Richard Lewis and Don Rickles Starred in the Bizarro ‘Frasier’

Technically, ‘Daddy Dearest’ came out first
Richard Lewis and Don Rickles Starred in the Bizarro ‘Frasier’

Every so often, Hollywood offers up two projects with nearly identical premises at the exact same time. Volcano and Dante’s Peak both came out in 1997, Armageddon and Deep Impact also hit theaters in 1997, and the fall of 2006 found NBC airing both Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip and 30 Rock — although, to be fair, the latter contained zero scenes in which Liz Lemon’s parents guilted her for not serving in Afghanistan. 

A less well-known example of this phenomenon occurred back in 1993. We all know Frasier, the iconic show about a fussy psychiatrist who is forced to live with his curmudgeonly father. But just 10 days before it aired on NBC, Fox premiered a sitcom called Daddy Dearest, all about… a fussy psychiatrist who is forced to live with his curmudgeonly father. 

What’s most notable about Daddy Dearest is that it starred the late Richard Lewis in the Bizarro Frasier role, and legendary insult comic Don Rickles as his dad. Of course, there are some important differences between the two sitcoms. For instance, Lewis’ Dr. Steven Mitchell doesn’t have a radio show, and lives with his young son (instead of just abandoning him in Boston, like Frasier). And Rickles character Al isn’t a wounded cop, he’s just separated from his wife (and, judging from the pilot, way more uncomfortably horny than Martin Crane).

Still, it’s pretty odd that these two shows with nearly the same setups ended up debuting less than two weeks apart. As just one example of the shared narrative DNA, early episodes of Daddy Dearest focused on how the main character’s single life was constantly being upended by his father’s intrusive presence.

Which obviously became a major component of Frasier as well. 

This network synchronicity didn’t go unnoticed by the press at the time, either. An article in The Santa Cruz Sentinel reported on the competing shows’ “identical premises.” They even pointed out that Dr. Mitchell, not unlike Dr. Crane, had a “wimpy brother,” and noted that “normally TV waits for an idea to be a hit, before it rips it off.” 

From all accounts, Daddy Dearest was just an example of parallel thinking. “What are the odds?” asked creator Billy Van Zandt, when he discovered that his show (originally titled My Son the Bastard) was so similar to NBC’s Cheers spin-off. 

Stranger yet, Daddy Dearest nearly shared a plot point with another NBC comedy. According to Van Zandt, Lewis’ character was originally supposed to be divorced because his wife had come out as gay, anticipating Ross’ backstory in Friends. But, at the time, Fox told him, “Coca-Cola sponsors won’t buy any time if she’s a lesbian.” 

A review in The New York Daily News singled out one huge distinction between the two shows: While Frasier was “terrific,” Daddy’s Dearest was “terrible.” In the end, Frasier ran for a total of 11 seasons, and Daddy Dearest only lasted 11 episodes. 

At least the theme song for Daddy Dearest wasn’t complete nonsense. 

You (yes, you) should follow JM on Twitter (if it still exists by the time you’re reading this). 


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