Next season likely laffer's last

Even as NBC finally comes to grips with losing its “Friends,” the net is also readying to say farewell to another of its comedy anchors: “Frasier.”

Don’t look for any official announcements just yet, but Peacock and Paramount insiders both confirm it’s now highly likely the 2003-04 season will be the last for the Kelsey Grammer-led laffer. NBC’s three-year license fee agreement for the show is up in May 2004, and all parties are operating as if there won’t be any talks to extend the show’s life beyond that.

Ratings for “Frasier” have taken a hit this season — in large part because, as Peacock topper Jeff Zucker admits, the net has done the show “no favors” with weak lead-in programming at 8:30 p.m. Tuesday.

However, the skein is still a solid performer, as well as one of the few things working on NBC’s Tuesday sked. What’s more, “Frasier” appeals to an affluent demo, allowing NBC’s sales department to snag a premium for spots on the show.

Two tentpoles down

Most importantly, it seems hard to believe NBC would want to say goodbye to both “Friends” and “Frasier” in the same season, particularly since the net is still in dire need of new comedy hits.

Indeed, during a stunt Friday to promote last night’s return of “Meet My Folks,” Zucker — hooked up to a lie detector — was asked by a reporter whether he would want to be NBC Entertainment prexy after both “Friends” and “Frasier” were gone.

“No,” he answered emphatically, with the lie detector technician giving a hearty thumb up to indicate Zucker was telling the truth.

But “Frasier” is also a very expensive show to produce.

In 2001, NBC agreed to a three-year, $374 million deal to renew “Frasier,” a sum that translates into a per-episode license fee of roughly $5.2 million. Soon after, Par struck deals with stars Grammer and David Hyde Pierce paying each man seven-figure salaries to stay with the show until 2004.

While ratings for “Frasier” are still good, barring a major Nielsen uptick — or a complete collapse of its primetime sked — it seems unlikely NBC would want to continue shelling out $5 million-plus per episode for “Frasier.” And considering the production costs of the show, Par probably wouldn’t find a huge upside in continuing “Frasier” at a reduced license fee.

20 years of Crane-ing

Should “Frasier” wrap in May 2004, skein will match the 11-season run of its parent laffer, “Cheers,” while Grammer — who made his first “Cheers” appearance in 1984 — will have played Dr. Frasier Crane for an even 20 years.

Grammer has publicly stated his desire to keep “Frasier” going until the show matched “Cheers” in longevity.

Despite all the evidence pointing to the end of “Frasier,” insiders at NBC and Par both stress that a final decision on the matter doesn’t need to be made for another year. And just as “Friends” had been written off as a goner for several seasons before Zucker’s final death sentence last week, there’s always the chance all parties involved could hammer out a way to extend “Frasier’s” lifespan.

“AfterFrasier,” anyone?

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