Who Ripped Off Who? 'Frasier' vs. 'Sleepless in Seattle'
People, it's time that we address the elephant in 1993's room and ask why two of the biggest cultural institutions of the year and arguably the entire '90s were about talk therapy radio shows and set in Seattle. Frasier and Sleepless in Seattle premiered within months of each other, shared many of the same actors -- David Hyde Pierce is practically the same character.
The radio host of Sleepless in Seattle even uses Frasier's signature catchphrase. What's going on here? Did someone rip someone off?
Well, not to point fingers at anyone, but the script for Sleepless in Seattle, in a fairly intact form, had been floating around since 1990, and production wrapped in September 1992. Meanwhile, the creators of Frasier, by their own admission, hadn't even begun to discuss a new Kelsey Grammer vehicle until early 1993 because apparently, TV production moved much faster in the '90s. It was originally conceived as a show about a completely different character, a New York City publishing playboy who becomes paralyzed in a motorcycle accident and clashes with his Hispanic live-in physical therapist/maid.
That doesn't look great on a number of levels, and again, nobody is making any accusations here, but the way they tell the story of how it came to be the show we all know and tolerate sounds exactly like the kind of overly detailed explanation you give when you're covering for something.
As they tell it, the network rejected Grammer's weird fantasy and told them it had to be about Frasier, so they returned to an idea they just happened to have for an old episode of Cheers about Frasier sitting in for a Boston talk radio host that they just happened to have never used. They couldn't set it in Boston to avoid hacky crossover events, which never happened on Frasier, and they were totally going to set it in Denver before changing their minds and landing on Seattle for its cutting edge art scene. Frasier was, of course, a huge fan of grunge. The casting director happened to bring in videos of David Hyde Pierce in a totally different production, they were struck by his resemblance to Kelsey Grammer, and at no point did Pierce ever say "Weird, this is just like that movie I just did!"
In other words, a series of very weird coincidences gave them a show that shared many strangely specific elements with one of the most successful movies of the year. Sometimes, life is just funny that way.
Top image: CBS Television, TriStar Pictures