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There are good episodes of television, and there are great episodes of television. And then there are the All-Timers: those episodes that represent the very best the medium has to offer. In this ongoing series, Yahoo TV will delve into the histories behind these classic hours and half-hours from TV’s past and present, speaking with members of the casts and crews that brought them to life.
With a total of 37 Emmys, Frasier is not only the most decorated TV series of all time, comedy or drama — it was the first to win Outstanding Comedy Series five years in a row, a feat only Modern Family has matched — it remains one of the most timeless. Insomniacs who’ve stumbled upon a late-night rerun on Hallmark Channel (1 a.m to 4 a.m. daily) know the laughs from the erudite Crane Brothers still hold up. They’ll also tell you there is nothing better than realizing the episode you’ve caught is Season 5’s “The Ski Lodge” (available anytime to Hulu and Netflix subscribers).
First airing on Feb. 24, 1998, it begins with Frasier (Kelsey Grammer) trading Peri Gilpin’s pregnant Roz a big-screen TV for the free ski weekend she’s just won, and ends in a sex farce so hysterical, the studio audience’s laughter needed to be trimmed for time. To tell the story of the episode’s making — from its intricate plotting to the celebratory drinks after taping — Yahoo TV spoke with writer Joe Keenan, director/co-creator David Lee, four-time Emmy winner David Hyde Pierce (Niles), Emmy nominee Jane Leeves (Daphne), and guest star James Patrick Stuart (Guy, the gay French ski instructor).
"The Ski Lodge,” which earned Keenan one of his five writing Emmy nominations for Frasier, is one of five classic farces he wrote for the NBC sitcom. Lee directed them all, including Season 2’s “The Matchmaker,” Season 4’s "The Two Mrs. Cranes,” Season 7’s “Out With Dad,” and Season 11’s “The Doctor Is Out.”
David Lee: For a long time, we’d been trying to think of that old convention of getting your cast up in a mountain cabin for some reason, but we were looking for a different take. We thought, “Maybe this is the place that we can do one of our farces.”
Joe Keenan: We’d never done a full-blown bedroom farce. You have to say, “Well, who are the players?” We know Frasier has to be chasing somebody, the woman of the week, and Daphne would have to be chasing somebody… Daphne brings a friend, and there’s a handsome ski instructor there. We said, “Okay, Frasier is chasing Daphne’s friend, Annie. Annie is chasing Niles. Niles is, as always, chasing Daphne. Daphne is chasing the ski instructor. And the ski instructor is chasing Niles.”
The way a script was usually written was, the room would come up with the idea and then break it down into scenes. Then the writer would always go off and write an outline, and then everybody would read the outline and talk about that, and adjustments would be made as needed before the script was written. This was a little different, in that once we had the theme of who was chasing who, I said, “Let me see if I can figure it out.” More so than most of the farces, it was very mathematical, a much more complicated, precise chain of misunderstandings to get everybody knocking on the wrong bedroom door by the middle of the second act.
The timing of this was right at the holidays. Every year, somebody would get what many of us referred to as “the Christmas f–k,” having to write an episode over the holidays. I suppose as were writing for Frasier, we should have called it the “Yuletide Spot of Bother,” but we could be blunt when disgruntled. Because it was a farce, which is my favorite thing to do, I jumped on it. [Frasier producer] Maggie Blanc, her husband, my husband, and I rented this house in the islands for the Christmas week, and I wrote it all on that deck. I would work on it before lunch every day, for an hour or so. I just remember Maggie saying, “Why are you working? It’s the holiday!” I said, “I’m having a really good time. This is a lot of fun.”
Lee: I’ve always loved that type of farce. In Joe Keenan, I found a fellow conspirator, because he’s just the best I know at constructing them.
Keenan: I realized the fun of it would be if everybody was completely unaware, or they were only dimly aware, of the person who was chasing them. So the person you were chasing never was quite aware that you were chasing them, and you were never quite aware of who was chasing you. I thought, “Everybody has to have some kind of incorrect signal that they’ve gotten the green light, so they’re not just barging into people’s bedroom with no reason to think their advances would be welcomed.” What if Martin [played by John Mahoney] were somebody people went to, and he kept giving people incorrect information because he was not hearing stuff correctly…
Daphne: Why couldn’t Annie be hot for Frasier?
Daphne: Annie hot for Frasier!
Keenan: The thing about farce — or any kind of comedy — is, if the audience ever says, “Hey, wait a minute. Why would that person do that?” you’ve lost them. People have to be on board for every moment and understand everything. Even when it’s something as silly as Martin being partially deaf and hearing only half of everything and then passing on incorrect information [telling Frasier that Daphne said Annie is hot for him instead of Niles, and unwittingly confirming for Guy that Niles has it bad for him instead of Daphne], you set it up long before you pull it out of your hat to say, “This is why he thinks this” and “That’s why he thinks that.”
