The question comes from Brian.
I have always thought the show Becker was pretty good. But there had to be some resistance to having Ted Danson play Becker after Cheers. Was anybody else considered for that character?
Thanks for your question, Brian. The short answer is "No." There was no resistance to having Ted Danson play the part of Dr. John Becker. The part was never offered to any other actor. Once Ted expressed interest, we looked no further. However, there is a story of what led to that decision.
When I first wrote the pilot script for "Becker," no actor was attached. My thoughts about who to approach with the material were pretty "on the nose." I imagined actors who had played misanthropes before. Names like Dabney Coleman or Richard Dreyfus came to mind, but the script was never sent to them or anyone else.
Ted explained that his manager had included my script in a group of others that had been submitted to Ted for consideration. Ted told me later that he really wasn't looking to do or even read another half-hour but that his wife, Mary Steenburgen, had picked my script off the pile, liked it and suggested that he take a look. He enjoyed it -- hence his call. He said, "I don't know if you think I'd be right for this and, frankly, I don't know if I'd be right for it either. I just wondered if you'd be willing to sit down and talk to me about it." I readily and enthusiastically agreed, and he and I set a date to have that conversation.
I'll be perfectly honest - while I had no doubt at all about Ted's ability to play any part he put his mind to, I did wonder if television audiences would accept him...a person they knew best as the affable Sam Malone...as a man as cynical and seemingly pessimistic as John Becker could be. That's what was on my mind when that meeting started.
Scheduled for an hour, that first conversation lasted three. We talked about the character and what my hopes were for the show. Then Ted shared his thoughts about who he thought John Becker was, who he could be and what types of stories we could tell. At the end of that meeting we agreed on a next step -- a reading of the script for our friends. We both welcomed outside opinions and made this deal: At the end of that reading, if either of us had second thoughts about the match -- actor and material -- we'd walk away with no hard feelings. Luckily, the reading went extremely well. Ted enjoyed himself and learned that he would be accepted playing such a different character. I learned that it was his likability -- that very quality that I'd worried would get in the way -- was exactly what the project needed. We saw we could take the character even further than we thought possible because people innately trusted Ted and that we could use that trust for the good of the show.
It was a perfect storm -- a perfectly lucky storm. Everything and everyone came together at the right moment in time.
So, again, Brian -- the network, studio and I never talked about another actor playing the part. Once Ted expressed interest, everyone was thrilled and no further search was conducted.
It’s me again. As someone who was in that initial reading I can confirm, Ted blew us all away. I was impressed with two things: (1) how sensational he was in the part, and (2) his desire to not play a character similar to Sam Malone. How many actors make a nice living repeating their successful characters in project after project? What makes Ted so extraordinary is his willingness to stretch as an actor and assume so many different roles. And crush each one. (Do you get the idea I kinda like the guy?)
Once again, my thanks to Dave Hackel for a great answer (and a great show, worth rediscovering in reruns).