Frasier – Tossed Salad and Scrambled Eggs: An Oral History of the beloved sitcom
Kelsey Grammer, David Hyde Pierce, Peri Gilpin, Jane Leeves, creators Peter Casey and David Lee, and more recount how a series centered around a snooty radio psychiatrist became one of the most beloved sitcoms in TV history.
From the first etching of the Seattle skyline to the final fade-out inside a Chicago-bound airplane, Frasier celebrated the intelligence of its audience with sharp, accessible humor. For 11 seasons, from 1993 to 2004, NBC’s hugely successful Cheersspin-off walked a fine line between extreme theatricality and heightened reality. It played with our emotions, shifting easily from major to minor keys and balancing goofy farce with tales of heartbreak and woe.
The show’s creators, David Angell, Peter Casey, and David Lee,followed a simple mantra: no stupid jokes, no stupid characters. Deliver smart, heartfelt content framed within awkward situations. And never take the easy way out.
In front of the camera, Frasier’s cast elevated even the best material; behind it they connected as family, becoming godparents to each other’s children and siblings at heart. The fact that Kelsey Grammer (Frasier Crane) and David Hyde Pierce (Niles Crane) still lovingly refer to the late John Mahoney (who played their father, Martin) as “dad” tells you everything you need to know.
Frasier is beloved enough that the mere mention of a potential reboot can spin social media into a frenzy. And while the radio psychiatrist’s future remains unwritten, the pioneering series—which won a record-breaking 37 Emmys from 108 nominations, the most for any comedy or drama until Game of Thrones took the title in 2017—serves as a testament to creative excellence and intelligent comedy. On the 25th anniversary of the show’s premiere in September 1993, it’s time to look back behind the scenes of one of television’s best series ever. We’re listening.
Cheers introduced Frasier Crane, Diane Chambers’s new boyfriend, in the premiere episode of its third season. Brilliant, erudite, and cosmopolitan, Crane served as the perfect foil to Diane’s true love, ex-ballplayer Sam Malone. At first, audiences hated Frasier for coming between Sam and Diane. But with time, Frasier transformed into one of the show’s most beloved characters, garnering multiple Emmy nominations for Grammer along the way.
Paramount TV made a deal with Grammer to create his own show if and when Cheers ended. Grammer enlisted writer-producers Angell, Casey, and Lee, who had helped form Frasier’s character on Cheers, to develop an idea for an all-new series as Cheers began its final season in 1992.
Peter Casey (series co-creator): We created this high-brow, eccentric multi-millionaire publisher, a Malcolm Forbes–type, who gets into a motorcycle accident that paralyzes him from the waist down and forces him to run his empire from his Manhattan penthouse bedroom with the help of a Rosie Perez–type live-in nurse.
Kelsey Grammer (Frasier Crane): John Pike, Paramount TV’s president, read the script and invited me to dinner. After our first cocktail, he looked at me and said, “Kelsey, I think a sitcom should be funny.”
Rather than re-inventing the wheel, Pike told Grammer that he should simply keep playing Frasier—whose larger-than-life personality lent itself well to leading a show.
Joe Keenan (writer-producer): Frasier has so many flaws: he’s vain, pompous, condescending. He’s an insecure snob, always trying to ascend to some new social pinnacle. But underneath that, there’s this incredibly decent guy who truly wants to help people.
Christopher Lloyd (writer-producer): The vanity and self-importance always helped us lead Frasier into comic situations. . . . It’s not funny to see a guy step into a manhole and get hurt. But if he somehow has done something preposterous to bring that pain upon himself, then you feel freer to laugh.
Once Grammer re-committed to the Frasier character, the producers had to figure out how to reposition him from a satellite performer on Cheers to the maypole in a spin-off series.
David Lee (series co-creator): We had to get far away from Boston, so the show could have its own brand. We settled in Denver, but then Colorado passed this egregious anti-gay amendment. We couldn’t in good conscience base the show there. We thought Seattle seemed up-and-coming.
Casey: We’d previously knocked around an idea for Cheers that never came to fruition, where Frasier was a guest host on a Boston radio therapist’s show. It was an interesting arena, with the radio aspect making it different than The Bob Newhart Show.
