'Frasier' folks ready for dog-eat-dog days

TURNED ON IN L.A. -- FALL PREVIEW

July 26, 1994|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,Sun Television Critic

Los Angeles -- Last year at this time, the only interest in NBC's "Frasier" was its connection to "Cheers." Would Sam Malone visit Frasier in Seattle? What about Lilith? Would Frasier ever see her again? It was a sitcom with a giant question mark behind it.

Today, as it's about to enter only its second season, "Frasier" is the most talked-about and one of the hottest series on television.

It grabbed 11 Emmy nominations last week -- for NBC, bested only by the 12 for "Seinfeld." It was also the highest-rated Nielsen show last week. And, starting in September, it will be moved from Thursday to Tuesday nights to go head-to-head with ABC's Roseanne."

We love conflict. And the shootout with "Roseanne" is what everyone here is talking about -- including Kelsey Grammer, "Frasier's" star.

"The move. Well, you know, at first, of course, it seemed like a bit of a surprise. And, then, in all honesty, it wasn't," Grammer said yesterday, as he, the producers and other cast members met with TV critics.

"I thought, you know, we're doing very well. I think we have a fabulous show," he said. "I don't mean to come from a position of being cocky about it. But I'm very pleased with it, and I certainly think it's one of the finest shows on television. And I think it will hold up against anybody."

When a questioner suggested he did indeed sound cocky, Grammer said: "Well, maybe I am kind of cocky. I was doing 'Mary Stewart' at the Guthrie Theatre once, and a woman said to me, 'Kelsey, that line you're doing at the end of Act 1 is so quirky.' And I said, 'Marge, I get paid for quirky.' "

John Mahoney, who plays Frasier's cranky father in the show, was less cocky in his assessment of the big move.

"I was really shocked. You know, I just thought, well, you certainly don't get very long to rest on your laurels, do you. And sort of afraid. But, then, the more I think about it, I'm not afraid of doing it anymore. . . . I don't think any of us ever thought that we would just go in there on Tuesday and demolish 'Roseanne,' " Mahoney said.

The least cocky of all was executive producer David Lee.

The cast and crew were asked what they said when they heard about the move. Said Lee: " 'Another mai-tai, please,' is what I said."

Lee and the other producers talked about some of the story lines they will be using this fall to try to top "Roseanne" in the ratings.

"Well, Frasier and Niles [David Hyde Pierce] will dabble in politics this year, getting involved in a political campaign. And we also have what we think will be a wonderful episode about Martin [Mahoney] sort of trying to settle a feud with his old partner from his police department days," said producer Peter Casey.

"And Eddie's going to get the old snip, snip," said Lee, referring to Eddie the dog, the first character on "Frasier" to show real breakout potential last fall.

"Oh, yeah, Eddie's love life is coming to a crashing halt," Casey said, noting that Eddie is due to be neutered in an episode.

On the subject of Eddie, the producers were asked how Eddie felt about not getting an Emmy nomination. "I think you can guess, he's in a tailspin," Lee said.

"I actually spearheaded a movement within the Academy to create a category for Moose -- I think it's important Eddie's real name be used -- and I was flatly rejected. But the cause is not dead. I'm still fighting for it," Grammer added.

Asked what episode he thought was Eddie's best this past season, Grammer said: "I thought his best work was when he was doing that sleeping thing. Eddie as a sleeping dog was fabulous, I thought. I'd love to see more sleeping this year, maybe out on the terrace."

That's the way it goes when you're hot. The critics kid with you about Eddie instead of going for the throat the way they did with Laurence Tisch and Timothy Dalton from CBS last week.

"With all the junk that's on television, is it fair to make the American public choose between two of the very best shows?" the actors and producers were asked.

"It's simply not a question we can answer. Ask Mr. Littlefield," Lee said, referring to the entertainment president for NBC.

"Maybe it isn't fair. Maybe VCRs will solve the problem," Grammer said.

"Do you know how to program your VCR?" Grammer was asked.

+ "No, I haven't got a clue."

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