If you hear the blues a-callin’ tossed salad and scrambled eggs, then you, like Seattleites in the show, have tuned into airwaves playing Frasier. The groundbreaking comedy spanned 11 seasons and won a record-breaking 37 primetime Emmys during its run (this wasn’t surpassed until HBO’s Game of Thrones came along).
But while the cast was like one big family on camera — with those all-in-good-fun fights that kept the show’s energy buzzing — behind the scenes was another story. Some issues surrounding the show’s production were so volatile that NBC was almost forced to cancel the show!
The biggest threat to Frasier’s success was, believe it or not, Kelsey Grammer himself. See, his history was littered with tragedy, which most fans were never aware of. It all started in 1968 when his father was shot and killed by a taxi driver.
Then, just seven years later in 1975, his 18-year-old sister was raped and killed. The loss haunted Grammer for decades: “I was her big brother,” he said. “I was supposed to protect her—I could not… It very nearly destroyed me.”
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Devastated by the loss of his father and sister, overwrought with guilt, Grammer turned to drugs and alcohol to cope. The subsequent substance abuse nearly derailed the show before it saw a second of airtime.
His drug problems peaked while he starred on Cheers. In 1988 when he spent time behind bars for drug possession. He later looked back fondly on his time in jail, calling it, “the best, most restful 11 days I’ve had in years.”
But Grammer didn’t hit rock bottom until later, well into Frasier’s run. When driving under the influence in 1996, he lost control of the vehicle and crashed. It was then he knew that something in his life had to change.
The problem had gotten so bad that Grammer checked into rehab to get some professional help. But that left Frasier without its star, so the season 4 episode, “Head Games,” had to be entirely rewritten to have Niles (played by David Hyde Pierce) fill in on Frasier’s radio show.
When Kelsey Grammer returned to the show after his rehab stint, the tight-knit cast all staged an intervention to try and get to the bottom of his substance abuse problem. Truly, they wanted the star — and their friend — well.
“It’s going to somebody’s house whom you love,” remembered John Mahoney (Martin), “and just beating him down even further for his own good. And it was horrifying.” Hard as it was, the cast all walked away closer than ever.
But while Grammer was struggling with his substance abuse problem, David Hyde Pierce was forced to confront his own inner turmoil. See, Pierce had a secret that he kept from his fans throughout all 11 seasons.
He was gay. Though he wanted to keep his life with his husband private, California’s ban on same-sex marriage finally pushed him to speak out. “It stopped being honest,” he recalled, “it just wasn’t enough.”
Pierce wasn’t the only one who had kept their personal life quiet. Dan Butler was famous for his portrayal of Bob “Bulldog” Briscoe, Frasier and Roz’s woman-chasing colleague, but unbeknownst to most fans, he was also gay.
To speak out, he staged a one-man play across the country, exploring what it meant to be gay in America. Decades after the show’s run, he works as an activist with LGBTQ organizations like the Human Rights Campaign and Act Up.
But John Mahoney, who played Frasier’s dad, Martin, was far too scarred to even contemplate having a love life. His parents had a turbulent marriage, which soured him on the idea of settling down, calling that part of his life “dead and buried.”
“I was never very mature in my relationships with women,” recalled Mahoney. “First sign of conflict, I was gone. Wouldn’t discuss it, because I was afraid it would lead to an argument.” Mahoney died in 2018 at the age of 77.
Of course, Martin found love in his beloved pup, Eddie. The Jack Russell was played by a dog named Moose, and though he was a fan favorite, the actors loathed him due to his tendency to nip at them!
Though Frasier ran until 2004, Moose retired in 2000. So what happened for those final four years? His son Enzo took over! They even painted spots in the right places so that he’d be a picture perfect replica of his old man.
Meanwhile, Peri Gilpin (Roz) had her own struggles even making it onto the show in the first place. Though she advanced to the final round of casting, NBC ended up choosing another now-iconic actress for the role.
Lisa Kudrow! Before she hit it big as Phoebe on Friends, Kudrow was cast as Frasier’s fiery producer. Though she shot the pilot, the producers decided they wanted someone more aggressive and ended up going back to Gilpin for the role.
At the same time, Jane Leeves (Daphne) also had a rocky road to getting cast because of one person in particular — Kelsey Grammer. “I was nervous about a British-accented housekeeper turning us into a dreadful ‘Nanny and the Professor,’” remembered Grammer.
