Monday, September 25, 2006

The Ted Danson School of Star Etiquette


Despite my desire to kill off characters when stars misbehave, my heart goes out to actors. Writers are used to rejection. But for actors, throw in “I don’t like his nose,” “Great actress but no breasts,” and the old network standby: “Ugh, America can’t look at her.” I sure couldn’t do it. Is it any wonder that sometimes the very few who survive this humiliation and make it become raging assholes? The people who do believe in them and hire them wind up paying for all those who didn’t. It’s payback time, except it’s often misplaced. (Ian Gurvitz, in his book HELLO, THE AGENT LIED refers to actors as "children in adult clothes". )

My partner and I have worked numerous projects with “stars” and I’ve encountered a few more on my own in my directing life. I’m a firm believer that money and power just make you more of what you are. Last week I alluded to Mary Tyler Moore (when you see her throw her hat in the air, it’s really my liver) but I’ve been more than blessed by being able to work with Ted Danson, Alan Alda, Nancy Travis, Michael Douglas, Kelsey Grammer, David Hyde Pierce, Tom Hanks, John Candy, and many others.

Having experienced the good and bad, David and I now have a little speech we give “stars” before we go into business with them. We say how thrilled we are to be working with them, how we’ll kill ourselves to make the best possible show, something we can all be proud of…”but if you turn into a monster we’re in Hawaii.” And it’s not an idle threat. We once walked away from a pilot the minute it wrapped. Life IS too short.

David and I have always contended all sitcom leads should be required to attend the “Ted Danson school of how to conduct yourself as a TV star”. There is a certain responsibility that goes along with being the star. He sets the tone for the whole stage. Ted is forever gracious, professional, on time, supportive, unselfish, makes everyone from guest stars to visitors feel completely welcome. His work ethic is impeccable. And as a result everyone else takes their cue from him.

What this creates is a happy set and that’s an intangible that always makes it to the screen – an infectious quality, an energy that gives the show just that extra little sparkle. And in today’s marketplace that spark, that twinkle could be the difference.

Steven Bochco once said, “the first year the actors work for you, the second year you work together, and the third you work for them.”

Tuesday night Ted Danson’s new series, HELP ME HELP YOU premieres on ABC. I hope it’s the hit of the season. There’s no more deserving actor – and that’s after having two huge hits already.

Best of luck, Teddy!

23 comments:

Jess said...

you know TV.

How come something like "The Class" is on it?


...it's a cliche pie served on the clichest cliche that was ever served clichedly.

The Minstrel Boy said...

ted danson sounds like one of a short list of music people that i feel that way about. there are a couple of them that could give me a blank piece of paper, call it a contract, and i'd sign, in a heartbeat. i will watch his pilot on your recommendation, hoping it is good.

vance said...

hmm... we were just discussing a type of class that Ted Danson should apparently give to enroll some people here at our office. When's the next class session? Nice to hear that there are some grounded actors still left out there.

Anonymous said...

Surprising.
Danson has seemed like kind of an asshole to me.

I suppose that's just good acting.

Mike Barer said...

Great Post! I know that some of our best loved actors are hated by their staff or may generally be not good people.
If you ever go the Puget Sound Business Journal online--there is an article on Tom Skerrit who lives here in the Seattle area. He seems like a level headed person.

John said...

Jack Lemmon (RIP) and Kevin Spacey appear to be 2 other talents that haven't let it go to their heads. Maybe that's why the 2 of them got along so wonderfully.

JYC said...

Always nice to hear about celebrities with great personalities. I find it ironic though, since he graduated from my alma mater, and most students there are anything but gracious, supportive, and unselfish.

max said...

Bravo.

When the Cheers DVD sets started, the first two or three sets had interviews with the stars. I always hoped that Ted Danson was as good a guy as he seemed, especially in talking about Coach. Good to read that he's the real thing.

Hollywood blond said...

Sidney Poitier. Class, respect and decency to all. Without exception. A little mind boggling...

Anonymous said...

Ted Danson = sweetheart.

Actor demon-spawn from hell = a certain NYC based thespian with a bendy back, who behaves as if he is a more of a know-it-all than his detective character.

Why they haven't shot him with a trank dart and shipped him off to the deepest darkest rainforest is a human mystery.

Lee Goldberg said...

Dick Van Dyke was the same way on DIAGNOSIS MURDER. There have been times I've wanted to send other stars I've worked with over to see him for lessons on how to be professional.

Markus Goode said...

