None of us wanted to see him this way: Frasier in denim! The promotional poster for Paramount+’s long-awaited revival of the sitcom, which showed Kelsey Grammer’s iconic character clad in a cheap-looking navy blazer, knit running shoes and jeans, stoked fans’ fears that the new series will diminish the perfection of the original.
The fastidiously-styled, designer-name-dropping Dr. Crane we came to know and love over eleven Emmy award-winning seasons surely wouldn’t caught dead in Allbirds, grumbled fans on social media. The effect was dismaying, even undignified—like seeing Eddie the dog forced into a Santa suit.
“We want folks to know: the decisions you can disagree with, but they were all definitely made with care,” says the new show’s executive producer Chris Harris on a freewheeling multiway Zoom call a few days before the series premiere.
It has been a labor of love for Harris, his fellow executive producer Joe Cristalli and Grammer to bring Frasier Crane back to the small screen, nearly 40 years since he was first introduced on Cheers. “It didn’t happen about 18 times,” says Harris. Various iterations of a revival were explored, including an entire script centering (as in the original show) on Frasier’s relationship with his brother Niles, before David Hyde Pierce ruled out taking part.
“That was a big setback—but it was also one that ultimately freed us up a lot,” says Harris. “That was one of the things that David said: ‘I don’t know if you need me to tell this story’.”
The new Frasier finds Dr. Crane back in Boston, determined to reclaim his place in the city, having slunk off to Seattle for the 1993 Cheers spinoff; and somewhat self-reflective after the death of his father Martin (played by the late John Mahoney). That sometimes fractious, but ultimately heartfelt relationship between father and son gave the original series its emotional center. The revival sees Frasier stepping into the role of patriarch as he attempts to reconnect with his firefighting son Freddy (played by Jack Cutmore-Scott). “He was son to the father, and now he’s father to the son,” says Harris.
Freddy’s mother Lilith, played by Bebe Neuwirth, makes an appearance, as does Frasier’s friend and former coworker Roz (Peri Gilpin). But otherwise, the new Frasier finds Dr. Crane with an all-new cast of supporting characters, led by Only Fools’ Nicholas Lyndhurst as his drinking buddy from their Oxford days. (One episode finds them trying to make amends for their historic rejection from the Bullingdon Club.)
“No one knows the character more than Kelsey Grammer, and he had some very clear ideas,” says Harris. Where the Frasier of the original series was “tightly wound and very, very particular,” Harris says, now “he’s had some success—and some failures, too—but he’s also grown older, a little bit wiser, and a little bit more comfortable with who he is and where he is in life. We like to say that he has unbuttoned his shirt a little bit, and unwound maybe just a quarter-turn.”
“He doesn’t need to prove himself anymore,” adds Cristalli.
Hence the jeans and sneakers? Those seem like more than a quarter-turn from the original Frasier, who wore the finest Italian suits just for coffee with his brother, and was only ever seen in sweats when in deep depression and/or trying to write a book. Has Dr. Crane just loosened up, or is he unravelling?
On Zoom, costume designer Lori Eskowitz-Carter jumps in in defense of the denim: “We wanted him to still be sophisticated and elegant and upscale, but definitely more casual – he’s more comfortable in his own skin.” The jeans on the promotional poster, she says, were sourced from a “really lovely little” Italian menswear boutique in Beverly Hills called Carroll Custom, family-owned and operated since 1949 (they retail at $250).
And, Eskowitz-Carter is quick to clarify, the sneakers aren’t $140 Allbirds—they’re APL’s Techloom Wave, costing around $400.
Likewise the plaid shirt that Frasier dons, in one of many homages to his late father, was by Tom Ford, with a price tag that would have horrified Martin. “Everything he wore was super high-end: Brioni, Tom Ford, Bruno Cuccinelli,” says Eskowitz-Carter. “It was all the best of the best, and fit to perfection on him.”
Grammer, she enthuses, “is in incredibly good shape – so fit and trim. Dressing him was a dream.”
