final draft

Frasier and Niles Were Supposed to Open a Theater Together

But when David Hyde Pierce said no, the reboot creators had to evolve.

“It would be weird to make Niles the new Maris.” Photo: Paramount+
“It would be weird to make Niles the new Maris.” Photo: Paramount+

Kelsey Grammer had been wanting to reboot Frasier for a while. We first got rumblings that sherry’s most reliable buyer would return to screens in 2018, and now, five years later, his third act takes him back to the city that started it all: Boston. Richer and jeans-ier than ever, Frasier wants to make an earnest effort to reconnect with his son Freddy (Jack Cutmore-Scott) and takes a job as a psychology professor at Harvard to remain close by. The department’s chair Olivia (Toks Olagundoye) and an old limey chum Alan (Nicholas Lyndhurst) are the KACL stand-ins, while Freddy’s friend and roommate Eve (Jess Salgueiro) possesses a Daphne-esque zany-but-no-bullshit energy. Frasier’s nephew David (Anders Keith) also flutters around with a long list of allergies just like his dad. And that brings us to the Niles of it all.

As showrunners Joe Cristalli and Chris Harris tell it, getting David Hyde Pierce to reprise his role for the new Frasier was, of course, a priority. Discussions stretched out to solidify a narrative for the character — including one about a black-box theater, more on that in a bit — before Hyde Pierce decided there was nothing left to do with Niles. “He’s not the bad guy in this, and he was so lovely about it,” Cristalli says. Ultimately, his absence presented the duo with an opportunity to start a fresh story from scratch, which is layered on one main theme. “For both his professional world and personal relationships,” Harris explains, “it feels like it’s a time for Frasier to be giving back.”

In the spirit of that, we presented the duo with seven quotes from Frasier’s premiere episode to learn more about how they got to their final draft, rejected jokes and all.

“It’s charming — it reminds me of a sort of place where one would wrestle a cartoon rat for a crust of bread.”

The episode begins with Frasier landing in Boston following the funeral of his father, Martin, to check in with son, Freddy, while guest-lecturing for a pal’s Harvard psych class. Here, Frasier observes Freddy’s modest but well-decorated Boston apartment, which he shares with Eve and, we later learn, her baby. The rhythm and sharpening of the reboot’s joke-telling has an unusual genesis: Cristalli used to run a now-deleted Twitter account where he imagined Frasier dialogue in a modern-day setting.

Joe Cristalli: The show had been off the air for about a decade before I started the Twitter feed. I did it for a couple of years to zero acclaim. I had 2,000 followers. It was a fun way to spend time. But when Kelsey came out and said, “I want to do the revival,” I made my agents send this Twitter page to his producers. I also had a Frasier spec script I wrote in 2014. They responded, “Oh yeah, we can meet with this guy. He obviously knows the DNA of Frasier.” I was around 30 years old and a staff writer. It’s like, “We’re not giving you the reins to Frasier off this.” So Chris, who had been a showrunner for a long time, came in. I met him on How I Met Your Mother. We wrote the pitch and the pilot together. He gets no credit for that Twitter feed.

Chris Harris: Let the record show that it was just Joe.

Joe Cristalli: For every really good joke I was proud of there were 28 “jokes” that just got you to the next good one. The reason I deleted it is because I knew at some point the show would come out and people would say, “They gave Frasier to this guy? Him?” I didn’t need to see that Buzzfeed list of, Look at these jokes this guy wrote. I tried to cram so many in, and rightfully so, they’re always denied at the script phase. “You’re serving shark for dinner?” It’s like, why is Frasier saying that? He’s saying that so I can get to some shitty punchline. That feed was invaluable for me to creatively work on the tone of the show, but I don’t think any of those jokes have rightfully made it into the show.

Chris Harris: I don’t know if there are specific rules for writing jokes for Frasier. At some point early on, we started to get a sense that we were flowering up everything too much. We were writing every single line as if it was Shakespearean dialogue — every sentence contained twists and turns. We needed to pull back because when you watch the original, not everything he says is tortured or erudite. You’ve got to pick your moments. You don’t want to eat all the desserts.

Joe Cristalli: Kelsey gracefully told us a couple of times, These are too many words, boys. Frasier’s dialogue is quick and succinct. If you can say it in three words, say it in three words.

“With your help, we could turn the Harvard psych department into the Harvard of psych departments.”

Frasier’s lecture is a smash hit, and Olivia begs the psychiatrist, now a household name thanks to his television show, to take employment at the Ivy League school. Frasier only intended to stop in the city for a few days while en route to Paris to begin a new academic pursuit of Pierre de Marivaux. Olivia approaches him after class, which is usually taught by Frasier’s old Oxford classmate Alan.

