There are few characters in the television universe that have a dual life, meaning they get to see the light of the silver screen on a second show. The notable few are Detective John Munch, who first appeared on NBC’s Homicide: Life on the Street and later appeared as a regular on Law and Order: Special Victims Unit; Lou Grant who first appeared on The Mary Tyler Moore Show and then on the hit drama Lou Grant; and finally Dr. Frasier Crane.
The history of Frasier Crane (Kelsey Grammer) is unique to the journey of characters being regulars on more than one show. From his small beginnings as what was envisioned as a one-season character to a recurring character on Cheers, and finally, to the headline act of what is considered the greatest spin-off since The Jeffersons and Maude, Frasier Crane has been a man of many personalities. In the shows he has appeared on, he has been both the joke and the jokester, a friend and a foe, and a lover and a fighter.
Frasier’s origins are rooted in one of the greatest romantic couples in television history: Sam Malone (Ted Danson) and Diane Chambers (Shelley Long) of Cheers. With the character coming back for a third series, which is tentatively scheduled to debut sometime in 2020, I decided to take a look back at the journey of Frasier from a bar in Boston to the airwaves of Seattle and all points in between.
Sometime between the finale of the second season of Cheers and the premiere of the third season, Diane has herself committed to a psychiatric facility for observation. While she’s there, she gets into a “minor quarrel” over a game of croquet gone awry, and it is Dr. Frasier Crane who comes to her rescue.
After Diane returns, upon hearing that Sam has slipped back into alcoholism, she encourages him to get psychiatric help. Little does he know that Frasier has been sitting at the bar the whole time, listening to the conversation. The audience is stunned by his introduction because no one expected him to be observing Sam’s drunken conversation with Diane. Frasier is introduced as a smart psychotherapist and is able to help Sam stop drinking again.
Not long after, Frasier starts dating Diane and comes to Cheers regularly. Dr. Frasier Crane wasn’t always the pompous ass he desired to be in his spin-off series. Rather, he was gentler and much more down to earth. In point of fact, he was often seen complaining about his job rather than taking it as seriously as his brother Niles (David Hyde Pierce) did in Frasier. At the end of the third season of Cheers, he and Diane go to Europe to get married, but she leaves him at the altar, unable to deny her feelings for Sam.
Frasier becomes aloof but goes back to Cheers. Diane is not there since she began working at a convent, but Frasier has become bitter about life (mostly about Diane). He and Sam swap insults about her flakiness non-stop throughout the show’s fourth season, but then we see a character enter Frasier’s life who would become a prominent player: Lilith Sternin (Bebe Neuwirth). Initially, the two dislike each other and decide it wouldn’t be a good idea to date.
After Shelley Long left Cheers at the end of Season 5, Frasier became a main character for the remaining five seasons of the series. During those seasons, Frasier grows from being a simple recurring character to someone that the gang at Cheers comes to depend on. More often than not, Frasier doled out psychiatric advice to the friends he made at Cheers, though he was sometimes the object of derision when it came to his career. During one episode, Rebecca Howe (Kirstie Alley) told Sam he needed “help” and added, “and not just Frasier.”
When Frasier talks about his psychiatric practice, he takes pride in his job, though he hates how often his patients need him. Also, during Frasier’s time at Cheers, he and Lilith got closer. They eventually married, and Lilith gave birth to a son, Frederick. His first word, though Lilith will say it was “Mommy,” was in fact the show’s famous greeting for George Wendt: Norm!” Frasier and Lilith ran into some marital problems during the show’s final two seasons, and she left him for a colleague of hers. In protest, Frasier threatened suicide because of how much he loved her.
Though Lilith was able to talk him off the building ledge he was perched on, Frasier harbored some resentment to her for leaving him. She came back to him during the final season, although he was wary of how their marriage could continue. Unlike his attitude toward many of the characters in Frasier, this iteration of the character is gentler and doesn’t try to be an elitist snob. He works hard at his career but doesn’t let it become his entire life. Also, unlike Lilith, he wasn’t jaded enough to become socially inept because he was consumed by his work.
Once she came back to him, Frasier remained with Lilith for another year before ending the marriage entirely and moving to his hometown of Seattle. He took a job at KACL as a radio psychiatrist, took in his elderly father, Martin (John Mahoney) instead of his brother, and hired a live-in physical therapist, Daphne (Jane Leeves). Thus began the great legacy of Frasier. This show ran for 11 seasons, just like Cheers, but was determined to be a separate entry in the Cheers universe. In doing this, Frasier Crane was altered slightly and became a different person.
One thing to note about Frasier during his time on Cheers is that his character is not fully explored. Though there is some basic information given, he is not as fully fleshed out as he is in Frasier. He doesn’t become conceited but rather takes on vain and selfish qualities. Moving to Seattle was going to be a new start for him. However, things don’t work out as he planned. A story about actress Lupe Velez and a lavish suicide gone wrong—as told by his producer Roz Doyle (Peri Gilpin)—convinces him that things will work out anyway.
In Seattle, Frasier attempted to use his position as a radio personality to bolster his stature in some social groups, though these attempts often backfired, as in the show’s sixth episode, “The Crucible.” During this episode, Frasier buys a painting from a famous artist but soon finds it is bogus. At a dinner party, in front of many members of Seattle’s high society, the painter announces that it isn’t one of her paintings. Since he cannot sell it back to the gallery that sold it to him, he keeps it hanging in his bathroom. Other examples of this come in the form of the lush furniture he insists on having, though he draws a line at his father’s old lounge chair.
Much like in Cheers, though, Frasier does change as the series goes on. He goes from wearing suits often to wearing jeans, sweatshirts, and the occasional pair of sweatpants. He is the center of the show but is often compared to Niles, who is a stark contrast to Frasier. Niles looks down on people who aren’t a part of his class, which is a feud that comes to a head whenever he is around Roz. Frasier often comes to her defense, though she has no trouble defending herself.
Another point of change in the show was an increase in the amount of time we see Frasier at work. More often than not, Frasier was seen using his skills in psychiatry on people in Cheers. However, these were often mere moments in episodes, not much more than that. Each episode gives insight into how Frasier deals with a patient’s problems and how he tries to work with them. While he does his best to ensure the people calling into his show are getting the proper help they need, there are some people (like Lilith) who undermine his efforts.
One of Frasier’s single most vulnerable moments in this series comes in the Season 1 finale, “My Coffee with Niles.” The episode works around Niles asking Frasier the simple yet always existential question, “Are you happy?” Frasier ruminates on the changes made to his life over his past year living in Seattle. He takes some time to consider this and ultimately realizes that, though things are not as he planned, he is happy they ended up this way.
Finally, since he is no longer married to Lilith, Frasier’s search for love begins again, and he almost finds the one a few times in this series. However, he does come to a point of self-analysis during the Season 9 episode “Don Juan in Hell.” He examines just what has gone wrong in his past romances, though he has always been able to know where his relationships go wrong. Frasier concludes with him receiving a job in San Francisco, but he goes to Chicago to chase Charlotte (Laura Linney), who he believes to be the love of his life. Now the character is set to make a glorious return to a new series sometime in 2020, though few details have been given about what the show will be about.