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Hear Me Out

Are You Listening? Because We Have Some Questions about Frasier's Chicago Talk Show

Was he rivals with Oprah Winfrey? Did he ever meet Boss star Kelsey Grammer?
  • Kelsey Grammer and Jack Cutmore-Scott in Frasier (Photo: Paramount+)
    Kelsey Grammer and Jack Cutmore-Scott in Frasier (Photo: Paramount+)

    In Hear Me Out, Primetimer staffers and contributors espouse their pet theories, hot takes, and even the occasional galaxy-brain idea.

    Frasier Crane (Kelsey Grammer) is in the building again, only that building is now located in Boston, where we first met the snooty psychiatrist, not his hometown of Seattle, where he returned to lick his wounds post-divorce in his eponymous NBC series that ran from 1993 to 2004. He also has enough money to buy the building outright instead of dealing with a condo board, the result of hosting a mega-successful daytime talk show after moving to Chicago to pursue a relationship with Charlotte Connor (Laura Linney), who unceremoniously dumped him before the Paramount+ series, which premieres today, kicks off. Whew.

    The two-part premiere, “The Good Father” and “Moving In,” dispenses just that quickly with the last 19 to 20 years of Frasier’s life in order to move full steam into what series creators Joe Cristalli (Life in Pieces) and Chris Harris (Acapulco, How I Met Your Mother) call the “third act” of his life. We know what you’re thinking — didn’t the move to Chicago in “Goodnight, Seattle,” where he spent two decades with a great partner and became a popular TV host after having been in private practice and hosted a popular radio program, mark the third act of Frasier’s life? So, wouldn’t that make his return to Boston, where he’s setting roots once more in order to restore his relationship with his son Freddy (Jack Cutmore-Scott) and stumble into a professorship at Harvard, the fourth act of his life?

    Well, Cristalli and Harris insist their show isn’t a reboot or a revival but a spin-off of the original series, which was itself a spin-off of Cheers, that just happens to have the same name as the show that spawned it. Continuity doesn’t seem to be their biggest priority at the outset of nu-Frasier, which introduces a dear old friend (Nicholas Lyndhurst as Alan Cornwall) who’d never previously been mentioned, an estranged son who, as an adult, shows no signs of the nerdy tween he was in the original series, and a nephew (Anders Keith as David Crane) who, despite having a father who’s an even bigger snob than Frasier, must have had a gap year before enrolling at Harvard. Never mind that Niles (David Hyde Pierce) and Daphne (Jane Leeves) seem to have very little involvement in their son’s life (if Samantha Jones can live on through texts in And Just Like That…, surely David can have an off-screen FaceTime call with his parents?).

    The spin-off does address the loss of John Mahoney, who died in 2018, with an ongoing tribute to Martin Crane, who seemingly passed his blue-collar genes to Freddy (they just took 30 years to kick in) before passing away. Martin’s funeral is a source of tension for his son and grandson in “The Good Father,” but it just as quickly brings them closer together. Frasier may not be original recipe Frasier — not yet, anyway — but it’s still a sitcom, so the conflicts that arise in the first two episodes are quickly resolved. That is, except for the matter of how Frasier could end up teaching at Harvard despite being deeply unsuited for it — good to know that, in real life, being a Harvard alum has its limits — and have next to no contact with any of his old friends (from Seattle or Boston, aside from the one made up expressly for this show) or suffer any heartbreak after being dumped by his partner of two decades (his marriage to Lilith only lasted five years, and we saw how long it took him to get over that).

    But, after watching the two-part premiere, the Chicago contingent of the Primetimer staff (which is really just me) was much more curious about one of the under-discussed elements of the 20-year gap between Frasier and Frasier: his talk show that filmed in Chicago.

    Though it’s not the production hub that Hollywood or Vancouver is, Chicago has been home to some of the biggest daytime talk shows in history. We’re the land of Oprah, Donahue, Springer, and (sigh) Jones. If Frasier’s show was on the air from roughly 2004 to 2023, that would put him in direct competition with The Oprah Winfrey Show, which wrapped up in 2011. Did they both film at Harpo Studios (that is, until the Chicago arm shut down in 2015)? Did Frasier butt heads with Dr. Phil, who kicked off his own daytime show in 2002? Or, in the world of Frasier, is Dr. Crane actually Dr. Phil? Here are some of our biggest questions about the show within the show that’s a spin-off of the show Frasier.

