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Friday, August 6, 1999

'Frasier' may toss Niles & Daphne story tease

By MARK McGUIRE, Staff writer

It has been one of television's better teases, the pining of the lovelorn Niles for the oblivious Daphne.

But it's been six years now. Something has to give with those kids from "Frasier." Otherwise, David Hyde Pierce says, "It starts being unbelievable."

The time has come for Dr. Niles Crane (Pierce) and Daphne Moon (Jane Leeves) to either hook up or press on, Pierce said in an interview last week in Pasadena.

"I know they are going to shake up me and Daphne," the 40-year-old Saratoga Springs native said. "I'm not entirely sure the direction they are going, whether they are bringing us together, or whether they are going to sort of seal it for a while."

"We all feel like it is time to really toss that up in the air."

If Pierce has his way, his alter ego will be hitting the singles scene.

"My vote would be to send them off in opposite directions," he said. "I think it would be fun, maybe come up with some interesting people for Niles to go out with."

"I would not want to see them together yet," he continued. "I could understand sending them so far apart that it stops being an issue, so that at a future date they could get back together."

"Frasier" is up for 10 Emmy nominations from last season, including outstanding comedy, comedy writing, lead actor (Kelsey Grammer, as Frasier Crane) and supporting actor (both Pierce and John Mahoney). With 64 Emmy nominations and 20 wins in five years, it is one of the most lauded series of all time (10 more Emmy wins and it will pass "The Mary Tyler Moore Show'' for the most ever).

The outstanding comedy Emmy winner the past five years? "Frasier," "Frasier," "Frasier," "Frasier" and "Frasier." It is a string unmatched by any show in any category.

Do I think it should be six-for-six? No. NBC compatriot "Friends" had a better year, and look for CBS' "Everybody Loves Raymond" to be a strong dark horse candidate (although Ray Romano has a better chance in the lead actor category).

Like others, I had trouble with how last season started for "Frasier," with the good doctor left out of work. However, I thought the sitcom regained its footing as its sixth season wore on and Frasier returned to the radio studio.

But Pierce disagrees with the opinion the show sagged somewhat at the onset of last year, conceding only that viewers were caught off-balance by what he thought was good storytelling.

"We didn't stumble," he said. "People had a lot of trouble with Frasier being out of work. The show has been on long enough that people actually care about the characters."

"They found it uncomfortable to see him not have a job. When he finally went back, people were relieved."

Dad somewhat disagrees, to a point. Mahoney, who plays patriarch Martin Crane, was not crazy with the story line, but thought it was well done.

"First of all, I didn't like him being out of work," Mahoney said. "I didn't find it particularly humorous."

"But that is not to say it wasn't well-written, well-acted and good. It was just as well-written, just as well-acted, but people were uncomfortable with that story line."

But Mahoney is all for changing up the stories and even adding characters, especially in a situation comedy that is entering its seventh season -- long past the life span for most comedies.

"We just signed contracts for years seven, eight and nine. I don't want to spend those years doing what we did for the first six," he said. "I want to mix it up a little bit."

Both Pierce and Mahoney agree that projections for this multiple-Emmy show were skewed when it was moved last season into the coveted 9 p.m. Thursday time slot previously held by the exalted "Seinfeld."

"We're not 'Seinfeld,' Mahoney said. "No show in television was going to do those numbers. It was an unreal expectation."

It may be the only expectation this legendary comedy hasn't at least met.

Mark McGuire is the Times Union TV/Radio writer. His column generally appears Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Call him at 454-5467 or send e-mail to mmcguire@timesunion.com.

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Posted 9/11/99