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30 years ago, 'Frasier' depicted a Seattle disconnected from reality. Now it's a different story

A sign on the wall of a hotel reads 'Same Frasier. New skyline.' in white letters in Florentine Regular font, with a solid black background.
Scott Greenstone
An ad for the "Frasier" reboot on Seattle's State Hotel.

There’s a big billboard on the State Hotel, facing Pike Place Market, in downtown Seattle. Against an all black background, in white Florentine Regular font, it reads ‘Same Frasier. New skyline.'

"That's adorable. Especially because it's on part of the old skyline in Seattle," said Meg van Huygen, a lifelong Seattleite, a writer, and a fan of the NBC sitcom Frasier, which first aired 30 years ago Saturday.

But this ad is for a Frasier reboot, which will premiere next month on the streaming platform Paramount+. The 2023 version takes Frasier back to Boston, where the upscale therapist character first appeared, in the sitcom Cheers. It strikes van Huygen as a little rude.

A Black woman holds up a glass of beer as two old white men look at her quizzically.
Chris Haston
L-R: Toks Olagundoye as Olivia, Kelsey Grammer as Frasier Crane and Nicholas Lyndhurst as Alan in the first episode of the Frasier reboot, premiering in October on Paramount+.

"It's a little threatening," she said, looking at it more. "You would think that it would be in Boston. Then it would make more sense — if you know the backstory."

During its run from 1993 to 2004, the sitcom Frasier helped define Seattle, at a key moment in its history. That old skyline on the Frasier title card – it’s one of the most iconic drawings of the city.

But the depiction in the sitcom has always felt a little disconnected from the real Seattle.

In the old show, snooty psychologist Dr. Frasier Crane moves home, and is forced to live with his aging father, a retired cop with more pedestrian tastes. Frasier is usually the butt of the joke. In one episode, he calls Seattle police on an art dealer who sold him a fake.

"Try to mess with Dr. Frasier Crane? I'll teach them," he says, dialing. "Hello, yes — Oh, just a second. Dad, who do I ask for?"

"Have them put you through to the fine arts forgery department," says Martin Crane, played by John Mahoney, barely hiding his laughter.

Much of the sitcom, like that scene, takes place in Frasier’s luxurious condo – which was supposed to be in downtown, but the view was wrong. Van Huygen grew up on Queen Anne and was 13 when the show debuted.

"The view is only possible from Kerry Park," van Huygen said. "And we were like, 'Does he live on Queen Anne or not, man? Is he in our gang or not?"

The sitcom got a lot of the details wrong. Frasier has a mid-Atlantic accent and mispronounces things like Lake Chelan (sha-LONN). His regular coffee shop Cafe Nervosa, with sit-down table service, is supposedly at Third Ave. and Pike St., which Seattleites would recognize as the infamous drug market known as “the Blade.”

But in the '90s, it was exciting that a popular, Emmy-winning sitcom was set here.

"At the time, we were proud of it," said Norm Rice, a Frasier fan and Seattle's mayor until 1997. He played himself in the 100th episode, the only one ever filmed here, which was met by thousands of what Entertainment Weekly called "crazed" fans.

Rice said it felt like people were talking about Seattle. After the Boeing bust in the ‘70s, the city was scoring wins.

"'Refuse to lose,'" Rice said. "The sort of sense of 'things could happen, and they could happen in Seattle.'"

In 1993, the writers picked Seattle as a setting for Frasier because it seemed “up and coming.” Sleepless in Seattle was called the sleeper hit of the summer. Nirvana was at the top of the charts.

"The idea of what Seattle was, most people knew from like, Rolling Stone and Spin," said Melanie McFarland, who covered culture for both of Seattle’s major newspapers during Frasier's run. Now she’s a TV critic at Salon, and she’s married to a Seattle therapist.

"There was this split between this whole idea of Sub Pop Seattle and the Rock 'n' Roll era," McFarland said, "and this era that is rising, and now is dominant, which is the tech era."

Of course, many Americans still thought of Seattle as a depressing backwater. When she moved here in the '90s, McFarland’s family back home in Chicago acted as if she’d gone to live in the woods. When she talked about the Seattle International Film Festival, one of her siblings joked Seattleites must sit on logs and project movies onto a sheet.

A smiling man in headphones sits at a desk with a microphone.
Photo by Gale Adler/Paramount/Paramount
CBS Studios
Actor Kelsey Grammer as Frasier Crane in NBC\'s television comedy series "Frasier." Episode: "Mary Christmas" - As excitement builds over his hosting the holiday parade, Dr. Frasier Crane hosts his radio show. (Photo by Gale Adler/Paramount)

Frasier’s Seattle, by contrast, depicted a world-class city with an opera, a symphony, and posh restaurants booked for months.

"Somewhere between the East Coast and the West Coast, I would say, in the popular imagination at least, Frasier’s Seattle is," McFarland said.

In the third episode, the Crane family suits up to get dinner at ‘Le Cigare Volant,’ but the restaurant loses Frasier’s reservation. Instead his father Martin takes them to ‘The Timber Mill,’ a steak-and-potatoes joint where Frasier and his brother Niles have their ties snipped off.

"Frasier and Niles are supposed to be clowns," van Huygen said. "They're there to be ridiculed and laughed at, and the hero, in fact, is Martin, living in a working class city like Seattle."

A working class Seattle that's disappearing, just like in the real city. In the second season, Frasier and Niles invest in a mini-mall project that, it turns out, is bulldozing their dad’s favorite dive. Martin is angry, but comes to accept it by the time the wrecking ball comes.

In the 30 years since the show debuted, Martin Crane's Seattle has continued to disappear. The real city has become not only the most educated city in the country, but one of the most expensive.

It’s become Frasier Crane’s Seattle. Give or take the table service at the coffee shop.

Scott Greenstone is a former KNKX reporter. His reporting focused on under-covered communities, and spotlighting the powerful people making decisions that affect all of us throughout Western Washington.