Chris Harris: The idea that Frasier actually had a relatively successful couple of decades was Kelsey’s idea. It’s a really interesting way to hit that character: What if he gets a lot of the things he always wanted? As opposed to him being down on his luck and needing to start over. He had massive success in the TV world, but he’s at a time in his life where he’s like, Now what? The one area where he didn’t live up to what he wanted was his relationship with his son, especially coming off the death of his own father. He feels like he can and should do better. One of the ongoing things of the series is Frasier trying to be the good father — trying to be the father he saw in his own dad.

Professionally, he’s had wealth and fame. He thinks he needs more respect, but where he’ll find joy is taking some of that wisdom and helping the next generation.

Joe Cristalli: It’s amazing I was able to get all of that into one joke. I did a really good job.

“I’m not gonna stand here and let you insult me. I’ll insist you do it over drinks.”

Following Frasier’s successful lecture, the personalities of his soon-to-be colleagues emerge: Alan, a tenured professor, frequently gloats about how he can never be fired due to his position. He’s a regular target of barbs from Olivia, his superior in Harvard’s psychology department. Once Frasier commits to joining the Ivy, he purchases the building containing Freddy’s apartment with Eve and John and insists Freddy move into his new, larger apartment.

Joe Cristalli: Kelsey told us Frasier never had a really good friend, and we should find him one. On Cheers, he was on the outside looking into all those people; on Frasier, he had Niles, but that’s a brother. He wanted a relationship with an old friend that he could go back and forth with in a way different and distinct from Niles. As soon as you see Alan interact with Frasier, he’s a completely different version of anything we’ve seen as a foil for him. And speaking of foils, that’s the Olivia character. We began writing Olivia as more of an adversary to Frasier and Alan — the boss they’re going up against. But she’s so funny being chummy and poking fun at those guys that she pivoted her character. We don’t want her on the outside looking in at these guys. We want her right in the trenches with them.

It was always the idea to do the two worlds — like KACL and the home life, where you had Martin and Daphne and Niles and Frasier, and then Frasier and Roz and the wonderful cast of players at the radio station. We wanted that with the university. David, Niles and Daphne’s son, is supposed to be able to go back and forth with Frasier from the university to his home life. We wanted to give Freddy someone to play off who lived with him, and Jess was so good. She evolved Eve’s character to being a confidant for both Frasier and Freddy. She sees Freddy’s issues, she sees Frasier’s issues, and she’s able to be a go-between between them, in the way Daphne was with Frasier and Martin. Jess’s part in the pilot was not as big as it became. She kept being great at everything, so we gave her more and more and more.

“You can’t tell me it’s not Sahara dry in here.” “Now you remind me of your father.”

David Hyde Pierce, who played Frasier’s brother, Niles, in the original series, turned down a role in the reboot. Enter David, son of Niles and Daphne, an anxious, flighty freshman at Harvard who serves as a bridge between Frasier’s personal and professional lives.

Joe Cristalli: We talked to David Hyde Pierce a couple of times. He was in a tough position. Everybody wants to see him as Niles, but he doesn’t want to step back into those shoes. He felt like he didn’t have anything new to bring to the character. He read versions and gave us notes and thoughts, and he acknowledged it was funny and we found the tone the original did so well. It just wasn’t for him.

Once that happened, it freed us up a little bit. By allowing us to take Frasier and put him with a whole new cast and location, it gives us the ability to stand on our own two feet. Yes, we have to live up to the incredibly high standards of Frasier, but with a little more leniency. This can live in the same universe as Frasier and Cheers without being Frasier or Cheers.

Chris Harris: We went through many incarnations. The university was in some versions and not in other versions, and there was a theater in one of them. It felt like, what’s giving meaning in this next stage of life?

Joe Cristalli: For a long time, the idea was that Frasier and Niles were going to run a black-box theater, like how they bought that restaurant and brought it back to life. But it’s hard for Frasier and Niles to run the theater when you don’t have Niles, so we had to step back from that.

Chris Harris: It would be weird to make Niles the new Maris.

Joe Cristalli: Which we did talk about.

“You missed your grandfather’s funeral. He had everything planned to the last detail and you missed it. The police send-off. Daphne’s toast. Bulldog’s ‘Ave Maria’!”

Frasier plans to treat his son to a home-cooked steak dinner, which is quickly crashed by Eve, David, Alan, and Olivia. When the father and son finally get a few moments alone, Frasier berates Freddy for skipping the funeral of his grandfather, Martin, which was a grand affair attended by family and friends in Seattle. Honoring the death of John Mahoney, as well as his character, was a priority for Cristalli and Harris although the original plan for a grand funeral scene was cut.

Joe Cristalli: We saw the funeral in one version of this show. We were still in Seattle and had the whole cast. One of the jokes was Bulldog walking up to the coffin and being very sad and saying, This stinks. This is total BS. I remember being furious that that wasn’t my joke. It was Chris’s joke.

Chris Harris: Joe’s the expert. He’s seen every episode multiple times. I’ll occasionally joke, “Yeah, who’s Gil Chesterton again?” We did have a whole Seattle first act, but it was right to move on from that and start the way we did. I think everyone felt a little sad that we didn’t give a moment to John Mahoney.

