One of the more hotly debated scheduling moves made by any network for the fall was NBC's decision to swap "Frasier" and "Will & Grace" on the schedule — "Will" will get the Thursday-at-8 p.m. time slot in the midst of the "Friends"-"ER" lineup, while "Frasier" is sent back to Tuesdays at 8 p.m.

And "Frasier's" cast and crew are decidedly unhappy about the change.

For one thing, even with the inroads that "Who Wants to be a Millionaire?" has made against NBC's once invincible Thursday-night lineup, the Peacock network's slate on that night is still the most-watched night of programming on any network. Hey, when even lousy shows like "Jesse" and "Stark Raving Mad" can end up in the top 10 in the ratings, you know that that's prime TV real estate.

For another, "Frasier" held its own against Regis Philbin's quiz show, continuing to do strong ratings against a show that has already driven many a competitor off the air.

And, finally, NBC's Tuesday-night lineup has all the makings of a black hole come the fall. The network is leading off the night with "The Michael Richards Show," which was so bad that NBC executives wouldn't show it to critics or advertisers and has ordered a complete overhaul of the show before it goes on the air in October.

(That's happened before at NBC with sitcoms the network kept assuring us were just being "fine-tuned" and were really going to be great — shows like "Union Square" and "Encore! Encore!" that were so dreadful NBC couldn't have driven viewers away any easier if it had beaten them with sticks.)

Networks generally don't lead off a night with a new show, particularly a new sitcom, because the strategy generally fails. NBC seems to be hoping it will succeed on the residual affection that viewers had for Richards when he played Kramer on "Seinfeld" — an iffy proposition at best.

Like all pilots at this point, NBC's other two new shows on that night are still being tweaked, but there's not a lot to get excited about there, either. "Tucker," which will air at 7:30 p.m., is an attempt to clone the success of "Malcolm in the Middle," and "DAG" casts David Alan Grier as a Secret Service agent and Delta Burke as the first lady he's assigned to protect. Let's just say that the advertising community, which has a stake in how well TV shows perform, has not pegged either of these shows as a potential hit.

It would not surprise anyone who pays attention to network television if "Frasier" finds itself stranded in the middle of three shows that don't perform well in the ratings — and that's a tough spot for any program.

It's a risky move indeed for NBC to flip-flop "Will & Grace" and "Frasier" on its schedule. Whether "Will & Grace" is strong enough to hold off "Millionaire" is problematic, and NBC could end up doing major damage to itself on Thursday nights.

And even if "Frasier" wins back its Tuesday-night time slot, it seems almost certain to be down in the ratings because NBC is considerably weaker on that night.

NBC's official explanation is not completely without merit — "Will & Grace" is still a "young" show in TV terms. It will be entering just its third season, a time when many hit shows haven't reached the peak in the ratings curve. "Frasier," on the other hand, is six seasons old and presumably on the decline.

Another factor NBC executives didn't talk about may also have something to do with the switch, which appears to favor "Will & Grace" over "Frasier." "W&G" is co-produced by NBC's in-house production company. "Frasier" is produced by Paramount and NBC has no ownership interest.

And Paramount is a subsidiary of Viacom, which also counts CBS and UPN among its holdings.

That may also have something to do with the schedule switch.


OUT OF THE CLOSET? Among the TV references in the second episode of NBC's awful summer sitcom "MYOB" is a throw-away line about another NBC show that might catch your attention.

"I don't have a problem with gays. I watch 'Frasier' all the time," says Riley (Katharine Towne), the snarky 16-year-old girl who is the show's main character.

Which wasn't meant as any kind of insult, insisted Don Roos, who is openly gay himself.

"It's not a horrible thing to say that 'Frasier' reminds me of a gay show," Roos said. It's not an insult. Not in my house it isn't. But it's two men in dressing gowns who go to the opera and complain about their dad's bad furniture. And to me, that's gay."

Whatever you say, Don. . . .