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'Frasier' has left the building

By Andy Walton
CNN

Editor's Note: The following story contains plot details about the final episode of "Frasier" that some viewers might not want to know before viewing the show itself.

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Kelsey Grammer played psychiatrist Dr. Frasier Crane for 20 years.
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(CNN) -- "Frasier" made its final curtain call Thursday after 11 years on the air.

The finale opens with Frasier saying goodbye to Charlotte (Laura Linney), the matchmaker with whom he had a whirlwind romance, as she moves to Chicago.

The show then dives into the broad farce that was one of the show's trademarks.

Forced to plan their father's wedding on only eight days' notice due to a scheduling mix-up, psychiatrists Frasier (Kelsey Grammer) and Niles (David Hyde Pierce) stage an extravaganza complete with Chinese acrobats, a gospel choir and a skywriter -- only, as happened so often on the show, to see their elaborate plans collapse.

As the wedding is turning into a debacle, Niles' wife, Daphne (Jane Leeves), goes into labor. A ring-swallowing dog, a monkey and a ceremonial cannon round out the mayhem.

After the wedding, Frasier finds that his family and friends have reached turning points in their lives, and he decides to do the same.

He accepts a job in San Francisco as a TV advice host. His goodbye to his family and to his radio listeners ends with a recitation from Tennyson's poem "Ulysses."

In the show's final scene, Frasier is on a plane talking to guest star Jennifer Beals about taking a chance and moving on -- and then an announcement reveals that he has landed not in San Francisco but in Chicago, and the chance he's taking is not on a job but on romance.

Long run

Kelsey Grammer is walking away from a character he has played for 20 years -- nine seasons as part of the ensemble on "Cheers" and 11 more as the lead of his own show.

Grammer's character, Dr. Frasier Crane, was introduced as the stuffed-shirt fiancÚ of the prim barmaid Diane on NBC's long-running "Cheers."

When that series ended in 1993, the network spun off "Frasier." NBC, which had long owned Thursday night ratings with shows such as "Seinfeld," "Cheers" and "The Cosby Show," scheduled "Frasier" to expand its success into Tuesday night.

"'Frasier' was in kind of a class of its own," says Robert J. Thompson, director of the Center for the Study of Popular Television at Syracuse University.

"It was sort of this drawing-room kind of comedy. If there had been sitcoms in 18th century French court, then it would have probably have been 'Frasier.' "

"It was arguably, at its prime, one of the best-written sitcoms on the air, and probably one of the best-written sitcoms ever," Thompson said.

"The only sitcom in TV history where you could expect a joke about [19th century philosopher Arthur] Schopenhauer to appear."

"Frasier" shone on award nights, winning 31 Emmys in all and five consecutive best comedy Emmys -- a record on both counts.

The series began with Frasier back in his ancestral home, Seattle, as a radio advice host. The audience meets Frasier's similarly fussy brother Niles, also a psychiatrist, and his radio producer and foil, Roz (Peri Gilpin).

Frasier's father Martin (John Mahoney), a cop with working-class sensibilities who is forced to retire after he is injured in the line of duty, moves in with Frasier.

Also moving in is Martin's sometimes flighty, sometimes psychic, always English physical therapist Daphne. His father's dog, Eddie, (a Jack Russell terrier) rounds out the group.

Niles is immediately smitten with Daphne, but he doesn't dare tell her. One of the most anticipated episodes in the series came at the end of the seventh season, when the pair, Niles recently remarried and Daphne fleeing the altar, ran off in a motor home.

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The characters Niles and Daphne flirted with romance for years before they finally married.

After the NBC announced the show's cancellation, Grammer told TV Guide in February that he would be willing to return for another year, but faced with lagging ratings, the network brass decided otherwise.

When asked where "Frasier" fans can go for something like it when the last episode airs, Grammer said, "Well, we're on in syndication," only half-jokingly.

"I'm not sure sophisticated comedy has a place on television any more," Grammer said. "I'd like to think it still does ... But I'm not sure the networks are interested, I'm not sure anybody else is interested in sophisticated comedy any more."

Thompson takes issue with Grammer's claim, though. "The very existence of 'Frasier' and the very enormous success of 'Frasier' shows that Kelsey Grammer's wrong, that there is a place for it. That character, Frasier, has lasted longer than virtually any other character on American television."

Frasier's 20 seasons on two shows matches the record number of seasons James Arness played Marshall Matt Dillon on "Gunsmoke," but Arness appeared in far more episodes.

"I think it simply means that it's hard to do that kind of thing well, so that everybody likes it, not only people who are getting the obscure jokes and references to things you might have taken in your graduate course in comparative literature," Thompson said.


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