In 1990, television-watching America was introduced to the tiny Massachusetts island of Nantucket when Wings—the airport-set, Emmy-nominated series about a couple of pilot brothers trying to make a go of a one-plane airline in a seasonal destination—made its debut on NBC. Here are 13 things you might not know about the high-flying comedy, on the 20th anniversary of its season finale.
1. WINGS EXISTS IN THE SAME UNIVERSE AS CHEERS AND FRASIER.
It’s no coincidence that Wings is the airport version of Cheers, as its co-creators—David Angell, Peter Casey, and David Lee—spent several years working together on the beloved series about the bar where everybody knows your name. Though it’s not a spinoff, Wings featured several tie-ins with both Cheers and Frasier (another Angell-Casey-Lee creation). Rebecca Howe, Norm Peterson, Cliff Clavin, and Frasier and Lilith Crane all popped up on Wings over the years.
2. GEORGE CLOONEY WANTED TO BE BRIAN HACKETT.
Four years before landing the career-changing role of Dr. Doug Ross on ER, George Clooney auditioned to play the role of fun-loving playboy Brian Hackett. David Duchovny and Hank Azaria were among the other actors considered for the role, which eventually went to Steven Weber.
3. BRYAN CRANSTON TRIED OUT FOR THE PART OF JOE HACKETT.
The future Walter White auditioned to play Joe Hackett, the anal-retentive owner of Sandpiper Air. Daniel Stern and Nick Cassavetes tried out, too, but Tim Daly got the part.
4. TIM DALY DIDN’T APPRECIATE THE SERIES UNTIL YEARS LATER.
In a 2014 interview with The A.V. Club, Daly admitted that “like a lot of people, I hadn’t really appreciated Wings until sort of recently.” Though he says he had a great time filming the show, and worked with lots of talented people, he was frustrated by the fact that “it didn’t get very good reviews, and it wasn’t, like, hip, you know? It wasn’t Seinfeld, it wasn’t Friends, it didn’t really have a reputation as a ‘hot’ show, and—it kind of made me feel a little bad. I was like, ‘Hey, how come nobody likes this show?’ Well, in retrospect, being many years removed from it, I look back at it, and that show was really f***ing great! It’s hilarious! And we were very good. We were really funny. I don’t know why we didn’t get the credit we deserved at the time. But it’s odd—now people think of it as a classic TV show. Critics, maybe not, but the citizens or whoever seem to think it was one of the all-time greats. At the time, nobody cared about it that much.”
5. DALY’S SISTER, TYNE, IS ONE OF ONLY TWO ACTORS TO BE RECOGNIZED FOR THE SHOW.
Daly’s got a point about the series’ original critical reception. Though it features top-notch acting and writing, Wings only ever received a grand total of three Emmy nominations—one for Outstanding Makeup in 1996, and the others in 1992 for guest stars Kelsey Grammer (playing Frasier Crane) and Tyne Daly (Tim’s sister) for her one-episode appearance as Mimsy Borogroves.
The Club Car is a favorite after-work hangout for the Wings gang. And though it wasn’t filmed on site, it is indeed a real place that you can visit in person (in season, of course).
7. TOM NEVERS FIELD IS REAL, TOO. BUT IT’S NOT AN AIRPORT.
There is a Tom Nevers Field on Nantucket, but it's a park, not an airport. Nantucket Memorial Airport is where you’d jet in and out of for a visit.
8. YOU CAN ACTUALLY FLY ON SANDPIPER’S PLANE.
The Sandpiper plane that is featured in the series’ opening and closing credits—the N121PP—is still up and running and part of Cape Air’s fleet. The airline’s slogan? “We’re Your Wings.”
9. HELEN’S ROLE WAS WRITTEN FOR PERI GILPIN.
Crystal Bernard’s character, Helen Chapel, was originally written as Helen Trionkis—and intended for Peri Gilpin. “Yes, Helen in the first draft was Helen Trionkis, a dark beauty of Greek descent,” David Lee shared in 2010. “Our first choice was Peri Gilpin. [NBC President Brandon] Tartikoff thought she wasn't ready to head a series yet.”
10. TARTIKOFF LEFT IT UP TO THE PRODUCERS TO EXPLAIN HELEN’S ACCENT.
Though she plays a native islander, Helen Chapel has a pretty thick Southern accent for a New Englander. “[Tartikoff] pitched Crystal and left it up to us to figure out the accent bit,” David Lee recalled. “Can't remember what lame convoluted plotting we came up with to explain the accent, but after convincing no one, it was soon forgotten. I remember she came in to meet Peter, David, and I the morning after she had almost been killed by a CO2 leak in her dressing room trailer on a movie she was shooting. Now that's a trooper.”
11. PERI GILPIN’S FRASIER CHARACTER HAS A WINGS CONNECTION.
By the time Frasier premiered in 1993, Angell, Casey, and Lee were able to sell the network on Gilpin’s leading lady abilities. And her character on that show, radio producer Roz Doyle, is actually named for one of the producers of Wings, who passed away from breast cancer in 1991.
12. THE PART OF LOWELL WAS WRITTEN SPECIFICALLY FOR THOMAS HADEN CHURCH.
Though he was hardly a well-known name, the creators of Wings wrote the part of the idiot savant mechanic Lowell Mather specifically for future Oscar nominee Thomas Haden Church. In 1995, while announcing his departure from the series, Church explained that, “I don't forever want to be known as Lowell,” noting that, “The character was based directly upon a guy I played in Cheers.” That would be the character of Gordie Brown, who made a one-time appearance during Cheers’ eighth season.
13. JOHN RITTER PLAYED THE EX-HUSBAND OF HIS FUTURE WIFE.
In 1996, John Ritter made a guest appearance on Wings as Stuart Davenport, the ex-husband of Helen’s sister, Casey Chapel Davenport, who was played by Amy Yasbeck. Three years later, Ritter and Yasbeck got married.