Same Danson that was with Whoopi right? Just want to make sure. TWO hits? are we redefining the term now to include shows that just run for a few seasons?

sorry, but in the league with the Golden Age he aint still, and he has had alot of chances. Meanwhile "Frasier" easily bested him in TV; Woody Harrelsen bested him in movies... while "Sam" / Danson had so many chances offered, for who knows what proof, and hardly rose to anything. Failed in cinema. Failed in TV movies, and finally, hardly made much of the many sitcoms now he has tried to star in. He is an ensemble actor, not a star, that lives off of Cheers status. The other ensemble actors - Frasier, Harrelsen, and in fact the others on the bar as well - all much more quickly found their niche and went with it to good degree. I think THAT fact may say something about Danson as well.

Lance Mannion said...

markus,

When was the last time you watched an episode of Cheers? Danson's work on that was beautiful. And it was mostly done in small gestures and eye contact. I never watched Becker, it was just on at a bad time for me, but a hit is different from a classic, and since most sitcoms last little more than one season, I'd say Becker counts as a real hit.

As for his post-Cheers career not being as impressive as you think it ought to have been---Dick Van Dyke's movie career and TV follow ups never measured up to his great show, Alan Alda's done some terrific work---and by the way, my favorite episode of West Wing ever was the post-Sorkin that centered on Alda's character, Arnie Vinick trying to come to terms with the (he thinks) end of his political career---but he'll never top Hawkeye.

If Danson never does another classic comedy, that takes away nothing from his work on Cheers.

One thing though about Kelsey Grammar. Not to take anything away from him, but he was building on an already popular character and coming right off of Cheers. With Becker, Danson was attempting to start again from scratch, to get as far away from Sam as he could. Tough row to hoe.

Also, make sure you see his work in The Onion Field and Body Heat before you make your final judgment of him as an actor.

markus goode said...

lance

i just mention this on Danson as most everyone on the bar at Cheers (excepting maybe shelly long) found their level afterwards. Irregardless from cartoon voiceovers, second /third bananas or hollywood stars, etc. And Frasier is a good example of Grammar knowing well enough to accept to go further with his character and he ran with it.

Danson is given alot of credit, but outside of Cheers, where he generated the credit, I just dont get why he is considered a succesful long-term actor or TV-player. It just seems that he or his creative team didnt manage to capture what is it about Danson that gets people to watch. The misses are often enough to make one wonder whats all the fuss about him. Which is a mistake because I think he has lots of talent. It didnt translate while at the same time tv narrowed down the sitcom-possibilities.

He did indeed have inspired moments in roles, in OTHER peoples films. But thats not the same as his status somehow implied after Cheers. And I guess he was the one who had the lions share of offers after Cheers.

It feels like there was an ongoing misreading of what are his strengths (or what did the public want to see him AS) and no one could place him in a format where he let loose and had time to invent another character than essentially Sam from Cheers.

But yeah, I agree, when he's good, he's really very good. More than that, there is something going on within his expression. But its in a supporting role discovered here, a made-for-tv movie there, thats when he reveals other dimensions. And one wonders - hey, what happened to him? Which.. is odd considering Cheers was very good.

Anonymous said...

"Irregardless" Marcus? Meaning "not without regard"?

Ralph Hitchens said...

I've got one data point to support this post. About three years ago I was in line at a Starbucks at LAX, an ungodly hour of the AM, & Ted Danson got in line behind me and !!!initiated a conversation!!! something about how many of us desperately need our coffee in the morning. I asked, "Are you who I think you are?" and he replied "I used to be." We had a short, pleasant conversation during which he did a fantastic job of impersonating an average business traveller. Too bad he never hit the big time like a couple of other Cheers alumni, and one clue might be his extremely, shall we say, "reserved" demeanor on the Colbert show the other night. But he's every inch a gentleman and I wish him success.

markus goode said...

We agree - a gentleman, a mite reserved, with a good wit ("I used to be") hardly has a good chance for success on television - but should...irregardless!

Scott E. Amundson said...

It's good to read someone singing the praises of another. That guy always seemed like such a jerk on BECKER.

Sorry to hear THE CLASS is no good. It sounded like an enjoyable enough premise. At least, I'm starting to get into THE OFFICE. That's fairly wacky situation comedy. Sure, it's one camera, but it's enjoyable enough.

Anonymous said...

Funny thing about Cheers is that both Sam and Woody (and Coach before) were characterised as somewhat intellectually challenged, which made them likeable. Even Frasier was a highly educated buffoon. When these actors do comedy as supposedly intelligent people, they don't seem so warm and fuzzy. It must be in the writing.

