Hard to believe but it’s been 20 years since WINGS premiered on NBC. I was with that show for most of its run as a one-night-a-week creative consultant (“We need a Fay joke, hotshot!”). My partner David and I also wrote six or eight episodes (including the one where Frasier and Lilith come to Nantucket), and I got my first directing assignment on WINGS as well.
WINGS was created by Peter Casey, David Lee, and David Angell. They would later go to create FRASIER. For whatever reason WINGS never got the respect it deserved. How much so? The only acting Emmy nominations it received were for Kelsey Grammer and Tyne Daly. None of its actual cast members were recognized. And that was a terrific cast. Steven Weber, Tim Daly, Tony Shaloub, Thomas Hayden Church (who later got an Oscar nomination so I’m not crying for him), Crystal Bernard, Rebecca Schull, Amy Yasbeck, and the hilarious David Schramm.
WINGS was supposed to be a Fall show but the producers had a bitch of a time casting it. They wanted really special people, and faces you hadn’t seen on seventeen other shows. As I recall, the hardest one to cast was Helen. In any event, production of the pilot got pushed and the show premiered very late.
I remember the week of the pilot (beautifully directed by Jim Burrows) our big hurdle was explaining how Helen, who had grown up on Nantucket with the Hackett brothers, had a Texas accent.
Some great comedy writers were involved with WINGS. Dave Hackel who went on to create BECKER, Steve Levitan who later created JUST SHOOT ME and then reunited with another WINGS alum Christopher Lloyd to create MODERN FAMILY. Other WINGS writers went to on become show runners of MURPHY BROWN, THE CLOSER, and one now lives on a boat!
WINGS was shot on Stage 19 at Paramount, which is cavernous. They needed a big stage to accommodate an airport hanger, terminal, and any additional sets. Trivia side note: We shot the pilot of ALMOST PERFECT on that stage and since we had no budget for sets, for Nancy Travis’ house we just repainted Helen’s house set. It was either that or say she lived in a plane.
Ratingswise, WINGS did okay but was never a breakout hit. Ironically, once it went to cable (seen twelve times a day on USA), ratings for the first-run episodes on NBC went way up. More people were discovering the show.
For my money, WINGS holds up better than most sitcoms over the last 20 years. It is a very funny show. The stories are clever, the jokes are sharp, and the performances are top notch. WINGS doesn’t feel dated.
In the final episode all of the writers are used as extras. I’m in one scene sitting in the terminal. My agent says that’s not enough for a full reel but that’s just him being lazy.
I’m as proud to say I worked on WINGS as I am to say I worked on CHEERS and FRASIER. I even still wear the show jacket. Happy 20th!