In 1982, The Hollywood Reporter said that predicting the success of NBC’s Cheers was simple. It has “a top ensemble cast with impeccable timing whose constant thirst of humor is being fed by fine comedy writers. … Ted Danson is remarkably good as Malone.” This talent was enough to fuel the show for 275 episodes over 11 seasons. For Danson, now 70, who is back in the awards race with NBC’s The Good Place, the show brought Emmys in 1990 and 1993 for acting in a comedy series. His path to Cheers had begun with studies at Carnegie Mellon and followed by a few years as a struggling off-Broadway actor (the low point arriving when, to earn money, he got a promotional job walking around New Jersey dressed as a lemon chiffon pie-mix box. “And I was recognized,” he once told Johnny Carson on The Tonight Show.
“I had the indignity of someone saying, ‘Aren’t you Ted Danson?’ “). Theater work led to a two-year stint on the soap opera Somerset, then a gradual rise through TV guest spots before more high-profile roles in the features The Onion Field (1979) and Body Heat (1981). Then, five years into doing Cheers, Danson starred in the Leonard Nimoy-directed blockbuster Three Men and a Baby. The film grossed more than $170 million worldwide ($375 million today). In the U.S., it was the year’s highest-grossing film.
In 1987, Danson told THR that as result of Baby, “I’m a little more into a pick-and-choose moment.” Those choices turned out to be as varied as a part in Saving Private Ryan; a voiceover role as Sam Malone on The Simpsons (Homer wanders into the Cheers bar just as Carla is telling Sam he’s “too old to go on a date with two twins the same night you’re supposed to marry Diane without Rebecca knowing”); four seasons as a graveyard shift supervisor on CSI; three seasons as a scene-stealing magazine editor on Bored to Death; and now that celestial architect on The Good Place.
This story first appeared in a June stand-alone issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.