Frasier and Scrubs: The Fall and Decline of the Multi-Camera and the Rise of the Single-Camera

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      Over the next few months I will be simultaneously watching two shows from their first episode to  their last: Scrubs and Frasier. These two shows are my favorite television comedies of all time and in many ways to me, represent the end of one era and the beginning of another. I’ll be exploring this transition and it’s motivators and just what made these 2 shows the flagships of their time. Don’t agree with me that these 2 shows are significant? Be sure to follow along with the series to see my reasoning and leave a comment down below telling me how wrong I am.

Source: NBC

Source: NBC

Frasier, for those who don’t know, was a spin-off of the 80’s sitcom ‘Cheers.’ The show follows the life of psychiatrist Frasier Crane (Kelsey Grammer) after his return from Boston to his hometown Seattle in pursuit of a fresh start. Frasier is of minor fame for his radio show, in which he takes calls from the public and deals with psychiatric issues on air.  In addition to Frasier, the show also starred John Mahoney as Martin Crane, Frasier’s retired, police officer father who was injured in the line of duty; David Hyde Pierce as Niles Crane, Frasier’s psychiatrist brother; Jane Leeves as a Daphne home healthcare worker living with Frasier and Martin as Martin’s physical therapist, and Peri Gilpin as the Roz, the producer of Frasier’s radio show.

It premiered in September 1993, only a few months after ‘Cheers’ ended, and ran until 2004, after 264 episodes and 11 seasons. Frasier thrived during NBC’s dominant 1990’s era along side ‘Friends’ and ‘Seinfeld’ and, at last to me, was the best of the three.  By the end of it’s tenure Frasier was awarded 37 Emmy’s – more than any other TV show in history.

To me, what made Frasier so fun and funny was the ability to make Frasier both the smartest and dumbest man in the room at the same time.  As a well renowned psychiatrist, one would expect him to have it all together and live a fairly successful life, but this was ultimately the conflict that made the show great.  While successful at work, and generally successful with his family life, Frasier spends all eleven seasons of the show trying to find (and failing miserably quite often) love; whether because of bad circumstances or because of his own mistakes.

I originally started watching Frasier in either seasons four or five by convincing my father to let me stay up late to watch it.  I, although only 11 or 12, was hooked very quickly and watched the show until it ended.  Since then I have watched the whole series once through but otherwise have only watched intermittent episodes mostly focused on the middle seasons, so this re-watch will doubtlessly be nostalgic and highly enjoyable.

 

Source: Touchstone Television/Chris Haston/NBC

Source: Touchstone Television/Chris Haston/NBC

The single camera series ‘Scrubs’ followed doctors John Dorian or “JD”, Chris Turk, and Elliot Reid; played respectively by Zach Braff, Donald Faison, and Sarah Chalke, who start the show as new interns in a teaching hospital. The rest of the cast is rounded out by  attending doctor Perry Cox, played by John C. McGinley, nurse Carla Espinosa, played by Judy Reyes, Chief of Medicine Bob Kelso, played by Ken Jenkins, and The Janitor played by Neil Flynn.

It rode onto NBC in 2001 at the tail end of the runs of Frasier and Friends as a new breed of comedy filmed as a single-camera show.  It was never the highest rated show on TV and lasted seven years on NBC before a year on ABC, followed by a continuation as a quasi spin-off with only half of the original cast present, bringing it to a total of 182 episodes.

Instead of the laugh track used comprehensively by sitcoms, Scrubs used music cues to cut between scenes and entire songs to cement the emotions of the scene and the episode.  Scrubs was simultaneously one of the first shows to revive the single camera format in the early 2000’s and one of the shows, if not the first show to use music heavily, often using three or more songs in an episode.  Since then many musicians have made their living getting music into TV shows and many shows have thrived only from their use of music.  Scrubs was never as popular as Frasier nor as award winning, although ironically, one of it’s few Emmy’s came from it’s multi-camera homage episode, My Life in Four Cameras.

The thing that I always loved about Scrubs, besides the absurdist and surreal comedy often shown through fantasy sequences, was the heart.  Scrubs was narrated through the eyes of JD who provided the emotional backbone to the show. It featured a wonderful group of background characters, some of whom were promoted to semi-regular characters as the show progressed.  While the show strived to be medically accurate, the medical setting was only secondary to the lives of the characters.  However, the medical setting was able to provide the show with serious drama that felt genuine and transformed some episodes into true 20 minute dramas with little to no comedy. This helped to embolden the show and make it feel real, despite all of the surrealism.

I started watching Scrubs randomly when episode four aired, and watched it until it went off the air nine years later.  In total I have likely watched the show fifteen times in full and know it better than almost any other media.

As I write about these two shows side by side in future posts, I will sometimes write about them independently and sometimes together, as compare and contrast pieces.  I want to find out even more about what makes these shows work, and see in the two different formats what works and what often does not.  Does the presence of an audience ultimately help or hurt Frasier?  Does the ability to be more artistic and stylized result in Scrubs getting bogged down, or does it compliment the story?  Beyond the technical questions I’ll explore my connection to these shows and how much of it I truly love or how much of it I love only because of the formative effect that it had on me.  These and other questions will be explored as the shows and the formats of single cam and multi cam shows are watched side by side.

 

 

About Author

Brian King’s first memory of serially watching a TV show was convincing his father to let him stay up “late” to watch Frasier and remembers discovering the Star Wars trilogy on a poorly taped VHS copy. From there he grew up reading science fiction and fantasy eventually moving deep into the now removed Star Wars expanded universe and into the wonder that were Douglas Adams. Had he the patience he would spend his time writing novels, but has had no success making it past a single page, and he instead spends most of his time going to concerts. His all time favorite TV shows are Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, Scrubs, Frasier, MASH, Doctor Who, How I Met Your Mother, and Justified.

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