dina Waters.
The set of Frasier itself was built over the set of Cheers on the same stage after it had finished filming. The producers for Frasier made certain there were no stools in the coffee shop in order to distance it visually from the Cheers bar.
Critics and commentators broadly appear to have held Frasier in high regard, with not so high regards towards the later seasons.
Caroline Frost said that the series overall showed a high level of wit,
but in common with other commentators such as Ken Tucker and Robert
Bianco felt that the marriage of Daphne and Niles in season ten removed
a lot of the comic tension.
Tucker specifically felt that their marriage made the series seem
desperate for storylines, while Bianco felt that it was symptomatic of
a show that had begun to dip in quality after so much time on the air.
Kelsey Grammer acknowledged the creative lull, saying that over the
course of two later seasons the show "took itself too seriously". Commentators do, however, acknowledge that there was an improvement following the return of the writers Christopher Lloyd and Joe Keenan, although not necessarily to its earlier high standards.
Writing about the first season, John O'Connor described Frasier
as being a relatively unoriginal concept, but said that it was
generally a "splendid act", while Tucker thought that the second season
benefited greatly from a mix of "high and low humor".
Tucker's comment is referring to what Grammer described as a rule of
the series that the show should not play down to its audience. Kevin Cherry believes that Frasier
was able to stay fresh by not making any contemporary commentary,
therefore allowing the show to be politically and socially neutral. Other commentators, such as Haydn Bush disagree, believing the success of Frasier can be attributed to the comedic timing and the chemistry between the characters.
In spite of the criticisms of the later seasons, these critics were
unanimous in praising at least the early seasons, with varied
commentary on the series' demise ranging from believing, like Bianco,
that the show had run its course to those like Dana Stevens who
bemoaned the end of Frasier as the "end of situation comedy for adults".
Frasier is one of the most successful spin-off series in
television history and one of the most critically acclaimed comedy
series of all time. The series won 37 prime-time Emmys during its 11-year run, breaking the record long held by The Mary Tyler Moore Show
(29). Grammer and Pierce each won four, including one each for the
final season. The series holds the record for the most consecutive Primetime Emmy Awards for Outstanding Comedy Series, winning five from 1994 to 1998.
Grammer has been Emmy-nominated for playing Frasier Crane on Cheers and Frasier, as well as a 1992 crossover appearance on Wings,
making him the only performer to be nominated for playing the same role
on three different series. 2003 was the first year that Grammer did not
receive an Emmy nomination for this series. Pierce was nominated every
year of the show's run, breaking the record for nominations in his
category with his eighth nomination in 2001; he was nominated a further
three times after this.
A poll taken by the British Channel 4 of the sitcom industry voted Frasier the best sitcom of all time.