If you are looking at the character of Sam on paper, you would think of him being this unrepentant cad, just a big ol’ ball of slime looking to hit on women. Plenty of guys go through life that way, but Ted Danson was not one of those people. Making someone like that appealing to millions of people for over 20 weeks every year can be an incredibly challenge. Speaking with The Hollywood Reporter back in 2018, writer/producer Ken Levine spoke about how Danson could infuse a character that he held very little in common with a side of himself that made Sam who he was:
“Ted felt very uncomfortable at first playing Sam because he wasn’t a lothario in real life. But he brought a quality to Sam that he himself possesses: kindness and humanity. That went a long way toward the audience embracing Sam.”
Danson eventually came to understand Sam and instinctively knew what material was right for the character. Fellow writer/producer Rob Long added, “If something felt weird to him, he’d look at you and make a hand gesture suggesting it felt weird … If he couldn’t make it work, then it didn’t work.” Bill Steinkeller echoes the sentiment with how Danson communicated with the writers, saying, “He trusts you and if he’s got a problem, he tells you.”
Criminally, Ted Danson only won two Emmys for his performance on “Cheers” across its 11 seasons, despite being the engine that drove that show to its success. He may not have been entirely comfortable playing Sam Malone, but nobody else could have created this character, where his lothario nature acted as a shield for his own vulnerability. It’s a beautifully honest and deeply hilarious piece of performance.