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Ex ‘Frasier’ star goes opposite

Tue., Sept. 18, 2007, midnight

Yes, Kelsey Grammer is coming back to television.

But if you’re looking for another Frasier Crane, check out his reruns on Lifetime.

With the new Fox series “Back to You,” Grammer’s got a brand-new bag as the blusterous Chuck Darling, an anchorman whose big-market career and overinflated ego take a hit when he winds up back at the struggling station in Pittsburgh where he started.

Of course, there’s one thing about Darling that’s remotely reminiscent of that other baritone-voiced guy – the man who plays him.

“We quite often, on a daily basis, we say, ‘OK, what would Frasier do here, and let’s do the opposite,’ ” says Steven Levitan, series co-creator with fellow “Frasier” alum Christopher Lloyd.

“Even though there are going to be a lot of people who still think of him as Frasier, we hope in time that they will see him as Chuck Darling. I know we have.”

Explains Grammer: “Frasier was so complicated, so messed up, whereas Chuck is really a simpleton. He’s not the smartest guy in the world, smart enough to get by, not a bad storyteller, but he’s an egomaniac, where Frasier was not.”

Comedy in the series, which debuts Wednesday night, comes from the clash of egos between Darling and former co-anchor Kelly Carr (Patricia Heaton), who is less than thrilled to be sharing the news desk with him.

On the set, however, there’s a sense of genuine camaraderie between Grammer and fellow sitcom vet Heaton (“Everybody Loves Raymond”) as they finesse their way through each scene.

“What makes Patty so important to us is that she’s one of those rare actresses who can go toe-to-toe with Kelsey, who can be just as strong as he is in a way that doesn’t make her seem unlikable,” Levitan says.

“From the beginning, Kelsey locked into Patricia as the right person for that role.”

It didn’t hurt that the two shared the same agent and had been looking for a chance to work together.

“I thought we could be maybe two university professors or something, and then it was sort of never spoke of again,” says two-time Emmy winner Heaton, her auburn hair highlighted blond to give her a new post-“Raymond” look.

“Then I was doing a play in New York last winter, got this script … and it was perfect.”

The series gave both actors a chance to return to television in the format they love: the multicamera sitcom, which is presented like a play before a live audience.

The genre also offers amenable hours because each episode is shot primarily in one night – a plus for Heaton, who’s raising four boys.

“I don’t want to work just for the sake of working,” says the 49-year-old actress with her 8-year-old in tow. “At this point I can be a little bit choosy, and this was great because it’s a lot of fun and the hours are really short.”

For Grammer, 52, it was a chance to reunite with Lloyd and Levitan.

“When they called me last November and said we’ve got an idea, I said to my wife, Camille, ‘Well what do you think?’ ” says the four-time Emmy winner.

“Our kids are getting close to starting school … and I took a couple of years off, and we felt, ‘What the heck? Maybe there’s one more in the old boy’ kind of thing. Let’s give it a try.”

While he’s aware that sitcom successes like “Frasier” and “Raymond” are rare and getting rarer – and that stars of long-running sitcoms seem to fail more often than not in subsequent efforts – Grammer isn’t deterred.

“Multicamera for me is the only world that is really funny,” he says.

“Single-camera shows are entertaining and thought-provoking, sometimes humorous. But fall-down, laughing-out-loud shows? No, I don’t see it.”

Although Fox recently tried its hand at another series about TV news – the reality show “Anchorwoman,” which flopped in its first week – Heaton believes the scripted anchors on “Back to You” will offer a more entertaining show.

“You know, I was surprised when Fox put that other show on when we’re on the network, too – so I was sort of glad it was pulled,” says Heaton.

Besides, she adds, “So much of (the news business) is entertainment anyway, the logos and the drama and the crisis, anything to get eyes is what it is.”


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