May 23, 2024

It’s a chilly February evening on the Paramount lot as Kelsey Grammer transforms into Frasier Crane for the first time in nearly two decades. It’s an emotional moment on set, both nostalgic and anticipatory. The sets are new, as is every cast member besides Grammer. But behind the camera, legendary director James Burrows shares some continuity with Grammer — having been there from the character’s 1984 beginning on “Cheers.”

Even months later, with the 2023 “Frasier” now on the air (via Paramount+), Grammer gets choked up when asked about what returning to the character — and having institutions like Burrows (one of the original “Cheers” creators) back on board — means to him.

“It’s a piece of personal heaven for me that Jimmy Burrows is still in my life,” Grammer says, his voice cracking just a bit. “And I will always feel that way about him. He’s really helpful. And his loyalty to our friendship has been… he’s just aces. He’s one of the greatest people I know. Our relationship has been an extraordinary one through the years and I’ve so grateful to him for being there.”

“Frasier” 2023 represents a new chapter for an older, wiser and perhaps mellower Frasier Crane — but the same probably can be said for Kelsey Grammer as well. It’s sometimes hard to separate the two, given how iconic both the character and the actor have meant to TV history. Even Frasier’s more casual clothing choices — which strangely became the subject of hot debate online — comes partly out of Grammer’s need to be a bit more comfortable.

“I did think it was a natural progression for him,” Grammer says of Frasier’s sneakers and jeans. “But also natural for me. People didn’t talk about it much during the old iteration of the show. But my feet were always an issue. And I had a couple of podiatrists years ago notice on the show, asking ‘what’s going on with your feet?’ I have a gait issue, it’s just because I have really, really bad ankles. It’s OK, but it’s a little easier to wear those shoes than it is to wear a bunch of custom made brogues and all that.”

Besides updating Frasier’s wardrobe, the revival seems effortlessly tailor-made for Grammer. (Of course, we know the work that went into making this show happen, but the fact that it hit a stride so quickly is a reminder that there are pros at the helm.) “Kelsey had them in the palm if his hand,” Burrows says.

That’s why the star is ready to go the distance with this iteration of “Frasier” as well. “I think we should go to another 100 episodes at least,” he says. “There’s enough groundwork laid between these human beings; they are wonderful characters. I want to see where they go. And I want to see what happens to Frasier.”

In “Frasier” 3.0, the character has wrapped his successful daytime TV show and has moved back to Boston to reconnect with his grown son, Freddy (Jack Cutmore-Scott), and nephew David (Anders Keith). An old Oxford chum, Alan (Nicholas Lyndhurst), soon convinces him to try his hand as a Harvard instructor, in a psychology department run by Olivia (Toks Olagundoye). Joe Cristalli and Chris Harris are the showrunners and new to the “Frasier” universe, but Burrows (who directed the first two episodes) isn’t the only alum back for more. Casting director Jeff Greenberg returned, as did consulting producers Bob Daily, Jay Kogen and Chris Lloyd.

“We have a pedigree together,” Grammer says. And then there’s the return of Bebe Neuwirth as Frasier’s ex, Lilith, and Peri Gilpin as his former radio producer, Roz.

Asked about Neuwirth, and Grammer’s voice again begins to crack. “Bebe and I have a connection, which is lovely, too,” he says. “I remember years ago, we were sitting on the set of Frasier, and I was going through something. I said, Can you believe this one, and I actually laid out something that I was going through at the time, and she said, ‘Don’t let them win.’ She’s a tough one. And I love her for that.”

Due to the SAG-AFTRA strike, Grammer wasn’t able to conduct any interviews during the launch of the new “Frasier” in October. But as Season 1 draws to a close with a holiday episode on Dec. 7, he’s now able to chat — and Variety has the first extensive interview with Grammer timed to the series’ launch. Below, Grammer gives his thoughts on where Frasier is now, whether we’ll ever see him visiting the “Cheers” bar, if Niles (David Hyde Pierce) might visit, and more.

There had been talk almost immediately after “Frasier” ended in 2004 about bringing it back, but nothing happened. The idea has popped up from time to time; why was now the right time? What made you ready to revisit the character?

Once “Cheers” ended the first time I thought, “well, Frasier’s done now. It’s good, we’ll move on to do something else.” I had a deal with Paramount to go to a different show. And we worked on that for a while. And then everybody suggested that maybe it’d be best to continue Frasier, in a different world. And that turned out pretty well. Once the show “Frasier” ended, there was some talk to continue for a while, maybe add another year or two. I talked to [then-NBC head] Jeff Zucker at the time. He told me that “Joey” was what they’d put their eggs in that basket. And they said, that was the next “Frasier.” And I said, “Well, okay, good for you. and off you go.” It turned out fine. I liked the idea of ending something. And then it came up a decade or so later, somebody was saying, “What would Frasier be up to?’ And I thought, yeah, that’s an interesting idea. And so, it started percolating, maybe a decade ago, honestly about what that could look like.

And then Roseanne came back with her show. And I thought that the response to that was so interesting to me. Those two shows were contemporaries. And Tim Allen was still on television. We were all sort of on the same wavelength back then. And I thought, this might actually bear some fruit, if we do it the right way. It had to be right though. It had to have contemporary value. And so, we started hatching the plan.

From top, left to right: Nicholas Lyndhurst, director James Burrows, Anders Keith, Jess Salgueiro, Kelsey Grammer, Jack Cutmore-Scott and Toks Olagundoye on the set of “Frasier.” (Chris Haston/Paramount+)
Chris Haston/Paramount+

How did you decide to focus it on Frasier’s relationship with his son?

