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Catch a falling star

You might have missed the news — then again, you might have missed the series — but ABC has pulled "Hank," Kelsey Grammer's latest attempt to have a post-"Frasier" career, from its schedule.

It's gone. They didn't even send it to the purgatory of Hiatus, that mythical land from which failed shows never seem to return. Nope, "Hank" has disappeared with such certainty that you expect to hear the "Law & Order" scene-changing notes playing in the background.

It's the highest-profile cancellation of the fairly young TV season, and it leaves Grammer in a rather awkward position. Is he forever to be Frasier Crane, the way that Henry Winkler is forever The Fonz and Tony Danza is forever a character named Tony in whatever series he does?

How does this happen to certain stars, and yet not at all to others?

Take Heather Locklear, who stepped back into her stilletos as Amanda on the reincarnated "Melrose Place," immediately boosting the ratings of the series remake. Even as she's gone from "Dynasty" to "T.J. Hooker" to "Melrose Place" to "Spin City," Locklear has maintained an audience.

And if she can do it, surely Grammer can find the right vehicle. As was pointed out in Entertainment Weekly, John Lithgow, an actor of similar bearing, has gone from the daffiness on "Third Rock From The Sun" to playing a serial killer on this season of "Dexter." Perhaps Grammer should follow that path, expand the range from pompous twit to something darker. Maybe not "Dexter" dark, but something with a bit more gravitas ... as the brothers Crane might say.

That doesn't always work. Ed O'Neill, forever seen with his hand on his belt in Al Bundy repose, tried a remake of "Dragnet," of all things, before finding a second chance at success this season with "Modern Family." Winkler has done guest spots in a slew of TV dramas (most memorably on "The Practice," as a dentist with a fondness for bugs); but his post-Fonz series — "Out Of Practice," "Monty" — hardly have produced happy days.

What it comes down to, though, might be that Grammer created a character so memorable in Frasier Crane that whatever he tries will be compared with his own legacy. "Back to You" and "Hank" weren't worthy of carrying the baton.

Fans of Grammer's should take solace in the career arc of another indelible TV creation, James T. Kirk. William Shatner was so linked to the role that he eventually took to parodying himself ... until the Emmy-winning plum role of Denny Crane came his way, earning Shatner newfound respect.

Frasier and Denny weren't related, despite both Cranes living for a while in Boston, but maybe there's a sliver of an omen in there for an actor as immensely watchable as Kelsey Grammer.

Mail Tribune news editor Robert Galvin writes about television for Tempo. He can be reached at rgalvin@mailtribune.com