As they developed a workplace comedy around radio station KACL (named for the first letter of the last names of Angell, Casey, and Lee), they started worrying that their show would be too similar to WKRP in Cincinnati. Then Lee’s father had a stroke.
Lee: It became clear to baby boomer, only-child me that I was going to have to take care of my parents. I remember thinking, what if that happened to Frasier?
Casey: Here’s a psychiatrist, telling people how to resolve their family issues, with his own family issues disrupting his life: his dad (a policeman like my father and grandfather), a home-care worker, a dog, and that shitty old Barcalounger.
Lee: Then one day casting assistant Sheila Guthrie stopped by and said, “Have you guys thought of having a brother? This guy looks a lot like Kelsey did when he was younger.” She handed us an 8” x10” of David Hyde Pierce and some VHS tapes from a canceled NBC series, The Powers That Be. We’d just done Wings and didn’t want to do another brothers show. But we looked at the footage and just fell in love with him.
David Hyde Pierce (Niles Crane): All they knew about Niles was that instead of going to Harvard like Frasier, he had gone to Yale. And whereas Frasier was a Freudian, Niles was a Jungian. I see him now as a man who always tried to do the right thing and seldom knew what that was.
NBC president Warren Littlefield desperately wanted Frasier on his network’s fall schedule. The creators just had to sell him on their vision.
Lee: We said, “Frasier’s going to have a dad, a former police officer and crusty guy. Picture someone like John Mahoney.” Warren said, “We love John. If you can get him, he’s pre-approved.”
Casey: Of course, we didn’t know if we could get John, but that’s who we had in our minds.
Lee: Then we said, Frasier’s going to have a brother. We’re thinking someone like David Hyde Pierce.” And Warren says, “We love David. If you can get him, he’s pre-approved.”
Casey: Now it’s like you’re hot at a crap’s table. For the health-care worker, we said to picture Rosie Perez. Warren asked if we ever pictured her as English, because NBC loved Jane Leeves. If we went that way, she’d be pre-approved.
The network gave them the green light. Grammer however, initially balked at the idea of casting Leeves.
Grammer: I was nervous about a British-accented housekeeper turning us into a dreadful Nanny and the Professor. So, I asked to read with her.
Casey: Kelsey escorts Jane into David Angell’s office. The three of us go to follow and Kelsey says, “No, just me and her.” The door closes, and we’re left standing there sweating. About a minute later, the door swings open. Kelsey blows right by us and without turning around says, “She’s in.”
The only character without a prototype was Roz Doyle, Frasier’s strong-willed producer (named after Wings producer Roz Doyle, who’d succumbed to cancer in 1991). They auditioned hundreds of actresses.
Jeff Greenberg (casting director): I brought in wonderful actresses of every size, shape, and age: Allison Janney, Patricia Clarkson, Hope Davis, Janeane Garofalo, Salma Hayek. The last two left standing were Lisa Kudrow and Peri Gilpin.
Peri Gilpin (Roz Doyle): Lisa and I went on at least five auditions together for Roz. We became fast friends because we were in the same boat, young actresses trying to get a job.
Kudrow’s comedic quirkiness won the producers over, leaving Gilpin devastated. During early rehearsals, however, the writers started second-guessing themselves.
Jimmy Burrows (director): Lisa’s brilliant, but Roz needed to be someone who could stand toe-to-toe with Frasier.
Lee: We were re-writing the character to fit Lisa’s personality. Roz stopped being a formidable opponent.
They found themselves with a difficult decision to make.
Gilpin: I was at dinner. A man comes to the table and asks, “Are you Peri Gilpin? You have a phone call.” It was Jeff. He said, “Would you like to come to work tomorrow on Frasier?” I immediately asked about Lisa. He told me that was his next call. Lisa called me later and said, “I want you to know this is your job. I don’t want you to feel bad about it. I want you to enjoy it.” She’s amazing.
Kudrow would soon be cast in a recurring role on Mad About You—and a starring role on Friends the next year.
With Frasier’s full cast in place, the producers could fully focus on the show’s pilot. That first episode established a unique balance of humor, pathos, and theatrical flair, though some doubted its efficacy.
