''Friends''' Central Perk isn't the only NBC sitcom coffee shop shutting its doors forever in May. On the opposite coast, in Seattle's Café Nervosa, the brothers Crane will sip their last lattes as well. In a long-expected announcement, NBC announced Monday that ''Frasier'' would end its 11-year-run at the end of this season.
Unlike ''Friends,'' which remains a ratings winner in its 10th season, and whose finale is approaching on waves of hype, ''Frasier'' will depart without much surprise or fanfare. Once a Nielsen and Emmy champion (it won five straight Best Comedy trophies from 1994 to '98), ''Frasier'' has seen its ratings drop 30 percent this year, to an average of 11.1 million viewers each Tuesday. Although star Kelsey Grammer had suggested earlier this fall that he was interested in keeping the show going for a 12th year, NBC spokeswoman Rebecca Marks said Monday: ''The finances would not have worked for another season.'' NBC pays a licensing fee of $5.2 million per episode, nearly $2 million of which goes into Grammer's pocket; until CBS gave ''Everybody Loves Raymond'''s Ray Romano a raise last year, Grammer was the highest paid performer on TV.
Still, Grammer will get to reach two milestones this year. He'll get to see ''Frasier'' match the longevity of ''Cheers,'' which also ran 11 years (Grammer joined that show's cast in its third season). And he'll tie the record, held by James Arness (who spent 20 years playing Marshal Matt Dillon on ''Gunsmoke''), for most consecutive years playing the same character in primetime. As for ''Frasier'''s finale, Marks would only say, ''It will end on a high note.''