The Long Goodbye

Sitcom finales register record ad rates
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Show's Over

Acclaim is good, outrageous revenue is better. NBC's Frasier
can rightfully claim the title of most-honored comedy in television history, with 31 Emmy Awards to its name. But ad rates, not Emmys, are TV's real currency.

And at $1.2 million per 30-second spot, the finale of Frasier
is overshadowed by last week's final hour of Friends, which came in at a phenomenal $2 million-plus per spot—and was sold out in January. Only the Super Bowl came in higher, at $2.6 million per spot.

Still, that's a heady number for a sitcom that has been in ratings decline for the past two years. In New York alone, WNBC is getting $240,000 per spot for the Frasier
finale, 20% of what the network is charging for national commercials.

"Advertisers really like to be in that show," says one TV executive. In today's fragmented TV universe, it's increasingly rare to find large audiences of upscale viewers in one place.

Many TV critics and older viewers are more sentimental about the end of Frasier
than about saying good-bye to Ross, Rachel, and Chandler. After all, Frasier Crane has been entertaining us for two decades, since he first walked into Cheers. Kelsey Grammer's Dr. Crane ties James Arness's Matt Dillon of Gunsmoke
as TV's longest-running character.

While NBC prepares to dedicate four prime time hours to Frasier's good-bye, including an hour-long Dateline
special and a Friday-night finale replay, syndication is paying tribute to Frasier
by airing four favorites.

The week will start with "The Ski Lodge," in which the show's cast run in and out of rooms in a series of hilarious romantic mishaps. (Daphne is hitting on a ski instructor, who is hitting on Niles, who is hitting on Daphne.) On Thursday night, stations will air the show's pilot, "The Good Son," which many Hollywood programming executives consider the best comedy pilot they've ever seen.

Selecting four episodes out of 264 was pretty tough, says David LaFountaine, Paramount's senior vice president of advertising and promotion. "We had semi-finalists and finalists. Cutting it down to this really small group was difficult. We wanted to go with the particularly funny episodes and not necessarily the most pathos-driven ones," he adds. "So we went for comedy on top of all other considerations."

Cast members Grammer, David Hyde Pierce, Peri Gilpin, and Jane Leeves taped 20-to 30-second introductions to each of the episodes. In the intro to "Roz and the Schnoz," Gilpin explains that the script included the repeated use of the word "schnauser," which had the cast laughing so hard the producers never could get a clean take.

With all the hype swirling around the end of NBC's two heavyweight sitcoms, it's easy to forget that two other long-running scripted shows also are signing off.

The WB's Angel
ends its run on Wednesday May 19, joining its predecessor, Buffy, the Vampire Slayer, in TV's graveyard—although both remain alive in syndication. And ABC's The Practice
is closing its doors on Sunday May 16 at 10 p.m. But fans have a spinoff to look forward to next season. The new show also will star James Spader, who is largely credited with extending The Practice's life for one more year.

In addition, two of TV's most popular reality shows are expected to close out their latest go-rounds with large turnouts. CBS's Survivor: All-Stars
ended on Sunday May 9 with a final episode and a one-hour live reunion show. Survivor: Amazon
finished up last year during May sweeps, and its finale averaged 22.3 million viewers.

But one of the biggest broadcast events of the year is still to come: the two-hour finale of Fox's American Idol
on Wednesday May 26. Last year's season ender got a 16.8/37 share. Think of it not as a farewell to old friends, but as a lucrative form of idol worship.

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