Dave Hackel [Interview]

 

Well Folks! What a wonderful week we have had here! I almost feel as though we have celebrated the show pretty well since last Sunday. But, it would be remiss of us to not throw in one more wonderful feature for you al….with THE GODDAMNED CREATOR OF BECKER!!!! That’s right Folks, Today’s interview subject is the one and only Dave Hackel, the man who wrote and developed our dear hero, Mr. John Becker into existence! This is pretty damn huge for us Everyone. The idea of one day having Dave featured on Trainwreck’d Society was but a pipe dream I had when I created this little site almost 9 years ago. And wouldn’t you know it, some dreams do come true!

And as we were so glad to learn, Mr. Hackel is a hell of a nice person! And, as we already knew prior to going into this interview, he has been responsible for some of the greatest television ever put out, even beyond what we consider the best show of all time. He has worked on other classic programs like Webster, Wings, Frasier, and so much more. It was such a delight to get to know a bit more about one of the people who inspired me at such a young age, and created a project that has continued to have a real impact on my life.

On a conclusive note here, I want to thank everyone for coming along on this journey in celebrating Becker as a show, and as a movement. I have never understood how some television programs have received legendary status based on almost zero merit. And some shows have a successful run, but seem to be left in a vault somewhere, adored (even moderately I suppose) at its time, yet almost forgotten over time. Becker is and will always be my favorite sitcom of all time. And with that, I am so glad that we got to have this week. And again, thank you all for coming along on this journey. And thank you to Ian Gurvitz, Michael Markowitz, Russ Woody, and today’s incredible interview subject Dave Hackel for gracing our digital pages throughout this week!.

So Folks, please enjoy some incredible words from the even more incredible Dave Hackel!

 

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When did you first decide you want to join the world of television? Was it something you had wanted to do since your youth? Or did you just happen to find yourself in this world one day?

I was addicted to television as a child.  The choices were few in those days, but I watched as much as I possibly could.  I found it utterly fascinating…almost magical.  During high school and college I worked in radio, but as soon as I got my degree I accepted a job at a small cable outlet in Columbus, Ohio.  At that time, the legal requirement for cable companies was that a certain number of hours of local programming had to air each day, and my job was to come up with those shows.   Our small crew wrote, directed and even ran camera for all the shows.  Occasionally, we also served as on-camera talent.  It was a great learning experience.

When I moved to Los Angeles, my goal was to work in television in some capacity.  Eventually, I found a job working for a company that provided prizes and promotional consideration on various game and talk shows.  The best thing about it was that I got to spend most of my time working at the studios where I met a lot of people who were generous with their knowledge of production.

Eventually, I met people who were producing scripted shows for the networks and was invited to submit ideas to them. I worked on both comedies and dramas and eventually found my niche writing and producing sitcoms.

What was your very first paid gig in the world of television? And where there any sort of lessons learned from this experience that continued to affect your work in the years to come?

My very first paid writing job was on a sitcom spun off from Barney Miller, called Fish.  It starred Abe Vigoda.  At the time I was writing with a partner, Steve Hattman, and that episode of Fish was our first network sale.  The producers of the show were seasoned veterans and seeing the way they constructed their stories and hearing the types of notes they gave us throughout the process was very instructive.  I believe that the lessons learned from them served both of us well throughout our careers.

Over the years here at TWS, we have had many folks who have worked on the incredible series you created entitled Becker, which has become a staple around here. From writers who were there the entire run, to actors who only appeared in one single episode – they all say the same thing…this show was special. I know that I felt that way as a viewer in my formative years, as well. So, as the man who created it all, I am curious to know what your thoughts are on the run that was the incredible series Becker. What set this project apart from all of the projects you had worked on prior to it? 

First of all, thank you.  Your compliments are humbling.  It’s always nice to hear that the hard work we all did to make Becker was appreciated.  What made the series special to me was that Paramount, CBS and the audience allowed us to make a show that was…at the time…a little different.

