Steven Weber Sort of Defends Wings

A couple of years ago, former NBC President of Entertainment Warren Littlefield released an oral history book covering his time at the Peacock network. Entitled Top of the Rock: Inside the Rise and Fall of Must See TV, the book does just what it sounds like, i.e., tells us exactly what went on behind the scenes through the era of Cosby, Cheers, Seinfeld and Friends and how it all fell apart. One of the consistent themes throughout the book is just how many actors describe themselves as starving and broke right before landing the sitcom that changed their life. Another consistent theme is, man, no one at NBC seemed to like Wings and that includes the producers responsible for making the show.

Sigh. But I really liked Wings.

Perhaps I’m overstating it. The network executives and producers didn’t necessarily dislike Wings; they just didn’t have any great love for it, viewing it for it what it was – an also-ran in the Cheers-Frasier universe (heck, Cheers people regularly guest starred on Wings), the consummate definition of a timeslot hit, getting by in those early seasons because it came on after Cheers and enough people simply forgot to change the channel. It lived long enough to see a big syndication payday, re-run ad nauseum by the USA Network.

No one seemed to have much respect for it though, barely caring about the goin-ons at a tiny little aiport in Nantucket and the various love triangles brothers Joe and Brian ended up in. That Lowell was sure funny, though, and the actor – Thomas Haden Church – who played him the clear breakout talent. The rest? Ah, it was a 90s sitcom. Those were a dime a dozen at the time, but stand as artificacts of a different time, the last great stand of the traditional sitcom. Wings just happened to be one of many to run in those years

Sigh. But I really liked Wings. And, hey, get your facts straight. It technically started in the 80s. Plus, aren’t forgetting about Tony Shaloub? He was Antonio the (racial steroetype) cab driver long before he was Monk. Can’t someone defend this show?

Enter Steven Weber, who will always be Brian Hackett to me, but is probably any number of people to others because, damn, that man never stops working. In a recent AVClub interview discussing his career, he addressed Wings thusly:

I was a huge fan of network television growing up and Wings was of that world, the old powerful NBC comedy juggernaut that had Cheers and Taxi and Friends and Seinfeld. Wings was one of those shows that was popular because again, viewership was different than it is today. People still gathered in front of the TV, and it was that appointment viewing that was so important in the industry. So they put us on after Cheers, before another show, and they were able to get a pretty large audience. Bigger than some big hits today, which shows you just how viewership has changed.

Look, it was a far less observant show than either Cheers or Frasier. It didn’t necessarily take any risks with any current topics or sexuality. It was good, a fairly standard comedy but it was almost always well-written. After a couple seasons, we developed better chops than the beginning but we developed a style that is still very watchable. It’s not very dated. The only thing that’s dated is… clothes. The clothes I wore, high-waisted jeans and too-large shirts. But the dynamic between me and Tim [Daly] was a tried and true dynamic that still works today. Worked 50 years ago, will probably work 50 years from now. And it turned out to be a springboard for a lot of writers. It was a great time all around. Looking back now I realize it was at the tail-end of network drama experience. We all had great schedules, made good dough, had a lot of fun. And made a lot of good friendships.

There you go – Wings was an unambitious but otherwise solid product of its time, and everyone who worked on it made a lot of money. Huh. That last part doesn’t seem quite as relevant, but getting on a longrunning sitcom used to be the gravy train toward being set for the rest of your life. We’ll remember the jokes, e.g., Lowell pledging to fight any man who disagrees with his assessment of Tom Petty’s physical beauty, Helen’s psychotic break upon seeing her house burned down and the delicate balance of making sure to not take air traffic controller’s Bob’s donut; they’ll remember the paychecks. I can work with that.

Source: AVClub

About Kelly Konda (1743 Articles)
Grew up obsessing over movies and TV shows. Worked in a video store. Minored in film at college because my college didn't offer a film major. Worked in academia for a while. Have been freelance writing and running this blog since 2013.

3 Comments on Steven Weber Sort of Defends Wings

  1. PatriciaLee // March 21, 2017 at 11:57 PM // Reply

    The husband and I, both, consider Wings the greatest comedy every made. It equals Shakespeare in quality. It is the Shakespearean comedy of our time and culture. Never has there been such a successful comedy and artistic interaction. The husband says, “The only thing that comes close to it is The Honeymooners.” We did not discover it until the reruns. However, we are quite vocal in our appreciation for such a collaborative masterpiece as Wings. And so we watch it, over and over, through the years enjoying the happiness of laughing together. Thank you Wings, for all you have given us. And thank you, Kelly Konda, for this charming article where we can leave this appreciation.

    • I’m suddenly reminded of Tim Allen in the first Toy Story: “You’re mocking me, aren’t you?” Because while I clearly have a soft spot for Wings I would never compare it to Shakespeare. However, if your response is not meant to tease my stated appreciation for the much-derided Wings then I apologize, and am very glad that you and your husband enjoy Wings so much. Tim Daly recently said in an interview that with Wings so far behind him he sometimes catches a bit of an episode and can simply enjoy it as a fan, barely even recognizing the version of himself from a quarter of a century ago. Similar to Weber, his assessment was a very basic “for what Wings was it was a pretty credible little sitcom,” and backed the interviewer’s wishes that Wings at least be thought of as being on par with some of the great traditional sitcoms of that era. If not quite as classic, at least, in a second or third tier of reliable 90s sitcoms.

      • PatriciaLee // March 24, 2017 at 11:37 PM //

        Wow, the writer of the article replied! I would have got back to you, sooner, if that had registered. It just so happens that the husband came up to me, today, and said, “You know, Wings had every line and joke funny. There was not one sentence that did not work.” He spent some time stumbling over words to express its brilliance and how much he enjoys it. He’s just a little guy in this world, and the show resonated. The show has that in common with Shakespeare, a one minute delivery of any line or scene gives an opportunity for brilliance. It was all put together as perfectly as can be done in this imperfect world. Our great fortune in the modern era is that we have the performances of Wings to enjoy over and over.

        I went back to college as a non-traditional student, majoring in psychology. As a historical fiction writer hobbyist, I took one acting class to see what actors encountered for my to-be-written screenplays, and I got hooked. I did a double major, psychology and drama. Stanislavski said that some people were born with the talent, and when I came home from school for those four years, I could see my husband was already expert in what I had just learned. (loving to joke with people his whole life long being his performance outlet, I guess) The point being, I have come to appreciate and trust his insight and feedback, especially when unsolicited it confirmed mine, hence Wings, here. When I read your article, I was stunned to see that Wings was thought merely one of many for its time period. I had to speak up. Shakespeare combined words, story, insight and humanity, as does Wings. The performances added to the scales on Wings side makes them equal in history, for excellence.

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