Guy: Your son Niles… Is it my imagination, or is he attracted to…
Martin: Hold it right there, it’s not your imagination. He’s got it bad.
Guy: Really? This is not a delicate subject for you?
Martin: Oh, no, no, Niles has had those feelings for years. Of course, I didn’t encourage it during his so-called marriage, but now that he’s free, whatever makes him happy, I say, “Go for it!”
Guy: You are a wonderful father.
Lee: It just felt like too good an opportunity to pass up, because we had the actors, we had the writer, we had the sets, and we had the time to do something that’s pretty difficult to pull off. So we thought, “Well, let’s just pull it off. ”
First, they needed to see a man, Frasier casting director Jeff Greenberg — who now, coincidentally, works on Modern Family — about a Guy.
Keenan: When you work with a cast like [Frasier’s], it’s very, very scary to write an episode that hinges on a crucial piece of guest casting. If your guest cast can’t play up to the level of your regular cast, the whole thing’s not going to work. It was, to some extent, true of Annie. We got Cynthia LaMontagne, and she was wonderful.
David Hyde Pierce: She’s hysterical. A tricky balance to cast: Someone who is just bimbo-y enough, but not such a caricature that it feels like it’s from a different show.
Jane Leeves: Or someone that Frasier wouldn’t be interested in.
Keenan: The hard role was Guy. Looking back, it was a kind of impossibly risky role to write in that you need somebody who’s very attractive, that Daphne takes one look at and instantly wants him sexually. You cast the wrong person, and the audience is saying, “Huh? I don’t get it. Why is she suddenly so hot for this guy?” He has to be really sexy and really funny, and as a rule, really sexy, really funny people in their thirties tend to have their own show. If they’re that good, why aren’t they already a regular on something? The pool of people who are up to that kind of thing, and are available that week, can be small, or one person, or in some cases, nonexistent.
Lee: You start seeing actors and you pray that you’re going to find somebody who’s up to it. The key again, with true farce, is not to let it get too silly. We always said on Frasier, “You can be as broad as you like, as long as you’re tethered to reality.”
James Patrick Stuart: I’d shown up at [Frasier casting director] Jeff Greenberg’s office for a general audition in 1996 or 1997. I was young and silly and dramatic. I’d come out of New York and I was smoking. I remember he told me I smelled like cigarettes, and I thought, “Oh I’ve ruined any opportunity to get back in there again.” But I’d done a Seinfeld episode [1996’s “The Checks,” playing Elaine’s boyfriend who had to stop everything when he heard an Eagles song]. I was lucky, because James Spader was supposed to play the “Desperado” character, and I was walking in close proximity to the casting director when he found out that Spader fell through and he grabbed the six guys within earshot and arms’ reach. Luckily, Jerry liked me, so I got a chance to be on an NBC show with 34 million viewers.
By the time I came back to audition for Guy, I had quit smoking. I think it was just a moment in time where if you were on Seinfeld, everybody wanted to see you, because you just sort of smelled like liquid gold. Suddenly, Jeff was willing to look at me again.
I’ve always been a Kevin Kline fan, and there’d been a movie called French Kiss with Meg Ryan [in 1995]. So when I went in, I actually had a fake mustache on, and there were a bunch of idiots like myself all floating around outside Jeff Greenberg’s office with various berets and striped T-shirts all looking like clowns. I walked in to Jeff’s office and he looked at me and said, “Get that thing off your face.” He pointed me in the direction the producers were hoping for. I didn’t see Guy as an attractive character at all. I saw him as sort of greasy and gross. It just goes to show you never see yourself the way other people see you. [Laughs]
Lee: I do recall some of the auditioners came in and they were something just short of Pepe Le Pew. James came in, and besides being attractive and extremely charming, he had a great French accent and he played it for real. That makes the whole situation funnier, because we actually believe that the people are driven by real passion as opposed to being driven by silliness.
Stuart: My father is British and my mother is also British, so I was raised on The Goon Show, the radio show that inspired Monty Python. Peter Sellers would always do this French voice. There was something my father used to sing for me growing up, [“Jacques, a Penniless French Mouse”], so the French thing was always easy for me to drift into. My friends would ask me, “How do you speak French?” And I would say, “Well first you have to imagine yourself ridiculously bored. [In accent] Everything is so boring!” If you look at Guy, the head is always tilted back and the lip is jutting out because, first and foremost, he’s just over everything. And also, I think that I was inspired a little by Gerard Depardieu in [1990’s] Green Card. There’s a moment when he’s sitting with Andie MacDowell on a bench and a beautiful woman walks by and he checks her out. Then a handsome man walks by and he checks him out, too. Everything is sexual about my interpretation of the French Guy. He’s always on.
