Cheers aired from September 1982 until August 1993 on NBC.
The gang at a Boston bar called Cheers provided the focus of this comedy. A tall, rugged and egotistical man, Sam ( Ted Danson) was the owner and bartender. He had a knack for good conversation, an eye for the ladies and an interesting past. Once a pitcher for the Boston Red Sox, he'd had a bout with alcoholism but was now sober for good. Helping him out behind the oak bar was Coach ( Nicholas Colasanto), an absentminded, kindly old man who had been in professional baseball as a coach and manager, and who entertained the customers with his experiences.
Other cast members included: Carla ( Rhea Pearlman), the wise-cracking waitress; Norm( George Wendt), an accountant by trade, but somehow hardly ever left "his spot" at the bar and Cliff( John Ratzenberger), the local mailman, who, like Norm, never seemed to leave the bar!
Into this establishment of locker-room chatter came Diane( Shelley Long), a bright, attractive graduate student whose interests were in the arts. Stopping by one snowy evening with her fiance, literature professor Sumner Sloan, on their way to the Caribbean to be married, Diane expected never to see the place again. But her fiance left her and Diane found herself in need of a job. Sam hired her for the only job she was qualified for - waitressing. She despised him at first, and the insults flew fast and furious, but in time a romantic attraction began to grow. By the beginning of the second season, Sam and Diane became a couple.
Their on-again, off-again relationship lastest only a year until, in the fall of 1984, Diane found a new boyfriend in obnoxious, insecure psychologist Frasier Crane( Kelsey Grammer). They went to Europe to get married but, unable to get Sam out of her mind, Diane left Frasier and eventually returned to Cheers. In early 1985, Coach passed away (actor Nicholas Colasanto had died in real-life), and a new bartender joined the crowd. Young Woody( Woody Harrelson), a naive farmboy from Indiana had been taking a mail-order course in bartending from Coach and had come to Cheers to meet him. Meanwhile, Frasier, dejected and hurt, also rejoined the group.
The 1985-86 season ended with a cliffhanger. Sam's whirlwind romance with attractive city councilwoman Janet Eldridge( Kate MulGrew) was coming full circle and Sam was ready to propose - but to who? In the last scene of the season he was on the phone asking someone to marry him. It turned out to be Diane - who said no. In 1987, she announced she was leaving for six months to write her long-awaited novel. As she walked out the door - and out of his life - a knowing Sam whispered after her, "have a good life."
Sam then sold the bar and set out on an around-the-world trip in a sailboat, but the boat sank and he was soon back looking for a job at the establishment he once owned and operated. The new manager was Rebecca ( Kirstie Alley), a buxom, determined woman who took him in, but only on her terms. Her main interest in life was to score points with her boss Evan ( Tom Skeritt), in order to advance in the corporation that now owned Cheers. When that didn't work for her, she turned her attention to Robin ( Roger Reese), a sleazy corporate raider who promised her riches but wound up in jail. She dumped him at the altar, all the time fighting her attraction to Sam. Theirs' was a rocky relationship. The boss-employee tables were turned when Sam regained control of the bar and demoted Rebecca to barmaid.
In the 1987-88 season, Carla married professional ice hockey player, Eddie LeBec( Jay Thomas), and had twins named Elvis and Jesse - making her the mother of eight. No-good Eddie was run over by a Zamboni ice skating rink machine, leaving her a single mother. Frasier got over Diane and married fellow psychiatrist Lilith( Bebe Neuwirth). They had a son named Frederick. Woody dated and married girlfriend Kelly( Jackie Swanson).
Other relatives and friends of the regulars were around from time-to-time. One of the most talked about of these characters was Vera, the wife of the now-unemployed Norm. Only her feet were shown - except once when the audience did get to see her face, but it was covered with pie! The actress who withstood all of these indignities was George Wendt's real-life wife, Bernadette Birkett.
During its long run, Cheers became an institution and was the number one series on TV during its final season. The final episode was one of the top-rated TV events of all time. In it, Woody was elected to the City Council; Rebecca married plumber Dan and Diane, now a successful TV writer, returned for a visit. Sam and Diane ran off to get married but called it off at the last minute. The rest of the gang sat around the soon-to-be-closed bar and discussed the meaning of life ( Cliff said it was " shoes"). They turned out the lights and went home.
A Review from The New York Times
Cheers Premieres Tonight
By JOHN J. O'CONNOR
Published: September 30, 1982
WHAT quickly looks as if it could be the best new situation comedy of the season has its premiere tonight at 9 on NBC-TV (Channel 4). ''Cheers'' has been put together as a Charles Bros./Burrows Production. Les and Glen Charles, writers, and Jim Burrows, the director, were closely associated with the series ''Taxi,'' which just happens to move from ABC to NBC this evening, at 9:30 after ''Cheers.''