Pierce: When I got the script, I read it and thought, “This is terrible—they’ve written two of the same character.” It wasn’t until the table read when I saw how two peas in a pod were an asset and not a shortcoming.
Ken Levine (writer): One of the NBC executives suggested after the run-through that they should “get rid of the dad.” She now takes credit for being one of the people who “developed” the show.
David Isaacs (writer): In the first scene in front of the audience, a caller’s having trouble moving on with his life, and Frasier uses himself as an example. He says, “Six months ago, I was living in Boston. My wife had left me, which was painful. Then she came back to me, which was excruciating.” That got a big laugh, bigger than it should have. I thought to myself, “We’re going to be O.K.”
Casey: Later, Frasier and Martin get into this heated argument. I had asked David and David if we should put a joke or two in. The feeling was our actors had the chops to do it straight, so let’s go for it.
Isaacs: If you notice, Kelsey’s just on the brink of getting really emotional. His voice quivers a little bit. It was perfect.
Lloyd: At the end of the episode, we got a standing ovation. Kelsey’s response was, “It seems we did rather well.” That was typical—understating his own effect on an audience.
With a familiar title character and the slot right after Seinfeld,the show became a hit out of the gate.
Pierce: At some point in the first season, I said to Kelsey, “Does this mean I’ll never have to work again?” and he said, “No, it means I’ll never have to work again.”
The planned focus on the father-son dynamic, however, quickly took a backseat to the competitive relationship between the Crane brothers.
Lloyd: Conventional wisdom would have you pair Frasier with a brother who’s a welder, watches football, and sticks his hand in the top of his underpants. The genius was pairing him with a fussier, more erudite version of Frasier, which pushed Frasier more to the center. And their rarified language became the language of the show.
Keenan: Being psychiatrists, they had this need to minutely analyze their feelings and behavior in ways TV brothers never had before. They overthought everything.
Grammer: People always ask how Frasier and Niles came from a father like Martin. Martin’s in public service, into knowing what’s right and wrong. That’s exactly what his sons were. On the simplest level, he was a good man, and their hope was to become the same thing.
Pierce: I think there’s a parallel there with Kelsey, me, and John. John was a little older than we were. He had his own “Martin” acting style—no nonsense, no fuss, a Chicago-based approach. Kelsey and I came from New York theater with a slightly more highfalutin style, but we both aspired to be the kind of actor John was.
Martin’s story started from a dark place, but ultimately ended in a hopeful one.
Keenan: Martin Crane could have stepped out of an Arthur Miller play. The guy’s lost everything he’s loved—his wife, job, independence. He has nothing left but his dog, chair, and two sons he feels look down on him. Watching him warm up to them gave the show its sweetest, most hopeful long-term arc.
Grammer: Frasier and his dad had stuff to resolve. It was great to invent a father. I never really knew mine. One of my favorite early episodes is when Frasier finds out that it was his mom who’d been cheating instead of his dad. Suddenly, what was going on in his head about his dad—his whole life was turned around. He had to say, “Wow, my dad’s a better man than I ever knew.”
Lori Kirkland Baker (writer-producer): Martin’s presence, over the show’s duration, softened Frasier. It unfolded so slowly that it was almost imperceptible.
Daphne and Roz gradually worked their way into the family core.
Gilpin: I imagined Roz constantly trying to live up to a forceful mother. I actually based a lot of her on a really good friend of mine. She’s super-smart, self-dependent, sexually adventurous and honest about it.
Keenan: Peri was smart enough to maximize the contrast with Frasier by doing less. The more lofty or ornate Frasier got, the more deadpan and lethally direct her response would be. She knew that bursting a windbag’s balloon is always funny, and the smaller and sharper the pin, the funnier the pop.
Jane Leeves (Daphne Moon): Daphne was like a pair of comfy shoes. She had a sort of earthiness and honesty that definitely came from me. I told the writers that a girl who’s comfortable around these men, who doesn’t take any of their crap—must come from a household filled with men.
Pierce: To me, Jane and Daphne were identical—exquisite and charming with fragrant hair that smelled like puppies, springtime, and sex.
Nobody expected Niles’s obsession with Daphne to become one of the series’s driving forces.