It was a shock to me when I got the role because Joe was so quiet and non-committal. If he was laughing, I had no idea.
Keenan: My usual M.O. at auditions is to smile till my face aches rather than hurt an actor’s feelings by looking bored or unimpressed. I do recall that James was the last audition of the day, and no one had nailed it before him, so my distress may have colored my demeanor. Also, I don’t always laugh at jokes I’ve written, especially when I’ve heard them 10 times in a row. Some writers can laugh at will in a way that sounds natural. My forced laugh sounds so hideously fake that it’s more likely to upset than encourage the actors. So I just smile.
Stuart: I think I found out I had the role on the drive home. In those days, we had pagers, and when the pager goes off right after an audition and it’s your agent it’s usually good news. I was wearing 32-inch Dolce & Gabbana black jeans, and I stopped at a doughnut shop to celebrate. Those were the days when I could do that.
Days later, Stuart found himself at the table where every episode of Frasier, like Cheers before it, was read.
Stuart: I felt like I was walking into a Beatles recording session. They just sort of had this sheen of the well-to-do because they were so successful and had won so many awards. We sat down to read and I had all the words written out phonetically so I didn’t ruin something with a mispronunciation. The moment I was like, “‘Ello. I am Guy. … I hope you are ready to ski tomorrow. I’m going to work you very hard,” Kelsey looked over at me with a big grin and he said, “That’s good. That’s good.” He’s like Orson Welles anyway, so with that kind of approval, I felt like I could do no wrong. Suddenly we were all screaming with laughter.
Hyde Pierce: There were several times during the run of the show where I would get the script the night before and I’d read it and say “It doesn’t seem that funny.” Then we would get into the room and sit around the table and it would be hysterical, and the reason was it wasn’t jokes [emulates rim shot sound effect]. It was the situation. And the writers knew the characters so well that sometimes they could just have a character say the word “yes,” and it would be a five-minute laugh because the situation was so carefully crafted.
Keenan: I don’t have a very clear memory of this table read beyond my anxious impatience to get through it and see the episode on its feet. Our scripts often read well at the table because the comedy was very verbal and didn’t rely as much on staging and visuals for laughs. But I knew this one had so much physical comedy and bed-hopping and the geography of the set, which most people hadn’t even seen yet, was pivotal too; I knew that people would be trying to picture it all based on hearing the stage directions read aloud. I knew it would be funny to see Guy check out Niles’ ass, but just hearing the stage direction wasn’t going to be all that side-splitting. So I was a bit nervous.
Lee: I absolutely remember this. It generated more laughter on the table than I can remember any episode doing. When that happens at the table read, sometimes you can get fooled and sometimes it changes once it gets on its feet, but this never ceased to be funny. We had a blast rehearsing, although it was difficult — it required a lot of precision.
Keenan: Usually, a lot of the fun of rehearsal, and one of the joys of working in that multi-cam form when things are clicking well, with a cast like that, is watching the story grow and change and get sharper and funnier and richer over the week. This was such an equation, there wasn’t as much room for it. It probably changed less than any episode we’d done, only because every misunderstanding, every miscue, every misleading line, every missed connection, was so precisely ordered that you couldn’t screw around with it.
Lee: In the sitcom world at that time, where it was not uncommon to be there until two or three or four in the morning completely rewriting scripts, this was a dream. The actors aren’t having to assimilate new material every day. The director isn’t trying to figure out, oh my gosh, the whole scene is completely different than it was the day before. It gives you a lot more time to refine things if they’re not changing so much.
Leeves: I’m thinking how great James Patrick Stuart was, and how easily he fell in. It’s such a hard thing to come into a group like us who have been doing this for five years by then. Somebody said about us, “It was like working with the Flying Wallendas,” because we were so in sync with each other that rehearsals were just like, “I’ll go here, you go there.” Some guest stars would come on and go, “Oh no, no, wait a minute, wait a minute, where do I go?” James just seemed to fit right in. I think there’s a thing with farce that can’t be taught. It’s a definite pacing and a timing, and you either have that innately or [you don’t]. I don’t think you can fake that.
Stuart: I was initially very intimidated by Hyde Pierce, because he was at that point in the show just blowing everybody away and winning awards, but he was so welcoming and so generous. I remember I had stickers on my script, ski stickers from like K2, just being goofy. He looked at my script and said, “Christ, you’re not one of those guys are you?” Thinking I was going to be a method actor the whole week.
Hyde Pierce: I don’t remember the stickers, I just remember how handsome he was.
