The weekend after Thanksgiving is a time for eating leftovers and bingeing television. In the spirit of Too Much TV, The Ringer has decided to explore a ’90s sitcom that holds a particular fascination in the streaming era. We now present: Frasier Day.
When Kelsey Grammer’s sitcom psychiatrist Frasier Crane left the building for the last time on May 13, 2004, ending Frasier’s run after 11 seasons, 264 episodes, and a then-record 37 Emmys, everyone involved in making the show was content to turn out the lights. “When the show was going off the air, I think all of us felt, The show is going off the air,” said sitcom lifer Peter Casey, the cocreator, writer, and producer of Frasier and Wings, and a former writer and producer of The Jeffersons and Cheers, on which Frasier first appeared in 1984. “We were all proud of that show, and you don’t want to stay on stage too long. So I think when we got off and went off the air, I think everybody was very satisfied with what we had done, and there was no talk that I knew of of either spinning a character off from Frasier or of continuing Frasier in some other form.”
A little less than two years later, though, a teenage Frasier fan took it upon himself to do what Casey and his writing partner (and fellow Frasier cocreator) David Lee didn’t. While bingeing Frasier Seasons 3 and 4 during a vacation, the teen, who went by “Paul B” on the now-defunct forum Frasier Online (lifetime Paul B posts: 7,281), conceived of a spinoff centered on his favorite Frasier character, Roz Doyle, Frasier’s faithful friend and radio producer. In Frasier’s series finale, Roz (played by Peri Gilpin) was promoted to station manager of Seattle talk-radio station KACL, where Frasier had hosted a show. Paul B’s proposed pilot for Roz, which he pitched in a Frasier Online thread on May 9, 2006, picked up from there.
Roz develops a reputation as a hard-ass after yelling at Noel on her first day running KACL. Worried that she can’t be the employees’ friend now that she is their boss, Roz plans a party for everyone at the station to show that she is still the same woman. Things inevitably go awry when an old-fashioned game of Spin the Bottle gets out of hand due to Bulldog’s eagerness to kiss Roz, and Gil criticizes her snacks. The next day, Roz is still being called a hard-ass so she impulsively gives everyone the day off. However, the station owner is outraged with what she has done and forces her to take over all the shows for the day, including the newly re-instated Gonzo Sports Show. As Roz wrestles with difficult callers and subjects she knows nothing about, she begins to wonder whether her new career is as glamorous as she anticipated.
Seventeen hours later, Paul had posted a full season’s worth of ideas. By the first anniversary of the pilot post, he’d charted the proposed spinoff’s course up to Season 20, with 24 episode premises per season. The thread eventually stretched to 32 pages and graduated to a GeoCities site with Paul B’s byline.
It’s a testament to the quality of Frasier’s characterization and writing (and the series’ second life on Netflix, which added Frasier to its catalog in 2011) that the sitcom’s somewhat insular world — which revolved around the farcical antics, endearing insecurities, and comedically conflicting pretentions and salt-of-the-earth sensibilities of Frasier’s family, friends, and broadcasting colleagues — is still inspiring fans with active imaginations more than 13 years after the series-ender aired. Cut off from Frasier after spending two decades with the character as a constant prime-time companion, Frasierphiles have gone to great lengths to keep him and his on-screen social circle in their hearts, even if it means supplying the scripts themselves.
The website FanFiction.net lists nearly 2,000 works of Frasier fan fiction, with three published this month; the site’s content includes entries ranging from short sketches to 80,000-word Niles-Daphne novellas and “alternative seasons” that run upward of 200,000 words. As Rule 34 requires, there’s erotica, too, with more than 100 Frasier-related stories, some of them explicit, on the fan-fiction site Archive of Our Own. (The summary of a 15,000-word “mature” story published this August reads, “A rejection from Maris on Leap Day leads to heartache for Niles, but the solace he shares with Daphne goes further than he intended … much further.”) A band called the Frasier Cranes made an EP entitled We’re Listening, composed of songs that sample Frasier clips. (It’s kind of catchy.) And last year, a digital artist named Daryl wrote and produced 35 short episodes of faux Frasier using an animation app called Plotagon, proving that blocky 3-D models and robocall-quality voice work are poor substitutes for David Hyde Pierce.