    Seriously, Did Frasier Crane Go Head to Head With Oprah Winfrey?

    Even if you adjust the range slightly, and give Frasier a couple of years to enjoy some domestic bliss with Charlotte before figuring out his next career move, he still would have been on the air by 2005, 2006 at the latest. That means five to six years of competing with Oprah Winfrey, whose hit talk show ran from 1986 to 2011. What must daytime TV have looked like in the early aughts, when Oprah, Jerry Springer, and Dr. Crane were all on the air? How did Chicago Public School students who were home sick decide what to watch?

    Viewers can expect more of the fictional talk show’s backstory in upcoming episodes, but given the overall lack of detail — aside from the set design, which remains impeccable — in Frasier, it doesn’t seem likely the show will ever really stop to consider the storied landscape onto which Dr. Crane debuted. Which is too bad, because again, the days when Phil Donahue, Oprah Winfrey, and Jerry Springer ruled daytime TV were wild.

    Now, Frasier’s show, Dr. Crane, could have been the lead-in for The Oprah Winfrey Show, or even a spin-off of that hugely influential talk show. On that note…

    Is Frasier the Dr. Phil of the Frasier-Verse?

    Although daytime TV has always been chock full of competing shows with similar premises — see: The View, The Talk, Red Table Talk, etc. — what are the odds that two advice shows led by doctors (though Dr. Phil McGraw opted not to renew his license in clinical psychology past 2006, giving Dr. Crane a fictitious edge) would be on at the same time in the aughts, and both thrive? What if, in the land of Frasier, Oprah Winfrey helped unleash Dr. Crane, not Dr. Phil, on the masses? At the very least, Shelley Duvall wouldn’t have had to endure that 2016 interview with McGraw.

    Did Frasier Run Into Boss Star Kelsey Grammer While in Chicago, Creating a Tear in the Space-Time Continuum That Explains New Frasier’s Timey-Wimey Stuff?

    One of Kelsey Grammer’s most prominent post-Frasier TV roles was Tom Kane, the eponymous Boss in Farhad Safinia’s 2011 series on Starz. The drama, which centered on Kane, the mayor of Chicago and a Lear-like figure, offered Grammer a chance to scheme, sneer, and soliloquize to his Shakespeare-loving heart’s content. Boss filmed on location in Chicago for its two seasons, before concluding on October 19, 2012.

    Frasier Crane has always been prepared to rub elbows with celebrities, especially ones who could handle the meaty monologues of Boss. At the very least, there’s a good chance that Frasier and Grammer would patronize the same high-end restaurants, which means that the character originated by Kelsey Grammer could very well have met Kelsey Grammer, possibly while both were enjoying a single malt scotch. Frasier could also have gotten into it with Grammer about mindless blockbusters in 2013, when the actor was in town shooting Transformers 4. Or maybe Frasier ran into Grammer in 2019 when the latter was in Chicago to film Proven Innocent, the short-lived Fox legal drama in which he played a corrupt Cook County states attorney. (Though set in Chicago, FX’s Partners, which starred Grammer and Martin Lawrence, did not film here.)

    The point is, once the veil between fiction and non-fiction was pierced, the rest of reality came crumbling down, resulting in whatever is going on with the timeline in nu-Frasier. For example: David was born in 2004 to an overachieving elitist — the kind who would take every chance to rub his son’s success in the face of the brother he’s in eternal competition with — yet he somehow didn’t start college (Harvard, at that) until he was 19? Or, is the spin-off playing fast and loose with David's birthdate as well as Freddy’s personality, Frasier’s first third act (Charlotte, we hardly knew ye), and Harvard’s hiring practices?

    It’s probably best for our mental health to just let Frasier — the spin-off, which is definitely not a sequel series, revival, or reboot — work through this identity crisis. After all, sitcoms, even those born of highly successful ones, usually require a few episodes before gaining their footing. Especially if there's a rift in the space-time continuum. 

    New episodes of Frasier drop Thursdays on Paramount+. Join the discussion about the show in our forums

    Danette Chavez is the Editor-in-Chief of Primetimer and its biggest fan of puns.

    TOPICS: Frasier, Dr. Phil, The Oprah Winfrey Show, Anders Keith, David Hyde Pierce, Jack Cutmore-Scott, Jane Leeves, Kelsey Grammer, Oprah Winfrey