By today’s standards, the character of John Becker would likely seem tame, but twenty years ago that was not the case.  He was not the type of “feel good” character that inhabited most television comedies at that time.  He was brutally honest, not very politically correct and – bottom line – a damaged soul.   Believe me, a flawed character like that is fun to write for.  The whole staff got to use Dr. Becker to work out issues of our own.   If someone cut in front of one of us in line, rather than get into a public altercation, we let Becker yell at them instead.  If one of us had an argument with our wife or girlfriend, we let Becker plead our case.  If we saw a public figure traffic in untruths, we let Becker call them out.  It was a very cathartic experience.

And while I give the entire cast and all of the writers and directors a great deal of credit, none of it would have been possible without Ted Danson playing the title role.   He brought his exceptional acting skills to the part, of course.  But Ted also gave a underlying likability to the character that kept Becker’s sometimes harsh words and attitudes from going too far.  Yes, Dr. Becker was angry…but I believe that our audience sensed that, down deep, that he was also caring.  That, I believe, was key to the show’s success.

 

 

 

Also, as the man who created this show that we know and love so damn much, I am curious to know what you think Dr. John Becker would be doing right now, 15 years since the last new episode of Becker aired? Same for any other character from the show you might like to elaborate on? What is the amazing team of characters that formed Becker doing these days?

Interesting question.  I’ve never really thought about what the characters might be doing today, but it was a fun exercise.

I honestly think that John Becker would still be practicing medicine in that same small office in the Bronx.  Over the course of the series he had a number of opportunities to leave for greener pastures, but I believe he was, in his own way, happy there.  So I think that he would still be a part of that community.  A thorn in its side, perhaps, but I doubt he’d ever have voluntarily left his patients in someone else’s care.  As for his personal life, as sad as it sounds, I think he’d still be alone.  As much as I believe he might want to be in a relationship, I’m not sure he would be capable of either the compromise or commitment that would be needed.

As people do in real life, characters pass through each other’s lives, so I’d guess that the others would have all moved on by now. Margaret would have retired by this time and would be spending her time happily volunteering at her church.  Reggie and Chris would have successful careers and personal relationships.  Jake would be married and definitely would have moved on from the newsstand – perhaps becoming a writer telling stories of all he’d “seen” in the neighborhood.  I think Bob might have taken over the diner where he’d hold court daily and spend his spare time searching Tinder.  And, Linda?  I’d like to think that she would have found a way to capitalize on her questionable work ethic – perhaps inventing some sort of time wasting smartphone app that would net her billions.

One last Becker related question, and I will keep it simple- Do you have a singular favorite episode of Becker that you are particularly fond of? Is there one that will always consider the master achievement of the series? Why or why not?

This is like asking me to choose my favorite child.  Impossible.  I liked different episodes for different reasons, but I was most proud when I believed we’d told a story in a way no other show on TV at that time could or would have.  Here are a few that come to mind.

“Man Plans, God Laughs” because it allowed John to debate religion with a priest and discuss his own faith…or lack thereof.  “P.C. World” because it gave Becker the opportunity to brilliantly and successfully take on an unfair critic in a public forum as only he could.  “Talking Points,” an episode about a patient of Becker’s who suffered from A.L.S.  (It was written by Russ Woody, and inspired by his own father’s story.)  All of our Christmas episodes because each one was more twisted than the last.  And “Subway Story” – an episode that told the story of Becker helping a woman who’d lost her son on 9/11.  “Becker” was, I believe, the only sitcom that dealt with the events of that tragic day.

I am curious to know what you are most proud of when you look back on your incredible career in the world of television? Not necessarily one particular show (although it could be, if you so choose), but looking back at your career as a whole, what are you the most pleased to know you accomplished?

When I was a child, I used to fantasize about being a part of show business.  From where my journey began, it was a goal that seemed completely unattainable.  So what pleases me the most is that, with hard work and twice as much luck, it eventually happened.   And I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention how proud I am of my friends and colleagues with whom, even on the most difficult days, made me laugh out loud.

What does the future hold for you? Anything you would like to plug to our readers?

I retired from day-to-day television production almost fifteen years ago, so I have no new shows to promote.  But I’ve heard it said that being a writer is like having homework every day for the rest of your life, so I plan to keep writing.  Currently I’m working on a new screenplay.

What was the last thing that made you smile?

Neal Brennan’s special on Netflix entitled “Three Mics.”  It’s very funny and quite thoughtful, too.

 

 

About rontrembathiii
write. write. write.

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