Creative and committed as many of those efforts are, none of them can compare to Frasierverse, a voluminous labyrinth of Frasier-related content that followed from Paul B’s fateful Frasier Online post. That first episode premise for Roz gave rise to 697 more, all of them now displayed on the public wiki that Paul B founded in mid-2009 to host his Frasier-derived ideas. Including Roz, Paul B’s fictional Frasier expanded universe encompasses seven series, spanning 2,390 episode premises across 107 combined seasons. Together, they feature 127 recurring characters (counting repeat appearances across series), of whom all but a dozen or so are original creations with no direct Frasier roots. Every one of them has a standalone page on the site, complete with a brief bio and a headshot of the appropriate Frasier cast member or a real-life actor whom Paul B fantasy-casted. Together, this imagined ensemble has seen births, deaths, breakups, and couplings never dreamed of in most Frasier fans’ philosophies. Given that some of the fictional series are sequels to other fictional series from the Frasierverse — and factoring in that Frasier is itself a spinoff of Cheers — the show that comes latest in Paul B’s internally consistent chronology is technically a spinoff of a spinoff of a spinoff of a spinoff of a spinoff.
The scope of Paul B’s project, which continues to this day, is vast enough to make the minds of all but the most devoted Frasier fans reel. Although Paul B has done little to publicize his efforts, occasional visitors have happened across it and asked their fellow flabbergasted fans at r/Frasier (as one Redditor did last year), “Can someone explain to me just what the hell this is?” More than once, Paul B replied to those comments, explaining himself and his site in self-deprecating terms.
“This is really embarrassing,” he wrote in December 2014. “To be honest I never expected anyone to find the Wikia and I sort of cringe at the episode ideas themselves, but hopefully people can derive some sort of enjoyment out of it.” In another thread last February, he noted, “I realise how nuts all this makes me sound by the way, so don’t bother pointing it out!”
Rather than call him crazy, Reddit’s readers have encouraged him to add to his oeuvre, just as the regulars at Frasier Forum did more than a decade ago. As Paul B explained in another Reddit comment, “It was warmly received by the members there so I just kept doing it. It grew into something of an obsession and I put it all on that Wikia site for posterity.” His hobby of generating episode ideas, he said, started at age 13 with a 625-episode Simpsons prequel on an earlier forum, but it reached full flower with Frasier. “I don’t really know how I do it, my mind just dispenses one episode idea after another,” he added. “Watching too much television over the years has probably played a significant part.”
Despite the positive feedback from Frasier fans, Paul B — whose old Frasier Forum posts suggest that he’s now 27 — still isn’t seeking attention. Reached via Reddit direct message, he politely declined to give me a guided tour of the Frasierverse. “It’s really only something I do as a hobby, and I’m not really looking for exposure,” Paul B wrote. “The Wikia site just happens to serve as a convenient aggregate of everything I’ve written, and if the people who stumble across it enjoy it that’s fine by me. … Additionally, I don’t feel the content itself warrants such attention. To me, they’re just something I rattle off as some kind of therapeutic measure, and not something I feel truly honours Frasier the way that fantastic show deserves.”
Of course, there could be no better judge of whether the Frasierverse does justice to Frasier’s legacy than one of the sitcom’s creators. And so, stymied by Paul B’s self-effacement, I introduced Casey to the site that his series spawned.
Not long after I contacted Casey through his agent, an email from him arrived. “Looked at Frasierverse with a combination of amazement, amusement and WTF!” the message said, mirroring my own sentiments.
“I guess I had a lot of different thoughts,” Casey elaborated later, via phone. “Some of them were of admiration, of somebody caring about the show that much that they would go to that extreme. And it’s really an extreme.”
