Possessing credits for writing and producing three popular American sitcoms and multiple Emmy wins, the 20 plus year career of David Angell will never be forgotten. You’ve seen his name in the credits of some of the most must-watch TV of the 1980s and 90s but probably never truly knew what he accomplished. While Angell was responsible for the quality of a few programs you might be familiar with, you have to wonder what more he could have contributed to the history of TV if he were still with us. He easily would have been one of the more prominent television producers around today had tragedy not struck. What did he work on and why is it so important? Well you’re about to find out.
A native Rhode Islander, Angell later relocated to Los Angeles and started his career as a writer in the early 80s. He caught his big break in 1983 as a writer on the NBC show, Cheers. The series starred Ted Danson as Sam Malone, the blue-collar Joe who ran the titular watering hole in the heart of Boston. This historical tavern would feature regular patrons shooting the breeze and sharing their quarrels. Though initially off to a rocky start, it would find its footing and become one of the most popular television shows of all time; responsible for launching the careers of Danson, Kirstie Alley, Woody Harrelson, and Kelsey Grammer among others. To this very day, the historic “Cheers Beacon Hill” bar, where the show’s primary hangout was based on, is a huge tourist attraction in Boston where hundreds frequent it daily.
Angell penned 77 episodes throughout the series’ nine year run and scored his very first Emmy award for Outstanding Writing in a Comedy Series in 1984. In 1985, he signed on as a producer and later, was promoted to supervising producer, until 1989 nabbing his second Emmy award for Outstanding Comedy Series in the process. It was on Cheers that Angell first met his future producing partners, David Lee and Peter Casey, with whom he’d form Green Street Productions. The latter two met while working as writers/producers on The Jeffersons in the 1970s. As a unit, while Cheers was still airing, the three were able to create a new series also based in Massachusetts. The result would be the first presentation from Green Street Productions, Wings.
Premiering on NBC in 1990, Wings starred Tim Daly and Steven Weber as Joe and Brian Hackett, two estranged siblings who are pilots. They reconcile in the pilot (see what I did there? Har har) episode and Brian decides to work for Joe’s small airline, Sandpiper Air, on the fictional island of Nantucket. Most of the show takes place at the airport where Sandpiper competes with the much larger, AirMass and its boisterous owner, Roy Biggums. Other characters include Faye, Sandpiper’s only other employee and Helen, Joe’s girlfriend and eventual wife, who runs the Lunch Counter while pursuing her career as a cellist. The program was also the first real exposure of Thomas Haden Church who played the airport’s handyman, Lowell, before leaving the show in 1995. Later on, Tony Shalhoub joined the cast as Antonio, an Italian cab driver and Amy Yasbeck came onboard as Helen’s sister, Casey. Angell had another homerun on his hands as Wings ran for eight seasons ending in 1997. I remember reruns always being advertised on the USA network throughout the 90s which is where I first caught a few episodes before reliving the entire series on Netflix a few years ago. Fun fact: Oscar-nominated actor, John Hawkes, appears in a few episodes as a creepy waiter. This was many years before he’d catch on with the public eye.
There were even a few crossovers with Cheers, the most famous being the cute little episode in season three where psychiatrists, Dr. Frasier Crane, played by Grammer, and Dr. Lilith Sternin, portrayed by Bebe Neuwirth, fly into Nantucket so Frasier can give a seminar.
Going back to Cheers now, it ran for 11 seasons before ending in 1993. On the show, the two characters who won over the hearts of millions of viewers were indeed Frasier and Lilith, the cutest couple in primetime. They got together, fell in love, got married, and conceived a child. Though they eventually split, the character of Frasier was critically hailed which prompted Angell, Casey, and Lee, to show audiences how Frasier coped with life after marriage and thus their second series, the spin-off, Frasier, was born.
Debuting in 1993, right after Cheers’ end, Frasier puts the character back in his hometown of Seattle, as he tries to get his life back on track. He works as a psychiatrist on a popular radio program where he often puts his foot into his mouth. Neuworth reprises her character in several episodes and a reunion of the two is teased several times. Joining Frasier on his journey are his brother, fellow psychiatrist, Dr. Niles Crane (played by David Hyde Pierce) and his father, Marty, a retired cop who moves in with Frasier after he’s left handicapped via a gunshot wound to the hip. In the pilot, Frasier hires a homecare provider named Daphne, a British woman who catches the eyes of Niles. After some trial and tribulation, they both fall for one another and eventually, the two marry. Rounding out the principle cast is Frasier’s producer, Roz, who is like a sister to him. This was the first series of Angell to not take place in the New England area as Frasier is relocated to the west coast.
Two recurring theme throughout the show are Niles and Frasier’s hoity toity tastes and snobbish personalities often clashing with their father’s more down to earth outlook on life and Niles’ wife, Maris, is never seen on-screen. Many guest stars were seen throughout the show, my favorite being Michael Keaton playing the half-brother of Lilith who turns out to be a con artist in season nine. Of course, Angell, Lee ,and Casey never forgot their roots as numerous callbacks to Cheers are in effect here including a full reunion of the cast. Personally, I loved when Woody Harrelson’s character of Woody Boyd shows up to catch up with Dr. Crane in season six.
Angell and his cohorts won an Emmy for writing on the series in 1994 as well as capturing the Emmy for Best Outstanding Comedy Series from 1994 to 1998. For me, while my mother always loved the series, I never cared to view it until 2012 when I decided to binge the entire show on Netflix. Before then, my exposure of Grammar was his role as Beast in X-Men: The Last Stand and I knew Pierce as the voice of Abe Sapien in Hellboy. Outside of TGIF (article coming soon!), I didn’t watch too many sitcoms growing up but I’m glad I eventually got to view Frasier as it’s an extremely witty program. It ran for 11 seasons, finally ending in 2004. It’s just too bad Angell wasn’t around to see the end of it.
On September 11th, 2001, Angell was aboard American Airlines Flight 11, the first flight that crashed into the World Trade Center that morning and, along with his wife, Lynn, was killed. He was 55 years old. His death occurred two weeks before the season nine premiere of Frasier which was dedicated to his memory. Neither David Lee nor Peter Casey have produced anything of note since the show’s finale.
The everlasting influence that those three shows had on current programming is second to none. There’s obvious influence of Cheers in many sitcoms since its ending, most personally for me being How I Met Your Mother and Parks & Recreation, two of my all-time favorite TV shows. Presentations such as Modern Family and even The Simpsons contain some of the behind-the-camera staff that had previously worked on Cheers. RIP, David Angell, you gave us a ton of laughs and clarity.