Ted Danson Helps Oceana Preserve a Precious Resource
by andy sharpless
A commercial fisherman sorts a recent catch of cod off the coast of Massachusetts
|Ted Danson and Philippe Cousteau before the House National Resources Committee|
|A fisherman unloads a bluefin tuna in Malta|
I first met Ted Danson about eight years ago, when I joined Oceana as chief executive officer. Often one of the first priorities in such a position is finding celebrities to help promote your cause. In my case, I got incredibly lucky. Ted had been working on behalf of ocean conservation for nearly 20 years and was already on our board of directors. He became an ocean advocate when Cheers was at its height with a local fight in California to protect nearby beaches from oil drilling. A few years later, he cofounded American Oceans Campaign, which was rolled into the internationally focused Oceana when it launched in 2001. Ted is something special—knowledgeable, super smart, and passionate, a great guy who happens to be very famous all over the world (I have been stopped when I have been with him in the US, Canada, Spain, Italy, Belgium, Chile, and Belize).
I must confess that Ted has helped Oceana immensely. In the years since we first met, Ted and I have become a complementary duo. I am the left brain: My business background makes me analytical, linear, and solution-focused. I see ocean conservation as a puzzle to be solved in a series of steps; I tend to favor rational, sciencebased arguments. Ted is an artist and thereby the right brain. He is creative and flexible. But as he puts it, we also challenge each other to use the under-utilized halves of our brains.
"Acting is such an emotional, instinctual, don’t-think-too-much-about-it kind of process. The more you think about it, the more you can kill that spontaneity that has to be there,” Ted told me while taking a quick break from filming CSI recently. “It’s very specific to one side of the brain. When I do any of this work with Oceana, I have to grind my gears and smoke comes out of my ears; I have to flip to the other side of my brain, which I find exacting and very rewarding at the same time.”
And make no mistake: Being an actor championing a cause on Capitol Hill is indeed very challenging and comes at great risk to an actor’s credibility and, frankly, bankability. It is an immense credit to Ted that he has not allowed this to faze him over the years. He has come to Washington many times on our behalf, both to meet informally with politicians about ocean conservation and to testify before Congress. I can vividly recall Ted’s visit to Capitol Hill in 2009. Along with Philippe Cousteau, the dashing grandson of explorer Jacques Cousteau, he spoke in front of the House Committee on Natural Resources on the dangers of offshore drilling. This was more than a year before the Deepwater Horizon disaster; national media interest in offshore drilling was at its nadir.
And yet the room was packed to the gills with people eager to see Ted and Philippe. Thanks to them, our argument against offshore drilling— that it is a constant danger to marine wildlife, beaches, and our wild seafood supply, and that no amount of domestic drilling will lower gas prices so long as worldwide oil demand keeps surging—wriggled its way into the national conversation.
The committee kept Ted at the hearing for nearly four hours, largely because some on the other side were relentlessly trying to trip up him and Philippe. They did not succeed. I asked Ted about his preparation for testifying before Congress, and he said, “I like to pray.” He then added: “The worst thing a celebrity can do is to step up with all the attention of the cameras and then trivialize the issue. That’s the risk you always run whenever you bring a celebrity in front of cameras. The pressure is to make sure you know enough to say I’m not an expert, but here’s what’s going on, and you should talk to the expert.”
photographs by jeff rotman/getty images (fisherman); kate dankson (danson); courtesy of oceana (Summer Party, Malta)
Celebrating the White House Correspondents’ Association’s annual dinner at Carnegie Library.