According to this Warren Littlefield’s memoir “Top of the Rock: Inside the Rise and Fall of Must-See TV” The producers of “Cheers” were eager to cast John Lithgow as the highly intellectual Frasier. This is a “what if” that could have derailed the show if it had happened.
When the third season began in 1984, Lithgow was a sought-after character actor. Two years ago, he received an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor for his role as transgender former football player Roberta Muldoon in George Roy Hill’s “The World According to Garp.” He followed this with critically acclaimed performances in James L. Brooks’ “Terms of Endearment” and the white-knuckle portion of George Miller’s “Twilight Zone: The Movie.”
He was also 1.94 meters tall and looked every inch of him on screen.
Although Lithgow was extremely adept at making himself feel emotionally small, if not outright pathetic, on camera (especially in “Twilight Zone: The Movie”), he needed directors who knew how to shoot and cut to his size. In a multi-camera sitcom, he’d physically dominate as the tough, ramrod-straight Frasier in full takes with Danson’s Sam. While I’m sure an actor as talented as Lithgow would find a way to play a smaller role within this visual framework, the issue became moot because he didn’t want the part.