Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Today's special guest blogger

Here’s a Friday Question about BECKER that not only deserves its own post, but I was lucky enough to get the show’s creator/showrunner Dave Hackel to answer. Thanks so much, Dave.

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.

Dave Hackel
It was known that CBS had a deal with Ted to do "something" and the executives at Paramount suggested I send the script to Keith Addis, Ted's manager, to gauge his interest on behalf of his client. Some time had passed and since I'd gotten no response, I assumed that to be a negative answer. Then one day my secretary told me that Ted Danson was on the phone for me. I was both excited and a little nervous. Like everyone in the country, Ted had been in my living room many times, but we'd never met. That call turned out to be one of the best I've ever received.

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).

24 comments :

Jeremiah Avery said...

Great backstory, thank you, Dave!

I agree, Ken, at how great it is at how Ted Danson is willing to go against type. He was wonderful in season 2 of "Fargo". I read an interview and he said how the producers cautiously asked him if he'd be willing to grow a beard for the role and he was delighted at the idea. He had never been asked to do that before and thought it would be a great way to also physically "disappear" into the role.

Daniel Sachs said...

If I only knew Ted Danson from his work on "Damages" and "The Good Place" I would still consider him one of the all time great television actors.

Philip said...

This blog has made me really really love Ted Danson. I mean I really loved him before, but this blog has added another 'really.' Thanks Ken!

Frank said...

He's great on "The Good Place" but he was really amazing on Fargo. Also Curb! Man, he's had a great career.

Unknown said...

Thanks for the story. Enjoy TD, almost all of his work, but did not like Becker. I liked CSI. Tried to watch Becker over and over, but hated the negativity. But that is just me...
Thanks to our fine blogger, we have come to learn TD is a nice guy. My wife ran into his wife in CA, and she was nice in public. Glad they found happiness together. Can't wait for The Good place goes into syndication, that is where I catch most of my sitcoms. And I'm not a robot.

MikeN said...

Bryan Cranston also got to use his previous role to sell the audience on his next role.

Anonymous said...

Becker was one of my all time favorite shows, along with Episodes, with Mat LeBlanc cast along similar lines.

jcs said...

PODCAST REQUEST

I always enjoyed Peter Mehlman's crisp writing and I noticed that he has strong opinions about network interference and ABC (Wikipedia quotes him that he "wouldn't do another show for ABC if the future of Israel depended on it".).

Would you be willing to compare notes on network interference with him on the air? And maybe talk about sports journalism, too?

Kosmo13 said...

Many thanks to Dave Hackel for contributing to the blog. Becker was a wonderful show.

John Becker seems like a much nicer guy than the characters Ted Danson played in "Creepshow" or in his guest appearances on "Magnum, PI" and "Tucker's Witch." He's played dastardly villains all along.

Grace said...

Love Ted Danson. When Becker first started, I wasn't sure I'd be able to see him as anyone other than Sam Malone in a regular series - even though I'd had no problem with it in his movies - but he was immediately so Becker that it wasn't an issue. Except for one thing: every time Becker would go in his office and pull that bottle out of his desk drawer, I'd have a moment of "NOOOOO! :O Don't do it! Not after all these years!" And then I'd remember.

McAlvie said...

Nice. Thanks for the backstory on that. Very interesting. And yes, I can see how Ted's "nice guy" personality balanced Becker's grouch. I've often thought that many recent sitcoms failed to take into account the "in my living room" part of the equation. Sometimes they work for a short while when the writing is otherwise really good. But if you want to be invited back, you need to give people a reason. There has to be some redeeming value in the central character, something that anchors the rest of the cast.

Melissa C. Banczak said...

Ages ago, I had some free time in LA and decided to go be in the studio audience for a show. Choices were Becker, a show I'd never heard of and a new show I'd never heard of. I did not choose wisely and regret missing out on seeing Ted Danson perform.

Brian said...

Thanks for the answer and for putting this story together, Ken.

Pat Reeder said...

I always liked "Becker," too. The one where he went off on the self-righteous radio talk show host who wanted to police everyone's speech is one of my favorite scenes from any sitcom ever. It should be cut out and rerun on today's TV channels at random intervals.

BTW, if you couldn't have landed Ted Danson, I would have suggested another goofy, lanky comic actor who might have been able to surprise people by playing a sour, cynical doctor. His name is Hugh Laurie. Oh, wait: he has a British accent. Never mind.

sanford said...

Pat, Hugh Laurie may have an accent but he can do an American one. He was House for a long time.

pmoshay said...

I tuned out entirely from TV about a decade ago now. I found Becker laugh out loud funny. Not a bad episode in the lot, particularly the Shawnee Smith ep S05E14 "The Pain In The Neck". After Becker and then King Of Queens signed off, well I essentially pulled the plug.

Joe said...

I must be the only one who saw "Something About Amelia" if it hasn't come up about Ted playing against type.

Wally said...

@Joe Came here to post about that. Couldn't remember the name of the movie but it was a pretty big deal at the time (understandably). I thought it was after Cheers but nope, right near the beginning, coming out in 1984. Wild that he walked that 'tightrope' on TV.

Marco said...

It's one of my favourite shows - it aged quite well and the humour is extraordinary good.

I know many compare it to Dr.House ... Becker sacks this show easily in terms of script quality and acting.

Wendy M. Grossman said...

I, too, liked BECKER and Danson in it.

Grace: Kind of like the moment when David Boreanaz drives up in I'M WITH LUCY in a convertible, top down, in bright Florida sunshine.

wg

Andrew said...

Well, can I pour cold water on this thread? I only watched Becker a few times. Maybe I should give it another shot. But it never worked for me. I thought Danson was great, which was no surprise. But the other characters didn't have anything for me to care much about (esp. the ones in the picture heading up this post). The sets also seemed artificial - the diner and the doctor's office just didn't ring true to me. I don't know why, but the whole show felt very contrived. Anyway, just one man's dissenting opinion. I still enjoyed this guest post about Danson getting the part (and especially that his wife Mary was instrumental). He deserves whatever success comes to him.

The Bumble Bee Pendant said...

Thanks for this Post Ken!

thirteen said...

And now Ted Danson is terrific (again!) in The Good Place. We just can't lose, unless he's not on.

Pat Reeder said...

To Sanford: To quote Kenny Delmar, "That's a joke, son!"