Hockey Headlines

Wednesday, 23 November 2016

Written Out By Zamboni

After what seems to be a number of serious articles, I need a light-hearted article to break up this constant serious tone. The man to the left may not be known to many, but that is actor, comedian, and radio host Jay Thomas. Thomas has accomplished many things in his life to date including stints on TV shows such as Mork & Mindy and Murphy Brown, made appearances in movies such as Mr. Holland's Opus and The Santa Clause 2, and has hosted The Jay Thomas Show on Sirius Satellite Radio since 2005. It was his stint as Eddie LeBec on Cheers, though, that thrust Jay Thomas into hockey and TV infamy.

Secondary characters are used in TV shows all the time to advance story lines or give main characters an interesting story arc. Jay Thomas' character, Eddie LeBec, was added the show in Season 5 as Carla's boyfriend. Carla, as you may know, was played by Rhea Perlman. One season later, the oft-seen LeBec married Carla, and it seemed as though Jay Thomas would be a mainstay on the Cheers set. Instead, Thomas was dismissed from the show in Season 8, and LeBec was killed off in a most unusual way.

When Carla married Eddie, he was earning a living by playing goalie for the NHL's Boston Bruins as part of the Cheers sports theme. His game began to falter, so he retired from hockey and joined a touring ice dancing show called "The Wonderful World of Ice". Eddie played a penguin in the show that toured from city to city. Everything seems pretty normal for a sitcom character, right? I mean, how many hockey stars in real-life move to a touring ice dancing troupe once his career is over? Exactly.

Everything was normal until a radio listener called into Jay's radio show and asked a question: "What is it like to be on Cheers?" Seems fairly harmless, right?

According to Ken Levine, who wrote shows for Cheers, it was anything but harmless.
He said something to the effect of "It's brutal. I have to kiss Rhea Perlman." Well, guess who happened to be listening.

Jay Thomas was never seen on CHEERS again. To explain his departure we decided to just kill him, which led to one of my favorite episodes that David and I wrote, "Death Takes a Holiday on Ice". First off, we needed a funny demise. Eddie, by then, was working as a penguin in an ice show so we arrived at a Zamboni machine accident. (We were worried that we wouldn’t be able to use the name Zamboni but the company loved it.)

Then we needed (a) some comic spin for the story, and (b) something to discredit Eddie so the audience would ultimately be glad he was out of Carla’s life. The answer was at the funeral Carla learned that he was a polygamist, and had a second wife (who looked just like Carla). It was BIG LOVE going for big laughs. The episode earned us an Emmy nomination (and Emmy loss…I wonder if Jay Thomas was on the blue ribbon committee???)
According to CBR.com, Thomas' comments were a little more harsh, leading to his dismissal after Perlman heard them.
When asked about kissing Carla on Cheers, Thomas noted he received combat pay for doing so. Soon after, rather than being added as a cast member like Bebe Neuwirth (who also made recurring appearances in seasons 6 and 7 before being officially joining the cast in Season 8), Thomas was done for good. He recalled:

I'm doing Cheers, having the greatest time of my life, and one day I get a phone call from Jimmy. I knew they were deciding [about] whether to add me or Bebe to the cast full-time, and I thought he was calling with good news. He said, like in a movie, "Are you sitting down?" And he goes, "Look, we're not going to have you back on the show. And it has nothing to do with Rhea."
Clearly, there are two versions of this story as Rhea Perlman has always maintained that she had nothing to do with Thomas' dismissal from the show, and that the direction of the story between Carla and Eddie was the reason for his zamboni demise. However, Ken Levine told CBR.com, "Rhea came up to my office and she was furious — I'd never seen her like this. She said, "I want him off the show.'"

Judge for yourself, I guess, but Jay has told the same story over the years, and has even told the story on the Howard Stern Show. While there was no footage of the death-by-zamboni, it is still one of TV's most unique deaths of a character in the history of television. All of this happened on November 9, 1989 and people were still reeling over Eddie's death two weeks later!

While his character was killed off by a zamboni, Jay Thomas got bodychecked by Rhea Perlman thanks to his comments about the actress on the radio. And that's how he got iced!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

No comments: