Friday, June 03, 2011

Why did Terry Ferrell leave BECKER?

Hi from Seattle where I'm broadcasting for the Mariners on 710 ESPN radio, MLB.COM, and Sirius/XM. I have a guest answerer for Friday Question Day. Dave Hackel, the creator and showrunner of BECKER graciously agreed to answer the following question and clear up any rumors. Thanks, Dave. What's your question?

Johnny Walker asks:

What happened with Terry Farrell on Becker?

One story I've heard is that the powers that be reneged on their contract with the supporting cast, refusing to give them a pay raise at the end of Season 3, like they had originally agreed. Farrell rallied the other cast (not including Ted Danson) to fight for their agreed pay rise by not showing up for work.

The powers that be agreed to honour their contract with the cast, but were so turned off by the way she handled things that they decided not to renew her contract after Season 4.

If this is true, then it makes you wonder where the truth lies: Was she completely unreasonable, to the point where her behaviour essentially ended up black-balling herself? Or is Hollywood a greedy place that expects people to not complain when they're screwed over?

Every so often speculation about Terry Farrell’s departure from “Becker” comes up and I’m very happy that Ken gave me the opportunity to address it here on his blog. For the record -- the decision to replace Terry had absolutely nothing to do with contract negotiations. That situation had long been resolved by that time. Terry was, and is, a lovely person and a talented actress and having her leave the show was a creative decision, not a punitive one. Here’s how it came about.

At the end of the fourth season we’d done a cliffhanger episode where Terry’s character, Reggie, was at a crossroads in her life. She’d left the diner and nobody knew where she’d gone. The normal way to handle that would have been to have her come back at the beginning of the next season, solve her problem and move forward as before. However, we were under pressure from the network to find ways to inject new life into the series — not an unusual request for a series going into it’s fifth season. So when trying to figure out exactly how to resolve Reggie’s dilemma, it occurred to me that handling it the “normal” way was certainly one option, but having her do the unexpected — certainly in series television — was another choice. What if she didn’t come back at all? What if we could surprise our audience, as well as the other characters on the show? We’d already introduced Nancy Travis’ character, Chris, and it seemed like following that relationship might be just the thing to shake things up a bit.

So I ran that option by both Paramount and CBS and everyone thought it would provide the shot in the arm that we all felt the series could use. An easy decision? Not on any level. In fact, it was one of the toughest decisions of my career. And while the wisdom of that choice is occasionally a topic of debate, giving Dr. Becker a new relationship did give the writers and actors a new dynamic to explore.

Thanks for your interest.

57 comments:

Dan j said...

No offense to Travis but the show just never felt right again without Farrell.

Mac said...

She was terrific on Becker. Would love to see her get back to comedy some day.

John said...

Agreed that there was a little more "toughness" to Farrell that made her feel like a better sparring partner for Danson's character. If you have a miserable SOB of a personality as the focus of your show, you need a tough co-star to hit back at the abrasiveness equally or better, or else the star character comes across too much as a bully.

And speaking of bullies ... Ken, based on your kerfuffle with Roseanne this week, what's the biggest battle you've had with an actor/actress on getting them to do some bit/line in a show where you've won the battle and then been vindicated in the final results? (feel free to avoid directly naming names if necessary -- no point in turning the blog into a sitcom version of the bad side of stainedapron.com).

Miserable Dreamer said...

Gotta agree with the earlier commentors - the show lost something when Farrell left, whatever the reason.

Sebastian said...

Yeah but you could say the same about Bob. And without him leaving we wouldn't have had Jorge Garcia and that guy is a gift if you ask me.

People just don't like change.

By the way who's this Dr. Nielsen anyway?

Markus said...

If this really is the way it went, it probably was among the dumbest possible decisions ever made in showbiz. Terry Farrell was great on the show, and her character was one of the irreplaceable cornerstones of the whole construct that made the entire premise as interesting as it was. It was by no means the same show anymore once she was gone, and while it still was funny, that point marked the beginning of the decline. If "adding a new dynamic" was desired, a better alternative would have been to make Nancy Travis a regular, and then let Becker be caught between his unadmitted love interests and friendships plus having Reggie and Chris feud for his attention on the one hand, while being mutual friends themselves and together opposing Becker as a solid front at other times. But simply replacing one of the most popular characters on the show with one that by definition never can be as popular was just dumb.

Tom Quigley said...

Dave, had the good fortune to meet you at a filming of WINGS when you were working there as an assistant producer and coordinating incoming spec script submissions, of which I had one. We had the chance to talk briefly after filming finished and I was always grateful you took the time to speak with me.

When BECKER debuted a few years later and I discovered it was your show, I couldn't wait to watch it and see how the series developed. I still try to catch an episode whenever I can when it shows up in syndication.

Thanks for the laughs, and again, thanks for making the time for me that night!

Gary said...

I'll jump on the bandwagon, too: Terry was great, she was an integral part of the show. No offense to Nancy T., but her character didn't add anything to the mix. How unimpressive? I can't even recall her character's name. I won't say that dumping Terry was the dumbest move that Hackel made, but it certainly was a bullshit decision.

BigTed said...

I'm used to the fact that a) characters on workplace sitcoms tend to be losers, because it's funnier that way; and b) actors on TV shows tend to be really good-looking, for obvious reasons. But the idea that a woman as gorgeous and intelligent as Terry Farrell would be forced to spend her days toiling behind the counter of a failing diner was kind of hard to buy -- so the idea that she went away to improve her lot in life made perfect sense.

Steve Zeoli said...

Becker was a decent, if uninspired sitcom. Ted Danson did a remarkable job in leaving Sam Malone behind him, but the rest of the cast seemed to come from some cookie-cutter sitcom warehouse -- that is, except for Shawnee Smith, who was hysterically funny. Why hasn't she worked more?

Larry said...

This is as good as place as any to admit how much in love I was with Terry Farrell on Becker. I always felt she was the main reason to watch the show.

RyderDA said...

Here's a Friday question, on the direct opposite problem.

I've noticed that in a comedy or drama series, occasionally, guest actors (in large or small parts) drop in, and "click", fitting in instantly, making the series new and fresh. Then they come back, and stick around (because the audience likes them, along with everyone else). The most obvious example of this currently is the ever growing cast of Glee. I'm wondering how a you as a producer/director/writer handle this without letting it get out of hand and allowing the cast to balloon (like happened on E.R., the West Wing, Ally McBeal, etc), and how the principals of the series respond to it.

Carson said...

I agree with Sebastian on this. Not the FarrelI part (well, okay, I loved Farrell on the show and missed her, partially because I didn't want a change in the show's chemistry), but the part about the fabulous find in Jorge Garcia. I will watch anything he's just to see him. And normally I'm a snob - if the show of film sucks, I don't stick around, but I sat through every episode of "Mr. Sunshine" a.k.a. "The Show That Tried So Hard You Actually Saw Them Sweat" just for Garcia. I'm glad he's starring in a new show next season. He deserves it.

Anonymous said...

I had to deliver a script to Terry Ferell's house once, and being a Trek nerd was excited at the chance to see her in person. Unfortunately, Richard Greico answered the door.

Cap'n Bob said...

Frankly, I don't buy that explanation. And I agree with the others that Terry was great and Nancy not so much.

Anonymous said...

Man, it so grinds my gears. Whenever there is a discussion like this in my life, somebody always makes the condescending observation "You just don't like change."

There is no question it is an axiom of life that people don't like change.

But that aspect may be a distant and secondary consideration when the "change" is the removal of prime rib and the replacement is a baloney sandwich.

cb said...

No good deed, etc., Dave...

Sid Davidson said...

My take on this (for what it's worth)...
When I tune into an old episode of "Becker" on one of the cable channels, if I see that Reggie and Bob aren't in it, I don't bother to watch it. I agree, it was a completely different show without them (and NOT as funny). At that point, in my opinion, they had jumped the shark.

Barryless said...

