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The stars of Frasier say, Don't call our show smart

"A lot of people make that mistake when they first try to write for the show. They try to use a lot of big words. But it's not all as erudite as that. It's usually very simple. Frasier is usually obsessed about something and he's got himself wrapped up about it. Niles gives him some advice and his father dismisses it and they all end up wrangling about it. They're pretty simple people." -- Kelsey Grammer Star of "Frasier"

You might think that calling a television show both "smart" and "funny" would be a compliment. But the stars of "Frasier" aren't quite sure that's so."One of the compliments that the show gets that I always hate is that it's so intelligent. So highbrow," said David Hyde Pierce (who stars as Frasier's brother and fellow psychiatrist, Dr. Niles Crane) in a recent interview with the Deseret News. "And I think that's so unfair. We fall down all the time. We have the broadest physical comedy. We do everything on this show.

"There happen to be two very intellectual characters in it, but a lot of the situations they get into are the opposite of `Masterpiece Theatre' or something like that."

Kelsey Grammer and Pierce star as brother Frasier and Niles Crane, both of whom are rather snobby psychiatrists. "They're certainly fond of themselves," Grammer said. "There is that quality."

"They're so extreme that you also get to recognize yourself in them but not feel bad about it because, obviously, you're not as weird as they are," Pierce said. "But the things they go through in a very esoteric atmosphere are the same things we all go through -- which is wanting to be liked and wanting to find love and all that other stuff. So you can simultaneously identify with it and laugh at it."

And the Crane brothers both enjoy the finer things in life. They're prone to talking and joking about opera or literature or fine food. But the show isn't about elitism, the stars insist.

"A lot of people make that mistake when they first try to write for the show. They try to use a lot of big words," Grammer said. "But it's not all as erudite as that. It's usually very simple.

"Frasier is usually obsessed about something and he's got himself wrapped up about it. Niles gives him some advice and his father dismisses it and they all end up wrangling about it. They're pretty simple people."

And the "Frasier" writers often put the characters in some absurd situations. There are indeed pratfalls and physical comedy and simply absurd situations.

Not that the show is exactly the Three Stooges. It tends to give the viewers credit for knowing a little something about opera or literature or fine foods.

"The key of the show is always to make it intelligent," Grammer said. "To always assume the audience knows what you're talking about, whether it's a certain recipe or a certain wine."

Still, despite their pretensions, the Crane brothers are just plain folks in most ways.

"I think there's a universal appeal about the characters. Maybe even a more universal appeal because they're slightly elitist," Grammer said.

What Grammer and Pierce would like is for viewers to see past that "smart" label that's been attached to the show and realize that it's just plain funny.

"I think syndication has helped," Pierce said. "Instead of the people who know about the show sitting down to watch it, suddenly, people getting home from work happen to flip on the television and there's this funny show on and they say, 'Oh, that's "Frasier"?'"

("Frasier" airs Thursdays at 8 p.m. on NBC-Ch. 5 with syndicated reruns Monday-Friday at 6:30 and 10:30 p.m. on KJZZ-Ch. 14. The show's network ratings have gone up considerably since it went into syndication, but that probably has a lot more to do with the fact that it moved to NBC's Thursday schedule this season, a night when millions more viewers are watching TV.)

And, while the show has certainly been lauded by critics over the years and won more than its share of awards -- including five consecutive Emmys as the outstanding comedy series -- what every show wants and needs is several million viewers every week.

"I don't think that winning a lot of Emmy Awards broadens the appeal," Pierce said. "I don't even think, necessarily, that critical response broadens the appeal. (Viewers) have their routines. And for people for whom `Frasier' was not the routine, syndication's a way to sort of catch them off guard."