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‘Frasier’ ends with subtle twist

Witty repartee and giddy slapstick propelled “Frasier” through 11 seasons, and both were blissfully evident as Frasier Crane bid Seattle goodnight one last time.

The multiple Emmy-winning NBC comedy ended Thursday night with a show featuring a dog swallowing a ring, a drunken 6-year-old ring bearer, and both a birth and wedding in a veterinarian’s office.

Frasier, played by series star Kelsey Grammer, saw his brother Niles (David Hyde Pierce) and Niles’ wife Daphne (Jane Leeves) greet the birth of their first child. Family patriarch Martin Crane (John Mahoney) got married to Ronee (Wendie Malick)

Frasier decided to leave Seattle and accept a new job in San Francisco.

Yet the final scene showed Frasier in a plane touching down with the pilot announcing, “Welcome to Chicago.” That’s the city where his potential soul mate Charlotte (Laura Linney) had just moved.

The ending offered hope and mystery: was unlucky-in-love Frasier finally making the right move? The curtain closed, leaving it to the audience’s imagination.

It could also set up a potential spinoff someday. Television viewers followed Grammer’s character in Boston from its inception on “Cheers,” to the 11-year run in Seattle on “Frasier.” Grammer has said he’d be open to someday revisiting the character he’d played in prime-time for 20 straight years.

The hourlong episode, “Goodnight, Seattle,” was preceded by a series retrospective.

Although “Frasier” didn’t equal the just-ended “Friends” as a ratings leader or cultural phenomenon, it held a place as one of the most successful spinoffs ever.

From Boston to Seattle
Psychiatrist Frasier Crane, one of the barflies on “Cheers,” made a smooth transition to top banana and the strong center of a smartly drawn supporting ensemble.

“Most of America, frankly, is much smarter than television assumes they are,” Grammer recently told The Associated Press.

The series was created by “Cheers” alumni Peter Casey, David Lee and David Angell (who died aboard one of the planes that crashed into the World Trade Center).

If its finale frenzy didn’t approach that of “Friends,” it wasn’t for lack of effort on NBC’s part. Both shows had their own “Dateline NBC” specials and ample promotion on “Today” and other NBC vehicles.

The ratings weren’t expected to equal those of “Friends,” which last week drew 52.5 million viewers and ranked as the fourth most-watched series finale in TV history.

CBS’ “M-A-S-H” (106 million) and NBC’s “Cheers” (80.4 million) and “Seinfeld” (76.3 million) remain the finale leaders.

Viewership for “Friends” justified the $2 million advertisers ponied up for a 30-second spot. On “Frasier,” the ad rate reportedly was closer to $800,000 per half-minute.

The end of the pair of long-running NBC series is part of a TV sea change. With HBO’s “Sex and the City” also gone and CBS’ “Everybody Loves Raymond” expected to end next year, there’s a comedy vacuum to be filled.

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