ABC's "Cheers" had been very good to writer/producers Peter Casey, David Lee and David Angell.
Since joining the top-rated series in 1983, Angell received five Emmy nominations and two awards. Lee and Casey, producers and writers for "The Jeffersons," hopped on the "Cheers" bandwagon in 1985 and garnered five nominations for writing and producing. With Angell, they received an Emmy last year for producing "Cheers."
But they all said cheerio to "Cheers" this season for their own comedy series, "Wings," whiih premieres Thursday at 9:30 p.m. on NBC.
Set in a small airport in Nantucket, "Wings" stars Timothy Daly and Steven Weber as Joe and Brian Hackett, two mismatched, once-estranged brothers who run a fledgling airline. Crystal Bernard plays Helen, their childhood buddy who runs the lunch counter and moonlights as a cello teacher.
"When writers break into this business, you aim for your own series," said Angell, with his partners in their antique-laden Paramount Studios office. "As terrific as 'Cheers' was for us, and it was a wonderful experience, it was just time to do our own show."
So how did "Wings" take flight?
"A year ago July we were having breakfast at the Beverly Garland Howard Johnson's," said Lee. "David turned to us and said, 'How about a small airport?' "
All three agreed it was the perfect setting. "We had been looking for a venue for a long time, knowing we were going to leave for our own show," said Casey.
"There were some things we didn't want it to be."
They didn't want their sitcom set in a living room. They didn't want any children on the series and didn't want any character described as "crusty yet benign" or "streetwise"-- "particularly streetwise children," said Lee.
"It's not that we have anything against those people personally," said Casey, laughing. "They all have their place on this earth, just not our show. We just liked the idea of a show situated in a workplace. It was more adult."
"When David mentioned the idea of an airport, any story could walk through the door and affect our characters," said Lee.
But there were also problems. "Airports are very transient places," said Casey.
"It's not like people settle in at a bar someplace, where they are comfortable to stay there, so you have to find ways of having the story stay there. Having it set in a place like Nantucket, which is sort of a resort area, it's easy to have people coming in and out of an airport."
The three visited airports in Oxnard and Camarillo and discovered it was exactly as they envisioned it. "There was a lot of down time when pilots were waiting," said Lee.
"That was necessary because we couldn't have a place where it was constantly bustling," said Angell.
Setting in hand, the three went off to Laguna Beach for a weekend to hash out characters and concept. "We rented a room and we sat around and ate extremely well," said Casey.
"There were a lot of permutations," said Angell.
"Originally, there were competing airlines, one owned by a man and the other by a woman." said Casey. "But that was getting too close to 'Cheers.' We would run into a wall, and then we would go back and retrace our steps."
Though the three work well together, Lee admits the partnership is not without problems. "We are all opinionated people," said Lee. "I think that's good. We are allowed our opinions and allowed to express them and allowed to get angry. You can kind of duke it out and forget about it the next day."
When the trio initially pitched their idea to NBC, the network couldn't visualize a series set in an airport. "They kept thinking, 'All we are going to see are the backs of people standing in ticket lines,' " said Casey. "So we literally drew them a picture of the airport."
"I think once they understood how small the airport was, they liked it," said Angell.
What sparked NBC's interest, said Lee, was the relationship between the two offbeat brothers. "With 'Cheers,' they always said that 'Cheers' was the car and Sam and Diane and Sam and Rebecca were the engine. In this case, the airport is the car, and the other characters are its passengers. But it's basically Brian and Joe who are going to drive the series forward."
Though Daly starred in the film "Diner" and CBS' short-lived "Almost Grown" series and Weber appeared in ABC's "The Kennedys of Massachusetts," neither are household names. That's what the producers wanted.
"People didn't know who Ted Danson and Shelley Long were before 'Cheers,' " said Angell.
"We wanted to bring fresh faces to the series," said Lee.
But they concur that launching a series without established stars puts more pressure on the creative team. "The material has to be good" said Casey. "If you have something that stars somebody the audiences like or are familiar with, they'll probably hang with it."
"This is definitely a harder route to take," said Lee. "There's a different way we could have cast it, with Valerie Bertinelli as Helen, Tim Matheson as Joe, Michael Keaton as . . .
"Michael Keaton!-you wish," said Casey, laughing. "We had a wish list, but I don't think Paramount had enough money to pay for that."