Casey, who blogged about the birth of Frasier at Frasier writer Ken Levine’s site not long after Paul B began to construct what would morph into the Frasierverse, recalled during our chat that because NBC was desperate for a sitcom successor as Cheers drew to a close, the pitch for Frasier — delivered by Casey, Lee, and third cocreator David Angell, who died in the September 11 attacks — sailed through the approval process. Although the show’s parameters were loosely sketched out at the start, the three Cheers veterans had long felt that Frasier himself was a firm foundation for a spinoff. “They were all great characters on Cheers, but there are certain characters that you sit there and go, ‘OK, that character is multidimensional enough and interesting enough and strong enough that they could shoulder a series,’ and we always felt that way about Frasier,” Casey said. Instead of creating characters to populate a certain setting, as they had with Wings, their task was to build a world to support a particular person.
“With Frasier being a supporting character on Cheers, he was sort of part of this merry band of zanies who kind of revolved around Sam, with Sam being the maypole,” Casey said. “And what we did was we moved Frasier into the center on his own show, and then we brought in a new set of dancers around him who could act a little crazier, but he was the anchor of the show.” As the anchor, Frasier needed a new dimension that would open up potential plot lines, a puzzle Lee solved by suggesting that the show flesh out his family and home life.
To differentiate Frasier from Cheers (and prevent too many network-mandated character crossovers), the trio moved Frasier from Boston to Seattle and made him a radio host, an idea they’d toyed with but never utilized on Cheers. Then they altered the formula in less obvious ways. “We didn’t put music in between scenes,” Casey recounts. “We did the black cards in between scenes. We didn’t show the exterior buildings to say, ‘Oh, here’s where the next scene is.’ We just went into the scene. So we tried to do as many little things to give it a different look and a different feel as we could.”
With those principles of spinoff success in mind, I asked Casey (who is “happily retired”) to study each of Paul B’s seven spinoff premises and pass judgment on their viability. “Do you realize that if in reality we shot these, these people would all be in old-age homes by the final season?” he asked. I did realize that, and so did Paul B, who accounted for this potential problem by setting the last of his spinoffs in a retirement community. The man has thought this through.
Crane Life (11 Seasons, 258 Episodes)
Paul B’s premise: “Five years after Frasier, Niles Crane and Daphne Moon-Crane move to Chicago with their son, David. Niles gets a job at Mead Psychiatry, a prestigious psychiatric practice, and Daphne works part-time as their landlord’s physical therapist. Rounding out the characters are a rotating group of eccentric colleagues and friends.”
Casey’s take: A three-sentence synopsis isn’t sufficient for Casey to endorse or dismiss an idea. “It’s hard to criticize certain things, because you go, ‘Well, anything’s possible,’” he said. “I mean honestly, I’ve tried to look back at when we went and pitched Frasier. It’s easy to look in hindsight and go, ‘Oh yeah, that was brilliant!’ But I don’t know.”
That said, Paul B’s brief setup includes the kernel of a functional series. “Look, they tried to set up a new life for [Niles],” Casey said. “After five years he moves to Chicago. … I mean, it’s an idea. The fact that [Paul B] comes up with 258 episodes, I’m just blown away with. And the other thing I have to say that I was totally amused at as I click on to these different characters, I go, ‘He’s got pictures. There’s pictures.’ I just … I’m going, ‘Wow.’” (Casey also noticed that many of Paul B’s character names are homages to Frasier’s original writers.)
Paul B lists 18 core cast members for Crane Life, which initially struck Casey as an exorbitant number. “Something we learned from Wings, that we employed when we were creating Frasier, is keep your cast small,” he said. “Don’t have a big cast, because in real life, they’re all actors, they all want their lines. And if you have 11 characters in a show that’s only 22 minutes long, everybody’s gotta get fed. And this seems like it’s a wildly unwieldy-sized cast in all of these shows.” After further thought, though, Casey realized that he hadn’t taken Paul B’s long-term planning into account, saying “Of course, I guess he could sit there and go, ‘Well, it’s not that big if you consider it’s stretching over 30 years!’”
