Dan Snierson
September 29, 2000 AT 04:00 AM EDT

For many moons, we witnessed their delicate mating dance. The subtle flirting. The increasing innuendo. The bursting-at-the-seams sexual tension. Then, in last season’s blowout finale of Frasier, Niles (David Hyde Pierce) and Daphne (Jane Leeves) dumped their respective romances at the altar and Winnebago’d off into the sunset, leaving behind jilted lovers and titillated viewers. So today, as we enter the eighth — eighth! — season of NBC’s signature highbrow comedy, we have but one simple question …


”We’re finally going to see the other side of this seven-year-long dream,” says Frasier exec producer Dan O’Shannon carefully. C’mon, guys, don’t be such fussbudgets. Are these two looking more like a dream or a nightmare? ”All is not going to be a bed of roses,” hints exec producer/creator David Angell. ”Our challenge is to take this couple to a new level, but still find roadblocks that are going to prevent them from living happily ever after. There’s going to be some legal difficulties from the hurt parties.”

Ah, now that’s what we like to see — more sleeplessness in Seattle. And, luckily for us, these lovesick birds won’t be the only ones in turmoil this season. Niles’ older sibling — you remember him, right? — returns to the center of the sophisticate circus in the throes of self-analysis. The Niles-Daphne fallout ”gives rise to Frasier’s uneasiness in his own life,” says series star/executive producer Kelsey Grammer. ”That’s where the show is going.” To boot, he acquires a butler, and in a Sliding Doors homage, he alters one weensy detail before a romantic evening — and gets two drastically different results. Guest stars Jean Smart and Bebe Neuwirth may confound Dr. Crane again this season, and he even sinks so low as to pretend to consider putting his father in a retirement home just to meet an attractive employee. ”Frasier continues his search for the woman he can settle down with, but he’ll struggle,” says Angell, ”because that’s what’s funny.”

Not so humorous was the five-time best-comedy Emmy winner’s move to Tuesday, which cleared prime space for the newest statuette holder, Will & Grace. ”I did everything I could to stay on [Thursday], but obviously it wasn’t enough,” sighs Grammer. ”But, hey, you play the hand you’re dealt, and we will play this one very well.” In that case, we’re willing to play along for another season. Just no ”Niles and Daphne: The Baby Episode” anytime soon, please.

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