When the audience arrived for the taping, they could see they were in for something special. Gone was Frasier’s living room (the opening scenes of “The Ski Lodge” were filmed at another time). In its place was some of Frasier production designer Roy Christopher’s finest work.
Lee: Roy Christopher deserves a lot of credit. One of the reasons that I felt really strongly that a bedroom farce doesn’t work on film or television is that when you get to the big scene, where people are going in the wrong rooms and the doors are slamming, it’s always done in cuts, so you never see the whole picture. I said, “You have to design this in a way that I can see all those bedroom doors at once.” On a soundstage the size of ours, that’s a pretty tall order. He did it beautifully.
Keenan: I remember his set plans were labeled “Hotel Keenandiso,” a reference to the French farceur George Feydeau’s play Hotel Paradiso. The main ski lodge room, with the kitchen and the upstairs landing with the three bedroom doors, was all down on the stage right swing set area, where only about a third of the audience could see it. The rest would watch those scenes on monitors, which back then weren’t big high-def flat screens, but boxy old school TVs. Guy’s room was under the bandstand, and facing the radio station set, so no could see it at all except on the monitors. The three bedrooms — Annie’s, Niles’, and Daphne’s — were built center stage in front of the permanent set of Frasier’s living room. That was something we only did twice, here and again in Season 11, when Frasier’s new private practice office was placed there.
Stuart: The sets were spectacular. It could have very easily been a Broadway production. I remember that Kelsey likes to refrigerate the soundstage. It was in the high 50s, it was so cold. And there’s a reason for that: Nobody wants to laugh when they’re sweating.
Hyde Pierce: Cold for comedy. That’s the famous rule, yes.
Stuart: Whenever I would do a sitcom after that and it would be a little on the warm side, I thought, “Oh crap, they’re gonna be asleep by the time we get out there.” But it was very crisp and everybody was very wide awake. There’s nothing like doing a sitcom. But when you do a sitcom like Frasier, everybody was just so happy to be there. You see all these producers off-camera, and now they’re all wearing dark suits and they just look like a million bucks, like the top of the game. Of course, they all are. The whole room is sort of playful because David Lee is a very playful person.
I remember being backstage as the show started. I was waiting to make my entrance, and Guy is wearing apres-ski stuff with a beautiful yellow, expensive French parka, and he’s got groceries in his hands and dark shades on. He was tan, and he had his hair spiked up. I’m hearing Kelsey and Jane just killing it. The laughs were so huge. I remember looking down at my feet and thinking, “I’m gonna remember this moment for the rest of my life,” because I can tell what is about to happen. When you’re that confident, the audience picks up on that and you can take your time with jokes and you can let them land.
Hyde Pierce: The phrase “situation comedy” is sometimes used as a pejorative now. This episode is really a great example of it. It’s the situation — that’s why James felt so safe walking out onto that stage, because he realized the audience knows what’s going on and they’re following it. That’s what keeps them interested and engaged and laughing.
Take that sequence where one by one, each character says something that’s mildly suggestive and looks at the person they’re attracted to. They’ve already set up all of these attractions, so everything is confirming what the audience already knows, and Joe saves the best for last, which you don’t expect, which is who Guy is interested in.
Lee: We pan over to Guy, and he’s checking out Niles’ rear. The audience just went crazy, because they had no idea that he was gay until that point.
Stuart: The moment was coming up, and inside I was giggling, because I thought, “This is going to land so hard. ” And, of course, it was just like kicking a field goal in the Super Bowl. You could go perfectly through the post, and you just heard the audience erupt with laughter.
Hyde Pierce: There was so much laughter, they actually had to cut it down in the episode. It was just uproarious.
Leeves: There were a lot of episodes where they had to cut the laughter down.
Lee: Oh yeah, but we tried not to do it. We’re laugh whores. [Laughs]
Stuart: Weeks later when the episode finally aired, I was with all my poker-playing, cigar-smoking buddies and we all watched together. They didn’t see that joke coming, and it knocked the wind out of them, too.
Hyde Pierce: That’s why it’s brilliant writing. And also, David shot it in such a way that you could capture it. It’s one thing in front of a live audience; that’s like doing a play, they watch each thing happen. But then you have to, in the filming or the editing, re-create that for the television audience, and that’s what David was able to do.
Leeves: And with a wide shot as well, which is really tricky, but he managed it.
Lee: Not to get too technical, but when you’re shooting with four cameras, the difficulty of the assignment increases exponentially with every character you add to the scene. If you have a scene with just two people, you have a master, you have the two-shot, and you have a single on each of the people. In “The Ski Lodge,” we had six people on screen at the same time. You do the math. Four cameras with six people, you have to keep going back and doing it again and again and again because you want to have a master — you probably want to have several masters. You want to have singles on everybody, so you can get their reaction. You want to have twos, you want to have threes, you want to have fours. There was a lot of shooting as wide as you could, and then going back and shooting it again with the cameras focusing on different angles.
