Why are Debra Winger and Sam Elliott doing a multi-cam sitcom for Netflix?

Through long, varied, and successful careers in show business, Debra Winger and Sam Elliott have done a little bit of everything. She was one of the world’s biggest movie stars in the ’80s thanks to films like An Officer and a Gentleman and Terms of Endearment, but she also played Wonder Girl on the Lynda Carter Wonder Woman series, did stand-up comedy at the start of her career, and was one of the final patients on HBO’s In Treatment. Elliott was a late-period castmember on the Mission: Impossible TV show, has played dozens of heavies and heroes in the movies, and even turned up clean-shaven on the final season of Justified.

Starting Friday, though, you’ll get to see them do something they’ve never done before: act in a traditional multi-cam sitcom, shot on a stage in front of a studio audience. In Netflix’s The Ranch(*), they play an estranged Colorado couple who are parents to Ashton Kutcher (the prodigal son returning after a failed football career) and Danny Masterson (the one who stayed and always lives in Kutcher’s shadow), and who keep hooking up on the sly, even though he’s still working the family ranch while she lives in an Airstream trailer and runs the local bar.

(*) The Ranchis yet another example of how Netflix doesn’t have, or care about having, a unified brand. Created by Don Reo and Jim Patterson, it’s very old-school in a way that other Netflix comedies like Master of Noneand Lovevery much are not, even if there are occasional curse words mixed into the punchlines. What’s particularly notable is that, like on CBS’ Mom, the show is comfortable turning serious for long stretches as the characters grapple with how their lives have turned out. Also, like Mom, it’s much more effective in those darker moments than when the characters are slinging punchlines at each other.It’s not perfect, but it’s really interesting, especially if you have fondness for multi-cam to begin with.

Back in January at TCA, I spoke with the two screen veterans about learning a new kind of acting at this stage of their lives, about some of their previous stints on TV – the last one inspiring Winger’s very frank discussion of the most famous scene of her career – and more. These two have done everything and have no filters, so this was a fun and candid conversation.

Am I right that the two of you have not worked together before this?

Sam Elliott: You”re right.

Debra Winger: And you”re never going to work with me again.

Sam Elliott: We”ve never crossed paths as actors. We crossed paths as wives.

Debra Winger: And husbands.

Because I think (Winger’s husband) Arliss Howard did a movie with you at some point.

Sam Elliott: Right. That”s when I met Debra.

And what do you remember of that meeting?

Sam Elliott: Very little. She had babies.

Debra Winger: I had a baby hanging off my tit.

Sam Elliott: I mean, it was 17 years ago. I don”t remember anything from 17 years ago. Not a good sign, I realize.

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