The Acting Role That Stopped an Actor Changing his Name

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Frasier is a show that has accomplished an ever rarer feat in the world of television in that it’s a spin-off that arguably more successful that the show that led to its genesis. Something that can be, in part, attributed to the acting talent of one David Hyde Pierce, a breakout star of the show who nonetheless felt a significant amount of ill will towards it initially due to it stopping him from changing his name.

An already well-accomplished actor by the time Frasier was entering production, Pierce was reportedly cast by complete fluke when a producer on the show stumbled across his acting headshot mistook it for one belonging to a younger Kelsey Grammer.

In fact, producers we so blown away by the physical similarities between the two that they decided to directly contradict the established canon of Cheers in which the character of Frasier had explicitly stated he was an only child to cast Pierce. Which alone is pretty funny but this actually ended up happening twice during the casting process since Frasier had also told people that his dad was dead in another episode. Something producers also chose to ignore to secure their dream Alpha Crane casting of John Mahoney deciding to ignore the fact Mahoney had already guest starred on Cheers already because ah fuck it, what kind of a loser-ass, nitpicky weirdo is gonna notice and comment on a detail like that?

Anyway, character necromancy aside, the creators hastily developed the character of Niles Crane for Pierce who they expected to be an ancillary character who’d occasionally drop by and offer a pithy remark before leaving. However there was one tiny, niggling issue that prevented this. David Hyde Pierce was really fucking funny.

In particular, they noticed that Pierce had a remarkable affinity for physical comedy and almost unerringly accurate comedic timing. Perhaps the best example of this being a 4 minute long, entirely silent scene which had audiences in such uncontrollable fits of hysterics that a producer, through poorly held back tears, is said to have quipped –

“David just won another Emmy.”

The moment it finished.

While the popularity of Niles was no doubt a boon to Pierce’s career, with it netting him 11 consecutive Emmy nominations (one for every year the show was on the air), it did cause issues with his image. If you can believe it.

Specifically Pierce would later note that prior to being cast he’d been pestering the Screen Actor’s Guild to change his stage name from David Hyde Pierce to simply, David Pierce (his birth name).

Why? Well, for anyone unfamiliar with SAG, actors have to register under a unique name to avoid confusion with another person in the union (similar rules also exist for the British equivalent, Equity if you’re curious about that sort of thing) and when Pierce initially joined SAG there was already someone with his name. As such, he decided to adopt his father’s name, Hyde, as a middle name to set him apart. The problem with this was, in Pierce’s own words, the name made him sound like a bit of a dick.

However, after the success of Frasier Pierce was heavily advised against this change as his double barrelled surname only helped to make the character of Niles seem that much snobbish and self-important. A fact the actor would eventually come to jokingly resent, wryly noting that the show had cost him any chance of ever escaping any association with Roast Master Niles.