When I became old enough not to be thrown out of bars, I had this silly idea that I might find my own “Cheers”. You know, a place where everybody knows your name. A place where you get together with your buddies after work and have a cold one. A place where the bartender actually knows your name and preferences. I still haven’t found what I’m looking for. I blame a marvelous TV show called Cheers for putting that idea in my head.
One of the best-loved TV series ever made was canceled after eleven beautiful years and the only reason was because its star, Ted Danson, felt it was time to call it quits. That’s an impressive run, but Cheers was not a major hit in its first season. The writers and the cast spent that time trying to find their feet.
A cozy little bar in Boston
The show gained attention on the heels of winning the Outstanding Comedy Series Emmy in 1983 but it took viewers a few more seasons to catch up. Once they did, they found this cozy little bar in Boston called Cheers. It was run by a former baseball pro, Sam Malone (Ted Danson), who was a recovering alcoholic and an unrepentant ladies’ man. A bartender and a waitress, the always confused “Coach” (Nicolas Colasanto) and the always hostile Carla (Rhea Perlman), helped keep the bar afloat. Norm (George Wendt) and Cliff (John Ratzenberger) were the dependable regulars. In the first episode, Sam hired Diane Chambers (Shelley Long) to wait tables. She was a truly obnoxious know-it-all who considered herself to be infinitely more sophisticated than anyone in the bar. Nevertheless, an animal attraction arose between her and Sam and much of the comedy on the show derived from the collisions between these two very different people. Long was perfectly cast as Diane, even if I found it hard to see what Sam found so irresistible about her.
When she left the show in 1987, she was replaced by Kirstie Alley as the business-minded Rebecca Howe. Sam had recently sold his bar and Rebecca was now running it for the owners. Alley cleverly emphasized all the strengths and weaknesses of her character and it was great fun seeing her and Danson trade barbs.
Terrific rapport over the years
By then, there had been other changes in the cast. Colasanto passed away in 1985 and so did his character. He was replaced by a new, equally dim-witted bartender, farmboy Woody (Woody Harrelson in a star-making performance). Frasier Crane (Kelsey Grammer), a psychologist, had been dating Diane for a while and discovered that the people in the bar were fascinating potential patients to study. He eventually married Lilith (Bebe Neuwirth), an amazingly anemic colleague who also kept coming back to the bar.
All these actors had terrific rapport over the years; the one thing that always made Cheers an absolute must was watching this ensemble at work. The writers also made sure the scripts were up to par; some of the most memorable episodes showed them at their most brilliantly effortless fun, adding new chapters of an ongoing rivalry between Cheers and Gary’s, another bar, a battle that inspired diabolical practical jokes.
This mainstay of the 1980s existed in its own universe. Here we had an alcoholic who was actually running his own bar but never fell off the wagon. Here we had a rather pathetic figure who hung around a bar every night instead of going home to his wife but still somehow staid married. It never seemed like those problems were real. In a way, Cheers was a magical place where everybody knew your name and were always glad you came. I guess I’ll have to go to Paramount Studios in California to find what I was looking for.
Cheers 1982-1993:U.S. Made for TV. 275 episodes. Color. Created by Glen Charles, Les Charles, James Burrows. Theme: ”Where Everybody Knows Your Name” (Judy Hart Angelo, Gary Portnoy). Cast: Ted Danson (Sam Malone), Shelley Long (Diane Chambers, 82-87), Kirstie Alley (Rebecca Howe, 87-93), Rhea Perlman, Woody Harrelson (85-93), Nicholas Colasanto (82-85), George Wendt, John Ratzenberger, Kelsey Grammer (84-93), Bebe Neuwirth (86-93).
Trivia: Followed by two spin-off shows, The Tortellis (1987) and Frasier (1993-2004).
Emmys: Outstanding Comedy Series 82-83, 83-84, 88-89, 90-91; Directing 82-83, 90-91; Writing 82-83, 83-84; Actor (Danson) 89-90, 92-93; Actress (Long) 82-83, (Alley) 90-91; Supporting Actress (Perlman) 83-84, 84-85, 85-86, 88-89, (Neuwirth) 89-90, 90-91; Supporting Actor (Harrelson) 88-89; Guest Actor (John Cleese) 86-87. Golden Globes: Best Comedy Series 91; Actor (Danson) 90, 91; Actress (Long) 83, 85, (Alley) 91.
Quote: “Sam, I had the most incredible evening. Last night, I dreamed about something; not Diane! Well, she was in the background chattering on about something, naked, but the important thing is, I was a therapist again!” (Grammer to Danson, unable to stop thinking about Long)
Last word: “There were times when I thought we couldn’t possibly survive. But the reviews were great and the audience we did have seemed to love the show. So we figured at least it wouldn’t be an embarrassment to put on our resumes.” (Glen Charles on the first season, The New York Times)