TV News

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 – 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.


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 (Cheers people regularly guest starred on Wings). It was 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 going-ons at a tiny little airport 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. Then Tony Shaloub came along a little later, and people still know he who is. But, eh, it was what it was. No better than any other network factory sitcom of the era.

But doesn’t it deserve a little more respect than that? Or am I totally blinded by nostalgia here?

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 his current view of Wings:

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


  1. 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.

    1. 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.

      1. 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.

      2. Thanks for sharing your story, and I applaud your return to college as a non-traditional student.

        I grew up on Wings, both first run NBC and then through the many re-runs on USA. I later grew to appreciate and understand this a little more, but Wings was a joke delivery machine, entirely in the same way Cheers, Frasier, Golden Girls and various other sitcoms from that era were. That style of sitcom storytelling is seen as passe now, and only lives on through the Chuck Lorre shows on CBS (Big Bang, Mom, etc.), TV Land and, oddly, The Disney Channel, where the traditional sitcom is very much so alive just with younger casts and more obvious punchlines. However, that’s not why Wings was never respected. Being a fine-tuned, joker delivery machine was to be expected. It came from the same producers behind not just Cheers but also Taxi. They were masters at it, and that was the style for the sitcom format in that era.

        But Wings never quite got over the knock that it was simply an assembly line amalgamation of various other shows, e.g., Faye is a Golden Girl, Joe and Helen’s fights are just like Sam and Diane’s, etc., thrown together and gifted the timeslot immediately after one of the most-watched shows in America, i.e., Cheers. And, to be fair, Wings’ first season, which I believe aired as a mid-season replacement, is really rough. It got better from there, particularly when Tony Shaloub joined the cast as Antonio, but it never really got much love from critics, especially once Frasier came along and actually improved upon Cheers in the eyes of critics and Emmy voters.

        Cheers had a legendary 11 season run, and then so did Frasier. In-between there though was Wings, chugging along as a timeslot hit, filling hour-long, sometimes two hour-long blocks on USA in syndication. To many, it just seemed like an example of the old way of doing things in the TV industry, a classic case of mediocrity being needlessly rewarded, and the way that USA ran the hell out of Wings re-runs made it worse because to some it felt like the show was being shoved down their throats. It’s only in the past decade or so that I’ve encountered more people and more interviews with the actual people who were on Wings where the argument has turned to, “You know what, Wings was actually pretty good.”

  2. It sounds like Wings had the same fortunate curse as did Casablanca, being ignored. The actors in both, just, reported to work and went through their paces, with no interference. A B-run TV show and a B-movie, the B movie is now considered the greatest movie ever produced (except for Citizen Kane). Wings will be recognized for the masterpiece it is, eventually, officially. For now, millions of us know that fact, already. As an aside, one of Wings greatest accomplishments was to be a show devoid of meanness. That cannot be said of like shows then and now. It is a show of great heart, delivering people into laughter, a precious gift in this time of history.

    Kelly, I encourage you to continue seeking out interviews with other cast and crew members of Wings, maybe even compiling them into a book after the web publications. The only reason I found your article was because the husband asked me if they were friends, leading me to do a web search, etc. Thank you so much for this article. It was a delightful read.

  3. I absolutely LOVE Wings. Somehow I missed it when it was current, but now I NEVER miss the reruns. This has to be one of the funniest shows ever. I mean, I laugh from beginning to end, every episode. The banter between the Hackett boys and the rest of the cast never slows down and always brings a laugh. It’s simple fun performed by the perfect cast written by exceptional writers. This show is priceless. I look forward to it every night before bed.

      1. I don’t really have a problem with their clothes. It’s just that fashions have changed since the early 90s. Joe and Brian’s jeans, for example, were totally normal back then, but people would somewhat derisively refer to them as “dad jeans” now. Plus, the bagginess of everyone’s clothes and overabundance of flannel is another bit of “that was the style at the time” but not so much now. By comparison, the Tim Daly in Madame Secretary doesn’t dress anything like the Tim Daly of Wings, nor should he because Madame Secretary is filmed in 2017 and Wings is several decades old.

        That’s just part and parcel of watching an older TV show. It’s not really a criticism. For example, women don’t look like NFL linebackers anymore like they did with all the shoulder pads on Golden Girls, but that doesn’t mean Golden Girls is anything other than brilliant.

  4. I came across Wings by serendipity and very recently. Though I am 29 and born and brought up in south india I loved the show so much and could relate to so many situations in it. Though Wings didn’t get the recognition like Frasier or Friends or Roseanne. It sure is a great sitcom. I have all the episodes in DVD and watch it often to get a good laugh. Chemistry between Joe and Helen is amazing. Wish the show got a few emmys for acting prowess of Tim, Steven and Crystal. Considering the stupid shows now a days this sure was a gem.

  5. Literally watching a rerun episode of Wings right now. It is exceptionally underrated. I mean how often are shows consistently – 10 out of 10 times – well written, well acted, and classic in their approach? I think the actors are too jaded by Hollywood/TV critics and the insiders views that they don’t even know their own opinion about how good the show was or how good they were in it. They’re still seeing it from others perspectives. How many characters are indelible in our memories. Weber had a high heel stuck through his forehead in SWF for God’s sake, and he’s still always going to be Brian Hackett NASA dropout with mad flirting skills to me. I LOVED Madam Secretary- LOVED LOVED it – but forgot the same actor who played Joe Hackett played the husband. Sometimes… and not by accident…magic and miracles happen when no one applies terrifying pressure and no one is looking too closely.

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