Anne Flett-Giordano (writer-producer): Early in the first season, Niles comes to the apartment. Chris, realizing that Niles would be meeting Daphne for the first time, said, “What if he had a crazy crush on her?”
Lloyd: I thought, could it be because she’s so different than he is? He’s upper class and she’s working class. She says what’s on her mind and he’s restrained and thoughtful.
Casey: Niles’s first reaction is disbelief: “You’re Daphne?!” He was thinking she was some matronly lady hired to look out for his dad. You could see the sparks fly from his side.
Pierce: It was such a great idea. This weird, neurotic mess of a man and this beautiful, exquisite, fragrant, psychic English woman. Her obliviousness to his attention was partially due to her ignorance of her own worth. That’s what made it so beautiful.
Leeves: To me, Daphne couldn’t possibly believe someone as lovely and sophisticated as Niles would ever go for her. I think subconsciously she was afraid if she ever entertained the thought that she’d be hurt.
Keenan: We decided to bring the Niles-Daphne romance to a head in Season 7. We felt that if we didn’t, the audience would be annoyed with us for jerking their chains this long.
Lloyd: When Niles kisses Daphne for the first time, it gave me goosebumps. I’d lived with these characters for so long, as did the audience, and wanted that moment for them.
Pierce: The live audience’s reaction when we kissed showed how completely involved they had become with these made-up people’s lives, and how much they wanted them to get together.
Leeves: I always thought Niles would be turned on by watching Daphne fixing the plumbing. He’s standing in the doorway with a martini, and she’s under the sink. That was the juxtaposition of those two. They were star-crossed lovers, and who doesn’t love that?
Grammer didn’t want Frasier to have wives, kids, or dogs. He won on the first point; periodically dealt with the second (Frederick, Frasier’s son—born during the Cheers years, when he was married to Bebe Neuwirth’s Lilith—appeared on the show every so often); and lost out on the third, giving rise to Eddie, a canine phenomenon played by a terrier named Moose.
Lee: Sometimes, the network would do dial testing, where they’d put people in a room with dials and you’d watch their reactions through a two-way mirror. One of the testers told us that you could always get the dials up if you use a baby, cute child, or dog. So, we cynically thought, let’s put a dog in to get the scores up.
Leeves: Moose was a complicated little fellow. There were many times when he just improvised or went completely nuts, rolling around on the couch with his legs in the air, making funny noises.
Grammer: I was directing an episode and told John to put Moose on his lap. John said, “No! The son of a bitch always bites me.” We had to put sardine oil on his hands.
Giordano: He was a good show dog, but not a lover. He was forever killing rats. He swallowed a tennis ball once.
Bob Daily (writer-producer): His trainer, Mathilde, would say “Moose, Moose, Moose, over here!” to get him to stare. When Moose got old, we brought in his son, Enzo. Makeup would spray him, so his marks matched.
Casey: Moose and Enzo hated each other. They couldn’t be on the set together. Apparently, it was one of those classic parent-child Hollywood rivalries.
From the beginning, the creators questioned formulaic sitcom conventions.
Casey: Why does there have to be a stupid character? Why does there have to be a theme song upfront? If the answer was “because it had always been that way,” then that wasn’t good enough.
Lee: We used title cards in the pilot to get rid of clunky exposition. For example, when we meet Niles for the first time, we simply used a card that read, “The brother.” Later, we realized we could use cards for sly jokes and themes. One time we did all Hitchcock movies.
Casey: We added silent tags at the end to keep the audience engaged through the credits.
Keenan: They often existed in a parallel universe, where we could do bizarre visual jokes with the characters.
Leeves: I remember go-go dancing on a table. I’m wearing this wedding dress from Donnie’s mother. It had white boots and a bare midriff. Niles is sitting on the couch with a sherry. It was just his fantasy.
They opted to have a theme song roll over the credits instead of the title. Grammer asked to sing it.
Lee: We loved Joni Mitchell’s “Twisted,” but licensing proved a big hassle, so we had an original song written. Bruce Miller and Darryl Phinnessee were to come up with lyrics that suggest the mental-health profession without mentioning any terminology specifically.
Casey: We had no idea what “Tossed Salad and Scrambled Eggs” meant. They told us that they’re things that are mixed up . . . like the people who called in to Frasier’s show.
