If you’ve been alive at any time in the last 25 years or so, you’ve almost certainly seen George Wendt in something or another. That “something” is most likely to be the popular and long-running NBC sitcom “Cheers,” since it was on for 11 years and was one of the most popular shows in the country. But Wendt has done a lot besides just play Norm Peterson, sporadically-employed accountant.
A Chicago native, Wendt joined the Second City improvisational troupe, which turned out such legendary local talent as John Belushi, John Candy and Gilda Radner. It wasn’t long before he started getting cast in bit roles in movies and television, but it was with “Cheers” that he became a permanent fixture in American life.
In a career spanning over 40 years, Wendt has of course had some ups and downs, not the least of which was 1995’s “The George Wendt Show,” which premiered on CBS and did not even get the chance to see all eight of its episodes aired before the network yanked it due to low ratings. But Wendt just kept on trucking, and has kept working right up to this day, so go suck a dick, CBS!
The Z Review would like to thank perennial favorite Mr. Wendt for agreeing to be the inaugural subject of what will be our new “Five Questions” feature. We couldn’t be happier that he agreeing to dip his toe in this particular pool before everyone else jumps in. We hope our questions are better than the stupid ones most interview subjects usually get.
TZR: “Cheers” took place in a bar in Boston. Why was no one on the show ever drunk? Was this a conscious decision or did it just work out that way?
GW: I think in the pilot episode I was sort of loaded. Coach walked me to the door, etc. The producers didn’t want the show or the characters to be any sadder than they already were, so that aspect was downplayed thereafter. Also, there was pressure on the network from groups such as Mothers Against Drunk Driving to make sure we referenced taxis and the like.
TZR: Why was “The George Wendt Show” cancelled?
GW: “The George Wendt Show” was cancelled because no one thought it worked. Critics hated it. It was very loosely based on the Magliozzi Brothers’ NPR show about cars, which people loved. It should have been more closely based on them.
TZR: Did being part of Second City open doors for you as an actor?
GW: 1980 was a great time to arrive in Hollywood with a Second City background. I had a shockingly easy time getting an agent, and they had a relatively easy pitch to get me in to see producers, by mentioning that I was new in town from Second City.
TZR: Do you feel like there’s anything on television or in the movies right now that’s up to the level of the classic shows and movies you’ve been in, or has the industry changed too much?
GW: There are plenty of great TV shows and movies these days. Another “golden age” if you will, especially for TV. Movies are tough for me to watch. I prefer the arthouse-type movies. Mall movies are more like thrill rides, which I never cared for.
Multi-cam live audience shows are on the wane. There are a few exceptions, but it would be tough to sustain. The Charles Brothers were so sophisticated. Nowadays — geezer alert — there are lots of dick jokes. Seems like the cleverest writing is for animation and single camera shows.
TZR: What’s something about you that might surprise some people to know?
GW: People may be surprised to find me out at live music events, mostly post punk, fast, loud, guitar rock and roll.