SciFi Nerds obviously are a stronger fanbase - she may not be a star, but she has an asteroid named after her:

"The asteroid 26734 Terryfarrell, discovered in 2001, was named in her honor by its discoverer.."

I didn't buy her presence in that diner on Becker, nor Becker's lack of interest after that many years. But I can imagine the last thing on anyone's mind was to introduce into a crowded enesemble one more actress, for some Betty / Veronica model, if that meant more salaries.

Anonymous said...

Hi Ken,
Love your blog. It's very, very entertaining.
I have a two-parter question:
1) Are you considering, or would you consider in the future creating and writing a new sitcom? Or are those days over?
2) Do you think that we will see in the foreseeable future another sitcom that is as smart and funny as 'Cheers' and 'Frasier' are? Or are sitcoms on the whole just unfashionable these days?

Thanks :)

Anonymous said...

Yea, the show was never good with Travis. The name of the show is Becker, not Becker and partners. She either was too much an equal to him, or she was too old.

George said...

So, the writers of Becker began planning season 5 and they said to themselves "Hey, did ya notice that we happened to have added a new female lead to the show towards the end of last season? And did you notice that we wrote Terry's character out of the show at the end of last season? Now, we know the audience has never watched a tv show before so they don't know what it means when you bring in a new lead female character and write the old one off the show, so we can surprise them by not bringing Terry back."

Seriously, is that supposed to be the explanation of what happened?

Johnny Walker said...

Thanks so much, Mr Hackel for taking the time to answer my question.

Johnny Walker said...

Now that I've had time to digest what you said, I think I have to agree with what others have already pointed out.

1. Becker was rated higher than Frasier at the end of its fourth season, and the initial audience reaction to Nancy Travis's character was luke-warm at best (there's plenty of discussions showing this around the internet).

2. Losing a beloved character is not a typical way of injecting "life" into a series. In fact it's usually something that creates a huge amount of turbulence on a show. (Imagine Cheers axing Diane in order to boost popularity...?)

3. Even though I appreciate the artistic intentions of your decision, the attempt at giving the show a boost apparently had a hugely negative impact. At the end of Season 5 the show had plummeted from rating higher than Frasier to rating about the same as Frasier re-runs.

So why wasn't Ferrell brought back? Didn't the network worry about the dropping ratings, and the internet reaction to losing a favourite character, not to mention the immediate dislike for the new one?

Of course it's easy to say all this with hindsight. I'm sure at the time it was more difficult to see what was happening, and maybe your decision had burned bridges between the show and Ferrell.

It seems odd that Ferrell never reappeared, even as a guest star. Especially in Season 6 when Saverio Guerra decided to leave.

Anyways, thanks again for answering my question, I just wish the answer was more satisfying... but I suppose real life isn't always like that.

Johnny Walker said...

Er, one last thing: I just re-watched the final episode of Season 4 ("Everyone Loves Becker") and your description is, well, not accurate at all.

You say: "At the end of the fourth season we’d done a cliffhanger episode where Terry’s character, Reggie, was at a crossroads in her life. She’d left the diner and nobody knew where she’d gone."

That's actually not true at all. The Season ended on the following cliff-hanger: Both Reggie and Chris had shown an interest in Becker (hence the episode's title). Reggie didn't leave the diner. Nobody wondered where she'd gone. The last we saw her, she was in her pyjamas, having just kissed Becker, walking into the back of the diner.

If anything you were teeing up Season 5 for a love triangle (which was surely much far more likely to have given the show "a shot in the arm", as you put it).

Now I'm more baffled than ever.

Johnny Walker said...

For anyone who wants to compare Dave Hackel's description of the end of Season 4, here's the final two minutes:

First the last scene with Chris (Nancy Travis) and then the final scene with Reggie (Terry Ferrell).

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F80himhbDUo#t=8m0s

Johnny Walker said...

And a post-script to this whole thing: Ken, you spelt her name wrong. It's Terry FArrell, not Terry FErrel. (Doh, I used the blog post title as a reference, too.)

