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'Frasier' returns to TV but you don't need to be a superfan of the original to laugh at its jokesBy AP
Published : Oct. 10, 2023 - 15:28
You could say Joe Cristalli tweeted his role as an executive producer and co-showrunner on the new “ Frasier ” sitcom into existence.
About 10 years ago as a fledgling TV writer and “Frasier” super fan, Cristalli started a Twitter account with “random jokes" about the show and character made famous by Kelsey Grammer in the sitcoms “Cheers” and “Frasier.”
“It was stupid and nobody cared about it. I think I had maybe 3,000 followers at its height," he recalled in a recent interview.
At this point, “Frasier” had been off the air for 10 years, but Cristalli used it as "an outlet to practice writing because I was such a super fan and I just loved the style of joke-telling, so I would work on it.”
A few years later, Cristalli read that Grammer was interested in reviving the character. He had his agent send a sample script and examples from his “Frasier”-centric Twitter feed to Grammer's team. He was eventually hired alongside “How I Met Your Mother” writer Chris Harris to be co-showrunners of a new “Frasier" series, debuting Oct. 12 on Paramount+.
This “Frasier” stars Grammer in the title role of the high-brow psychiatrist, as he moves back to Boston. His son Freddy is now grown, working as a firefighter, and Frasier realizes he needs to prioritize their relationship (much in the way the character set out to connect with his retired police officer father, played by John Mahoney, in the original). He also begins a new career as a professor at Harvard.
Writing for the character is a fun challenge, said Harris, because “when you think of Frasier Crane speaking, you think of flowery language.” Because of time constraints, every line can't be in Frasier-speak. “We save those moments for certain times,” said Harris.
They also reference the original series sparingly and smartly — which is an act of restraint that Cristalli said Harris helped him to understand.
“I put in a very specific reference to something in ('Frasier') season four, and I remember Chris very gently saying, ‘Do you think maybe we should do jokes that everyone will laugh at?’”
“There are analogies and callbacks to the old show, but we try not to do any of them shamelessly," Cristalli said. "We’re not going to just throw a recliner or a Jack Russell in, like we’re trying to do them subtly and elegantly. So if you catch them, great, but we’re not hanging everything on those jokes. I love (the references) ... but Chris makes a very good point. We want other people to like this show besides me.”
The show is a throwback in that it's a multi-cam comedy taped in front of a live audience. Most comedies these days are single-cam and filmed without an audience.
Harris hopes the show is a success and provides a much-needed boost for the multi-cam format.
“I will say that nothing feels as much like showbiz as a tape night," said Harris. "There’s a working-without-a-net kind of feeling and you really are putting all your work and all your creativity out there for people to judge. You don’t know something works until you get that immediate response, but that immediate response is awesome.”
Famed sitcom director James Burrows ("Taxi," “Friends,” “Will & Grace”), who worked with Grammer on both “Cheers” and “Frasier,” signed on to direct two episodes.
“It’s such a comfort because he didn’t have to do the show," said Cristalli. "He didn't have to help out. But he read the scripts, he was in the auditioning process, he was pitching jokes and genuinely laughing and enjoying himself. It just made everybody more relaxed because it’s a lot of pressure to bring back something this iconic.”
Burrows shared his advice to the new actors on “Frasier” (including Jack Cutmore-Scott as Freddy and Anders Keith as David, Frasier's nephew and the son of Niles and Daphne).
“What I tell them is, ‘When we rehearse, Kelsey is at 50%. When he’s in front of an audience, he’s at 100% and you better be on that level otherwise you’ll get blown away.' That’s what I used to tell guest stars on 'Cheers.' ... ‘They’re marking time in rehearsal. When they get on a stage and the laughter comes, if you don’t play up on their level, you’re going to disappear.’"
Cristalli said Grammer slowly morphs into the character.
“In the first rehearsal day, he’ll be in like, a T-shirt and shorts and it’s like, ‘Hold on. That’s not. Who’s that? That’s not Frasier.’ The next day he’s got, you know, longer pants and the next day it's a blazer. and then all of a sudden it’s like, ‘Oh, wait a second, I see him now,’" Cristalli said. “There’s a very clear distinction between Frasier and Kelsey Grammer, but he slips into those shoes real comfortably and it’s very seamless.”
For the show's theme, composers and father-son duo Bruce and Jason Miller were brought in to update the original “Tossed Salads & Scrambled Eggs” song. Bruce Miller composed the original ”Frasier" theme. Grammer also sings this version.
The composers first did a “hipper” version “that had movement to it, and energy," Bruce Miller said. Grammer listened and suggested the sound reflect how the character is older now, and looking for calmness at this stage in his life. They went back and used a small band, which is the version that viewers will hear.
This “Frasier” also has a bar, but it's not THE bar made famous in “Cheers.” Its name, Mahoney's, is a tribute to John Mahoney, who died in 2018 . Just as the Martin character was different than his sons, this set captures that juxtaposition. It's conceived as a place where both firefighters and academics gather.
“It's an older bar, something you would find near Cambridge,” said set director Glenda Rovello.
“There's a sweet line where Frasier is in Mahoney's and remarks, ‘I may have spent too much time in a particular bar,’ which I made sure the boys kept because it was a wonderful tribute," Burrows said.
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