Bidding Frasier Farewell

NBC's long-running shrink sitcom, Frasier, is set to terminate therapy next year when it wraps up its 11th season, one of its stars said yesterday.

David Hyde Pierce, who plays the title character's snooty younger brother, Niles Crane, said the cast had been told they would finish out 2004 -- and that's it.

When the show ends, high-strung psychiatrist Frasier Crane (Kelsey Grammer) will have tied Marshal Matt Dillon (James Arness) from "Gunsmoke" as the longest-running character in television history.

Grammer began in the role in the first episode of the 1984-85 season on the beloved sitcom Cheers.

Frasier has aired since September 1994.

"I think the indications are that it's going to end after this coming season," Pierce told Reuters of the show's demise. "That's sort of what we've been told. We shoot one more season, and that would be it. We all hate to see it go. We all love it.

"We want it to go out classy," he said.

Frasier has seen its ratings slide this season but continues to be one of the most celebrated sitcoms ever.

Over the years, it's won 31 Emmy awards out of 96 nominations. Of those, Pierce won three Emmys for best supporting actor in a comedy. Grammer has also won three times for best lead actor in a comedy.

NBC has said no decisions have been made about the show beyond next season, but NBC's three-year Frasier license agreement with the show's producer, Paramount Network Television, a unit of Viacom Inc., is due to expire in May 2004.

"I recognize the power of being the same character on television for a long time, and I recognize that I can't just leap into something completely different and expect people to buy it," said Pierce, who is interested in returning to New York theater.

"I have to make that transition gradually, though the most frequent suggestion from friends is I should really play a psychotic serial killer."