Joe Cristalli: It would’ve been too hard to have that funeral scene and not see Niles or Daphne. If you’re going to do the funeral scene, you have to see those people. It would’ve been heartbreaking and silly to try to explain it, “Oh, Niles is caught in a hot-air balloon somewhere and couldn’t make the funeral.” It never would’ve worked in the way we envisioned it.

Chris Harris: It was always Kelsey’s intention, and ours too, to make the pilot about Martin and his influence. Frasier realizes he hasn’t been the father he imagined himself to be at the same time he loses his own dad. When Kelsey is playing Frasier talking about his dad, you see a lot of that real emotion. Kelsey is thinking about John Mahoney because he was such an important and beloved figure to everyone who was part of that show. We’ll see reverberations of that through the season.

Joe Cristalli: You look at the original series, and you saw Freddy 11 times. But to be fair, it’s always presented as a good relationship. Frasier’s on the phone, he’s just coming back from Boston, he’s doing the holidays. Kelsey was very firm on this from the beginning: Frasier is a good father and wants to be a good father, but the distance between them grew. I don’t think you can call him a deadbeat dad.

Chris Harris: He went out for cigarettes.

Joe Cristalli: It’s not like Freddy was being raised by wolves. He was with Lilith — well, it’s kind of like being raised by wolves. Frasier’s trying to rectify a lot of things that happened in the past. We’d be lucky to see Bulldog again, but we have to figure out our show first before we start leaning on that very valuable crutch. On the original Frasier, nobody from Cheers showed up until at least season three. They moved him to Seattle to get away from Boston, so you wouldn’t have that crutch. We do see Roz and Lilith again this season. If we’re lucky enough, seasons two, three, four, and five is when you’ll see Gil and Bebe Glazer and Bulldog. I want to see Daphne and Niles again. If they want to do it, they’ll be welcome with open arms.

“Sherry saw me, and I can’t say no to her.”

Frasier’s tastes have changed since 2004. He doesn’t drink sherry exclusively, gravitates toward more casual clothing, and has a different standard for interior design. Here, he encounters disappointment in the selection at the professors’ local dive.

Joe Cristalli: That should have been my joke. Somehow Chris swooped in and took it. It’s such a good example of the character evolving because he has sherry but doesn’t drink it all the time anymore. Just like on Cheers, he drank a lot of beer. On Frasier, he drank a lot of wine and sherry. Now he’s back to wine and beer.

Frasier is always two steps ahead of everybody. He’s the most evolved person in the room; he’s the smartest guy in the room. When Glenda Revelo, our production designer, showed us a new apartment, it’s different from the neutral tones and the eclectic feel of the old apartment by design because this is what he would have now. He’s on the cutting edge. When Glenda showed us the Rorschach wallpaper, she was like, I know you guys know nothing about design, but trust me, this is on the cutting edge. It’s the same with the clothes. He’s not going to wear the cardigans and tweed jackets he wore on Cheers. He’s not going to wear the big Armani suits he wore on Frasier. He’s very smart, very rich, very fashion-forward, and very design-forward. Frasier knows what fashion is now.

Yes, you can complain that he’s wearing jeans even though he wore jeans in the original show. This is what he’ll be wearing. He’s more comfortable in his clothes now, literally, and more comfortable in his skin. He doesn’t have to prove anything. That’s who the guy is. He can still get very uppity about something very minor. What’s the word you used, Chris?

Chris Harris: More contemplative.

Joe Cristalli: We’ve talked about this with Kelsey: What do you bring from that old apartment? Frasier would buy all new stuff except for the grand piano. The grand piano goes with him wherever he goes.

“I’m no stranger to an underperforming dinner party.”

Another Frasier banger, as he watches his plan to bond with Freddy go south. This line was a nod to the audience.

Joe Cristalli: This is my favorite joke in the pilot. I don’t think anybody thought it was going to get a big laugh. You can’t do a farce dinner party that goes awry without acknowledging it. The way Kelsey performs, staring off into the distance, is pitch-perfect for the character. No matter how hard he tries, Frasier is going to step in it. Acknowledging the past in a very succinct way is fun for any fan. James Burrows gave a big laugh on that one, and he rarely laughs.

Chris Harris: The whole audience erupted. They were waiting for that. It felt like a collective moment of, We understand, and we’re happy. Every glancing reference to the past does very well. We try not to overuse it, but the audience wants to feel like this is a continuation. They want to be in all of the past traumas he’s referencing. Yes, “traumas.”

Joe Cristalli: We’ve got to be judicious with those references because you drop them out there and they’ll get giant laughs, but they can’t be shameless laughs. You have to earn them.

Chris Harris: It’s a nice way to wrap up the season too, isn’t it?

Joe Cristalli: That’s just a soupçon of another dinner party.

Frasier and Niles Were Supposed to Open a Theater Together