Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Two CHEERS for Kevin McHale

A number of people commented on yesterday’s post mentioning Kevin McHale’s two appearances on CHEERS.

As a rule of thumb, when you stunt cast with non-actors, especially sports stars, it’s best to give them the minimal to do and say. And by that I mean, have them enter, stand there, and leave.

A real exception was Kevin McHale.

McHale, who was then the Boston Celtics’ Hall-of-Fame sixth man, was hired for one brief scene in one episode. But he proved to be so good, so natural, and even (shockingly) so funny that we increased his part and then brought him back for a second episode. If this GM of the Timberwolves thing doesn’t work out Kevin could always star in the next STILL STANDING.

The only other time we did that with a celebrity was Alex Trebeck. Remember the Cliff-on-JEAPORDY episode? Alex was only slated to be in the actual JEAPORDY scene, but he was so funny we brought him into the bar as well. And if he screwed up we could always sound a buzzer.

One trivia note re Kevin McHale: In the Boston Gardens bolts episode (written by David Isaacs and me) there’s a brief scene where he’s in bed with his wife. We used his actual wife. And she was funny too! Not Alex Trebeck funny but still.

On the other hand…

The first season we used former pitcher Luis Tiant for a beer commercial scene. It took 100 takes. And we still settled.

And then there’s the Wade Boggs affair (literally). It was the very end of season six. NBC ordered an additional show. We put together a story called BAR WARS where CHEERS got into a practical joke war with Gary’s Olde Town Tavern. We thought it would be funny for a real Boston sports star to enter CHEERS but the gang think it’s an imposter, pants him, and chase him out of the bar.

The first name we came up with was Red Sox All-Star, Wade Boggs. Trouble was, it was March and he was in Spring Training in Winter Haven, Florida. We inquired anyway, and to our amazement, he agreed to do it. He even got the Red Sox to give him three days off. We thought, wow, CHEERS must really be influential now.

A few years later we learned the truth. An article by Margot Adams in PLAYBOY revealed that she was having an affair with Boggs and the real reason he was so hot to do our show was that he got a free trip to LA to see Margot. So much for our show’s massive influence.

Years later I was broadcasting for the Orioles and Mariners and encountered Boggs in the clubhouse. He wouldn’t talk to me. Yeah, like it was my fault.

Kevin McHale still takes my calls.


Anonymous said...

If I'm not mistaken McHale was voted one the top 25 all time NBA players (5 from each position), but given his personality he probably wouldn't take issue with you calling him a sixth man.

The Curmudgeon said...

Such a range among professional athletes: At the old Chicago Avenue police station they used to have the Scottie Pippin Suite for "celebrity guests." You can guess how Pippin got the naming rights.

I saw McHale & Bird pass through tiny Alumni Gym during their college careers. For $1 we had seats that were literally courtside.

The athlete who impressed me when I was in college was Andre Wakefield, who parlayed a fabulous game against Marquette in its national championship season into a brief NBA career. Wakefield had a low, menacing voice. Unlike many athletes at Loyola (Chicago), he actually lived in his assigned dorm room -- and he interacted positively with the other students on the floor.

The incident I recall most vividly concerns two freshmen who were receiving threatening phone calls. Wakefield heard about it, and offered to take the next call when it came.

He growled into the phone. He suggested that it would be best for the caller to cease and desist. He used more colorful language -- and effectively so, because the calls stopped.

At the other end of the spectrum was Tony Parker -- father of the current Spurs player. My recollection is that Parker, Sr. had to leave the basketball team in his senior season when it was discovered he'd not bothered to register for classes in the Spring semester. What I know for sure is that someone had to go into his room and turn off his stero -- which had boom-boom-booming for days after he'd left the school.

Ger Apeldoorn said...


Were you there when you had to rewrite the second John Cleese appearance because he bailed at the last moment?

Anonymous said...

kevin mchale was one of the best low post players to ever play the game. even with his great teammates he still stood out

Anonymous said...

fuck oof

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this post, Ken. I agree on McHale, and Boggs, and appreciate the implication that character (aka "integrity", selflessness, a decent sense of humor, etc) should count for more in who we count as heroes. I blogged about it myself today (and referenced your Boggs story, along with one about my own encounter with Boggs). In the aftermath of Tony Dungy's retirmement and Jim Rice and Rickey Henderson's 2009 HoF election, it's important to be honest and name names in sports, that odd little battlezone of the "culture wars".

Anonymous said...

One of my favorite appearances of Kevin's was the Season 10 episode, 'Where have all the floorboards gone.'

He really sold the comedy beats in the episode, and it's probably one of the few episodes I watch quite a bit.

I was wondering if that really was his wife in those scenes. She did well with her few scenes.