That was the inception point. The idea that the first episode of Frasier was called ‘The Good Son’ naturally fed into ‘The Good Father,’ which would be the next iteration. John [Mahoney] died and that that sort of sealed the deal on it. We had to honor the legacy that John/Martin and Kelsey/Frasier created together. So, it always had to have the emotional underpinning, which is what was key to the first “Frasier” was as well. Something that still agitates the retina, makes you think about things.

I really wanted David Hyde Pierce to join us. And I did my best to have him come along for the ride. And at one point, he finally just said, “I don’t really want to play the character anymore.” And that was fine. And then it came to me in a dream, let’s go back to Boston. There’s unfinished business there. His son lives there. It suddenly went into this new world, which is, of course, what “Frasier” did the first time.

Had David agreed to come back, would it have been a continuation of the original “Frasier”?

No, never a continuation. A couple of other shows have basically sort of picked up where they left off. And I didn’t want to do that. Because the guy had been away for 20 years. It had to be a maturation, he had to be a wiser guy, he had to take a few things less seriously, and take some of the serious things more seriously. And that should be his family.

Frasier mentions a bar that he used to spend so much time back in the day, without specifically saying “Cheers.” Jimmy believes you should never show Cheers again. What’s your thought?

I actually think he’s right about that. I don’t think we should do that. We don’t want to desecrate a national monument. I’m not sure how we can have it live up to anything but a desecration. I think we honor it by excluding it.

It’s fascinating to see where Frasier has been over the past two decades. He’s become a TV star, he’s a household name!

It’s pretty funny.

What does that allow the show to do with the character, now that he is legitimately is recognizable across the nation?

It allows him to work on something different. It does sort of take care of that thing that sort of eluded him, “Have I become something? Who am I?” All the questions that we ask ourselves consistently in life, Frasier has an idea of who he might be at this point. There’s one less thing that he has in his life to really be obsessed with. It’s not his fame, it’s not his recognition. It’s his personal life. It’s his emotions. It’s hopefully, at some point, a relationship of value that values him and that he can sustain.

How did Chris and Joe win you over as writers?

On the recommendation of friends, we met with several writing teams. We had laid the groundwork, that he had to go to a new city, we had to honor his father, and we had to connect him with his son. Those are the bullet points. And they came up with an idea that seemed to work out all right. My idea always was, maybe we took ourselves a little too seriously as “Frasier.” It’s just about a family and about a character who’s still trying to do the world some good. And so, I made a conscious decision that we should try to be a little sillier and not maybe carry that mantle of how precious we were. And I think I’m very happy about where we ended up. There’s something a little more mischievous about the way Fraser approaches things now. And I like it. I like getting a choice.

Talk a little bit about just that first night of taping, and Jimmy Burrows is there again, some of the other folks who were on the original like Chris Lloyd and Bob Daily. It must have just been surreal to be there doing this again.

There just aren’t a lot of people any better than that. What most people would assume or presume is a cutthroat kind of not particularly friendly industry is filled with real kindness. If you’ve found the gold, you just try to surround yourself in it for the rest of your life. JB, as I call him, or Jimmy, he is just gold. He’s the Alchemist of all time.

Jimmy is really also trying to keep the multi-camera sitcom alive. You’re one of the few left.

There’s enough of us still around to kind of refine it and bring it back. I actually think there may be a renewed interest in this kind of programming. And I think there may be a renewed kind of need for it in a lot of ways. It’s laughter without obligation, laughter without really hurting anybody. There’s so many negative things that happen in our world and our culture today. I think it’s kind of crying out for a way to reacquaint itself with, ‘oh, yeah, we can sit back and relax and enjoy half an hour or an hour of something.’ Where we laugh with people, where we recognize foibles and shortcomings and all that stuff. But we still sort of celebrate the fact that we’re all people trying to do our best. I think America is a wonderful place. And we don’t need to do this stuff to hurt each other anymore.

This cast seems to have gelled quickly.

We got Jeff Greenberg on team for that almost right away. And it was such a blessing. He did a hell of a job. Jack just hit it out of the park. Jack was funny. Jess came in as Eve and she just nailed it. Toks just walked in, and she was it. She’s terrific. She has skill and is really great at harpooning herself in the midst of a great speech.

And then Nicholas, he’s a superstar in the U.K. but a fresh face for us.

He’s a national treasure. We really got lucky on it. He and I worked together years ago on a production of “Man of La Mancha” in London, and just fell in love.

Kelsey Grammer as Frasier Crane and Bebe Neuwirth as Dr. Lilith Sternin in “Frasier.” (Chris Haston/Paramount+)
Chris Haston/Paramount+

You brought in Bebe Neuwirth and Peri Gilpin, but it appears that you wanted to be careful not to go to the nostalgia well too often.

It’s a new show. With a centerpiece that we’re accustomed to, but not necessarily that we know like we used to. He’s got new places to go. But yeah, those sort of landmarks from his past, still have relevance and are explored, I think, in a way that’s contemporary. And also, when Roz appears, it sort of fortifies Freddy’s role, as well.

That clip at the end of the first episode with John Mahoney was a nice tribute.

I’m glad you appreciate that. It seems that people did. John was one off, an authentic one-of-a-kind. And that’s a remarkable thing to have a chance to celebrate him.

Do you think we’ll see Niles at some point? Is there a chance David might be willing to guest star?

I mean, we have Niles’ son on the show. It would be nice to have that happen. We won’t force it; we’ll see what happens. We can certainly write to it. There’s arguably a lot of people in the world that have seen “Frasier,” and would really sort of celebrate seeing him again.

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