Taking a microcosmic cue from such predecessors as William Saroyan's ''The Time of Your Life'' and the old radio show ''Duffy's Tavern,'' this new series is set in a bar, a Boston joint called Cheers, through which the whole world can pass and offer commentaries on the human condition. The owner is a good-looking guy called Sam Malone (Ted Danson). Sam's career as a baseball pitcher was cut short by a drinking problem. Now a teetotaler, he genially protects and advises a dizzily devoted staff and an assortment of oddball customers.
The regulars run true to familiar type. Carla the waitress (Rhea Perlman) never runs short of wisecracks. Ernie the bartender (Nicholas Colasanto) is long on sports trivia and short on remembering what anybody ordered. Norm the steadiest of the customers (George Wendt) comes in daily for a beer and inevitably stays for too many. Does his wife wonder where he is? ''She wonders,'' Norm says, sighing. ''She doesn't care, but she wonders.''
Into this percolating but comfortable den wander Diane (Shelley Long) and her fiance, Sumner (Michael McGuire), who want to have a glass of champagne before setting off for a wedding in the Bahamas. Sumner is a university professor who publishes articles in magazines like Harper's. Diane is a research assistant at the university. Everything looks smoochy on the surface, but Sam can detect signs of uncertainty, especially when Sumner excuses himself to have a meeting with his former wife. By the end of this first half-hour, Diane is accepting a job offer from Sam, and she, too, will be one of the weekly regulars.
Obviously, ''Cheers'' will not win many awards for originality. It's more a matter of how it has been constructed and how it operates. Five minutes into the show, it is apparent that this is one of those projects that rapidly clicks into place. The basic concept is workable. The script, by the Charles brothers, is sharp and lively. And the direction by Mr. Burrows never misses a comic beat. In addition, the cast, mostly made up of unfamiliar faces, already shows signs of being a first-rate repertory company. The half-hour whizzes by brightly. That is a promising beginning for any show.
An Article from The New York Times
NBC COMEDY 'CHEERS' TURNS INTO A SUCCESS
By PETER KERR
Published: November 29, 1983
The scene is a Boston bar, where the regulars hoot, back-slap and dissolve into giggles when somebody makes a joke about sex. Diane Chambers (Shelley Long), a former graduate student working as a waitress, once again is offended. She begins to lecture the customers in her most professorial tone.
DIANE: Ah yes, unlimited sex. The adult male version of owning a candy store. But once you've consumed as much sex as you want for as long as you want, what do you do then?
(The crowd is silent.)
NORM (a regular): I'd help the poor.
So goes the dialogue in ''Cheers,'' a half-hour NBC television comedy that is one of the network's few success stories this season. After months of dismally low ratings last year, the show has managed this season to gather a respectable audience. And it has done so, critics say, with good acting and witty writing, the type of quality programming that Grant Tinker, the president of NBC, has said he wants on the network.
Won Five Emmy Awards
The show was a particular point of pride for NBC executives this fall when it won five Emmy Awards, including the categories for outstanding comedy, for writing and for direction. Miss Long received the award for outstanding actress in a comedy series for her portrayal of Diane.
'' 'Cheers' is a very important comedy for us,'' said Brandon Tartikoff, the president of the NBC entertainment division. ''It is classy, sophisticated and for adults. We never for a second doubted that we would renew it for this year.''
The show revolves around the inhabitants of the bar, including the owner, a retired baseball pitcher, and Diane, the snobbish but vulnerable former graduate student.
So far this season, ''Cheers'' has scored a modest success in the ratings. But to NBC executives, who have seen program after program go down to defeat in recent years, ''Cheers'' is a major victory. (The shelves of the NBC gift shop in Rockefeller Center are stocked with ''Cheers'' T-shirts these days.) Has Competed Well
The program surpassed ABC's entry in the 9:30 P.M. time period, the now-canceled comedy, ''It's Not Easy,'' and has competed well with one of the most popular shows on prime-time television, CBS's ''Simon and Simon.'' In the first seven weeks of the season it has averaged a 17.6 rating and a 27 share of the audience, according to the A. C. Nielsen Company.
By comparison, eight of NBC's nine new prime-time shows have averaged at or below an 11 rating and an 18 share and most have finished third in their time periods. ''Simon and Simon'' received a 24.3 rating and a 37 share. A rating point represents one percent of all the households with televisions in the United States, or 838,000 homes. A share is the percent of all televisions turned on at a specific time.
Another point of pride for NBC is that the dialogue on the show at times reaches a sophistication that is rare on network television. Jokes have included references to Shakespeare, John Donne and Spinoza. Among other affectations, Diane has the unfortunate habit of dropping phrases in French.
