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Sitcom vets struggle to get serious

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In the Starz drama Boss, Kelsey Grammer plays a big-city mayor who rules with an iron fist — despite having a fatal neurological disorder. It’s the best performance of Grammer’s 30-year career, and yet only a fraction of his Frasier fans have bothered to watch. Despite having already earned a second-season pickup, Boss has continued to lose viewers (from 659,000 for the premiere to 420,000 for the most recent first-run episode) in the four weeks since it began airing, begging the question: Does the public really want to see an actor known for sitcoms take on a darker role? ”The whole purpose of the first episode was to allow viewers the time to see a man they knew as one person sit down in a chair and hear some information,” Grammer says, in reference to the first scene in Boss‘ pilot, when his character, Tom Kane, silently learns of his fate from a doctor. ”When I stood up, I became someone completely different. People will catch on.” From his lips to Nielsen’s ears: Everybody Loves Raymond star Ray Romano learned firsthand how hard it is to make the transition from comedy to drama when he headlined TNT’s Men of a Certain Age. Though Romano, like Grammer, earned rave reviews, the low-rated Men — in which he portrayed a middle-aged man in the throes of divorce — was canceled in July after two seasons. ”I know more than anybody that when an audience sees you in a certain way for years and they have an attachment to the character you played, it’s hard for them to see you in a different way,” Romano says. ”It’s about taking baby steps. But it’s not easy.” Still, Romano hopes to do another drama and says he’ll never take on another multicamera comedy. (On the other hand, Home Improvement‘s Tim Allen — who could have had his pick of shows this season, including one from David E. Kelley — returned to television with ABC’s traditional sitcom Last Man Standing, which has received a full-season order.) Grammer, meanwhile, is willing to tolerate a few skeptics, mostly because he’s encountered them before. ”When I came back to TV to do [the 2007 Fox sitcom] Back to You, I got complaints from people who didn’t like seeing me as a guy who didn’t want kids. It was still a comedy. And yet, there was ‘How can he be that person?”’

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