Ken Levine said...

Comment etiquette -- when a showrunner or writer is gracious enough to share his inside story on a particular topic it is not appropriate to write in and criticize his spelling or punctuation or question whether he's been truthful.

These people don't have to explain to you why they did certain things and the least you could do is show them some respect.

You want to criticize me for whatever reason -- fine. It's my blog. But not my guest bloggers. You're lucky I have them.

Ken

Johnny Walker said...

Sorry Ken, I didn't mean to criticize to sound ungrateful, I was just perplexed.

Also, the spelling mistake was yours, I believe, as it's in the title of the article, not in the article itself.

Johnny Walker said...

Sorry Ken, I didn't mean to criticize or sound ungrateful, I was just perplexed.

Also, the spelling mistake was yours, I believe, as it's in the title of the article, not in the article itself.

Anonymous said...

You're not allowed to question whether someone is being truthful? What is this, the Spin Room?

Johnny Walker said...

I think Ken just wants to make sure we're respectful to his guest bloggers. I'm sure he understands we're just voicing questions that many reading it will have.

Johnny Walker said...

Also, I never meant to imply that Hackel was lying! He didn't have to write this post, after all.

Anonymous said...

I've been watching reruns of Becker on cable television and I too must join those who believe that Terry Farrell's departure was unfortunate.

I am curious however if the pay issue had been resolved, why would Farrell insist she was fired from the show for leading, what was termed a "workers strike?"

The departure of "Bob" was another loss for the show.

Anonymous said...

You know what they say about pay back?

Terry Farrell must of had some satisfaction when "Becker" was cancelled just one season after she was let go from the show.

It's a shame the network brass has to get involved in the creative process of a hit show because when these consultants do get involved nine times out of ten a show goes belly-up.

Johnny Walker said...

@Anonymous1 I've never seen an interview with her anywhere stating that she was fired for leading a "worker's strike". Care to provide a link?

@Anonymous2 It's clear that her departure wasn't planned at all. It was definitely a mid-season decision. How you can infer that the network got involved from that, I don't know. They would have been well-aware that her contract was coming up at the end of Season 4, so could have easily asked for her to be written out. Instead she was written IN to a love triangle.

Also, the show was cancelled TWO seasons after her departure.

Anonymous said...

I absolutely love Becker. I'll confess it wasn't until late night reruns a few years ago when I discovered it. In my book, it's in the league of Newhart's 1st or MTM. Not an moment of excess or lulls in any ep... Btw, what the hell is it with the current comedies where characters start talking into the camera directly? Is that some 30 year old writer's idea of hip or something?

Show's like Becker make the recent crop of so called comedies (with the exception of Two & Half Men) look like complete dog do. They're all weird, stilted and unfunny. None even approach laugh out loud funny. Office, 30 Rock...all should be sentenced to watch about 30 eps of MTM, Newhart, even freakin' Bewitched would do.

Johnny Walker said...

The title of this post is still wrong: "Why did Terry Ferrell leave BECKER?" should read: "Why did Terry Farrell leave BECKER?"

This is easily fixable in Blogspot, Ken. (Seems a bit disrespectful to be discussing an actor's departure from a show while getting her name wrong at the same time, doesn't it? I'm sure she will read this at some point.)

Johnny Walker said...

Perhaps to finally lay this matter to rest, for once and for all, here's an interview with Terry Farrell from 2002 where she echoes what Dave Hackel says, speaks highly of him, and is thankful for her time working with him.

Terry Farrell adjusts to life without 'Becker'

The missing piece of the puzzle is apparently that the creators of Becker (and possibly Ted Danson) did not want a repeat of a Sam/Diane relationship. That certainly goes some way in explaining the desire to scupper the romantic "will they/won't they" storyline that had been set-up by the cliff-hanger.

Plus, even if they had brought her character back, I suppose making her cold towards Becker would have only repeated the Sam/Rebecca storyline.

A tricky situation, but one that would lead you do to try counter-intuitive things to resolve it, I guess.

Anonymous said...