The Deep End (14 Seasons, 284 Episodes)
Paul B’s premise: “The first four seasons follow the various employees of Whirlpool, a talent agency in Manhattan. Seasons 5 to 7 see a two-year leap, and a change of setting to Kinsella, a talent agency owned by Chloe in New York City. Seasons 8 to 11 are based around Chloe, her family, and the various companies operating on a business park in Poughkeepsie. The final three seasons are mostly centred around the Top Banana, a bistro opened by Chloe in Poughkeepsie.”
Casey’s take: As a fictional spinoff of a fictional spinoff that stars a character who isn’t from Frasier, this was the most difficult premise for Casey to assess, but he weighed in where he could. Noticing that Frasier’s unethical agent Bebe Glazer (played by Harriet Sansom Harris) becomes a recurring character for the first four seasons of The Deep End after surfacing in Season 14 of Roz, Casey said, “I love that idea. I go, ‘Wow, that’s the supreme confidence that, we’re getting to the 14th season of this other show and they’re going to want a spinoff of it now.’ I am thrilled that they kept Bebe Glazer going. She was one of my favorite characters.”
Casey also admired The Deep End’s willingness to reboot itself in Season 8 after seven seasons of being about talent agencies, describing the hypothetical showrunners’ thought process as, “We tried a little Broadway Danny Rose there and we’re like, ‘Eh, let’s try something else.’”
Maris (29 Seasons, 668 Episodes)
Paul B’s premise: “Seven years after Frasier, Maris Crane’s numerous crimes have been pardoned and she has resumed her life of luxury in Seattle, Washington.”
Casey’s take: Although Casey said that actress Julia Duffy pleaded to play her, Niles’s wife, Maris, was never shown on screen in Frasier. Even so, she had to go in order for Niles and Daphne to date. “When we finally decided that it was time for Niles and Daphne to get together, we had to figure out, ‘Let’s get rid of Maris,’” Casey said. “I had read a story in Vanity Fair about some, I think it was a Hamptons very wealthy woman who had a polo-playing South American boyfriend who was her lover and she ended up shooting and killing him, and I said, ‘This sounds like it might be a fun way to get rid of Maris.’ And that’s what we did!”
By the time Paul B’s Maris spinoff starts — again, with Maris herself always off screen — the justice system has evidently decided that she’s paid her debt to society after spending several years on the lam. “Wasn’t that great?” Casey said. “‘Wait a minute, he was just a polo player that the world is better off without.’”
Although the concept of Maris was a reliable bit for Frasier, just as Norm’s invisible wife Vera had been before her on Cheers, sustaining a show based on an unseen character for 29 seasons is a tall order. “As I was reading the stories I’m going, ‘Well, wait a minute, are they going to have Maris only be off screen? How do we do that?’” Casey said. “It’s one thing when it’s a joke in a scene, or you have a one-page conversation about Maris. But to have the whole series be about Maris and you never see her — that’s a challenge. That one might be tough. Granted, you are saving on the budget in terms of the lead actress. But wow. That is going to require some really, really good writing. Maybe he should really concentrate on trying to distill it down to, like, 12 good seasons.”
MCTV (6 Seasons, 108 Episodes)
Paul B’s premise: “The series follows the various employees who work at MCTV, a television station owned by Maris Crane.”
Casey’s take: Casey admires Paul B’s boldness. “I love the idea that, ‘I didn’t have enough with one series with a character we don’t see, now I’m going to do a second one,’” he said. However, Casey cautions that a second Maris-related spinoff might be a bridge too far. “Anything that’s too good, you need to have it in just small doses, you know?” he said. “Don’t eat a whole box of fudge, just have a little piece of fudge.”
Roz (30 Seasons, 698 Episodes)
Paul B’s premise: “After years of working as a producer, Wisconsin-born Roz Doyle is promoted to manager of KACL, an all-talk radio station in Seattle, Washington.”
