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Tuned In: New love twist plays into 'Frasier' May sweeps arc

Thursday, April 27, 2000

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

Deaths, births and weddings are the staples of prime-time sweeps -- and the May ratings period, which begins today, will be no different.

NBC's "Frasier" will close out the year with a one-hour season finale May 18 featuring a wedding. Only the identity of the bride and groom remain in question.

In a phone interview earlier this month, actor David Hyde Pierce said every year's finale is a big deal, but "this is probably the biggest deal we have had in seven years."

Throughout May, viewers will see Pierce's Niles Crane move ever closer to declaring his love for Daphne (Jane Leeves) even as she plans her wedding to Donny (guest star Saul Rubinek).

So, do Niles and Daphne get hitched? Pierce won't say.

"People will be seeing some things they were hoping for as well as some things they weren't expecting," Pierce said.

Whatever the outcome, it's clear the days of Daphne being oblivious to Niles' interest are over. Earlier this season, Frasier (Kelsey Grammer) inadvertently revealed Niles' infatuation to Daphne.

"The writers and everyone realized we were getting to a point where there would be diminishing returns on playing the relationship as it was," Pierce said. "I'm impressed with how many variations of that they came up with. Right to the end of last season they were still successful in finding new ways to tweak it."

Pierce said his character was reluctant to confess his feelings because he feared Daphne might reject him. Niles has "the purest love imaginable" for Daphne, Pierce said, and earlier episodes have demonstrated the characters have a rapport that goes beyond Niles' idol worship.

Even if the characters do get together in the season finale, it will be a messy situation. Not only is Daphne about to marry, but Niles is dating Mel (guest star Jane Adams). Pierce said he thinks the Crane family views Mel as a retread of Niles' ex-wife, the unseen Maris.

Getting longing characters together is often the death knell for successful series, but Pierce said a new twist in the Niles-Daphne relationship may re-energize the sitcom and take it in new directions.

"We just got the ensemble [acting] award from the Screen Actors Guild, our first time in six nominations," Pierce said. "I think the reason for that is that the writers have expanded what they're doing with all the characters. Frasier and I got attention over the first few years, but they've really started to find out what a talented ensemble we have. Anybody can carry an episode, and whatever happens with me and Daphne, it will fit into that. If it goes into new territory, that's a whole new set of possibilities."

THE END: CBS's "Cosby" says a quiet farewell tomorrow at 8:30 p.m. on KDKA-TV. Aside from a sentimental dance between Bill Cosby and co-star Phylicia Rashad in the final moments, the episode doesn't feel like a series finale.

"Cosby" never lived up to the popularity of the 1980s NBC series "The Cosby Show," but it was still refreshing to see Cosby and Rashad reunited as TV husband and wife. Their longtime TV partnership only added to the sincerity of their characters' loving squabbling. Adding the late Madeline Kahn to the mix gave the show unexpected zaniness, all the while keeping it clean, compared to most of today's sitcoms.

Kahn's death last year left a huge hole in the show. CBS's decision to move "Cosby" from its Monday night berth -- first to Wednesday, then to Friday -- cemented its fate.

"Cosby" generated little buzz during its four years on the air, so its muted departure is somehow fitting.

BATTLE PLAN: Since KDKA-TV chooses not to stage contests to pump up ratings, the station will compete against WPXI and WTAE at 5 p.m. during May sweeps with 20 days of health reports.

Assistant news director Michael Machi said Jennifer Antkowiak, Susan Barnett, Patrice King Brown, Mary Robb Jackson and Ken Rice will contribute reports on health, medicine and social mores with health implications. Some of the reports will also be transcribed on the station's Web site, www.kdka.com.

MORE SLEEP: Although it wasn't his idea, KDKA anchor Don Cannon said he's happy to be moving to weekend anchor duties. Now he won't have to awaken in the middle of the night to prepare for the morning newscasts as he has since joining the station last fall.

"For me it means getting more sleep," Cannon said. "[The morning news] is the toughest thing I've ever done in my television career."

The new schedule will also allow Cannon more time to prepare sit-down interviews with public figures. So far he's only done four, but he expects the reports to appear more often.

"I'd like to do one a week," Cannon said. "Maybe it will be one every week-and-a-half, but it will certainly be more than one every two months, which has been the frequency."

"HOMEFRONT" REMINDER: Cable network TV Land begins its "Homefront" marathon at 6 a.m. Saturday. This will be the first time the drama has aired since its original ABC run in the early '90s. It will air daily at noon beginning Monday.

"Homefront" is set in post-World War II Ohio and chronicles the lives of three families. If you're a fan of serialized, quality TV, I recommend tuning in.

Rob Owen can be reached at 412-263-2582 or rowen@post-gazette.com. Post questions or comments about TV to www.post-gazette.com/tv under PG Online Talk.

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