By FRAZIER MOORE, AP Television Writer
NEW YORK (AP) - You would be hard-pressed to name two more different heroes than Marshal Matt Dillon, the Wild West lawman of "Gunsmoke," and Seattle's snooty shrink, Dr. Frasier Crane.
Even so, Kelsey Grammer, beginning his ninth year in the "Frasier" title role after nine years as the same character on "Cheers," has his sights set on Marshal Dillon. James Arness played Dillon for a record 20 seasons. That's a record Grammer aims to match playing Frasier.
"Who knows? We might do more," he says. "But we're counting on the next three seasons."
So is NBC, which counts "Frasier" among its few sitcom hits.
Of course, Kelsey Grammer, 46, hasn't stuck with Frasier Crane purely as an endurance contest.
Nor, presumably, is he hanging on just for the money (although he's already set a record as the highest-salaried actor in TV history, reportedly pulling down $1.6 million per week).
No, as "Frasier" marks its 200th episode Tuesday (9 p.m. EST), the bottom line is this: Grammer says he still has fun being Frasier.
"I have never been visited by the fear that he's stale," says Grammer. "Through him, I get to bring to light a lot of things I think about, myself."
Frasier and Kelsey: It seems they share an asymptotic journey as fellow travelers whose paths grow ever closer, yet never quite merge.
Or is the merger a done deal?
"By now, Frasier lives in my subconscious," says Grammer. "We discover life on kind of the same terms.
"I guess Frasier and I have always looked for the same thing in life: being happy and making an honest living, trying to do some good in the world and changing a few minds if we can. Or at least lifting somebody's burden for a time."
Like Kelsey Grammer the actor making people laugh, Frasier Crane prospers as a phone-in therapist dispensing advice to his radio audience.
Not only well-versed in psychobabble, Frasier also is charming, urbane, witty and intelligent - quite a contrast to the bumbling heroes of most sitcoms. Funny though he is, Frasier becomes laughable not so much from his own failings as from his lofty standards for an imperfect world that regularly fails him.
"What's the one thing better than an exquisite meal?" Frasier once posed to his like-minded psychotherapist brother before furnishing the obvious answer: "an exquisite meal with one tiny flaw we can pick at all evening!"
As a feverishly cultivated man for whom order and self-knowledge are everything - especially since he has neither - Frasier insists on the finer things in life, and loves to obsess about everything else.
Sure, you laugh at him. But you also admire him. Here's a guy whose taste is unerring, even when exercised in la-di-da ways.
On one episode, Frasier was overjoyed that an upcoming soiree would "give me a chance to debut my Limoges coffee set. Six unique cups, each representing a different wife of Henry VIII."
Let him enjoy his Limoges coffee set! In the 1994 book "In Defense of Elitism," William A. Henry III lamented that "a brand of anti-intellectual populism is running amok." If that's true, you can't blame Frasier for taking refuge in dutiful refinement.
"He's not a complacent character," says Grammer, who applauds Frasier's resolve: What's so wrong with gravitating toward the finer things?
But those who don't know any better are always ready to pounce. That's how Grammer interprets what befell him when, 18 months ago, he returned to the stage to do Shakespeare.
"They were all over me," he says of the disapproving critics. "How dare I come back to New York and play Macbeth, of all things! One guy said I was fat." Grammer shrugs.
"I may have limited my choices by the success I've enjoyed as Frasier," he concedes. "But I have little cause for complaint. I have had an extraordinary career already. I will still insist on playing other roles, and enjoy them - and probably suffer huge amounts of criticism."
Meanwhile, Frasier lives on. As do Frasierlike outbursts about the real world from the man who shares Frasier's psyche and skin.
For instance, the erosion of language. Take "culinary," flagrantly mispronounced as "cull-inary" rather than the proper "cyoo-linary." Grammer calls this "one of my pet peeves. But it would be Frasier's as well."
Even a certain organization with "culinary" in its name officially pronounces that word "cull-inary," he cringes.
"Here is an entire institute devoted to glorifying the art of cooking," huffs Grammer, his indignation escalating like Frasier's, "and yet they would diminish the art of language!
"Check any dictionary! It drives me out of my mind!"
In fact, dictionaries differ on this issue. But Grammer, in close touch with his inner shrink, has made his diagnosis.
LOS ANGELES (AP) - "Frasier" star Kelsey Grammer wants to deal with the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in a future episode of the NBC sitcom.
"Frasier" executive producer David Angell and his wife, Lynn, died on one of the four crashed planes.
"It's been crossing my mind lately that maybe we need to at least address (Sept. 11) in some way. We are also a contemporary show, concurrent with what's going on in our daily lives," Grammer told reporters recently. "To completely ignore it, I think might be a mistake."
Co-star David Hyde Pierce says the Seattle-based show should stick to its formula of providing laughs, and cites his work with the Alzheimer's Association as an example.
"Frequently people say to me, `Gee, why don't you deal with Alzheimer's on the show?' But I don't really believe that our show is the place to deal with that."
He added, "I think the less specific we are about the events of 9-11, the more helpful we are."
By Bill Keveney, USA TODAY
LOS ANGELES ‹ Even for a guy who has turned women troubles into an art form, Frasier Crane has his hands full in Frasier's season premiere ‹ a confrontation with two ex-loves amid the fallout of two recent romantic pursuits. Shelley Long and Bebe Neuwirth, who played Diane and Lilith, respectively, on Frasier predecessor Cheers, recently taped a joint appearance. They help ‹ if that's the correct word ‹ Kelsey Grammer's character analyze his many failed relationships.
"It's a great chance to revisit some people that are kind of locked in the culture of American TV viewers," Grammer said during a rehearsal break for the episode (NBC, Sept. 18, 9 p.m. ET/PT), which he also directed.
To add to that tough-love intervention, Rita Wilson, who once played a woman Frasier couldn't date because she looked like his mother, returns for a visit with a Freudian twist. The women help Frasier analyze his fumbled relationships with Lana (Jean Smart) and Claire (Patricia Clarkson), who return for the one-hour opener, the aftermath to last season's Caribbean trip.
Both Neuwirth and Long enjoy the guest roles. (The two appeared in a 1994 Frasier episode, but not together.) Neuwirth says rehearsal helps her return to the character of Frasier's ex-wife,
"As soon as I'm on stage with Kelsey, looking at his eyes, I remember what's going on," she said before taping at the Paramount set.
Long appreciates the connection between Frasier, going into its ninth season, and Cheers.
"Frasier has grown from being more typically naive, at least with the Cheers group. He was naive with the streetwise sensibility. But now he's in his element," she said.
For all of Frasier's angst, can this radio psychiatrist ever be happy?
"He is riddled with high standards, but I anticipate a time when he will be," Grammer said.
Frasier has three more years ‹ which makes 20 for the character ‹ to chart that course, after a contract extension that will pay Grammer more than $1.6 million an episode during the 10th and 11th seasons. (Grammer says public salary discussion is rude and vulgar.)
The oft-frustrated Frasier will become more comfortable with himself this year. He won't be as focused on dating for the first half of the season, but a satisfying relationship may be on the horizon.
"We're interested in finding the right person and right relationship for him," executive producer Dan O'Shannon said.
Other story lines include:
The hour-long premiere finds Frasier confronting his present and his past, with guest appearances by Bebe Neuwirth and Shelley Long (Cheers's Diane Chambers). As for Niles (David Hyde Pierce) and Daphne (Jane Leeves), their relationship grows stronger, and Roz (Peri Gilpin) will find love this season. Also, a new hush-hush female star will join the ensemble in November.
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