Grammer: I decided to perform it like a bluesy singer. That little character voice opened the door for a swingy rendition with different sign-offs. Because I always wanted to be in a rock band, I did, “Goodnight, Seattle!
Levine: Check the Internet. There is more discussion, even today, on the theme song than any aspect of the show.
Several plots were triggered by back-and-forth phone conversations between Frasier and unseen callers, often played by celebrities.
Burrows: That hadn’t been done before on TV. It’s a quirk, like Carlton the doorman [on Rhoda], that worked well.
Casey: Early on, someone suggested getting guest voices. Kelsey agreed, as long as they weren’t goofy calls. He wanted Frasier to give realistic advice.
Greenberg: I was friends with Linda Hamilton, and Chris was friends with Griffin Dunne. They came in and recorded the callers for the pilot. Jimmy got Carl Reiner and Mel Brooks that year.
Lee: You could literally be anywhere in the world and phone in. We’d hire day players to run lines during filming and then replace their parts with celebrities. Once it caught on, people were dying to do it.
Greenberg: Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio called from a pay phone at Lincoln Center. James Spader was holding his baby at home. We did get turned down sometimes by people, like Jane Fonda, Sting, Stephen Sondheim, and Harrison Ford.
Many sitcoms lack trust in their audience’s intellect. Frasier’s writers succeeded by embracing it.
Jon Sherman (writer-producer): Someone on another show once told me about writing jokes, “You have to put a little kibble where the slow dogs can get it.” That was never the consideration here.
Lloyd: We always tried to tell stories that seemed to be heading in one direction and then went someplace completely different. “Slow Tango in South Seattle” [in Season 2] seemed to be a competition between Frasier and an author who cribbed a moment from Frasier’s life for his own personal gain, but then it wound up being Frasier tracking down a long-lost love.
Kirkland Baker: “Back Talk” [in Season 7] was about Frasier’s back being out. But in the last beat, when he’s loopy on painkillers, he drops this huge bomb to Daphne about Niles’s feelings for her. It changed the series.
Lee: We decided there could be jokes that not everyone got. We called them “10 percenters.” As long as we were delivering high quality for the other 90 percent, it was fine.
Pierce: All the little details about what wine somebody wanted to serve or opera they were attending made the characters more real. The audience didn’t need to know the wines or the operas—they knew who these people were.
Keenan: For me, the best part of writing for the show was the way it combined the permanence of TV with the exhilaration of theater.
Leeves: It was so collaborative. At rehearsal, after every scene, the writers would ask us, how can we make this better? Do you have any ideas?
Writers would share embarrassing memories to drum up ideas. They called it “pulling your pants down.”
Daily: I used to take my daughter to art class at LACMA. She was pointing out something to me in a painting with her pencil. I had to do a slow-motion dive before she could write on this multi-million-dollar painting. That inspired an episode where Roz’s daughter doctored up a painting that Niles was about to donate to an art museum.
Lloyd: I was renting a beach house, and this half-rotting seal washes up on the shore. A friend and I, with a wine-fortified lunch, got a kayak and paddled out to sea with a 200-pound seal. When I get back to the shore, I see the seal had been brought back by the tide. It became the launching point for Frasier and Niles hosting important people for a dinner party at Maris’s beach house when a dead seal washes up.
Lee: There’s a restaurant that I went to in Tucson where if you wore a tie, they’d cut it off and put it on the wall to show how casual they were. We had the brothers get their ties cut off at a restaurant called the Timber Mill.
Frasier had a long list of failed relationships. His brilliance at self-sabotage extinguished the flames of his love life, but provided fertile ground for comedic plots.
Grammer: I always wanted him to have a great relationship. But he wasn’t funny in real one. He just needed to stay tortured for a while.
Keenan: Frasier was never more insufferable than when he was flirting. He’d say things we knew would make most women roll their eyes. But the romances had to start fast—we only had 22 minutes. So, we’d just insert the stage direction—“She is charmed”—and move along. It got to be a writers’ joke, with people pitching incredibly lame or rude things for Frasier to say, then quickly adding, “She is charmed.”
Kirkland Baker: The women he picked weren’t necessarily wrong, but his reason for picking them was. He was always shitting in his own hat.
