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Inside Kelsey Grammer's return to “Frasier”: His new TV family, and how the show pays tribute to John Mahoney

If the '90s are truly in, then Frasier Crane chose the perfect time for his return.

Nearly 20 years after saying goodbye to Frasier, Kelsey Grammer is back as the psychiatrist and radio host who graced our television screens from 1993-2004. Gone, though, are his days on the airwaves and Seattle — as well as the show's original cast. In fact, the new Frasier moves the action to where we first met the character in the season 3 premiere of Cheers: Boston.

On the Paramount+ revival — created by Joe Cristalli (Life in Pieces) and Chris Harris (How I Met Your Mother), who serve as showrunners — Frasier, having recently lost his father, Martin (played on the original Frasier by the late John Mahoney), decides it's time to spend more time closer to his son, Freddy, whom he rarely sees. (The character made a handful of appearances on the show's first run.) Now in his 30s, Freddy (Jack Cutmore-Scott) is a Boston firefighter who doesn't necessarily share his father's desire to mend their relationship.

Frasier Fall TV Preview
Frasier Fall TV Preview

Chris Haston/Paramount+ 'Frasier'

"There's a lot of Martin in Freddy," famed director James Burrows, who co-created and directed the majority of Cheers and was also behind the camera for a few dozen episodes of Frasier (and the first two episodes of this revival), explains to EW. "Joe and Chris specifically wanted Frasier to deal with his son... because the relationship with Kelsey and Mahoney was wonderful. So they tried to tap into that, and I think they succeeded."

That relationship will be at the heart of the show, where the two are surrounded by friends, family, and colleagues: There's Freddy's friend and roommate Eve (Jess Salgueiro), who's a bartender and aspiring actress; David (Anders Keith), Niles and Daphne's son who travels to the east coast with his uncle Frasier; Alan Cornwall (Nicholas Lyndhurst), an old friend and colleague of Frasier who's a professor at Harvard; and Olivia (Toks Olagundoye), chair of Harvard's psych department, who tries to recruit Frasier to teach there.

Frasier Fall TV Preview
Frasier Fall TV Preview

Chris Haston/Paramount+ Kelsey Grammer and Jack Cutmore-Scott on the new 'Frasier'

After a long, successful career — which also includes a stop in another city that will be briefly explained in one episode — Frasier has no financial concerns; he's rich, to be frank. His new apartment is just as classy and stylish as the one where he lived with his father and brother in Seattle. And his taste in expensive bourbon hasn't waned.

"We want to present someone who is familiar to the audience, but also has had a life for 20 years in the time since we've seen him," explains Harris in an interview conducted prior to the start of the WGA strike. "Talking with Kelsey about it, this is a man who is a little looser than he used to be, a little more comfortable. He's done well, he's had some success, and the pilot is about realizing that one part of his life where he might not have been as successful as he thought he was and what that means to him going forward."

Part of that realization comes from the death of Martin, who was played on Frasier by John Mahoney, who died in 2018. But his memory is alive and well on the series, which honors the character in the pilot. "It's a wonderful scene at the end of the show," says Burrows. "It's about two-and-a-half, three minutes without any laughs. You've got to be brave to do that."

And the actor's own legacy lives on in the new series via the neighborhood bar, named Mahoney's. "I preferred Cheers, but they didn't want that for some reason," jokes Burrows.

But that iconic bar isn't forgotten. In fact, Frasier references his former watering hole — never directly by name, though — in the first episode.

"It's the one line in the pilot that I begged [Cristalli and Harris] not to lose," Burrows recalls. "It's tender to my heart, but also, it's a way of acknowledging the birth of the character — and they were sweet enough to leave that line in."

Frasier Fall TV Preview
Frasier Fall TV Preview

Chris Haston/Paramount+ Kelsey Grammer returns in 'Frasier'

Also part of the fabric of the revival is its live studio audience, filmed with a multi-camera format at Paramount Studios where Cheers and Frasier were before it.

"I did a couple of pilots during [the pandemic] that were four cameras, but there was no audience. It breaks my heart," Burrows says. "I'm a theater rat. I was trained in the theater. My dad was in the theater. And so I know either Tuesday or Friday's an opening night on one of these sitcoms, and I live for the audience reaction."

When EW visited the set for the filming of the first season's ninth episode, that audience's excitement was palpable, especially when Grammer popped by to welcome and thank everyone for attending. The taping was efficient — just over three hours — and Grammer, who would occasionally take a seat on Frasier's apartment sofa between shots and sing along to whatever song was playing to entertain the audience, didn't miss a beat.

Frasier Fall TV Preview
Frasier Fall TV Preview

Chris Haston/Paramount+ Kelsey Grammer welcomes audience members at a taping of the new 'Frasier'

"Anything we say, he knows what Frasier says and what Frasier doesn't say. He has no problem telling us, 'Frasier would never say this. Frasier would say...,'" Cristalli says. "I'm a giant fan of the original. I've seen them all — I've seen them all a hundred times. Nobody knows that guy better than Kelsey does, and he has great instincts. He can get a laugh on a look as Frasier. This is not surprising; he knows what he's doing and he's very good at it."

Burrows, too. "When I put my stink on a show, as I like to call it, with most of my successful shows, they're all about families. And they're not necessarily a traditional family, mother, father, son, and daughter; they're a group of people who are together in an effort to be happy in the world and to respect one another. And in essence, dare I say, love one another. So that's what I tried to do," the director says. "The first two episodes, I had a great time. It was a while since I had done a multi-camera show and a while since I had done Frasier. And I'm a man who believes laughter will elongate your life. And to sit on that stage and watch the audience go crazy is incredibly gratifying to me."

The new Frasier debuts Oct. 12 on Paramount+ (CBS will air the first two episodes on Oct. 17).

Make sure to check out EW's Fall TV Preview cover story on Gen V — as well as all of our 2023 Fall TV Preview content, releasing through Sept. 21.

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