A 'Cheers' To The Career Of Ted Danson

Ted Danson i i

The winner of three Golden Globes and two Emmy Awards, Ted Danson has been nominated for more than 28 awards in both TV and film. Frazer Harrison/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Frazer Harrison/Getty Images
Ted Danson

The winner of three Golden Globes and two Emmy Awards, Ted Danson has been nominated for more than 28 awards in both TV and film.

Frazer Harrison/Getty Images

This week on Fresh Air, we're marking the year's end by revisiting some of the most memorable conversations we've had in 2009.

After an 11-year stint as the owner of the bar that gave the classic TV series Cheers its name, Ted Danson moved on to other TV-land pastures. In the 16 years since that hit sitcom went off the air, his work has taken him to different places, but perhaps none of his characters has been as interesting and complicated as the ones he's been playing lately.

In the legal drama Damages, Danson portrayed an egomaniac billionaire battling the tough-as-nails litigator played by series star Glenn Close. Danson tells Terry Gross that it was time for a change.

"I have to admit, I think part of me thought I'd stayed at the half-hour-comedy dance a bit too long, and I think part of me was going, 'Wow, I'm not as funny as these other people who are coming up,' " he confesses.

"And I was kind of boring myself in a way. Then Damages came along and really kind of turned things around for me."

In the HBO series Bored To Death, Danson plays George Christopher, a powerful Manhattan magazine editor who's at home among the city's best and brightest but simultaneously battling the urge, as he ages, to keep running with the Young Turks.

Though he has expanded his range, Danson hasn't left comedy behind. In 2004, he wrapped a run on the CBS sitcom Becker. And these days he's a regular on Larry David's Curb Your Enthusiasm, where he and wife Mary Steenburgen play themselves — more or less.

Deciphering how to play that Curb version of Ted Danson was an interesting process.

"I can't look at a suit on a rack and go, 'Ooh, I'd like that suit.' I have to try it on," Danson explains. "So [in acting,] I try on words. ... It's the same thing, even though you're playing yourself. You go, 'All right, what is my function here?' "

On Curb, Danson explains, his function is to be Larry David's foil, setting up roadblocks so David can overcome them, punching up the comedy in various ways. The two men are close friends in real life — and occasionally neighbors.

"He's lived in our guesthouse for two summers in a row," Danson says. "Mary calls him Larry the Lodger. He just won't leave."

This interview was originally broadcast on Sept. 7, 2009.

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