NBC's "Frasier" will have a heart-stopping story for the November sweeps.
The New York Daily News has learned that Frasier's persnickety brother Niles, played by David Hyde Pierce, will undergo bypass surgery in a multi-episode arc that begins Nov. 12.
Niles learns of his heart problem after taking an electrocardiogram test in the first episode. The following week he undergoes surgery.
The emotional turn in the series, in its 10th season, apparently rocked the "Frasier" cast members. Tears were shed when the actors had their first reading of the script, according to sources.
Producers and executives at the network have been trying to keep the upcoming plot under wraps, and an NBC spokeswoman would not confirm the story, which coincides with the November sweeps month. Networks trot out their most promotable episodes during the month because ratings are used by local stations to set ad rates.
The Emmy-winning "Frasier" could use a dramatic jolt to help jump-start its ratings this season.
The show has averaged 14.6 million viewers in its 8 p.m. Tuesday slot, down 11 percent from last season, according to Nielsen Media Research. It's off even more among viewers ages 18 to 49, the audience most sought-after by advertisers.
"Frasier's" time period has become one of the most competitive in prime time, with ABC's "Life With Bonnie," Fox's "24," the WB's "Smallville" and CBS' "The Guardian" all drawing strong ratings.
But after 10 years on the air, "Frasier" may be running out of steam. Stacey Lynn Koerner, of the ad-buying firm Initiative Media, thinks it may be a good time for the show's producers and writers to take some creative risks like the bypass story.
"It's pretty heavy in terms of what they tackled before," Koerner said. "But they can do it better than anyone else out there."