Lee: There were lots of tricky things, too. Watching it again, I was a little proud of myself: There’s a fun shot where Niles is saying farewell to someone on his right.
Stuart: Niles watches Daphne disappear upstairs, giggling with Annie.
Lee: The camera pans over, and all of a sudden Guy is there on his left and sitting on the couch. The last time you’d seen him, he’d been on the other side of the room.
Keenan: Annie had been coming on to Niles, and Daphne shoos Annie away, because she knows that Niles is emotionally vulnerable in the middle of a divorce and Annie is a good-time girl who would make him fall in love and then cheat on him. Guy starts thinking about why this hot girl is coming on to Niles and he’s not interested.
Stuart: I insinuate that Daphne is interested in Annie, but he’s not picking up on that — he thinks I’m talking about Daphne’s interest in him. I say, “I think you did not like Annie’s flirting either.” He says, “Well, just between us, my interests lie elsewhere this weekend.” The audience understands that I am misunderstanding what he is saying, and the laugh was so big, there’s no way you could have possibly used that in a TV show. That night, that laugh went on for probably 30 seconds. It was again one of those field goal moments, because I knew as soon as the audience heard me say “Really…” they were gonna go for another 40 seconds, which is exactly what happened.
Keenan: I’m so glad that he could do that suave, continental French accent, because to me, the funniest single word in the entire thing is when he says, “Really.” It was my favorite little grace note.
Hyde Pierce: The thing I most remember is how little we had to do. That’s a great gift of a beautifully-written script, first of all. It’s also the gift of having been able to live these characters so long in front of an audience. This was the fifth season. By that point, the audience knew who we were as characters. Those two things mean you can just do something as simple as put a hand on a knee, and it reads volumes to an audience, and you don’t have to make funny faces and you don’t have to exaggerate the line reading, nothing. That is just a dream. Jane’s husband, Marshall [Coben], is a surfer — it’s like surfing. Surfing the laughs and surfing the script is just such a joy.
Keenan: This kind of farce is a joy to write. Once the plot is worked out, writing the dialogue is very, very easy. If Frasier and Niles walk into a room, and there’s nothing going on, and they have to say something funny, that’s harder than anything. The audience isn’t involved, they’re just saying, “Okay, show us.” Once you get a very funny situation barreling along, and escalating, you don’t need people to say witty or funny things, they just say exactly what’s on their mind, and what’s on their mind is funny because the situation is funny.
Hyde Pierce: There was a line that Guy says in reference to Daphne and Annie that was so funny. They come in after having just gotten into their negligees, and at this point Guy thinks they’re lesbians. Frasier says, “Annie, that’s a lovely gown.” Annie says, “Daphne just gave it to me.” And Guy says, “I bet she did.”
Leeves: [Laughs] We got away with quite a bit.
Hyde Pierce: Yes! This was an incredibly suggestive, ribald episode.
Keenan: I have to say, my favorite thing about Frasier, and the thing I’m proudest of, and that everyone was with the show, is that it had such a wide tonal palette. You could do shows as sexy and silly and romping as this one, and the same characters swing into heartbreak the week before and the week after without feeling that it was two different shows and that we couldn’t make up our mind on the tone. The tone was very, very broad, from very silly to very emotional.
The episode before “The Ski Lodge,” in fact, ended with Niles throwing his wedding ring off Frasier’s balcony, accepting that his marriage to Maris was over. That was key.
Keenan: The thing that was most crucial, story-wise, is that this was just a silly sexual romp for everybody — except Niles. His feelings for Daphne weren’t the stuff of one episode; they were the whole series. Him feeling like the moment was ripe to declare himself was a much bigger deal than any other move that anybody was going to make, and he had to have a reason for doing it. The timing worked out, series-wise, in that he was at a point where he could declare himself without breaking his vows.
The dicey thing was, he couldn’t make a play for Daphne that she would hear. We weren’t ready to make that move. It would be two more years before Daphne would actually become aware of Niles’ feelings, in Season 7. We had to have all the fun. So the other farce element that we used is that Annie and Daphne end up getting the wrong rooms, briefly, so whoever is chasing Daphne thinks she’s in that room, and vice versa with Annie.
The other thing I thought was, "Well, people need to be drunk.” There should be something that sort of gives people that last disinhibitor as they’re on their way to bed. Martin makes this hot buttered rum, and he would tell a story about how it helped give him the courage to make his move and propose to his wife. Someone else, [executive producer Christopher Lloyd] I think, said, “We should have a line about how in life, it’s not the mistakes you make, it’s the times you’re a coward…” Sitting there half-crocked on rum, everybody hears this same bit of advice from Martin, about the only thing you regret at the end of a life is the chances you missed. So everybody is now keyed up.
