Wednesday, August 04, 2021

How BECKER came to be

Here's a Friday Question that warrants an entire post because the creator of BECKER, Dave Hackel was nice enough to answer this BECKER question. 

Michael had the question:


Do you know if BECKER was first pitched to NBC before ending up on CBS? I would have assumed NBC would have been interested in Ted Danson's first new show after CHEERS. 


The quick answer is “no.”  

The show was only pitched to CBS.

The more detailed answer is this:  It’s difficult to remember the order of the chess moves, but at the time, now twenty-three years ago, the character of Becker was considered pretty edgy, so Paramount suggested that we try to attract an actor first.  

Also, it was known in the community that CBS had a deal with Ted but had not yet come up with a show for him. 

Paramount sent it to Ted’s representatives, they sent it to him, he read it and wanted to meet with me. Then if you remember, I put together a reading of the pilot. Ted wanted to see how it felt to be John Becker and he wanted me to see if I thought he was a good fit for the part.  Our deal was that if either of us didn’t feel it worked, we could walk away — no harm, no foul.  

We were both pleased with the way the reading went so Paramount took our “package” to CBS.  It was the perfect confluence of actor, script and timing.  Remove any one of those three elements…mainly Ted, of course…and the script would likely still be in my desk drawer.

Hi, it’s me again.

I remember that reading.  I was initially skeptical.  But Ted won me over by page 3.  He combined that one magic element — the ability to be edgy while still being lovable.  I’m still trying to achieve that.

Thanks again to Dave Hackel.  


Brian Phillips said...

According to iMDB, [Danson] heard one of his more famous characters, "Dr. John Becker," described by a fan as "the American Medical Association's answer to Basil Fawlty." Danson completely agrees with this sentiment.

Thank you both for this post. John Cleese said that while he and Connie Booth wrote Fawlty Towers, Basil Fawlty could be considered a "monster", but, as life got worse for him, you still ached for him.

Becker has the advantage of being shown to be competent and compassionate, which very rarely happened in "Fawlty Towers". I don't think the USA would have been ready for a belligerent quack. However, it's a tribute to the acting, writing and direction the fact that Becker worked so well.

Lemuel said...

Shame on me, I watched Becker mainly to see Shawnee Smith's belly button.

Nola G. said...

What would have happened if no series had been found for Ted Danson after CBS signed him to an exclusive contract? I think Jackie Gleason had an exclusive deal with CBS in the 1970s and it essentially ended up paying Gleason a ton of money for playing golf in Florida while it tried and failed to come up with a new TV series for him to headline.

Call Me Mike said...

The thing is, John Becker would be still pretty edgy today. I go back and watch his wonderful rants now, and I'm not sure you'd hear many of them on a Monday night network sitcom in 2021. More's the pity.

Is there anyone that angry in a sitcom today?

Brian said...

For anyone who wants to watch Becker again (or for the first time), I found it on

Chris Gumprich said...

Going by my fading memory here, but BECKER was actually Danson's second new show after CHEERS. The year before he starred in INK, which I think aired on CBS, so there would have already been that relationship.

Brandon in Virginia said...

I always considered Becker a pretty underrated show. Was never a major ratings hit but did respectably (something they referenced in one of the final episodes), and it came and went in syndication. Last I checked, Antenna TV aired the reruns.

However, a couple years before that, Ted and wife Mary Steenburgen starred in a CBS sitcom called Ink. The network promoted it heavily, but it only ran one season. I wonder if that show's failure factored into CBS decision to keep trying with Ted. At that point, it seemed like an acerbic leading role was a new concept. Now it's the norm.

Tim G said...

If my memory is correct, INK wasn't bad. I remember it having some of Ted Danson's incredulous outbursts (not quite Becker-like). The following year, The Brian Benben Show (kind of enjoyed) came and went after a few episodes, which opened the schedule for Becker.

A couple of friends thought Becker was stale, that the office setting was cliche, and that characters (especially Linda) were predictable or unimaginative. I understood but thought something special was happening anyway. An episode in which Becker comforted a young HIV-positive boy and another in which he sat with his godson to keep the young man company at Ming's when the father rejected him for being gay, the series showed a real affinity for melancholy, which added layers to the stock setup and otherwise expected characterizations.

I haven't studied which Becker episodes involved Matthew Weiner but it is not surprising to me that Becker had a haunting quality in its way similar to the drama Mad Men in its way.

Gary said...

Another classic BECKER episode guest-starred John Mahoney as a world weary priest. Becker is treating the priest's brother, with Danson and Mahoney doing some excellent verbal sparring about atheism versus religion. It was funny and beautifully written.

Brandon in Virginia said...

"I always considered Becker a pretty underrated show. Was never a major ratings hit but did respectably (something they referenced in one of the final episodes), and it came and went in syndication. Last I checked, Antenna TV aired the reruns."

I just wanted to correct myself. Looking on Wikipedia, it turns out the show consistently ranked in the Top 20 before moving to Sundays in 2002. I sit corrected.

SummitCityScribe said...

One of my favorite parts of Becker was the performance of Hattie Winston. Her character, Margaret, was a great comic foil to Ted Danson's curmudgeonly Becker. Although Ms. Winston's a Broadway vet, she's beloved by a generation of Americans for her role as Vivian the Librarian on The Electric Company

tavm said...

Ms. Winston was also on that 2-season post-war '40s set series "Homefront" from 1991-93.

Mitch said...

Sorry, never enjoyed Becker, didn't like the character. Didn't watch the show.

mike schlesinger said...

I coined the term "Becker Syndrome" to describe an awful character whom we only watch because the actor playing him is so inherently likable. I've used it on a couple of DVD commentaries, notably "Support Your Local Gunfighter," where James Garner's character is constantly threatening to shoot people for no real reason.