In Bill Clark's 'NYPD True' (he was police adviser to the series) he talks about the 'Caruso Hour' before every shoot. I wonder why they called it that?

vut232baq said...

RE: TALENT OF TED DANSON

Not sure of the established date for this site. today is 4/07;

KUDO'S TO TED DANSON
-- he's not properly recognized that i can see. Ted Danson is humanly drawing, compelling to explain awkwardness, and BELIEVEABLE. THIS GUY IS GOOD;

QUIT DIPPING HIM IN BIRDIE NEST 'POOPIE' BEFORE YOU GIVE HIM A ROLE. FOR EXAMPLE:

My primary objective HERE is to pose Ted Danson WITH Julie Louis=Dryfus on '...Christine..." the men on [THE CRHISTINE] show have shown all the weakness and ambivalence one might expect a contempo sitcom. 'spoon-feeding' your audience is VERY non-compelling. so I am familiar with the regular cast; TED DANSON COULD EASILY FILL THE OTHER MAN ON THE SIDE, ROMANCE TENSION SO TOTALLY MISSING. BUT I AM SPEAKING ON BEHALF OF TD, AS JLD ALREADY GOT ME WITH her "sponge worthiness", "the sideler" (sp)
and her fake orgasism in the restaurant to show Jerry how it's FAKED...OK JLD IS SOOOO BELIEVABLE.
NOW INTRODUCE ANOTHER BELIEVABLE into CHRISTINE==she, her female friend and family are the only believable ones.

introduce into CHRISTINE, or with another VERY TALENTED FEMALE: ie Deborah messinger, who is 'GRACE' FROM 'WILL AND GRACE'

TED DANSON would be a professionally authoritative role with life long insecurities for which he ABLY COMPENSATES to maintain his stature. Give him a conscious awareness of his own "wooooopsies"--he covers professionally---just like in real life.

SUMMARY:
i want to see Christine succeed, but have yet to watch a full episode where the male counter points dont' either 1)drive her into a frenetic mother=fix it role, OR show men reduce my fave JLD into a highschool minded crush.

YOU CAN CHANGE THIS BY ASSERTING TD INTO A 'CLAY=FOOTED' HUMAN OF ACADEMIC AND CULTURAL ACCOMPLISHMENT. JLD and TD do this so well. ANYWAY--

Wanted to comment Ted Danson IS hilariously on "Becker" re-runs. i so much looked forward to "...Help Me Help You"

I NEVER SAW A SINGLE EPISODE---which is annoying.

i loved cheers, because of balanced variety.

i loved becker, because of balance variety.

TED DANSON CAN PULL OFF intellectual frustration in a very mixed world, UNACTUALIZED, INTIMIDATED INTELLECT such as in Cheers.

HE COULD BE ROMANTIC WITH THE PROPER CASTING. I HOPE SOMEBODY READS THIS...I did the films for PSA's, ==BOTH SERIOUS AND humorous.
THE INTENT WAS EVERY WATCHER
T H I N K S thanks, love, maureenwheat@aol.comRE

vut232baq said...

SO KEN, WHERE YOU NOTIFIED OF WHAT MAY BE A LATENT POST, COMPARED WITH THE PRECEDING POSTS??? MAUREENWHEAT@AOL.COM
VUT232BAQ SCREEN NAME.

Anonymous said...

IMHO, Becker is the best TV sitcom since the 80's Newhart show signed off. The episodes go by so fast I find myself not wanting them to end, they're so funny. Really fast paced but with equal parts true character development, kind of Phil Silvers Show Bilko pacing with the quality of an MTM episode. If that Hackel guy wrote or directed writing of most of it he's amazing. I spent an evening scouring Bit Torrent to find a couple episodes of Help Me Help You...hoping for some of the Becker spark.... but alas I think the writing just wasn't up to par. It's like the Dick Van Dyke show... there isn't a SINGLE dud episode in the entire series, amazing feat - well maybe the final DVD episode or two throwaways were :) ....

pmoshay at gmail dot com

Leo said...

I've noticed lately that whenever Ted Danson's name gets mentioned, someone always starts making fun of him. Like if you look at comments on videos on youtube, not on cheers episodes, but on interviews and things like that, everyone always makes random comments about him. I never understood what some people have against Ted Danson. And reading this article only makes me a bigger fan of him than i already was. So i was just wondering what everyone has against him. Just thought i'd see if anyone else saw that too or has anything to say.