Whatever the background story, Terry Farrell was a big loss to the show. Nancy Travis is a good actress and versatile but Terry and Becker had that tension going with a "will they or won't they" vibe.

It's funny how Terry hasn't been seen in anything else since Becker. She may well have decided to pack it in but blackballing someone has and does happen in show business. I guess we'll never know.

Anonymous said...

I did see Terry Farrell in a TV movie called "Crossing The Line," where she played the part of a girls high school basketball coach, and she was fantastic.

I, too, thought "Becker" wasn't quite the same without her.

Ken, thank you for your contributions to great television shows such as "Becker," "Wings," and "Frasier." Especially "Wings." That show had some of the most classic lines.

Anonymous said...

I did see Terry Farrell in a TV movie called "Crossing The Line," where she played the part of a girls high school basketball coach, and she was fantastic.

I, too, thought "Becker" wasn't quite the same without her.

Ken, thank you for your contributions to great television shows such as "Becker," "Wings," and "Frasier." Especially "Wings." That show had some of the most classic lines.

StrangeLogic said...

Jorge Garcia was a pathetic choice for the show. I can't even comprehend otherwise. When he joined the cast, that was it's downfall. When Bob and Terry Farrel left you lost that dynamic which was very integral to the show. I guarantee it would have lasted 8 or 10 seasons without him. Look at him in lost. He was on the show the entire duration and i bet he gained weight. You're on a desert island, and you have no food, you certainly don't gain weight. There would have been a real dynamic to lost if he had went on a diet.

Dave from DoubleTake said...

I also loved Becker and recently restarted to watch the reruns. I also hated to see Terry go as well. But I would like to comment on one of their greatest episodes that I just saw - it was called "The Hypocritic Oath", where there was a correlation between Terry and a student doing experiments with rats in a maze and at Becker's office, where Linda ordered a bunch of supplies and a huge number of boxes were stacked in the office -- and the the experiment and the office environment were compared. It was hilarious - even the title was great!!! Best ever episode in my opinion. Dave

Jim Crotty said...

Unfortunately, when Terry Farrell left the show, it started to lose its appeal. The bi-play and chemistry between Reggie and Becker and Reggie and Bob was very entertaining. Reggie was very reserved and delivered some very funny one-liners. Reggie's replacement, Chris, was too much in-your-face and over the top. Then when Bob left, the show completely died. Bob's effusive style was very amusing and he didn't need to play off other characters to be able to deliver some very funny lines, as well as his short stature being used by the other characters. To go to the other extreme and replace him with bigger-than-life Hector just never worked. Hector needed to work off the lines of other characters and was too one-dimensional. His character was never going to work.

Jim Smith said...

Yes! indeed, after Farrell left the show it did lose it's appeal and I did not like the way the writers of the show handeled this and one example is the adversity created between Cris, Terry and Becker which affected the show and cast and viewers as well.

Anonymous said...

Terry Farrel played Jadzia Dax on Star Trek:Deep Space Nine,a much better part and she was much better in the role as Jadzia. She left DS9 to do Becker which was a better decision because DS9 was only going one more season and she was on Becker for what,four seasons?
I cannot even understand all the comments that Terry is so much better on the show than Nancy. I loved Terry on DS9 and Nancy Travis could never be Jadzia Dax but Nancy Travis is a better actress and compliments Ted Danson so much better.
I never believed that Reggie and Becker were ever going to get together. Reggie was too young and too hot. Not going to happen,ever.
I was never a big Becker fan but there's no doubt,Nancy Travis is the better choice to play opposite Ted Danson.

Anonymous said...

Scraping together the bits and pieces of rumors and gossip, my impression is that the studio wanted the show become more affordable. So the actors got the promised raise but only for one season. After that the contracts were up and the decision was made to replace the expensive actress with a more affordable actress.

I loved Terry Farrell on Star Trek and on Becker, but my feeling is that her agent did her a disservice when it came to handling contract negotiations.

