David Hackel is made as heck and he's not going to take it anymore. And that explains the new CBS sitcom "Becker," which stars Ted Danson as a loud-mouthed, opinionated doctor.
"Everybody in this room has had it up to here about something," Hackel recently told a gathering of TV critics. "I've been on the planet for almost 49 years and a lot of stuff (ticks) me off. And there's not a form to say that. . . . I think that political correctness has taken us to a point where you have to dance so lightly you can't have opinions."So I created this character - and Ted gave voice to it - that can say a few of these things."
In tonight's pilot episode (8:30 p.m., Ch. 2), Becker sounds off about a lot of things, including TV talk shows, people from other countries, fat people, blind people, Harvard, beggers, women and even religion.
"You're really a miserable human being," one of his friends says.
"That doesn't mean I'm not right," Becker says.
And, as Hackel said, it's hard not to agree with him at times. Like when Becker talks about talk shows.
"It's like America stepped in something and it's scraping off its shoe directly over my TV set. I'm telling you, Jerry Springer, Jenny Jones, they're all broadcasting straight from hell," Becker says.
Hackel and Danson have created a very funny, distincitve character who's at the center of a comedy with plenty of potential. It's a smart career move by Danson to play a character who's in an entirely different league from the nice guy he played on "Cheers." And the familiarity viewers have with Danson from his 11 years as Sam Malone actually helps "Becker."
"I think we can go further with Becker if my image is basically that of a nice guy," Danson said.
And he's enjoying the part.
"At age 50, it's nice not to have to be nice," Danson said. "I spend a great many hours a day being politically correct. It's great to go to work and be a schmuck."
"However, I think that Becker's still a pretty nice guy," Hackel added.
Which is an important point to remember. As obnoxious as Becker is, he's also a caring doctor. When he's berating an overweight patient, it's because he cares about the guy.
"Check out the Hippocratic oath - it doesn't mention nice," Becker says.
And, in an age where political correctness does seem to be running rampant, it's fun to see a guy who speaks him mind - even if he's not always right. It's something Hackel said he had trouble with on other shows he had written, including "Dear John," "Wings" and "Frasier."
"We got to the point, certainly in half-hours, where you couldn't write about anything without offending someone. And it got a little silly," Hackel said. "I did a show once where we made a joke about a massage therapist and the next morning the National Association of Massage Therapists called and they didn't like it. A couple of years ago on `Frasier' we did a joke about someone ordering a mail-order bride from another country and their embassy called the next morning - they didn't like it.
"These are jokes. These are observations. I was so frustrated with it that it was time to just write about everything and let the chips fall where they may."
But it's not as if Becker makes outrageous statements that go unchallenged. The supporting characters in the show sort of roll their eyes and often tell him what a jerk he is.
"I swear, Becker, if you're not talking medicine you're just an idiot," says Reggie (played by Terry Farrell of "Star Trek: Deep Space Nine").
The supporting characters are good ones. Reggie owns the local diner Becker frequents. Jake (Alex Desert) is the blind man who owns the local newstand. Margaret (Hattie Winston of "Homefront") is Becker's no-nonsense nurse. And Linda (Shawnee Smith) is the rather dizzy new nurse's aide.
They're all good foils for Becker, allowing Hackel to create a character who shoots of his mouth pretty much constantly.
"Oscar Levant once said something that I've always remembered and I love," Hackel said. "He said, `It'd be nice to please everyone but I thought it would be more interesting to have a point of view.'
"And (Becker's) point of view is going to be that life's too short to suffer fools lightly."
Which, of course, doesn't always make Becker the most likable guy.
"That, we think, is the richness of the character," Hackel said. "I think not everyone's going to like him. I fully expect that. But I think if we lessen that, we're just doing sort of a doctor show that has been done before."
And "Becker" is better than your average sitcom. And the character has more depth than you might expect at first.
As the mother of one young patient tells him, "You just may go to heaven whether you like it or not."
"Thanks. That's the first time anyone's ever suggested I go in that direction," Becker says.