Bebe Neuwirth (Lilith Sternin): I have a sweet sadness when I think about Lilith and Frasier. You want them to be together, but for some reason they just can’t find their way.
Daily: In the final season, we had the idea to give Frasier a love interest who would stick. You had to have someone who you felt was an equal of Kelsey. It was a stroke of luck that Laura Linney was available.
Laura Linney (Charlotte): I was a Frasier fan for so long. I think Charlotte’s a good-hearted, fumbling person, trying her best but things weren’t working, and she was beginning to lose heart a little bit.
Grammer: I sometimes think Frasier went to Chicago and Charlotte told him to get the hell out. That seems to be his luck. Maybe they ended up with a wonderful life together.
Linney: I’d like to find the answer out.
The writers intended to only temporarily keep Niles’s unseen wife, Maris, out of sight. But as their descriptions of her got more absurd, they changed their minds.
Isaacs: In the pilot, Frasier says, “Maris is the sun, except without the warmth.” It set the tone where you picture this cold, patrician woman.
Giordano: We’d write the most ridiculous jokes about how tiny she was. She couldn’t straddle anything larger than a border collie.
Levine: She was disqualified from being a ballerina because she couldn’t meet the minimum weight requirements.
Keenan: She left no tracks when she ran through the snow.
Casey: Somewhere in the first season, Julia Duffy’s agent contacted us and said she’d love to play Maris. But by that point, we felt it was better if she was left unseen. It was much funnier adding new and outrageous descriptions.
Keenan: No matter how ludicrous our descriptions got, David made Niles’s feelings about the marriage very real. He knew that if Niles didn’t love Maris, there’d be no reason for us to care when she divorced him, or for Niles to feel conflicted and hide his love for Daphne.
The show introduced old-fashioned, theatrical comedic farces, written by Keenan, to a wide audience.
Keenan: One’s based on misperception, with people having completely different ideas of what’s going on. The other’s deception, where a character tells a lie because they don’t think they’ll have to live with the consequences.
Lloyd: Farces are difficult to pull off, because it must keep driving and driving to the end. “Ski Lodge” [in Season 5] is a great example of that. Everyone has specific intentions in mind, which, in this case, is wanting to get laid.
Lee: In “The Matchmaker” [in Season 5], Frasier asks the station manager over as a possible date for Daphne, but the manager thinks that Frasier’s asking him on a date.
Keenan: In “Merry Christmas, Mrs. Moskowitz” [in Season 6], Frasier lets his Jewish girlfriend’s mother believe he’s Jewish. In “The Two Mrs. Cranes” [in Season 4], Daphne tells her old fiancé, who may be looking to reconnect, that she’s married to Niles. She doesn’t know that Niles is madly in love with her.
Leeves: They could take all those farces and put them into theater, because they’re like one-act plays.
The actors enriched the scripts with their own methodologies.
Keenan: Kelsey never had the script memorized. He’d sit there with the script supervisor, Gabby James, immediately before a scene, and run over lines before going out and doing it.
Grammer: If you play someone for that long, you search for ways to remain spontaneous. The best way for me was to not memorize my lines.
Leeves: He’d experiment the whole time. Saul Rubinek [who played Donny Douglas] said it was like rehearsing with the Flying Wallendas. We had this shorthand to keep everything fresh, because it’s so much more alive when you leave yourself something to discover.
Gilpin: Kelsey was working on a scene and unsure how to make it work. Jimmy shouted, “Kinderspiel,” and Kelsey started jumping around like a child. That’s shorthand.
Keenan: Kelsey’d pull things out of the air, like a Bette Davis line reading.
Grammer: I did Bette several times (“A rug, where a rug doesn’t belong”), Walter Matthau (“What the hell was that?”). I stole liberally from Jack Benny with my gestures and sideways glances. Anything that popped into my head I could try.
Casey: David had a wonderful way of expressing himself without needing words. All it took was the slight turn of head or a jut of the chin.
Pierce: In the first rehearsal, in the coffee shop, Jimmy suggested I wipe off the chair with my handkerchief. That became iconic for the character, and a great window for me into who this person could be.
Burrows: David then offered it to Frasier, who turned him down. That was brilliant.
