I’ve been home in Maine now for a little less than three weeks, and I’ve spent one of those weeks – last week – with pneumonia. It’s the first time I’ve been truly “bedridden” for days at a time since middle school, and I had quite a bit of time to catch up on books, magazines, and television shows.
One of the highlights of the various forms of media I consumed was “Frasier.” The sitcom, a spinoff of “Cheers” that was on the air from 1993-2004, won 37 Emmy awards – more than any comedy show ever – and is one of my all time favorites. I still miss it. I started watching in 2002, and have since watched the whole series on DVD. While I’ve enjoyed comedy series that came before and after – “Murphy Brown,” “30 Rock,” and “Arrested Development” all come to mind – I have never seen a show that so brilliantly combines incredible acting talent, first-class writing, and a creative blend of “high” and “low” comedy.
As I watched a few episodes in bed last week, I began to ask myself when another show would come along that ‘did’ the sitcom format as well as Frasier did. Watching episodes of “Modern Family” and “Parks and Recreation” – while very enjoyable – reminded me how much comedy has changed since Frasier went off the air, and not necessarily for the better. What, then, has changed? It certainly isn’t the actors; Kelsey Grammer, David Hyde Pierce, Jane Leeves, and John Mahoney (the four actors that were the core parts of the Frasier Crane household) have all acted in other television programs and movies, though none have received much acclaim. While the charm of Frasier was frequently derived from the high- quality cast, it’s pretty clear they’re not behind the show’s unique success.
If the actors are relative mainstays on screen and stage, the writers are the opposite. Almost all of them ended their careers after Frasier. The five writers who are credited with penning more than a quarter of the series all appear to have ended their careers in film and television with Frasier. Peter Casey, David Lee, and Glen and Les Charles all have Frasier at the very top of their IMDB profiles. David Angell, who is credited equally, died onboard American Airlines Flight 11 on September 11. Whether retired or deceased, it appears that the people behind the genius of Frasier decided to leave on the high note of the series finale.
What do they leave the rest of us, besides Netflix Instant? It might be too soon to tell. In my humble opinion, no show has lived up to Frasier’s fallen standard: just the right blend of slapstick and highbrow, Broadway and Hollywood, humor and heart. That said, many of the people that had smaller roles in writing and directing Frasier’s eleven seasons – people like Lori Kirkland and Christoper Lloyd – now lead promising careers. Kirkland has an executive producer credit on the popular (and sometimes, irresistible) “Desperate Housewives,” and Lloyd has one on the equally enjoyable “Modern Family.” While neither show replicates the standard or success of Frasier, they’re very good in their own right. Maybe it requires a little more temporal distance from Frasier for writers and actors to create a successful sitcom that picks up on its singular comedic style. I’m okay with that, and I understand; for now, I guess I’ll be spending a little more time on Netflix than on NBC.