‘Frasier’ to end this season

Official announcement expected imminently

The doctor is out — really.

NBC has told Paramount Network Television that, as far as the Peacock’s concerned, this will, in fact, be the final season of “Frasier.” An official announcement is expected this week, perhaps as early as today, when the cast of the long-running laffer meets the press at a previously scheduled event tied to the semiannual TV Critics Assn. press tour.

NBC topper Jeff Zucker called Kelsey Grammer late last week to make things final.

It has long been anticipated that “Frasier” would end its 11-season run this year (Daily Variety, Jan. 21, 2003). But NBC and Par have never made it official, and in recent weeks there had been increased rumblings about the possibility that maybe — just maybe — the show would return for one more encore.

Zucker left the door open himself last fall, quipping to TV Guide that “Frasier” could have a last-minute reprieve, a la “Friends” in December 2002.

“Frasier” has rebounded creatively this season since the return of Christopher Lloyd and Joe Keenan as showrunners, prompting further talk that Dr. Crane had another 22 or so appointments left in him.

But financial reality may have made such talk wishful thinking.

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 seven-figure salaries to keep portraying the Crane brothers until 2004.

As much as the Peacock wouldn’t mind keeping a solid player like “Frasier” on its sked — particularly given the May departure of “Friends” — there’s no way the net could justify spending so much for another season of the show. While creatively sound, “Frasier” now regularly finishes behind ABC’s “According to Jim” in adults 18-49 (though the skein gets a premium from advertisers for its upscale aud).

In recent weeks, NBC and Par have been talking about ways to reduce the license fee or somehow keep “Frasier” alive. Ultimately, net and studio couldn’t figure out a way to make the show work.

There’s also been discussion of a possible “Frasier” spinoff or other continuation, though NBC insiders said nothing like that is in the cards for next season. Still, it would be logical for Par to consider keeping the “Cheers”/ “Frasier” legacy alive in some way.

No final decision has been made on the timing of the “Frasier” finale, though it seems unlikely NBC would want to air the episode the same week as “Friends” signs off. A May sendoff is still likely, with the Peacock no doubt making an event of the night.

By wrapping after this season, “Frasier” will have matched the 11-season run of its parent laffer, “Cheers,” while Grammer — who made his first “Cheers” appearance in 1984 — has now played Dr. Frasier Crane for an even 20.

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