Gilpin: I had a scene with David where I’m supposed to read Niles’s proposal letter to Daphne. Every day, he’d hand me a piece of blank paper, and I’d act like I read it. In front of the audience though, he hands me a letter, beautifully written in his own words, as Niles. It epitomizes how he did things. He never took a shortcut.
Lloyd: John knew how to let a single word speak volumes. He knew just the amount of emotional spin to give it.
Leeves: John kept us all real. He didn’t suffer fools and wouldn’t let anyone get an ego.
Gilpin: John ran lines with me about Roz always being the bridesmaid. There was great stuff there that I felt was definitive about who Roz was then. John told me I was chicken and running away from it. When we did the scene, I got it in one take. He helped me find that. He did that a lot.
Everyone still marvels at Pierce’s physicality, especially in his six-minute silent masterpiece in Season 6’s “Three Valentines”—in which Niles accidentally starts a fire in his father’s apartment.
Lee: I told David once I really wanted to do something “Mr. Bean-ish.” It didn’t take us more than a half hour to write out the sequence of events.
Lloyd: Kelsey directed it. The last thing he said to David before we shot was, “I think that Niles, at no time, doubts that it’s all going to work out just fine.” It was a great alternative way to go about it.
Pierce: You don’t play the panic. You solve each thing as it comes up. You let the audience see the crisis build and think, “You’re in trouble, little man,” while Niles goes about thinking, “Oh, I just need to solve this one little problem over here.”
In addition to the show’s leads, the writers created a series of popular characters.
Gilpin: It was like having the Royal Shakespeare Company as part of the troupe.
Greenberg: I tried to cull comic actors from the New York stage who weren’t known on TV. One of the first guest star-roles I had to cast was Frasier’s agent, Bebe Glazer. When Harriet [Sansom] Harris came in to read, Peter literally fell off the couch.
Harriet Sansom Harris (Bebe Glazer): I grew up watching Katharine Hepburn, Rosalind Russell, and Barbara Stanwyck movies, tough independent women making their way. I thought Bebe should have that sound. She’s hilarious, malevolent, and sociopathically assertive. Given her talents and moral code, we’re lucky she’s only an agent and not president.
Edward Hibbert (Gil Chesterton): Gil’s effete and affected with a wash-dish tongue. He was supposed to be a very well-written one-off, but to my great delight, started to recur like a skin rash.
Jean Smart (Lorna Lynley/Lana Gardner): She’s one of my favorite characters. The coolest girl in the school, this unattainable goddess with a hair trigger that becomes one of those mothers you hear screaming in the grocery store. She demands Frasier put his hand on her ass when they leave the class reunion.
Neuwirth: I’m always surprised when people say Lilith was mean. I saw her as a very frightened person. She was socially awkward and lacked an editor in her head. She didn’t understand there’s certain things you’re not supposed to say in polite social company.
As the show’s family grew, it suffered painful losses, too. Co-creator David Angell and his wife, Lynn, died on the first plane to hit the Twin Towers on September 11, 2001
Casey: David was excellent at story with a very dry sense of humor. He tended to be quiet, but that’s because the wheels were always turning.
Gilpin: I remember his face when they announced that first season that they were going to pick up the back nine episodes. He was laughing, and we were jumping up and down. You carry them in your heart, but it will never be resolved.
Pierce: I collapsed to the floor without even thinking. The impossibility of it. Not just because it was someone we knew, but because they were two of the best people that ever walked the earth. It was an inconceivable loss of those two beautiful human beings.
John Mahoney died of multiple health complications, including brain disease and lung cancer, earlier this year.
Leeves: People don’t realize how generous John was. It wasn’t until his funeral when people spoke from the foundations he supported that you realized what an incredible, giving spirit he had. He didn’t talk about it. He just did it.
Lloyd: We’d have rehearsal at 12:30 and be off the stage by 1:30. I’d always see John, however, walking to his car at 4:30. I finally asked him what he was doing. He said he was responding to fan letters. He had a rule that if anybody wrote to him, he’d write back.