Lee: Everybody goes down the line saying a version of, “Oh, I would hope that a person would make a move, because there’s nothing to be gained by being timid.” Of course, you see everyone getting the wrong idea. It’s just one long shot. Those are fun to figure out, hard to pull off.
Once they all retire for the evening, Niles is the first to make a move, running over his own bed to enter what he believes is Daphne’s room.
Hyde Pierce: I don’t remember if that was a spontaneous thing that happened in rehearsal… I’m going to say yes. As I think about it now, I think “Wow, I was younger back then.” I’m not sure I would make that choice. [Laughs]
He breathlessly declares his love to the bathroom door: “Hello. It’s Niles. I can’t wait. If I don’t say this now, I may lose my nerve. I need you. I’ve wanted you since the moment I laid eyes on you.”
Keenan: That was a tricky speech to write. "I’ve wanted you since the moment I laid eyes on you” — it is completely consistent with how he feels about Daphne, but then can be heard by Annie as a profession of lust on first sight.
Lee: It was a giant moment for the series, and I felt so bad for him, because we, as the audience, know that she’s not there but he thinks she is. That’s sort of heartbreaking. But that also is another indication of true French farce: the motivations always have to be absolutely real. It helps if they come from the heart. They can also come from lower on the anatomy, which they often do, but what really gets the audience engaged is when they care about the characters. In this case, it was Niles’ feelings that you cared about.
Leeves: The feelings were just one-sided at that point. We didn’t have a clue that Daphne would have any interest in Niles whatsoever. You’re so hoping that Daphne will run out and say, “Niles!”
Hyde Pierce: The relationship had not developed to the point where Daphne was feeling or expressing feelings towards Niles, so she was free to be going after Guy. That was a very innocent time in the show, and really, a lot of liberty was taken in that episode.
From that point, it’s off to the races: Guy rescues Niles from Annie’s advances and invites him to hide out in his room — only to find Daphne waiting in Guy’s bed. Niles escorts an embarrassed Daphne back to his room, where Annie is waiting to deliver Keenan’s other favorite line in the episode: “I see. It’s a threesome you’re after. Well, I don’t do those anymore.”
Keenan: I was honestly a little bit frustrated by the inescapable fact that you couldn’t get that theatrical velocity right in front of the audience. The feeling was that we were never going to get the full, crackling real-time effect of it until we cut it together. When you would play a farce like “The Two Mrs. Cranes” or “Out With Dad,” where the entire second act is one 25-page scene in the living room, the audience would watch a play, and you never broke it, so you never lost attention. Here we go to the other end of the soundstage and shoot that page and a half in Guy’s room, and then we go down and shoot this other little bit. We shot it in sequence, but every time you moved from the bedroom out to that hall, that was a scene change, and the cameras had to be moved. We did everything we could to move as fast as possible.
Leeves: During scene changes where the cameras were moving from one set to the other, David Lee had “Flight of the Bumble Bee” playing. I know it sounds crazy, but it does keep the audience on that train and the momentum moving along.
Niles follows an increasingly mortified Daphne into her room, where shirtless Frasier is waiting to uncork a bottle of champagne he intends to share with Annie.
Stuart: By the time the champagne popped, that was probably less than a minute after the previous scene. It was moving very swiftly.
Keenan: I think David Lee might have done that, that premature ejaculation.
Lee: I honestly don’t remember. I’m leaning towards thinking it was maybe Kelsey. I do remember going, “I don’t know, is this too far?” I could have thought of it and then thought that, or Kelsey could have thought of it and then I thought that. But the first time we showed it to the writers, everybody laughed and thought it was fine, so okay. I wish I could graciously take credit for it.
Frasier wraps a blanket around his waist and starts to shuffle to Annie’s room. He must go through Niles’ first, however, and finds Guy in his brother’s bed. Frasier calls Niles in. “Don’t be jealous, Niles,” Guy says. “It’s not how it looks.” And suddenly, Niles gets it.
Stuart: He turns and does this double-take, and [after pausing nine seconds for the audience’s laughter] he goes, “What?!” [Laughs] I remember thinking it was just utterly massive. It was like going to the symphony and watching the lead violinist. His timing was impeccable. He rode that audience like a pro. He knew the exact moment they were ready for that reaction.
Frasier excuses himself because, “there happens to be a very beautiful woman on the other side of this door that wants me desperately.” He enters Annie’s room… and she screams and chases him back into Niles’ room. The commotion draws Daphne over, and Niles makes another proclamation.
