Had a question about Jay Thomas who played Eddie LeBec on CHEERS (okay, I’ve had it for awhile but am just now getting to it.) I first met Jay when he was a disc jockey on 99X in New York back in the 70’s. I occasionally would fly in and do fill-in shows. Even spent some time at his loft, which I remember being ridiculously expensive for what amounted to a walk-in closet with the world’s highest ceiling. No room and murder to heat. He eventually moved out to LA and was a very successful morning man on Power 106.
His first big acting break came on MORK & MINDY. He became a regular towards the end of that series’ run.
Quick aside: Years later Pam Dawber got her own sitcom, MY SISTER SAM and the joke was that CBS executives watched an episode of Robin Williams & Pam on MORK & MINDY and said, “Wow!! We gotta get the girl!”
David Isaacs and I wrote the two-parter on CHEERS that introduced the character of Eddie LeBec. Actually, it started as just a single episode but as the story expanded it became clear we needed more time to tell it.
We read a number of people for the role and I thought of Jay. Beyond that there was no favoritism. The other producers were mostly unfamiliar with his work. He came in and auditioned like everyone else and won the role.
He was terrific in the episodes, he and Rhea made a very cute couple and so he was brought back periodically as her boyfriend. It also gave us a story arc for Carla. Finally we decided to marry them.
A few episodes of recurring bliss and then one day on Jay’s radio show a caller asked him what it was like to be on CHEERS? He said something to the effect of “It’s brutal. I have to kiss Rhea Perlman.” Well, guess who happened to be listening.
Jay Thomas was never seen on CHEERS again. To explain his departure we decided to just kill him, which led to one of my favorite episodes that David and I wrote, “Death Takes a Holiday on Ice”. First off, we needed a funny demise. Eddie, by then, was working as a penguin in an ice show so we arrived at a Zamboni machine accident. (We were worried that we wouldn’t be able to use the name Zamboni but the company loved it.)
Then we needed (a) some comic spin for the story, and (b) something to discredit Eddie so the audience would ultimately be glad he was out of Carla’s life. The answer was at the funeral Carla learned that he was a polygamist, and had a second wife (who looked just like Carla). It was BIG LOVE going for big laughs. The episode earned us an Emmy nomination (and Emmy loss…I wonder if Jay Thomas was on the blue ribbon committee???)
One final note: We used an actor in one scene to bring in some news. He was on screen for maybe two minutes. As far as we know it was his first job. It was Thomas Hayden Church. Former CHEERS producers Casey, Lee, & Angell were impressed and cast him in the new series they were developing – WINGS. He since went on to snag an Oscar nomination for SIDEWAYS and is one of the villains in next year’s SPIDERMAN 3. I’m sure if he had won an Oscar, David and I would be the first two people he thanked. In fact, he should have run on stage and thanked us whether he won or not. Ingrate!!
Jay Thomas went on to star in LOVE AND WAR with the always hilarious Susan Dey and appeared in many TV episodes and movies. He’s now back on the radio, where hopefully he’s smart enough to not take anymore calls.