How’s this for timing? When the men of Frasier convened in a Chicago hotel for a photo shoot, it happened to be exactly 20 years to the day that the show debuted on NBC (Sept. 16, 1993, to be exact). The old gang was delighted to come together — though their memories of the show’s premiere did not always align. Peri Gilpin, for example, remembers the cast having to work on the same night the comedy first aired. David Hyde Pierce doesn’t think that’s right, and playfully says of Gilpin, ”Well, you know, she drinks.” One recollection they all share is how well the pilot taping went (”It took almost no time,” Kelsey Grammer says proudly) and how difficult it was to say goodbye. Two decades after viewers first heard Grammer sing about tossed salads and scrambled eggs, we asked the Crane boys and their leading ladies to take one more quick trip back to Seattle.
Kelsey Grammer Frasier Crane
Though the pilot was generously packed with laughs, the star’s favorite moment was when his character lit into his ungrateful dad, Martin, who has moved into Frasier’s swanky bachelor pad because he can no longer live on his own. The scene ends with a powerful moment of silence as Frasier futilely waits for a thank-you from his very aloof pop. Hardly the stuff of knee-slapping comedy, right? But Grammer and the producers wouldn’t have had it any other way. ”We always wanted to make sure things were real so we could get away with so much silliness,” Grammer explains. ”If we didn’t ground it, it didn’t earn the right to go that far. There was a lot of tension — but that was the important part of the show.” Once Frasier ended, Grammer worked regularly on the small screen. After starring on the sorely underappreciated Fox comedy Back to You and the critically acclaimed but short-lived Starz drama Boss, he’s now set to star opposite Martin Lawrence on an FX comedy about two Chicago lawyers. But Frasier continues to ”cast a long shadow,” admits Grammer, 58, who will also appear in Transformers: Age of Extinction next year. ”People usually come up with a smile and a thank-you. In England, a guy in the supermarket even came up to say ‘Wonderful work.’ It’s a nice way to make a living.”
David Hyde Pierce Niles Crane
Talk about flying blind: Pierce agreed to play Frasier’s prissy brother, Niles, before even seeing a pilot script. ”I got it the night before the read, and I thought, ‘This is terrible,”’ he recalls. ”As I read it I thought, ‘They’ve written two of the same characters!’ Then when we sat down and read it [at the table read], it all became clear. They came up with an even weirder version of Frasier to make him seem more…normal.” He also remembers feeling a bit underwhelmed when first meeting the ”famous TV director” James Burrows, who helmed the pilot and many episodes thereafter. ”Everybody said, ‘Wait until you work with this guy!’ I was so excited. [At the table read] he just walked in and said, ‘Let’s read.’ That’s it. This is what I was waiting for?” These days, Pierce can’t believe that he’s still recognized for his work on the sitcom. ”Unlike Niles, I have aged,” says the Emmy- and Tony-winning actor, 54, who is currently starring in the Off Broadway musical The Landing. ”I’m actually amazed people do recognize me. I’ll be walking through an airport in a baseball cap and someone will say something. It’s because we’re on so much in reruns.”
Peri Gilpin Roz Doyle
Two hours — that’s how long Gilpin recalls it took to film the Frasier pilot in front of a studio audience. ”It was so quick,” she says. ”I don’t think a word changed at all. It was very rehearsed. No one messed up. We were out by 9 p.m. It was crazy.” Crazier still, she adds, was how quickly the comedy gained momentum: ”I remember the news getting better and better. It was like an avalanche. John [Mahoney] was the one who kept us from leaving the ground. He was the grounded guy. He told everybody to calm down.” Looking back, the 52-year-old Gilpin — who continues to work in TV (Grey’s Anatomy, CSI, Men at Work) and recently wrapped an indie feature called Flock of Dudes — has one regret about her time at the fictitious KACL talk-radio station: ”There was a basketball jersey that was signed by a German player from Seattle. We had it up in the radio station [set]. I want it back.”
Jane Leeves Daphne Moon
A couple of things stand out to Leeves about the night she and her costars taped the Frasier pilot: the sound of her friend Valerie Bertinelli laughing in the studio audience, and Burrows getting physical with Pierce to make a point off camera. ”David and I kept on trying to rehearse our meeting in the corner,” explains Leeves, 52. ”Jimmy came up and smacked him. ‘You’ll ruin it!’ he said. ‘Stop rehearsing.”’ In a cosmic Hollywood coincidence, the friend who cheered Leeves on from the audience at the pilot taping is now her costar on Hot in Cleveland, the successful TV Land comedy featuring Bertinelli, Betty White, and Wendie Malick. ”I learned so much about this medium from watching them,” Leeves says of her Frasier costars. ”They were some of the finest people I ever met in my life. They shaped me as a person.” And in a small way, she remains married to one of them: When Frasier wrapped, Leeves took the wedding rings that she wore while her character was married to Niles. ”They are very lovely fakes,” she says proudly.
John Mahoney Martin Crane
Mahoney’s most vivid recollection of the pilot taping was how the audience reacted when Niles dusted off his chair in the coffeehouse that he and Frasier would frequent during the show’s long run. ”We thought it would get a laugh, but we didn’t think it would bring the house down,” says Mahoney, 73. ”We didn’t expect the cheering and the standing ovation at the end of the taping.” He also didn’t expect that his on-camera limp — the result of a gunshot wound Martin had suffered while working as a Seattle cop — would cause everyone to believe he used a cane in real life. ”A disabled person would come up and say how happy they were that a disabled person got the job, how wonderful it was they hired me. Whenever someone said that, I would just say thank you.” He says the only thing harder than emigrating from England when he was 19 was the day he had to bid farewell to his Frasier costars. ”We had become so close. It was like leaving my family all over again,” says the actor, who’s set to reappear as Betty White’s boyfriend on Leeves’ sitcom Hot in Cleveland early next year. ”I didn’t know when I would ever see them again. I thought we had taken the show as far as we could, but just leaving those friends…. It was very, very sad.”