Leeves: My favorite line in the whole script is “I’m not gay, Guy.” It’s so brilliant. But there are so many. Martin stirring it all up and then sauntering in at the end.
Martin: Hey, hey, hey, hold it down. There are people here tryin’ to sleep. Oh, my ears must have popped. I can hear again… Well, goodnight all.
Lee: If you look at it again, it was a real head-scratcher how we were going to do that. That set was built literally on Frasier’s living room. When he opened that door, you could see the Seattle skyline outside. Because there was no room to build a fake hallway — there was no room to do anything — I said, “You know, just turn the lights down. Let’s hang a black curtain back there, and we’ll just hope nobody notices that when they open the door, it looks like outer space.” Really, you should have seen the hallway and the rest of the lodge out there in the back and not just a black curtain.
It all builds to Frasier delivering the final punchline: “Oh, wait. Wait, wait, wait, everybody. Let me see if I can get this straight. All the lust coursing through this lodge tonight… all the hormones virtually ricocheting off the walls… and no one was chasing me?”
Keenan: It felt like you wanted something to wrap it up with a bow. We realized during the course of the week that everybody is chasing somebody and being chased by somebody — except Frasier, who’s chasing somebody but nobody’s chasing him. We gave him this kind of bittersweet revelation that he was alone and not the object of anyone else’s lust.
Lee: It’s sort of the perfect ending to it. In a way, it underlines that character in the whole series: For 11 years, it just didn’t work out romantically for him. And it worked out romantically for a lot of the characters.
Stuart: It got a huge laugh.
Hyde Pierce: No one does better that sort of barely contained outrage and hurt than Kels. [Laughs] We all knew the line, but he just takes so long to start putting it together that it was very hard to hold it together.
Stuart: The interesting thing was, nobody broke that night.
Hyde Pierce: We almost never kept a straight face. There are so many outtakes from all of Frasier where we just lost it. I think for all of us, we so loved the script — that’s the thing that keeps you from breaking, because you want the audience to experience the real scenes, not when you fall out of character. Joe had built in so many wonderful surprises for the audience. That becomes the most important thing.
Leeves: There’s a certain responsibility you always felt to the writing because it was so perfect. It’s like David said, you got your giggles out during rehearsal. Most of the time. I’m afraid I was one of the worst offenders, I’d laugh at everything. But you really wanted to hit it the first time, for the writers. You wanted to honor the hard work that they’d done to create such a great thing. You never didn’t feel the pressure to make it the best you could, and I think you can see on the screen that everybody is fully invested.
Stuart: As an actor, you are so blessed when there is that lightning in a bottle. And I was also blessed that I was aware of it that night, and I just savored every moment. The crowd was really on board, and the curtain call felt like it was well-deserved. Of course, they had so many episodes like that. What is it they did, ?
I’ve been in that soundstage many times since, actually, and when I go in there and it’s completely empty and there’s not even any bleachers, I always find my way over to that spot where I was standing waiting for my entrance and have a quiet moment of gratitude.
Lee: My partners, Peter [Casey] and David [Angell], and I were then developing what turned out to be an ill-fated sitcom for Nathan Lane called Encore, Encore, and we wrote a part for James in it, we liked him so much. I wish it had turned out better for him.
Stuart: Thanks to Frasier, I was literally sitting in bed with a cold, playing Madden Football on my PlayStation 2, and the phone rang. It was my agent and he said, “NBC called, they want to offer you a regular role on a Nathan Lane series.” I was like, “Sweet.” [Laughs] And I ended up doing a bit on Kelsey’s short-lived Steve Levitan-Chris Lloyd show Back to You, which looked like it was probably going to be a recurring character. [Frasier co-executive producer] Jay Kogen was doing a show not too long ago that he had me on where I was playing an action hero whose fans kept punching him in the face because it was his bit. “Hey man, can my wife punch you in the face?”
Leeves: He actually played my boyfriend in Hot in Cleveland for a few episodes.
Stuart: That was [Frasier producer] Suzanne Martin, who was there that night. So these very, very funny people are off running comedies and every once in a while, they’ll be like, “Let’s get James,” because Guy, thank god, left a good taste in their mouth.
“The Ski Lodge” almost gave Frasier something to be thankful for, too. As the credits roll on the episode, Annie knocks on his door.
Keenan: All those silent tags tended to be very last minute. More often than not, we would come up with them on the day of the shoot, just a few hours before, because there was no dialogue and they were only meant to be something visual to accompany the credits. Sometimes they were completely freestanding, but because we had to do something on that set, it became funnier than anything. Annie, having gotten her engine started for Niles and being shut down, might have said, “Well, I’ll take the other brother.” But then he just didn’t happen to be in the room. Another riff on Frasier’s sexual bad luck.
