- The Washington Times - Monday, September 22, 2003

‘Frasier’s‘ final lap

NBC’s “Frasier” enters what should be its final season tonight with something to prove.

The once razor-sharp sitcom has wilted in recent seasons, it’s once must-see status downgraded to merely a pleasant stop on your channel surf.

This year’s premiere, airing at 9, picks up where last year ended.

Saucy producer Roz (Peri Gilpin) has left Frasier’s radio station, in part because of a snit over his new girlfriend (Felicity Huffman).

Roz is already regretting her choice as the season opens and tries to force her way back — even if it means wheeling away her handicapped replacement.

Niles (David Hyde Pierce), meanwhile, has more pressing matters to attend to. Specifically, he and wife Daphne (Jane Leeves) want to start a family. Years earlier, Niles donated some sperm to a local bank and now frets that his new baby won’t technically be his first one.

So he tracks down the fertility clinic where he donated and learns his “gift” was rejected.

Afraid he’ll never be able to impregnate Daphne, Niles tries a number of comic remedies to wake up his sleepy sperm.

The sexual content is handled smartly, and the interplay between Niles and Frasier (Kelsey Grammer) is as polished as ever. Still, the situations, overall, feel stale.

The episode’s jokes don’t bite nearly hard enough to make the show appointment-worthy television once more.

True fans, however, needn’t worry.

Even on a bad day “Frasier” is smart enough to top most sitcoms.

But, clearly, 11 seasons are enough.

Youth-minded ‘Hill’

Meet the Scott brothers. Each plays basketball as if he was born on the court.

Both also have to deal with their father, an unctuous former athlete whose Machiavellian ploys have driven a wedge between them.

So goes “One Tree Hill,” WB’s new “Dawson-esque” play for the precious young demographic, debuting tonight at 9.

Nathan Scott (James Lafferty) is the one-man wrecking crew of his Tree Hill High School basketball squad. That isn’t enough for his domineering father (Paul Johansson), an ex-athlete replaying his glory days through his offspring.

The basketball hero barely knows half-brother Luke (Chad Michael Murray), who prefers the playground half court to the real thing.

Yet the two are headed for a showdown on and off the court, which should yield a season or two of crises.

Beyond the sibling rivalry, the premiere of “One Tree Hill” (it apparently has little to do with the U2 song of the same name) offers a budding romantic tug of war between brothers and a cantankerous basketball coach whose role appears critical to all involved.

Mr. Murray looks like every other teen dreamboat, but he’s relaxed in his own skin and eminently watchable.

So, too, is “Northern Exposure’s” Barry Corbin as the coach, adding the right amount of seasoning to the mix.

“One Tree Hill” isn’t a stellar drama by any stretch, but it’s packed with characters who have plenty of space to roam, and the cast could keep all of it interesting.

Nail-biter for Fox

The Fox network came a sweaty 12 minutes short Sunday of an agonizing decision: Anger football fans or anger the entire TV industry.

Then, when the New York Giants kicked a field goal 12 minutes before the scheduled start of the Emmy Awards ceremony, Fox executives were able to heave a sigh of relief, the Associated Press reports.

The Giants’ game with the Washington Redskins had entered sudden-death overtime, pre-empting all but a few minutes of the Emmy pre-show that was being telecast on Fox in the Eastern and Central time zones.

Fox executives discussed what they would do if the game stretched past the 8 p.m. ET start time for the Emmys, but network spokesman Scott Grogin would not reveal whether a decision had been made, according to AP.

Pre-empting the football game would have drawn immediate comparisons to the infamous 1968 incident when NBC switched to a “Heidi” TV movie toward the end of a Jets-Raiders game, causing viewers to miss the Raiders scoring two winning touchdowns in the final minute.

Delaying, or not airing, the Emmy opening would have annoyed awards show fans — not to mention the actors, producers, writers and executives at the ceremony.

The long football game did not affect the Emmy pre-show broadcast in the Mountain and Western time zones.

Stars entering the Emmys on the red carpet, however, were aware that the game had cut into their TV time.

Actor James Woods — a nominee in the category of lead actor in a miniseries or TV movie — was interviewed while holding a cell phone and talking to his mother, trying to direct her to the channel that was showing her son.

Mr. Woods said his mother could only find the football game.

Compiled by Christian Toto from staff and wire reports.

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