Feb 5, 2018

Frasier: The Gayest Show on TV, or the Most Homophobic?

In 1993, Frasier Crane (Kelsey Grammer), the stuffy, elitist psychiatrist who hung out at Cheers (1982-93), moved back to his hometown of Seattle, Washington, where he hosted his own radio program, offering psychiatric help to callers.

Very few episodes of Frasier (1993-2004) involved the wacky mental problems of callers -- the producers thought that concentrating on the radio station would make it too much like WKRP in Cincinnati -- although producer Roz (Peri Gilpin) became a regular, and there were occasional appearances by leering, hetero-horny sports show host Bulldog (Dan Butler) and swishy food show host Gil (Edward Hibbert).

Most episodes were about Frasier's home life, conflicts with his macho, working class father, Martin (John Mahoney) and his even more elitist younger brother Niles (David Hyde Pierce).

It had a huge gay fanbase.  Many gay men could relate to conflicts with their macho, working-class fathers over their interest in fine art, show tunes, wine-tasting, and chick flicks.

Plus Frasier featured the most intense, passionate, and open gay romance on tv during the period.

Frasier and Niles were boyfriends.  Ok, they were scripted as heterosexual brothers, but come on...brothers simply do not act like that.

Their relationship was deliberately written as quasi-romantic.  Even other characters commented on it.

But, to keep it from crossing over the boundary into over romance, the writers gave Frasier any number of hetero-romantic conquests, and Niles a wife plus an ongoing crush on Daphne (Jane Laneves), Martin's live-in physical therapist, who remained oblivious (or pretended to be).

And they drew pitiably few gay plotlines, and all of the most simplistic, 1970s type.

In the fifth season, Niles and Daphne are mistaken for gay, and Frasier is embarrassed when his friends discover him in bed with a man, and conclude that he is...you know (shades of Three's Company!).

In the seventh season, Martin pretends to be gay to get out of dating a woman he dislikes, only to have her set him up with a gay man (he ends up going through with the date).

The most substantial gay plotline involved Gil the Food Critic, who was assumed gay throughout, and often ridiculed for his effeminacy,

In the ninth season, he reveals that he is actually heterosexual, married to a butch woman named Bev, and is rather offended by the gay rumors: "honestly, just because a man dresses well and knows how to use a pastry bag, people jump to wild conclusions!"

The retro, borderline homophobic storylines are particularly surprising when one realizes that David Hyde Pierce, Dan Butler (left), John Mahoney and Edward Hibbert were all gay.  That's the entire male cast, except for Kelsey Grammer.

To recap: an entire cast full of gay men playing heterosexuals, the focus character involved in a same-sex romance barely hidden under the "brothers" label, and no gay references except for a few retro "mistaken for gay" excursions.

Was it the gayest show on tv, or the most homophobic?

See also: Cheers, Where Nobody Knows Your Name; and WKRP in Cincinnati


  1. I can’t believe I happened across this as a bit of sleeplessness finds..guess what on my TV?! “Frailer” ! You nailed it completely! Especially the observation about “Niles” and “Fraiser” as brothers! I never bought into the “Niles and Daphne” romance, as “Niles” was a bit over the top. To borrow from SNL, the “effeminate heterosexual”. Found nothing appealing about him.
    Thank you for another astute analysis!

  2. I've told you many times, liberals overrate the 90s because of Reagan. You're not in the Promised Land, you're getting lost in Sinai for forty years.

    But what if your working-class father is totally cool with you being gay? I don't know why the gay narrative is dominated by white guys, or why there's an assumption that upper-class guys aren't homophobic, especially in an era when...2/3 of people making over $50k (which is below the median) voted for Donald Corleone over there.

    1. NBC has always tried to have it both ways with gays compared to ABC.

  3. Both the late, great John Mahoney was gay publicly, and Edward Hibbert is definitely "out". Check his Facebook page.

  4. I've recently been rewatching, and I'm a lesbian myself, but while one or two bits made me cringe for slightly outdated views... it was remarkably progressive and fair for its time. Like that heartwarming scene at the end of "Fathers and Sons" where Marty suspects Hester might've had an affair with her lab assistant Leland, who openly says he loved her dearly, but Martin is reassured to find out Leland loved her so much because he could confide in her that he's gay. Martin's reaction isn't one of bigotry, it's of relief, and even affection... as he makes sure to tell Leland that Hester loved him very much too. I think the humour in Frasier being so worried people might think he's gay is Frasier freaking out about it (which given the time period is an understandable neurosis), not the show saying "lol gayness". And actually, while Gil Chesterton did frequently mention his wife (Deb, not Bev, and first mentioned in the fifth season), the stories never seem particularly convincing, and in the last season Gil is seen sneaking into a gay club. The comedy there is that he's adamantly trying to stay in the closet (especially in scenes like the sexual harassment seminar in "The Harassed", where Gil claims very unconvincingly to have a strong hetero libido and apologises for his supposedly eyeing up his female coworkers - all who give looks of confusion), yet is so terrible at doing so. I'm not saying Frasier's perfect, but it's really surprisingly progressive for its time.


No comments that use abusive or vulgar language or point out that a character is Not Wearing a Sign. DO NOT use the term "homosexual." Don't worry if a photo does not depict the person mentioned; beefcake is beefcake.

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