What Made Ted Danson Pivot From Comedy to Conservation?

Mark talks with one of the world's most likeable guys about his work on and off the screen

“I didn't have the heart to tell Ted Danson that I never once watched Cheers — though it turns out he doesn't care,” Mark says in his introduction to this week’s episode of Food with Mark Bittman. Mark did love The Good Place, and most of us have seen and loved Danson in one of his TV or movie roles (Three Men and a Baby, anyone?). The thing is, Danson also helped found Oceana — the largest international advocacy organization focused solely on ocean conservation — and is a passionate and incredibly articulate advocate for sane fisheries management and the protection of our oceans. His conversation with Mark is a great one — and no, it’s not just about fish. After Mark talks to Danson, he chats with the brilliant Dr. Daniel Pauly, a well-known marine biologist on the Oceana board with Danson. Some excerpts are below, and, if you’re so inclined, listen, subscribe, and review! Thank you, as always.

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On working with Oceana:

“I surrounded myself with these amazing people. And I've always known that my job was, you know, ‘Thank you for watching Cheers, while we're talking, do you mind if I introduce you to this marine biologist who has something really important to say?’ I’m the shill in front of the tent, where the good stuff is happening.”

On how to get people to care:

When it comes to fish, you can't ask, “What can I do?” Rather, you have to ask, “What's at stake?” says Danson, “because you don't want to put people to sleep. Educate yourself not to be a good environmentalist, but because of your health. That's real. So if you let science lead the way, stop being wasteful, stop being destructive, fisheries, by and large, will come back. If you draw a circle, and inside that circle, you don't fish anymore — and you can categorize, maybe you can do no commercial fishing, recreational fishing, there are different ways to categorize that protected area — the fish start bubbling over the side of that circle and fishermen are, when they do it, happy with the results. You create more fish, more jobs, more money.”

On Larry David and Curb Your Enthusiasm:

“I always love going to work with Larry David, and I have to credit him. He did change things around for me because when I started [Curb Your Enthusiasm] — for me, it was when I had just finished Cheers and Becker, and I felt like I had stayed at the half-hour sitcom too long. And I wasn't amusing myself, and other people were doing it better, so I was kinda unenthusiastic about acting. And he kinda rehabilitated me because you just went and had fun. And there was no studying. You just showed up and played, and it really reinvigorated me, and I think it also gave people another shot at me in a different way, so I do credit him — as much as I hate to in public — for changing my life.”

Over on The Bittman Project

Mark and Dr. David Katz, co-author of How To Eat: All Your Food and Diet Questions Answered, discuss recent findings of how a lousy diet now does more harm to the global population than tobacco. The results, part of a pre-Covid diet study involving 195 countries, are even more relevant, post-pandemic. Dr. Katz is the founding director of The Yale-Griffin Prevention Research Center; founder/president of True Health Initiative; and the founder/CEO of DietID.

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