Once the episode wrapped, the cast and writers raised a glass, as they always did.
Keenan: We’d definitely have gone to Pinot Hollywood, which had been the Columbia Bar and Grill a few years earlier… For a few years of its heyday in the '90s, Pinot Hollywood was a really fun sitcom salon every Tuesday Night. You’d have the writers and casts of Frasier and Wings and NewsRadio there every week as well as a few other shorter-lived shows. You’d not only have the writers and regular casts, but people who’d guest-starred as well, so you never knew who’d wander in.
Stuart: I had been in situations like that, and you make your appearance and you drift home. Joe, Kelsey, and David Lee invited me over to their table. We had beautiful, stunning martinis in incredible stemware. They were wearing their suits. It was a sort of “pinch me” moment where, as an actor, I couldn’t believe I had the chance to share this rarefied air with these brilliant people. I mean it was Kelsey Grammer, for crying out loud.
Keenan: A bit later, we established Mingles, a bar set up in a writer’s office right outside Stage 25.
Lee: On shoot nights, it would turn it into a bar, even to the extent of having a little outdoor patio on the driveway there on Paramount Studios. The other shows that were shooting on the lot that night would all just drop by.
Leeves: They had a bar sign.
Hyde Pierce: That’s right. It was so easy, we stopped going to restaurants, we just drank amongst ourselves.
Lee: It was a great time. A great era. I’m sorry that it’s gone.
Hyde Pierce: I think what David misses, what we all miss, is to be at that point in the run of the show — which was almost halfway, though we didn’t know that — where we all loved each other so much, we were having such a good time. The writing was amazing, and we could relax and just enjoy this dream job. Like James said, I think we all knew that this was a once in a lifetime experience.
Leeves: Yes, I remember saying on many occasions, “We will never have this again.” We knew how special this particular experience was. Going to the table reads every Wednesday morning and just being met with gold, it was extraordinary.
Lee: You have to understand, I spent six years on that stage with Cheers, and then I spent 11 years there with Frasier. One thing I can say is my office was right across from the entrance, so I just had a very short walk to get over there, and I always looked forward to going. The reason I bring that up is, on so many shows, at that time, the writers and producers often dreaded going down to the stage because they didn’t know what they’re going to get hit with. More often than not, there are “big” personalities that are difficult to deal with. It was never that way with either of the shows, especially Frasier. I never dreaded going there.
The actors’ dressing rooms were upstairs, and they had a little lounge there that they hung out in if they weren’t down shooting. Sometimes, if I had a few minutes free, I’d just go over and hang out with them because they were really fun, nice people.
Leeves: That was our green room, and that became quite famous because all our dressing rooms were really shabby and horrible, which nobody could believe. “My god, this is your dressing room? It’s just a cupboard with a door on it.” We were never in our dressing rooms. We used to sit and solve the world’s problems in this green room. It was such a treat every week when you’d have these guest stars come in with their new stories.
I think Jimmy [Burrows, the famed director] at one point thought the reason we were such a cohesive and close cast was because we had this green room. He was trying to make green rooms on every show he did. It could never work like that; it was just the positioning of the dressing rooms and the green room, this seating area at the end of the hall.
Hyde Pierce: A lot of shows, like movies, the actors are in trailers. They’re in their separate luxury zone, and this was a place where we just hung out together. Plus, our still photographer took reams of photos from every episode, and they put them up every season. By the end, every square inch of that hallway leading to the green room, of the makeup and hair room, was lined with all of our memories, all the guest stars, all of these wonderful episodes.
Leeves: I took quite a few of them when we finished.
Hyde Pierce: I have a bunch too somewhere, in a box.
Leeves: I’m looking at a few right now up in my office.
Keenan: I didn’t take any of the framed pictures from the halls up there, but I did grab the Scrabble board that Kelsey and Laura Linney used in the series finale.
When Frasier ended in 2004, Keenan, who’d risen to an executive producer, would also leave with a total of five Emmy statues (including one for writing). Lee, having come in with one Emmy for Cheers, had added another eight to his collection (including two for directing and one for writing).
Lee: I’m speaking to you from my home in Palm Springs. They’re all lined up in a row on bookshelves in my office. I call them “the girls.” But I used to keep them at my home in LA. Once I decided to make Palm Springs my primary residence, I had a home before the home I’m living in now. I can’t believe I’m going to tell you this. It was for sale, and I thought, “What would give this some caché?” I went, “I know, I’ll bring the Emmys up and toss them on the shelf in my house there, so when people come by to look at the house, they’ll either yawn or go, 'Oh wow, maybe I do want to buy this house.’” Leonardo DiCaprio owns it now, so maybe it worked.