An upset stomach is what supposedly kept Kelsey Grammer off the set of the hit NBC series "Frasier" one day last week. Though some suggested it was probably Grammer's salary that needed immediate attention, his gut must really be churning now.
In fact, tummies all around Hollywood are probably a bit uneasy, given the high-stakes game of Chicken that ABC and NBC are playing with some of the most popular shows in prime time.ABC confirmed last week that it is hauling out its big power tools and flip-flopping the hit sitcoms "Home Improvement" and "Roseanne" in response to NBC's move of "Frasier" from Thursday to Tuesday nights.
When the dust settles on the remodeling job this fall, four of the seven highest-rated shows last season will find themselves in new time slots.
"Frasier," the No. 7-rated show in prime-time its first season, now will have to square off at 8 p.m. Tuesdays against "Home Improvement," the most popular show on TV after three years on Wednesdays, instead of No. 4 "Roseanne."
In turn, "Roseanne," considered vulnerable by NBC - and apparently ABC, too - goes to 8 p.m. Wednesdays after six years on Tuesdays. The competition there, which includes one of three weekly editions of "Dateline NBC" and Fox's "Models Inc.," should be considerably easier.
And because of ties said to link "Home Improvement" and "Grace Under Fire," which was No. 6 in the ratings its first season, "Grace" will move to 8:30 p.m. Tuesdays. That means Ellen DeGeneres' "Ellen," which finished No. 5 last season, debuting as "These Friends of Mine," goes to 8:30 p.m. Wednesdays.
Got all that?
Now you know why antacid sales are surging.
"We think that it is a very interesting move," said a statement issued by NBC headquarters in Burbank. "It certainly shows that ABC has tremendous respect for `Frasier,' as do audiences."
True, "Frasier" has shown considerable strength in reruns this summer, finishing at or near the top of the ratings in recent weeks. But "Home Improvement" all but destroyed "Seinfeld" in their head-to-head competition two years ago.
While NBC hopes to use "Frasier" - as well as fellow sitcom "Wings" - to establish a beachhead on Tuesdays, a traditionally weak night for the network, it threatens to weaken its traditionally strong - and extremely profitable - Thursday lineup.
That's what makes ABC's deployment of "Home Improvement" - a move in the spirit of the show's battle cry of "More power!" - so harrowing for Grammer and NBC.
It was such a logical counterattack for ABC that the only surprise was that it took three months to announce.
But "Home Improvement" star Tim Allen and "Roseanne's" Roseanne Whatever-her-name-is-today are not inconsiderable stars and they undoubtedly needed to be massaged a little to go along with it.
"This change maximizes the strength of these assets by positioning them in a way that will keep ABC dominant in these time periods for many seasons to come," Ted Harbert, head of ABC Entertainment, said in a prepared statement.
But, while ABC blinked at NBC's gambit, it is viewers who will be rolling their eyes trying to figure out where many of their favorite shows are.
NBC, which neither ruled out nor suggested yet another shuffle, professed to be unconcerned.
"We believe `Frasier' will perform well wherever it is on our schedule," its communique said.
Better stock up on Rolaids just in case.