Twenty-six years after the Cheers finale, Ted Danson is preparing to take his final bow on another beloved NBC comedy, The Good Place, which returns tonight for its fourth and final season.
Meanwhile, the actor has already lined up his next gig. In July, NBC gave a straight-to-series order for a new comedy, created by Tina Fey and Robert Carlock, that will star Danson as a wealthy businessman who unexpectedly wins an election to become mayor of L.A.
Danson talked with Adweek about saying goodbye to The Good Place, why he jumped right into another series and what’s in store when he appears on the next season of Larry David’s Curb Your Enthusiasm on HBO.
Adweek: What has finishing The Good Place’s final season been like?
Ted Danson: It’s been very sweet. I finished my last day yesterday. It dawned on me, I don’t have a built-in excuse to be around these incredibly sweet people. Now we’re going to have to work hard to find each other. [Creator] Mike Schur is such a remarkable human being. Not only is he an amazing writer, but he’s a really wonderful producer. [Executive producer] Morgan Sackett is his right-hand man, and the two of them create this atmosphere to work in where everybody there is grateful, everybody on the crew is incredibly talented and happy to be there, so we’re incredibly spoiled when we go to work. It will be missed.
How long have you known that Season 4 would be the final season?
We were all told I think at the beginning of this year. About two months before we start shooting, the writers gather and start working on the season, and I think a few weeks in, they realized that this was definitely the last season. It would have watered down the impact of the story [to continue it longer]. NBC had always let them do this show the way they wanted to, so it was a surprising decision, but I respect that. We all respected it.
There’s never been a comedy this heavily serialized before. Did you ever worry they’d run out of story sooner than they ultimately did?
I didn’t really worry. Season 2 was a gimme because the surprise [twist] was revealed at the end of Season 1, and you knew there would be a lot of story there. But instead of riding that switch the entire season, within three episodes they used up that particular surprise and moved on to something else. They really are remarkable writers. I have endless respect for them. So no, I didn’t worry, but I was astounded each time it made a turn that I hadn’t seen coming.
Without spoiling anything, how do you personally feel about how the show wraps up in the finale?
These are all things I should let an audience say after seeing it, but to me, it was incredibly satisfying on every level. The emotional path of all the characters was incredibly satisfying, and on a more spiritual universe level, it was incredibly satisfying. I really loved the last few episodes. I thought they were just brilliant.
The Cheers finale was one of the biggest TV events of all time, but these days it seems like there’s even more pressure on long-running shows to “stick the landing.” Have you felt that shift during your years on TV?
I suppose so. I think that’s probably more of a “everybody’s got a subjective point of view, and they only care about the ending of shows that are incredibly successful and have been enjoyed.” So everybody’s watching from that point of view, but it doesn’t really diminish the impact of whatever that show did or didn’t do. I think if people are looking at your finale and judging it, that’s probably a good sign. That means you’ve done your work up to that point.
NBC has already given your next project a straight-to-series order. Had you been looking to jump right into a new series?
Tina Fey and Robert Carlock, her partner, created a show a couple of years ago called The Mayor, at that point it was going to be The Mayor of New York. They dusted it off, or took another look. Yes, I was looking for something else to do. I enjoy going to work in four month stretches [on The Good Place’s 13-episode seasons], as opposed to the old-time eight month stretches [on seasons of 22 or more episodes], and I was definitely looking. Any chance you get invited to a party by such talented people as Tina Fey and Robert Carlock, you think seriously about it.
You’ve done some brand partnerships recently with Cigna and Smirnoff. What were those experiences like?
Much fun. Cigna, I liked the message, I liked the holistic approach to health, that’s it’s not just body, but it’s mind as well. So that was easy.
Smirnoff, I loved that it’s an American brand; that kind of tickles me. I loved that it’s the award-winning, best vodka and yet it’s one of the less expensive ones. It’s affordable for everybody. And they were very collaborative. They had great ideas, but they also let me bring in people like Joe Mande who is a writer on The Good Place. He came on the set, and we could pitch ideas that were funny or in the moment. So I had a great time.
What can you say about the next season of Curb Your Enthusiasm and your involvement in it?
[laughs] Very little. I showed up periodically. Naturally [Larry David] picks somebody to do battle with and it’s a character that’s been around in the past. I won’t say anything more than he picks an incredibly petty, stupid argument with somebody, and it totally turns his life upside down, in his vindictive way, trying to best this fellow. He still has me divorced [on the show] from my wife, Mary Steenburgen, which irritates the crap out of me! But he’s so inventive and so funny. It’s fun.
Looking back on this most recent phase of your career, it feels like Damages jumpstarted it, and you’ve been working nonstop since then. Does that also feel like a pivotal role to you?
It was. I would say that Larry David is [also] in there, because around the same time, he invited Mary and I to play ourselves [on Curb]. It rejuvenated my wanting to go off and be funny again. And there was no pressure, just go have fun and be silly and that really made me feel creative again. Then Damages came along. I think by then I realized, what you do is go find very creative people and see if you can be a part of [their work]. Don’t worry about the size, just go be with creative and the odds are a lot better that you’re going to be involved with something authentic and interesting.