Coffee Dates And Dropped Cue Cards: Ted Danson's Path To 'Cheers' The actor says he got his big break because of a college crush. When she went on an audition, he tagged along, inadvertently starting a career in cologne ads, soap operas — and hit TV shows.
NPR logo

Coffee Dates And Dropped Cue Cards: Ted Danson's Path To 'Cheers'

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/430371133/431025535" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Coffee Dates And Dropped Cue Cards: Ted Danson's Path To 'Cheers'

Coffee Dates And Dropped Cue Cards: Ted Danson's Path To 'Cheers'

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/430371133/431025535" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

ARUN RATH, HOST:

A young Ted Danson had just gotten the courage to ask his college crush out on a coffee date. The two were hitting it off. Then, midway through their coffee...

TED DANSON: ...She said I have go. Where are you going? I have to go audition for this play. Oh, can I come - just to be with her. And then to stay in the room with her I had to actually audition. And I had nothing prepared, so I just kind of made something up. And I got the smallest part you could get. And I was like the fourth rifle carrier on the left, but I was hooked.

RATH: Acting was all Danson could think about. He took any role he could get his hands on and moved to L.A. in search of his big break. He started with TV commercials and landed an Aramis cologne ad. Ted Danson became the Aramis man.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARAMIS AD)

KIM TERRY MASTERS: Tom, what are you doing here?

DANSON: Meetings - you are more beautiful than ever.

MASTERS: You still say the right thing.

UNIDENTIFIED NARRATOR: Aramis - the impact never fades.

DANSON: This is cruel. OK, this just went to someplace else this whole interview. I'm out of here.

(LAUGHTER)

RATH: Danson graduated from cologne commercials to soap operas. He was on shows like "Somerset" and "The Doctors." He says it was horrible.

DANSON: It was the nightmare - you know, the actor's nightmare, doing a soap opera. You got the lines the night before. There was nothing natural about them. They were all kind of repetitive. And back then, you couldn't stop tape. A wall could fall, and you did not stop. So it was - you know, it was terrifying.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

DANSON: Some of the shows still had cue cards - big white sheets. And this time I was a doctor reassuring the family whose daughter has cancer, and I have to break the bad news, but I am a reassuring, great bed-side manner doctor. And the first day I was having a nervous breakdown. And I called a friend; he said take a Valium.

So I took a Valium, and Valium and I don't work very well together. So I was pouring sheets of sweat, trying to be cool and reassure this family who's looking at me like, dear God, I hope this actor makes it.

And one of the cue cards from the guy who was holding it dropped and it wafted like a paper airplane right onto my lap. Those words that I was looking for all of a sudden now were in my lap - it - really scary stuff. (Unintelligible) I was not a huge success. Thumb through the soap opera magazines; you will not find me (laughter).

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

DANSON: "Cheers" is the big break. "Cheers" was lightning shot out of the canon as far as celebrity or attention from the public. And I got introduced into the mainstream of television getting to play Sam Malone. I still say that I got hired for "Cheers" because I was paired with Shelley Long. She was really magnificent.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "CHEERS")

SHELLEY LONG: (As Diane Chambers) You, Sam Malone, are the most arrogant, self-centered son...

DANSON: Well, there's that kind of famous scene in "Cheers" where we have resisted each other. We're in the middle of a fight. And insults - this is in my office - are flying back and forth, and we're just yelling at each other. At one point, I think I say are you as turned on as I am?

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "CHEERS")

DANSON: (As Sam Malone) Are you as turned on as I am?

LONG: (As Diane Chambers) More.

(LAUGHTER)

DANSON: And we have our first kiss, but it came out of this raging fight. It was like theater.

I'm 67, about to be 68, and I get the same kick out of being hired and going to work. I really do. And being in New York as an actor, looking for work, getting work, studying, I mean, it was - I couldn't recommend it more highly. And then being in front of a camera is pretty much as good as it gets.

RATH: That's actor Ted Danson. You don't have to be the star of "Cheers" to have a big break. Send us your story - mybigbreak@npr.org.

Copyright © 2015 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.