That said, I thought Nancy Travis was great on Becker too. Chris was so easy going which enabled Becker to become a little more open to the nicer things in life too. Definitely helped the show.

Kalidescopemind said...

Whatever Terry wanted, they should have made a deal. The show could have gotten better, with better ratings. Instead it tanked.

Anonymous said...

someone said "reggie was too young" for her and becker to get together?? that's an age-ist notion all the way around.plenty of people with the same age gap are together in sitcoms and various other types of tv shows (as well s in real life).I never saw the difference in their ages in "becker" as being any problem.funny how some people think I guess..ageist. I bet the gap isn't but 10-12 years which isn't unusual in relationships.

Pat Diamond said...

I really like Travis in Becker,I guess I`m a little bias As I loved her & Ted in 3 men & a baby.I did miss Reggie for a while but I got used to Chris & I think her & Becker were much hotter together,I`m glad I found out why Reggie left though so thanks for that Ken. Pat :)

Pat Diamond said...

I`m glad I found out what happened to Terry,I think Chris & Becker were much hotter together.I might be a little biased as I loved them in 3 Men & a Baby. Pat Diamond

james said...

Becker was my favorite show back then. (In fact, I only started watching Everybody loves Raymond because its time-slot was right before Becker.) I loved Becker character and Reggie was one of my main reasons to keep watching the show. I was watching the show for a while after Reggie left, but it was never the same. Eventually, I stopped watching the show long before the show ended. I recently started watching the shows on Youtube..only the ones with Reggie .

Jo Sims - Australia said...

After reading the explanation about Reggie leaving the show all I could think was, "what a load of crap," of course she got axed because she was a trouble maker all you guys want is to make money! With the least amount of trouble, I think it was discusting. Your Actors should never have been put into a position where they had to fight for what they should have automatically received. Remember without them you guys are out of a job! The idiot you replaced her with grated on my nerves, whenever I see it's a re-run with her in it I turn it off . Becker was never the same!

trsisko said...

It's obvious she got the boot and you can tell the other actors wanted more of a part in the show, you started seeing the 2 ladies from the doctors office in Reggie's cafe , which kinda killed the dimension of the show some what, also if you watch season 4 , Reggie become a bit more of a duffus , someone to make a joke off, that was certainly a way for the producers to kill off her career and obviously they rubbed it in her face by adding the lady from 3 men and a baby, she's ok but agreed I really hated the show from then on, it lacked the seriousness of season 1 and 2, Becker was dealing with HIV children and always his interactions with Reggie were something to behold.

Anonymous said...

Terry Farrell repeatedly has stated that her departure from 'Becker'came as a complete surprise which raises some doubts as to whether she was made aware ahead of time that her character would be written out of the show.

However it is not uncommon in television for actors to be replaced for one reason or another


The Ceej said...

I'm not sure I believe you, first of all. I mean, I can see you wanting to change things up if the show was failing at the time. You execs are wont to do that sort of thing to save a show that's already over.

However, the show was on the rise. The third and fourth seasons were very highly rated, and things were only getting better. To make such a serious change in dynamic at that moment indicates the decision is political, not creative. That, and Farrell was only ever in one more thing after Becker? By her own choice?

But, let's assume I DO believe you. You can't spend four years establishing a dynamic that works and then just switch the cast up. In an alternate universe, Chris playing opposite Becker would have worked. They didn't have a BAD dynamic. They had a DIFFERENT dynamic. It changed the show... The phrase, "jump the shark" comes to mind. And, if that wasn't bad enough, the next season, the show experienced a significant measurable drop in quality with even more horrible cast changes.

This situation with Terry Farrell leaving Becker is proof of three things:

1. Network Execs have no creative tastes whatsoever and should put full trust in the creative talent they hire lest they do something stupid like this.

2. Network Execs are spiteful little weasels that put personal vendettas over the quality of their work.

3. Network Execs will lie for a decade after the fact to cover up the real reason they made an obviously horrible casting decision that even Hellen Keller would have known better than to try.



I don't pretend to know why you fired Farrell, but I do know it's not why you SAY you did it.