Gilpin: A few years ago, John took me and my family to dinner in Chicago. While we were driving back, my husband was texting with Chris Lloyd and read Chris’s text out loud: “Please tell the great John Mahoney it was one of the honors of my life to work with him.” I could see a little tear form in John’s eye. Then my daughter says, “Who’s John Mahoney?” John almost fell out of the car laughing. He never took himself too seriously.
Grammer: The last time we had a serious conversation, he said he was going to do Lear in Ireland. I would have loved to see him do it.
Toward the end of the tenth season, Casey, Lee, and Grammer decided to make their next season the show’s last.
Grammer: Cheers did 11 seasons. I didn’t want to outdo it, or come in under. I wanted it to be the same.
Lee: When Niles and Daphne finally got together, there was a certain tension gone that had been sustaining the series in ways we didn’t understand. We also wondered how many more times Frasier could be left heartbroken.
Leeves: They called us into the producer’s office to tell us. It was a lifetime that I couldn’t remember not doing. Peri and I got married and had kids. David’s parents passed. So much life happened. My overriding feeling was, these are my touchstones. What’s going to happen?
Pierce: The richness of our life together and what we all celebrated or helped each other through is the essence of why we remain so close.
How do you wrap up 11 seasons in one episode? The writers opted to stay true to the series’s established rhythms.
Keenan: We knew there’d be a Shakespearean ending of births, deaths, and weddings. Frasier would set off on a new voyage, and come to feel about a woman the way Niles did for Daphne.
Grammer: I told Chris I wanted it to end with Frasier quoting Tennyson’s Ulysses. “Yet there are worlds to conquer. . . .” There’s always some other place to go, some new challenge to meet. Our future’s bright no matter what it might be. It’s something I’ve always carried in my heart, so I thought it was something that might be nice to share with Frasier.
Daily: While Frasier gives his final on-air farewell, people crowd around the window behind him to watch. Most of them were writers, producers, and support staff.
Lloyd: I was three people down from my dad, David, a legendary sitcom writer, for whom this was going to be his last TV episode working on. It’s hard not to get choked up.
Daily: They found the actor from the pilot who moved Martin’s chair into Frasier’s apartment to take it out. It was a beautiful bookend to see it go full circle. Who would have thought a piece of furniture would tug at the heartstrings of everyone?
Gilpin: David cried almost every day. He really let himself feel it. I couldn’t take it in. Maybe I tried to block it.
Keenan: Niles’s last line, where he sums up how he feels about Frasier going away, is very understated but packs an emotional wallop. “I’ll miss the coffees.” We knew that David would have a hard time saying it. It choked us up, and we’d only written it.
Pierce: I was petrified of it. In the first read-through, I couldn’t even say it. It’s a tribute to the writing, to capture that relationship in one simple line.
Lloyd: Martin tells Frasier, “Thanks for, you know.” With four words, John conveyed, “thanks for saving my life, giving me a more complete father-son relationship. I can never repay you for that.”
Keenan: We traveled to New York to do publicity, and gathered at a restaurant to watch the final episode. I brought a beautiful bottle of very expensive wine that David and Lynn had given me at a Christmas party years ago. After the show, we poured everybody a little glass, so we could toast David and feel like he was there with us.
Frasier will forever remain a beacon of intelligent humor and moving storytelling.
Grammer: Jack Benny always said to play up to your audience. That was the hallmark of our show. Assume they know better, that they’re smarter than the prevailing wisdom thinks they are.
Keenan: I think new viewers like the show because, apart from its quality, it doesn’t remind them of anything. No one says, “Oh, yet another show about two relentlessly highbrow, romantically thwarted psychiatrists.”
Casey: My kids had zero interest when I was doing it, because they were all younger and more into Ren & Stimpy. Now they look at it and think it’s great. That means a lot to me. I have nephews and nieces who tell me it’s hysterical. Hopefully my grandkids will feel the same way.
Pierce: I have people tell me all the time that when their family was in crisis—a dad in the hospital, a mom dying—our show was the one thing their family could watch together that would make them laugh. It’s happened so many times over the years that I no longer think of it as a coincidence, but as part of the show’s legacy.
Lee: Every time I’m in New York on the subway, with all these people with different faces and backgrounds, I think to myself, “I bet we made a lot of them laugh.” Whether it’s one or two or all of them, I take great pride in that.