Sunday, April 22, 2012

Hamming It Up

When a TV show has been on the air for many years, as Frasier was, it is difficult to pick an absolute favorite episode.

It's particularly hard for me when the subject is a series like Frasier. It is easier, I guess, for me to identify my favorite episodes from other series, even M*A*S*H, which was on the air for 11 seasons — same as Frasier.

Every episode of Frasier was delightful, but the one that was shown for the first time 15 years ago tonight, "Ham Radio," definitely is one of my favorites.

The premise was this: KACL was observing its 50th anniversary and, to mark the occasion, was re—creating the kind of live murder mystery that radio was known for in its golden age. Frasier was revising the script and directing the production.

His brother accused him of having an "Orson Welles complex" and asserted that "he doesn't know when to stop directing ... By the end of this week, you will not only be directing, you will have rewritten the script and be playing the lead."

Which, of course, is precisely what happened.

Frasier protested that he had no intention of performing in the radio play — but, as it turned out, it took very little to convince him to — you guessed it — take the lead role.

Thus, all the ingredients were in place for a first–rate Frasier catastrophe — the first real indication of which could be seen in the rehearsals at Frasier's place the night before the show.

All the main characters from the radio station had parts, including the husband of a girl in accounting who had experience with dialects and had been asked to play half a dozen of the smaller parts.

But Frasier's controlling personality proved to be too much for him, and he buckled under Frasier's criticisms that "my gamekeeper sounded too cultured, my Irishman sounded more Protestant than Catholic and my dwarf was too tall!"

Niles was brought in to replace him — and Niles' own theatrical ego was only one of many obstacles facing Frasier on show night:
  • Roz had been at the dentist and was dealing with the after effects of novocaine;
  • Bulldog had a case of stage fright that left him unable to speak;
  • Gil kept fighting to the last second to deliver a "delicious" speech that Frasier wanted to cut from the script in the interest of saving time;
  • Bulldog's girlfriend, who was brought in to deliver a single line, turned out to be dyslexic, and her line ("Look out — he's got a gun!") was rendered nonsensical when "gun" came out "nug."
And Noel, who was in charge of the sound effects, unleashed sounds that could only be described as those of a passing ice cream truck, forcing Frasier to ad lib.

In the end, of course, Frasier's meddling had alienated just about everyone, including his brother, which worked against him when the play was finished nine minutes early, and no one in the cast was willing to bail him out by participating in a "post–play discussion."
(This theme was revisited a few years later when Frasier was asked to write a small jingle to promote his radio program — and he wrote a mini symphony that required a small orchestra and a choir.)