- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 12, 2004

It’s a minor miracle that NBC’s “Frasier” lasted one year, let alone 11. Spinoffs hardly represent the sitcom’s surest bet (“The Ropers,” anyone?), but “Frasier” didn’t make its task any easier by embracing classic farce as its bread and butter.

Still, we watched in droves, making the show appointment television for much of its run.

Tonight’s final installment features the marriage of Frasier’s father Martin (John Mahoney) to Ronee (Wendie Malick) and the birth of Niles and Daphne’s first child. In between, Frasier’s romance with Charlotte (Laura Linney) may be resolved, making it the one suspenseful story line a viewer can hang his hat on.

The hour-long finale airs at 9 p.m. on NBC, preceded by an hour-long clips special.

Audiences can be forgiven if the names Charlotte and Ronee mean nothing to them. Viewership has slipped over the past few seasons, as has the show’s brand of hilarity.

In its heyday, though, the show nabbed five consecutive best-comedy Emmys and thrived even when programmed against such stiff ratings competition as ABC’s “Home Improvement.”

Perhaps Martin, “Frasier’s” blue-collar touchstone, kept audiences on the show’s side.

While Frasier dug his own rhetorical grave every other week, Martin proved the sanest Crane. The brothers might have mocked his affinity for steak and couch-potato sessions, but Martin emerged with his dignity intact even as he retreated to his duct-tape-patched armchair.

That the Crane boys could strike a balance between their upper-crust tastes and their dad’s shot-and-a beer habits gave the show a cultural resonance.

Through both “Cheers” and “Frasier,” Mr. Grammer fashioned himself a modern-day Jack Benny, a self-effacing clown with pinpoint timing. The actor’s work on “Frasier” gathered considerable hurrahs, but the program lived and died by its ace comic support.

David Hyde Pierce landed the Niles role when the producers saw his mug shot and realized how much he resembled Mr. Grammer. The pair clicked straight out of the gate, as did the show, Mr. Grammer said during a recent phone press conference.

“Frasier” also proved adept at casting key female roles, from the feisty Roz (Peri Gilpin) and Daphne (Jane Leeves) to the women who came in and out of Frasier’s bedroom (Jean Smart, Sela Ward and, finally, Miss Linney among them).

The show’s demise, even though its time has come, is another blow to smart small-screen comedy. Viewers looking for more than yet another dumpy husband arguing with his hottie wife must now seek out HBO and Showtime.

Mr. Grammer, for one, isn’t optimistic about the future of urbane wit on broadcast TV. “I don’t know if sophisticated comedy has a place on television anymore,” he said. “I hope it does.”

“Frasier’s” final lap has been all but obscured by the “Friends” hoopla. But given its sublime work through the years, maybe an unassuming send-off is a condign tribute.

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