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A Dramatic Transition
Legal Thriller Broadens Ted Danson's Acting Chops

By Marc D. Allan
Special to The Washington Post
Sunday, July 22, 2007

He'll always be Sam Malone and, to a lesser extent, John Becker, but you're about to see Ted Danson in another light. The longtime sitcom actor co-stars in "Damages," a dramatic series about a CEO (played by Danson) who's involved in an Enron-type scandal and a lawyer (Glenn Close) who will stop at nothing to bring him down.

Danson's taken on his share of dramatic roles -- his movie credits include "The Onion Field" and "Saving Private Ryan" -- but this is one of the rare parts that goes against the "nice guy" image he cultivated during 11 seasons on "Cheers." It'll be Danson's challenge to convince a jury, and viewers, that his character sold shares of his company's stock without any knowledge that the bottom was about to fall out.

Danson said he sees working with Close as an opportunity to sharpen his acting skills.

"I believe it's true that if you're playing tennis with somebody who's better than you, your game improves," said Danson, 59.

Danson talked to TV Week about his role on the new show, his acting career and more:

For a while now, you've been playing characters who have a nasty edge. By design, or luck of the draw?

I think luck of the draw. It was fun to find Becker because Sam Malone's voice was so recognizable. But it wasn't by design. If you're not going to be the romantic leading man, jumping over tall buildings, you might as well be the old, bitter guy who's blowing them up. [laughs]

Your character in "Damages," Arthur Frobisher, is modeled after [the late] Kenneth L. Lay in a situation that mirrors the Enron scandal. How closely did you follow that situation and what did you take away that you're using in this role?

I'd go with [CEO] Jeffrey Skilling, not Lay. I followed it a little bit in the papers, but I did see "The Smartest Guys in the Room," which was a very powerful documentary about that. I also talked to a lot of CEOs, who were kind enough to spend an hour with me. I did that just to get over the fact that they come in all shapes and sizes and all different styles, so I didn't feel like I had to be nailed down to one kind of strong-jawed image, which was the stereotype in my head.

One of the surprises of "Damages" is that your character, at least in the pilot, isn't nearly as nasty as the lawyer he's up against.

That was definitely the guys' intention [writers Glenn Kessler, Todd A. Kessler and Daniel Zelman]. They wanted to play in this area of power, and it's gray -- not black and white. Glenn [Close] and I both have baggage to viewers. I'm playing the guy who did something bad, but, "Oh, come on, it's Ted. Good ol' Ted." And Glenn's playing the good guy, but, "Uh-oh, 'Fatal Attraction.' She's a little scary." It's great to go into those gray areas.

We last saw you in this past fall's short-lived sitcom "Help Me Help You." How did you feel about that show?

I can say "no comment" because I'm a billionaire now and I don't have to answer that question. [laughs] I really loved who I was working with. I thought we had a great idea. I think we would have gotten a lot better with time. But I can't dissect anything I'm in. I will say what I think, generically, about half-hour, one-camera comedies, which is that it's very hard to make them work.

After you've been on a show like "Cheers," one of the best comedies of all time, how do you avoid thinking the best thing you're ever going to do is over?

The process of acting is what I love. I love that "Cheers" was successful and allowed me to keep working, to this day, probably a little bit, off of "Cheers." So I'm thrilled at the success of "Cheers." If I never do anything that's perceived to be as good as "Cheers," that ain't bad, either.

DAMAGES

Tuesdays

10 p.m., FX

About the Show

"Damages" is a drama set in New York about a lawyer who will do whatever it takes to nail a CEO who sold shares of his company's stock before the firm went south.

THE PLAYERS:

· Patty Hewes (Glenn Close) is either the lawyer of your dreams -- if she's on your side -- or your worst nightmare. The question is whether she's really on anyone's side other than her own.

· Arthur Frobisher (Ted Danson) is the CEO she's after. He claims he didn't know the company was going under when he sold his shares of stock.

· Parsons (Rose Byrne) is a young lawyer brought into Patty Hewes's firm. She may be Hewes's greatest legal find or collateral damage in her quest to win the case.

· Tom Shayes (Tate Donovan) is Hewes's top assistant -- until he's fired. Will he get revenge, or is there something more sinister going on?

· Ray Fiske (Zeljko Ivanek) is Frobisher's lawyer. He's caught between Hewes's viciousness and Frobisher's egocentric orders.

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