Having spent the years since the Frasier finale in 2004 as the host of his own Dr Phil-style show, the character – always befuddlingly well-off, with a penthouse apartment overlooking Seattle’s Space Needle on a public radio show host’s salary – is legitimately rich now. (In one scene, his nephew David – Niles and Daphne’s son, played by Anders Keith – finds Frasier’s net worth on Google: “Oh my god, Uncle – you’re like a Rockefeller!”)
But style has relaxed in the interim years, even for the 1%; as Eskowitz-Carter points out, even the wealthiest characters on television wear a uniform of sweatshirts and sneakers. “Kelsey himself didn’t want his wealth – which is now exponentially bigger – to be at the forefront. He just wanted him to be an updated version of Frasier… to just ooze elegance and class, without having it in your face.”
As a new professor of psychology at Harvard, hoping to atone for his lucrative but lowbrow success on daytime TV by shaping young minds, Frasier is – if not quite striving to be down with the kids – adjusting to a new chapter in life. Dress shoes wouldn’t have cut it on campus, says Cristalli.
“Look at Succession: those guys aren’t wearing those crazy suits everyday. I feel like he looks cool and hip, not just old and doddering – that’s never going to be who he is. He’s always going to be the most evolved, most intellectual, most fashionable person in a room… He’s just not as hyper-aware of what people think of him anymore.”
It raises a valid question about the low expectations and overt cynicism that typically greets reboots and revivals of much-loved shows. As fans of Frasier, we feel understandably protective of the character – but are we open to seeing how he might have grown and changed?
“A lot of these old neuroses come back to light,” says Harris. “But if the character was just as discontent as he was twenty or thirty years ago, I think it might be a little, you know – sad.”
As Cristalli – who stakes his claim as the true “Craniac” of the two executive producers – points out, in figuring out how to approach the revival, they had little hope of besting the original series. “Obviously I would have killed to see Frasier and Niles banter again, but the more Chris and I talked about it, it was like: well, what are we going to do – be better? They won all the Emmys! Like – come on!” (Over 264 episodes, it had 107 nominations and 37 wins.)
Instead of simply reviving the character, say Cristalli and Harris, they have sought to refresh him, with his new wardrobe and new apartment reflecting his new priorities and outlook on life. And they had an asset, of course, in Grammer, who has been embodying Dr Frasier Crane since 1984 – nearly his entire television career.
Early on in the process, Harris says, they would present Grammer with scripts full of the “flowery speeches [and] three- and four-syllable words” that were a hallmark of the original show. But, they learned, not every line had to have “a soupçon of whimsy,” Harris says self-effacingly. “Sometimes it would take three or four sentences for [Frasier] to say something affirmatively – then [Grammer] would be like, ‘Oh, he could just say ‘yes’.”
“You’d just kind of get a look from him, like…” – on Zoom, Cristalli affects Grammer’s professorial bearing and stern tone – “‘Boys…’”
The “most surreal experience” – Cristalli continues, his Frasier fandom coming to the fore – was to go to Grammer’s house for a read-through. “That was the first time we’ve heard him do Frasier. When you talk to Kelsey randomly, he’s like, ‘Hey, what’s going on man?’ He’s just like, a very normal, down-to-earth guy. So when he puts on the Frasier…” (Cristalli is “not at liberty to say” whether Grammer’s taste in interiors is similar to his character’s – although, he adds, “I do recall hearing some sort of water feature”.)
With Grammer’s expert input and still delightful on-screen presence and comedic prowess, Harris says he is hopeful that he and Cristalli have earned “the right to keep telling the story of Frasier Crane”. Fans will have to judge for themselves; the new Frasier has not yet been renewed for a second series.
“It was such a special opportunity to try to put on the best possible version of that show again… to try and recreate some of that magic from decades earlier,” says Harris. “Hopefully folks will enjoy it…. I just hope we get to keep doing it.”
And if Frasier seems a little different to how you remember him, drinking negronis and wearing jeans, well – no doubt you’ve changed since 2003, too. He wasn’t always into fine wine and sherry, points out Harris. “In Cheers, he drank beer.”
This story originally ran on British GQ with the title “Tom Ford plaid shirts, Italian denim, $400 sneakers: the story behind Frasier’s new look”