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The Transformation Of Ted Danson From Childhood To The Good Place

Ted Danson is easily one of the most beloved actors in Hollywood. Over his many decades in the business, the veteran actor has graced us with iconic turns in beloved shows, from his celebrated run on the sitcom "Cheers" to playing a demon with a soft spot on "The Good Place." Along the way, he's garnered awards, headlines, and even a star on the Walk of Fame. To look at Danson now, embedded deeply within the craft and industry that he loves, he is such a natural and good-natured presence that you'd almost think he was born in front of the camera.

Acting careers, however, are rarely linear. There are detours, speed bumps, and crashes between the moments we remember on-screen. Ted Danson's career is a long and storied one, so from childhood to "The Good Place," here's how he came to be the accomplished and renowned actor we know today.

Ted Danson's elite education

Ted Danson — born in 1947 as Edward Bridge Danson III — comes from an ancestry that can be traced back to colonial New England. Danson's father, an archaeologist and director of the Museum of Northern Arizona, enrolled him in the prestigious Kent School, which is a traditional East Coast prep school. There, he played for the basketball team and quickly became one of the star players. (Unsurprisingly, Danson is 6 feet 2 inches tall).

Danson started university at Stanford University in California, majoring in political science before developing a passion for acting when he went on a date with his college crush and tagged along with her to a theater audition. "I got the smallest part you could get," Danson told WNYC Radio. "I was like the fourth rifle carrier on the left. But I was hooked." Determined to pursue his new passion, Danson transferred to the Carnegie Mellon School of Drama during his sophomore year, graduating in 1972. The drama program at CMU, which is the oldest in the nation, is regularly ranked number one among all BFA programs, and the young actor doggedly studied his craft while there.

Upon graduation, Danson moved to New York, where his star was soon to rise.

Ted Danson's first roles were on daytime soap operas

Shortly after moving to New York City, Ted Danson's first role was Tom Conway on the daytime soap "Somerset." The show revolved around a major company's effects on a small town in Illinois. He didn't stay for long, leaving in 1976 after one year on the show. From there, he nabbed a role on another soap, playing Dr. Mitchell Pierson on "The Doctors."

Danson saw his time on daytime soaps as a sort of crucible. "It was the nightmare, you know," he told WNYC Radio. "The actor's nightmare, doing a soap opera. You got the lines the night before, there was nothing natural about them, they were all kind of repetitive." Danson also recalls how demanding the shoots were. "Back then, you couldn't stop tape. A wall could fall, and you did not stop," he said.

But Ted Danson was not destined to remain relegated to the daytime soap circuit. Before long, his big break would come, setting the stage for a lifelong career.

A major breakthrough on Cheers

Ted Danson's big moment finally came when he landed the lead role of bar owner Sam Malone on the hit sitcom "Cheers." "'Cheers' was the big break," Ted Danson told WNYC. "'Cheers' was like being shot out of a cannon as far as celebrity, or attention from the public." The sitcom revolved around a group of Boston residents who congregate at a bar named Cheers, and the role of Sam Malone was the anchoring force that held the show together.

Danson quickly became a household name as "Cheers" mania swept the nation. In its final season, the show was the highest-rated program of the year, even as it competed with truly great shows like "Seinfeld"; only "M*A*S*H" outperformed it for viewership. The final episode was watched at least in part by an estimated 93 million viewers when it aired in May 1993.

"Cheers" launched Danson's career and turned him into a high-demand name. He even guest-starred on the "Cheers" spinoff, "Frasier," reprising the role of Sam Malone.

Ted Danson's thriving career

Since his breakout success, Ted Danson has occupied himself with a variety of roles, often opting for smaller bits where his character acting would prove itself. Notably, he played a lightly fictionalized version of himself on the hit sitcom "Curb Your Enthusiasm," a satire of Hollywood culture written by and starring "Seinfeld" creator Larry David. Danson's character on "Curb Your Enthusiasm" is locked in a bitter rivalry with David, and the pair constantly snipe at each other over comically trivial details. 

Danson now admits he didn't want to do "Curb." Despite being at a crossroads in his career and filled with doubt about the future, he simply didn't think the show would be a success. "The pilot sucked," he told "Off Camera." According to Danson, people invited to watch the pilot fell asleep at the event, and he offered himself to the show as a favor to David. Of course, "Curb Your Enthusiasm" went on to become a phenomenon of its own. "It changed my life," Danson says. "All of a sudden, I was enjoying going to work, and I was laughing again."

Danson has also lent himself to a variety of smaller projects, even appearing in the music video for the Beastie Boys song "Make Some Noise" alongside Seth Rogen and Elijah Wood. He has also appeared on the critically lauded "Fargo" and replaced Laurence Fishburne on "CSI." But Danson's largest lead role since "Cheers" was still to come. In 2016, at the white-haired age of 68, he was cast in one of the biggest sitcoms of the 2010s.

Ted Danson goes demonic for The Good Place

Most recently, Ted Danson was cast in the pivotal role of Michael on "The Good Place," a sitcom about a group of people trapped in the afterlife. He starred alongside Kristen Bell, Jameela Jamil, and more. The show is, by many metrics, his most successful since "Cheers," garnering an eye-popping 97% fresh score on Rotten Tomatoes. Danson's character is a demon who, in a quest to develop a new method of torture for bad people in the afterlife, creates a nightmarish purgatory disguised as "the good place." But over the course of the show, he comes to love humanity and ultimately devotes himself to reforming the process by which people are determined to be good or bad in the first place.

Since the fact that Michael was secretly a demon was a huge spoiler for the 1st season, only Danson and Bell were told about it. While Bell managed to keep the secret under wraps, refraining from telling even her husband, Danson spilled the beans to multiple people. For instance, since showrunner Michael Schur had previously worked on "The Office," Danson told former "Office" star John Krasinski the news for no reason other than to flex. "I wanted to impress my friend," Danson said to Rolling Stone.

The show ran for four seasons, with the emotional finale airing on January 30, 2020.