Casey’s take: Roz is Paul B’s most conventional spinoff idea, adhering to the tradition of taking a supporting player from a previous series and giving him or her a greater share of the spotlight. “You know what, I could see that,” Casey said of a series starring Roz. “I could see that. Continuing with her as the general manager … well, 30 seasons, yeah. I would have thought that Roz would be retiring about the 23rd season or so. But yeah, that’s, 30 seasons, Gunsmoke didn’t run 30 seasons. And even if Saturday Night Live has run 30 seasons, they’ve been changing the cast all the time.”
Even if a lack of character turnover might make the series stale, Casey appreciates Paul B’s loyalty to Frasier regulars. “I happen to really love all the characters that we created for the radio station,” he said. “Bulldog and Gil Chesterton and Noel Shempsky. They were all favorites of mine. They’re all here, God bless ’em. I did find it interesting that he held off on bringing Bebe Glazer in until Season 14. Hopefully the actress has been sitting around waiting for that call. First of all she was initially incredibly bitter over, ‘I’m not in that Roz spinoff, what the hell is happening?’ You know? ‘Well, just be patient.’ Fourteen years later the phone rings.”
As he scrolled through the long list of Roz episodes, Casey felt the weight of the passage of fictional time. “You’re looking at these episodes 15 seasons in and you’re going, ‘[Frasier’s son] Freddy’s like a grown man, he’s middle-aged now,’” he said. “When you start looking at it that way, of how extensive, how far into the future they looked, I’m sitting there going, ‘As much as I love the show, I can’t see myself watching it for 30 years.’”
Vintage Roz (15 Seasons, 330 Episodes)
Paul B’s premise: “Roz Doyle and her husband, Bob ‘Bulldog’ Briscoe, leave Seattle to retire in Roz’s hometown [of] Bloomer, Wisconsin.”
Casey’s take: The Vintage Roz romance was too much for Casey to swallow. “The idea that Roz and Bulldog ended up together … no,” he said. “That one I can’t [see]. Especially at the ages they would be at this point. That one was kind of a stretch for me.”
When I asked Casey whether Roz and Bulldog might have made a pact to get married if they never found the perfect partner by a certain age, Casey’s voice turned sarcastic. “Yeah,” he said. “‘We’re both so sad and lonely we’re going to get married now, and let’s make a comedy about that!’”
Widowers (2 Seasons, 44 Episodes)
Paul B’s premise: “Following the conclusion of Vintage Roz; returning characters Kenny Daly, Angus Kane, and Noel Shempsky move into the Shady Glades retirement community after being faced with a number of setbacks in their personal lives.”
Casey’s take: When Widowers starts, the remaining Frasier characters would be in their 80s, at least, leaving Paul B little leeway with the setting. “It’s smart,” Casey said. “Very smart to look into this, to say, ‘We’re going to account for the actors all getting really old and that’s what we’ll do, it suddenly becomes The Golden Boys.’”
Although ex-KACL fixtures Kenny and Noel are around to supply some connectivity to Frasier, Roz is dead, which makes Casey reflect on how far Paul B’s creation has come since his first episode premise. “It reminds me of these people that start these very intricate drawings that start with a little square, and then they start putting a little square next to the square, and as it slowly starts expanding out, you realize, ‘Oh, they’re sort of drawing Ancient Rome from a satellite,’” he said. “And it just keeps getting bigger, and bigger, and bigger, and you’re going, ‘Oh my god, that started with one little square!’ And it just keeps going on, like pouring water on a table. That’s what this thing is like. It’s like, ‘Holy shit!’”
According to Casey, the potential for adult-diaper jokes alone isn’t enough for him to declare Widowers a great idea, but he is happy to have heard of it. “Each one of these just astounds me,” he said. “The time and the thought that was put into it, and I’m not saying this was a waste of anybody’s time or a waste of their thought, because it’s just overwhelming, it really is. And when you sit there and you go, ‘All we were doing was trying to keep employed for a few years,’ and then you read something like this. I never saw it going in that direction.”
After inspecting every premise and perusing many pages of episode ideas, Casey decided to cut himself off. “I kept feeling like I’m going down a rabbit hole if I keep going at this,” he said. “I might get lost in here. It’s pretty amazing, and when I say amazing I mean just in a, you know, Ripley’s Believe It or Not! kind of way.”
