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The Sitcom Sultan

Kelsey Grammer keeps riding the wave looking for ways to please his audience through TV, film and stage
Marshall Fine
From the Print Edition:
Kelsey Grammer, January/February 2013

(continued from page 1)

Grammer isn’t saying whether that finale would include the sight of Kane finally succumbing to his debilitating condition. But Grammer has enjoyed the irony in playing a man of great power who finds himself at the mercy of something he can’t control: his own body.

“He’s now faced with something bigger,” Grammer says. “Death has come knocking earlier than expected. And it is uncompromising.”

Playing the character meant toggling between states of consciousness: the alert, eagle-eyed, supersensitive professional and the man slipping into dementia, who cringes or shouts at imaginary figures and nightmarish environments—until he is yanked back to reality. It’s a tricky line to walk.

“Even if you’re playing an insane person, there’s something sane to connect to,” Grammer notes. “What’s great about Tom Kane is he does care deeply about Chicago—and about his place in it, his place among the men who have run Chicago. There’s something redeeming in that.

“Of course, he tends to believe that what’s good for Chicago should also be good for him. He believes that having him in charge is what Chicago needs.”

“Boss” was not an obvious choice for Grammer—nor Grammer for “Boss,” at least not based on his track record for the preceding 25 years or so. He did, after all, play Frasier Crane on NBC for 20 years—and then followed that up three years later with “Back to You,” a Fox sitcom that cast him as the vainer, nastier, shirtchasing Chuck Darling. Chuck was a TV news anchorman forced to put his tail between his legs and return to his old station in Pittsburgh, after a spectacular flameout in Los Angeles. There, he discovers that his ex-flame coanchor (played by Patricia Heaton, just out of “Everybody Loves Raymond”) is the mother of an adolescent daughter he didn’t know he had.

“That show was like the greatest gig ever,” Heaton says. “Kelsey is a really great guy who is really efficient. He works really quickly. My kids didn’t even know I was working on a show; I was always home. I was sad when that show was canceled.”

The series earned some strong reviews—and featured a cast that included such rising stars as Josh Gad and Ty Burrell, as well as veteran comic actor Fred Willard. The zing and the drive came from the rivalry and attraction between Grammer and Heaton, in a show created by the same veterans of “Frasier” who went on to create “Modern Family.” But a strike by the Writers Guild of America that started in November 2007 shortened the series’ exposure just after its premiere—and when the strike ended in February 2008, the series barely got the chance to play out its first season before being canceled.

“I thought that show had a good head start but unfortunately not,” Grammer says with a shrug.

He’s quick to admit that his next series, ABC’s “Hank,” about a disgraced Wall Street executive forced to go live with his family in his wife’s rural home town, deserved its quick dismissal in 2009: “It was not a good show. We never found the right tone or rhythm.”

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