See, Grammer was convinced someone like Rosie Perez was better suited for the role. When he did a table reading with Leeves, however, magic happened. She earned his approval, landing the role and leaving Perez with a guest spot in season 11.
But Frasier wasn’t the first NBC comedy to be plagued by drama behind the scenes. In fact, just a few years before, another happy TV family was busy feuding off-screen.
No one believed The Golden Girls would be a success. A show about four older women living out their retirements in Miami wasn’t exactly the kind of content producers thought people were going to eat up. But these ladies had a surprise in store for the networks.
It was a smash hit! It quickly dominated Saturday nights, and other networks couldn’t find anything that could compete. Soon, the “Golden Girls” were the biggest stars in television. But the four women had an unlikely road to the spotlight.
Estelle Getty (Sophia) was the first cast, but she was actually a year younger than Bea Arthur, who played her daughter! She sat through three hours in the makeup chair every show to make her look much older than she was. And that wasn’t all they had to deal with…
Estelle had a bad case of stage fright! As the least experienced performer, she was constantly worried she’d be ridiculed next to big stars like Bea and Betty. Of course, Sophia ended up stealing the show every night.
Meanwhile, Susan Harris actually wrote the part of Dorothy with Bea Arthur in mind, but the network wasn’t convinced she’d have widespread appeal. Once she signed on, they quickly ate their words. Still, Bea had concerns about two other casting choices.
Rue McClanahan (Blanche) and Betty White (Rose) were originally cast in each other’s roles as they had played similar characters before. Bea was worried this would make the show feel stale, so on a whim, the producers had them swap parts. Magic was born.
When the camera started rolling, it seemed like everything was perfect. And with the chemistry the four leads had on screen, how could it not be? But behind the scenes, it was another story entirely.
Photo by Alice S. Hall
Much of the tension stemmed from one woman in particular: Bea. On screen, her character Dorothy was a driving force, berating Blanche for her promiscuity and delivering a fiery “Oh, shut up Rose!” Behind the cameras, she was just as hotheaded.
Bea had a notorious hatred for chewing gum (and birds) and would flip out if she ever saw someone chewing it on set, going so far as to try and get them fired! On the set of Empty Nest, she stormed off when one of the stars refused to spit it out. And that wasn’t her only quirk.
Bea hated wearing shoes so much that she included a stipulation in her contract that let her walk around set barefoot — so long as she didn’t get injured! Eventually, her eccentric personality put her in conflict with one of her castmates.
Betty! The feud between Bea and Betty became infamous in the years after The Golden Girls went off the air. As Bea’s son put it, “it’s fun to hate your neighbors… We all need to have somebody that we can let get under our skin.”
And Bea certainly let Betty get under her skin. When Betty won the Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actress in 1986, Bea was apparently so furious that she called her a… well let’s just say it wasn’t a pleasant word. The two also clashed in their styles of acting.
“[Betty] was from the Mary Tyler Moore school where everything is a very subtle character moment,” wrote Jim Colucci in his book about the show. “The jokes are more gentle.” Bea’s style was another story completely.
A veteran of Broadway, Bea’s acting was more exaggerated. Directors even had a special seat for her at the breakfast table so they could always have a shot on her dramatic facial expressions!
Bea’s dedication to her craft also set her apart from her co-stars. While she would spend the time in between takes working on her part, Betty would chat with the audience and make jokes.
“She was not that fond of me,” remembered Betty. “She found me a pain in the neck sometimes. It was my positive attitude — and that made Bea mad sometimes.” Still, others saw the feud differently.
According to Bea’s son, it wasn’t that she was unkind, just more introverted. “My mother had close relationships with a few close friends,” her son recalled. “She wasn’t a loner. But she really liked sitting around and chilling.”
Photo Credit: Wayne Williams
In the end, her son didn’t think people had the right impression of the two. Sure they had their differences, but the two still genuinely liked one another. Bea wouldn’t even go to lunch with Rue unless Betty was invited!
Once the show hit six seasons, Bea felt the quality was beginning to fade and decided to leave. The producers begged her to stay for one final season and she obliged, sticking with the show through its season 7 finale.
Regardless of their feud, Bea and Betty will always be remembered as Dorothy and Rose, two friends who sometimes butt heads, but always came together at the end and made up over a slice (or two) of cheesecake.