The Sitcom Sultan
Kelsey Grammer keeps riding the wave looking for ways to please his audience through TV, film and stage
From the Print Edition:
Kelsey Grammer, January/February 2013
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It extends to his relationship with his castmates. Though they now live on opposite coasts, he and Pierce see each other and talk regularly—and make a point of catching the other on Broadway, when one of them has a show.
Pierce noted, “When you’re together for 11 years on a show, especially at the ages we were, a lot of life happens. People get married, sometimes many times. It was a very close company. I feel particularly close to him, like a brother. I adore him.”
Grammer had graduated from Juilliard (where he was classmates with Mandy Patinkin) and was waiting tables and looking for work in New York, when he had a revelation.
“I realized that, as long as I was waiting tables, I wasn’t an actor—so I quit my job,” he recalls. “I said I was no longer a waiter and I got a job acting two days later. I’ve worked ever since.”
He put in a number of years working in regional theaters, then began working regularly in New York, on and off-Broadway. In fact, he was understudying the original production of Hurlyburly on Broadway, while rehearsing for the first workshop production of Stephen Sondheim’s Sunday in the Park with George, when he got the call to read for “Cheers.” Grammer admits that he looked down his nose at the idea of doing television, when the role of Frasier was first offered. “I got called in for what they call a personality read, and a couple of weeks later they flew me out to California and gave me the job. I was such a snooty kid about working in TV. I thought, ‘Dear God, this could ruin my career.’ ”
Landing the role of Frasier Crane in “Cheers” seems like just one in a series of cosmic dominoes that had to topple exactly so in order to propel Grammer into what is probably the defining role of his life. For starters, “Cheers,” the series he joined at the start of its third season (as the new romantic interest for Shelley Long’s Diane Chambers and romantic rival for Ted Danson’s Sam Malone), barely survived its first season; it was nearly canceled, despite strong critical support.
When he was cast as Dr. Frasier Crane, the character initially was slated for only a seven-episode run. Instead, Frasier was plugged into the intelligent and well-executed character comedy and became a mainstay of the show, well after Long left the cast. “I was just meant to be a foil for Sam and Diane’s relationship—but I was funny enough that they decided to keep me around,” he says.
“I remember him being incredibly funny,” Ted Danson says of Grammer’s audition. “Kelsey is an incredibly talented guy. He’s very smart, very bright—and his ability to learn lines is uncanny. When we’d be about to shoot a scene, he would appear to not be paying attention right up until the camera came on and the audience was there. And out came all this complicated comedy with flawless timing.”
As the end of “Cheers” drew closer, Grammer negotiated an exit to spin off “Frasier,” launching the new series in the fall of 1993, a few months after the final episode of “Cheers” aired. The fact that “Frasier” was a hit wasn’t a surprise, given the “Cheers” lineage in the pedigrees of the creative team behind the show. “It was always a pleasure to realize how good it was,” Grammer reflects about “Frasier.” “To go to work and realize you’d be doing something that was a cut above was energizing. I had a place to go that was always challenging and interesting and fun.”
But the fact that the show survived network timeslot meddling after the first successful season does qualify as a bit of a miracle. “I’m not surprised the show was a success,” Grammer says. “But I am surprised that it did go for 11 years. That is consistently surprising to me. When they called me after the first season and told me they were moving us to Tuesday night opposite ‘Home Improvement,’ I was concerned—but I believed in the show. I always thought we would find an audience, no matter what they did to us in terms of scheduling.”
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