It's no longer one of the five funniest shows on TV, says Bruce Fretts

By Bruce Fretts
May 29, 2001 at 04:00 AM EDT
Frasier: Gale Adler/NBS

Why was ”Frasier” renewed?

I’ve lost interest in ”Frasier” lately, and I’m not alone: The NBC sitcom’s ratings were down 18 percent this season. Of course, this drop is partly attributable to the show being moved from the network’s marquee Thursday lineup to a lower wattage Tuesday slot. That’s usually a sign that a series is on its last legs, but the Peacock has picked up Kelsey Grammer’s laffer for no fewer than three more seasons. The question is: Why?

I watched the show’s hourlong season finale — actually, it was two half hour episodes — and while it’s nowhere near as bad as, say, ”3rd Rock From the Sun” (good riddance!), it’s just not fresh anymore. ”Frasier” won a record setting five straight Best Comedy Series Emmys in its heyday, but now it’s not even one of the five best comedy series on the air (for my money, those would be ”Everybody Loves Raymond,” ”The King of Queens,” ”Ed,” ”Will & Grace,” and ”Malcolm in the Middle”).

Part of the problem is Grammer has been doing the same part for 17 years now, including his years on ”Cheers.” The actor is apparently determined to tie ”Gunsmoke” star James Arness for most consecutive seasons playing the same character (for the record, 20). But surprise is an important element of humor, and there’s almost nothing Dr. Crane can do to surprise us at this point. Familiarity breeds contempt, not comedy.

The ensemble that surrounds Grammer also hasn’t changed in the series’ eight years on the air. Such long running dramas as ”Law & Order” and ”NYPD Blue” have been periodically reinvigorated by cast turnover, but David Hyde Pierce, Jane Leeves, John Mahoney, and Peri Gilpin have stayed put. Leeves took a brief maternity leave this season, but now that Daphne has consummated her long simmering relationship with Niles, her character is far less vital anyway.

Frasier has gone through a string of recurring girlfriends over the years, and while the roles have attracted intriguing actresses (Sela Ward, Virginia Madsen), they’ve never been given anything especially funny to do. The doctor’s now deciding between two prospective loves, played by Jean Smart and Patricia Clarkson, but Grammer displayed greater chemistry in a phone conversation with ex- wife Lillith (the much missed Bebe Neuwirth) than with either of his latest flames.

Plus, the writers seem to have forgotten that Frasier works at a radio station. His kooky coworkers at KACL once provided some of the show’s biggest laughs, but neither of this season’s final two episodes featured a single scene there (even producer Roz has been reduced to a generic pal). Dr. Crane’s on air catchphrase may be ”I’m listening,” but if ”Frasier” doesn’t improve soon, I may no longer be watching.

Are you still a ”Frasier” fan?

  • TV Show
run date
  • 09/16/93-05/13/04
  • Off Air
Complete Coverage