By Jeff Labrecque
Updated October 21, 2011 at 08:17 PM EDT
Credit: Chuck Hodes/Starz; Everett Colleciton

Since Kelsey Grammer walked into our favorite Boston watering hole in 1984, as Diane Chambers’ pompous new paramour, there has seldom been a time that he hasn’t been a constant presence in our television lives. He originally signed on to play Dr. Frasier Crane for just six episodes, but he ended up sipping drinks — booze in Boston, coffee in Seattle — for the next 20 years (a television record matched only by James Arness, who famously played Marshal Matt Dillon on Gunsmoke). America adored Grammer’s portrayal of the egghead shrink; he even was nominated for an Emmy when his character made a single guest appearance on Wings. Throw in his work as the high-brow arch-criminal Sideshow Bob over two decades of The Simpsons (itself a derivation of Grammer’s Frasier character) and you can make the argument that Grammer is the greatest sitcom performer of the last quarter century — even with more recent misfires like Back to You and Hank on his ledger. I think this clip sums it all up:

Starting tonight, though, cable audiences will be introduced to another side of Kelsey Grammer. On Starz’s new drama, Boss, he plays the ruthless mayor of Chicago, Tom Kane, a nasty political kingpin grappling to maintain his place at the top of the food chain while fighting off the effects of a debilitating illness. It’s not the first time that Grammer has played a dramatic, devious character, but it feels like a departure for the actor who we feel we know so well (even if his personal life is full of self-inflicted drama). Perhaps that makes him the perfect man to play the role of a successful politician: we love him despite his flaws.

From an acting standpoint, Grammer’s shift from situation-comedy to dark drama is hardly unprecedented. Most recently, his old Cheers castmate Ted Danson won praise for burying all traces of Sam Malone with his portrayal of a devious billionaire on recent seasons of Damages, and now he’s at home as the new star of CSI. It was a daring maneuver for an actor so identified with a beloved comic character, and Danson proved it could work with the right material. Grammer is clearly counting on Boss being his Damages.

Have you watched the Boss premiere yet online? Are you ready for a show that basically stomps on Grammer’s Frasier persona we’ve grown so comfortable with? And what’s your favorite all-time Dr. Frasier Crane moment?

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