Overall, the Frasier cocreator’s verdict on the Frasierverse was positive, although as Paul B — who has only sporadically tried his hand at scriptwriting — has acknowledged, a synopsis is far from a finished product. “Some of the episode ideas were legitimate in the sense that you go, ‘OK, I could see them building a story around that,’” Casey said. “It kind of reads like an old TV Guide, you know, ‘Tonight on such and such, here’s what happens.’ The devil is in the details on stories, and you have to find the motivation for why the character is going to do what they’re going to do. … I don’t necessarily see them as stories, I see them as notions. But, hey, it’s still coming up with 24 notions for 30 seasons, that’s pretty amazing. I saw certain things where I’d look and I’d go, ‘Oh, we did something like that in one of our stories’ — and whether he knew it or not, I don’t know — but I saw certain similarities to some stories that we had done. But nonetheless, you have to tip your cap to someone who really sat down and did that much. You really do.”
The idea factory formerly known as Paul B isn’t doing as much anymore. In the past year, some spigot has all but stopped the stream of new spinoffs and episodes. “I still write ideas from time to time, but for my own amusement,” he wrote on Reddit last year. But Paul B is still sprucing up his quiet corner of the internet, one tweak at a time. His last revision — his 5,247th since starting the site — came earlier this month, when he trimmed the text on the Frasierverse landing page.
Frasier, too, is still clinging to life, and not only through the efforts of indefatigable fans like Paul. NBC has already rebooted Frasier contemporaries Roseanne and Will & Grace, and in August, network chairman Bob Greenblatt said, “I’d love to [bring back] Frasier.” Greenblatt sounded pessimistic about the principals’ interest, but Casey doesn’t dismiss the idea, although he notes that CBS’s purchase of former Frasier home (and ex-NBC property) Paramount Studios could complicate the conversation. “I will not deny that there has been talk about it, but nothing’s sort of moved onto any kind of firm commitment to do it,” Casey said. “It strikes me that it may be a little bit different to try to bring our cast all back together than it was for the Will & Grace people … but hey, they may want to absolutely get it back together and do it, I don’t know. I think Kelsey would probably be very happy to do it again.”
Although Casey wouldn’t divulge any ideas he might have for a Frasier return, he could always consult the Frasierverse as a source of inspiration. Probability alone suggests that any scenario he could concoct would resemble something Paul B has already envisioned. “I’ve become very nervous that if something does come about and it’s a spinoff, all of a sudden, we’re getting papers from a law office saying, ‘Hey, this came right out of Frasierverse,’ and I’m like, ‘I didn’t read all 8,000 episodes the guy gave us! I didn’t know that!’” Casey said. “This Frasierverse may have been the biggest trap ever laid. It’s ingenious what he’s done.”
One wonders what Frasier would say if a KACL caller asked his advice about kicking a compulsion to write fan fiction for a long-concluded show. Perhaps he would tell him to keep cranking out episodes. In the Season 3 episode “Crane vs. Crane,” Frasier evaluates a wealthy eccentric, Harlow Safford (played by Donald O’Connor of Singin’ in the Rain fame), to determine his competency to stand trial. He asks the elderly Safford why he recently hopped a train rather than buy a ticket and ride comfortably in the club car. “Where’s the adventure in that?” Safford said. “I’m 78. Someday I’ll be too old to jump off a moving train! No, you gotta live out your fantasies while you can. Can you understand that?”
After a pause for reflection, Frasier said, “I think I can.” The scene ends with the stuffy psychiatrist making an admittedly embarrassing request to slide down the fireman’s pole standing in Stafford’s room.
Paul B may be a bit embarrassed by his body of work, but he’s following his fantasies. Thanks to the Frasierverse, so are we. “The only reason I’m leaving is because I want what all of you have now,” Frasier told his friends and family in Frasier’s finale. “A new chapter.” Whether or not Casey and Co. ever revive Frasier, Paul B and the Frasierverse have lengthened its legacy, one chapter at a time.