NBC must be nuts. Why else would the network take its most promising show — Frasier, starring Kelsey Grammer — yank it out of its Thursday-night post-Seinfeld slot, and move it to Tuesdays, opposite ABC’s Roseanne, the 400-pound gorilla of the airwaves. (No offense, Rosey.)
Crazy, right? Maybe not. While NBC executives have committed some doozies in the past (think David Letterman), an Entertainment Weekly poll* hints that the good doctor might be just the man to bump off Roseanne. When asked which show they’d watch this fall:
*34 percent picked Frasier;
*nearly 30 percent chose Roseanne;
*and 33 percent, a surprisingly large number, voted for neither show.
Could this be the first chink in the Arnold armor? There have been rumblings that Roseanne and Tom Arnold’s offscreen squabbles are alienating even devoted fans. “People can’t believe what’s going on in her life,” says Grammer’s agent Michael Livingston. “I feel that’s why NBC decided now is the time to strike.” But so far the real-life soap opera has had little bearing on the sitcom. In the same EW poll, a whopping 87 percent said the comedian’s “personal upheavals” would have no effect on their decision to watch the show.
Though Roseanne has routinely demolished its competition (most recent victim: The John Larroquette Show), it has shown signs of slipping. The program finished the season in fourth place, down from second place in 1992-93, and will head into its seventh season this fall. “As shows age, somebody sneaks in and hurts them,” says a former ABC exec. Remember how The Simpsons chipped away at Cosby? Moreover, the biggest trend among the networks this year is their willingness to take each other on. Making its end run against CBS, Fox lured away the NFL as well as eight of the network’s big affiliates, and is also planning to put The Simpsons head-to-head with the Sunday-night favorite Murder, She Wrote.
The Frasier move has caused some trauma, starting with Grammer. NBC’s decision, says Livingston, came as “a complete surprise” to Grammer. “He’s still angry about it,” says the agent. “[NBC] wanted him to fly to New York, to be there when they announced the change to advertisers, and he wouldn’t go.” Executives at Paramount Television, which produces Frasier, were said to oppose the new time slot but would not comment. NBC’s programming chief, Don Ohlmeyer, did not return phone calls. Says a source close to the show: “We’re totally up for the challenge. We feel Frasier is so strong that it wouldn’t matter where it was on the schedule.”
Not that there’s fear and trembling in Lanford now that Dr. Crane is moving in. “We’re not getting concerned about it,” sniffs Fran Preston, creative-services director at the ABC-owned WLS-TV, Chicago. “Roseanne beats the competition every week.”
Of course, there is a safety net. NBC, says a source, has pledged to move Frasier back to Thursday should Roseanne bludgeon it. Meanwhile, there are rumors that ABC may switch Home Improvement and Roseanne to ensure a hasty retreat for Frasier. Clearly, they have not yet begun to fight.