''John Cheever is pretty small pommes de terre,'' she offers as other bar inhabitants wince. Developed by Three Men
The show was created and developed by three men who have had considerable experience with award-winning television programs, such as ''M*A*S*H'' and ''Taxi'' - two brothers, Glen and Les Charles, and James Burrows, who directs the program.
''We wanted to create a show around a Katharine Hepburn-Spencer Tracy-type relationship,'' Mr. Burrows said in a recent telephone interview, referring to the characters of the bar owner, Sam Malone, and Diane. ''She is uptown, he is downtown.''
Throughout the program's development, Glen Charles said, the creators attempted to draw ideas for the set, the characters and the dialogue from reality. Glen Charles traveled to Boston to find a bar that could be used as a model for the set. They settled on an establishment named The Bull & Finch. In the program, it took the name ''Cheers.''
Rhea Perlman, the actress in ''Cheers'' who plays a tiny, sharp- tongued waitress named Carla Tortelli, was sent to The Bull & Finch to watch the bar in operation. Ted Danson, who plays Sam Malone, the handsome, ex-alcoholic bar owner, spent two weeks attending a bartending school in Burbank, Calif., preparing for his part. The character of Norm, a bloated, unemployed accountant on a regimen of one beer every half hour, is based on a real character Les Charles said he encountered when he worked as a bartender in college.
The three creators of the show also visited bars around Los Angeles, picking up bits of conversation that would later be used in the show. ''Cheers'' dialogue that was taken from real bars, included a discussion of which is ''the sweatiest movie ever made,'' and what is the best flavor of canned soup.
An Article on Nicholas Colasanto's Death From USA TODAY published on February 14, 1985.
Colasanto: The innocent wisdom of kindly coach
By Jack Carry
Go-between, barkeep, master of the comic non sequitor, Coach-the senior member of the Cheers ensemble-was in many ways its youngest at heart. When Nicholas Colasanto, who created the role and infused it with tender virtility, died Tuesday, TV lost a unique presence: the father confessor who had heard it all without losing an iola of his soul-deep innocence.
" Nick was Italian and very macho and, during the first season, he was concerned that Coach be stronger," says James Burrows, who co-produced the NBC series. During his three seasons with the show, however, Colasanto, 61, came to appreciate the character's " childlike nature," the producer said. His oddball perspectives and iddiossyncratic insights served the same function as a kid character. " He was the sweetest member of the cast," Burrows adds.
Illness had prevented Colasanto from taping five episodes to date; the first one with him absent, ironically had been scheduled for tonight. Last-minute consideration is being given to running a repeat episode in which Coach plays a prominent part. The broadcast will open with a simple dedication to the actor who died of a heart attack in his home and will be buried Saturday in Rhode Island. There also may be a taped testimonial from cast members.
The single remaining unaired installment with Colasanto is scheduled for broadcast March 14. Burrows says only one untaped episode will require major rewriting. As originally drafted, the May 9 season finale about Sam and Diane's on-again, off-again romance relied heavily on the matchmaking abilities of the tap tugger.
The series producers likely will incorporate another character to round out the ensemble, although that won't happen until next season. Burrows said there have been no discussions to determine how the show will explain the absence of Coach, although he suggested art might imitate life. " Our feeling is that Cheers is a very realistic comedy and we will handle the situation that way."
A cast that thrives on ensemble chemistry, the actors were informed of their colleague's death while rehearsing. " As Ted ( Danson) said, it's hard for the machinery to work with the part gone," says Burrows. " We were running on six pistons and now there are only five."
An Article from The New York Times
HOW 'CHEERS' KEEPS ITS SPARKLE
By BETTY GOODWIN; BETTY GOODWIN IS A WRITER BASED IN CALIFORNIA.
Published: March 16, 1986
It looks like an ordinary studio set, yet what goes on within its three walls is anything but ordinary.
Like so many billiard balls, ideas are caroming back and forth between actors. The director is laughing the loudest of all at his own inventions. And the writers are huddling over their third revision of the script that afternoon, with the cameras set to roll in just a couple of hours.
The creative process that has turned ''Cheers,'' the NBC half-hour situation comedy, into one of the toasts of television and among this season's half-dozen top programs in the Nielsen ratings, is almost a textbook example of how to keep a hot show hot. Now in its fourth season, ''Cheers'' - which takes its name from the neighborhood Boston bar where the lives of its four employees and a couple of regulars interact -owes its success as much to the ongoing inventiveness of its creators and writers as to the ensemble interplay between its cast members.
Watching a scene in rehearsal involving a simple kiss between Sam and Diane, the show's sparring, on-again-off-again lovers played by Ted Danson and Shelley Long, reveals the imaginative machinery in motion. When the rehearsal began, the script called for Diane, the pretentiously intellectual barmaid, to impulsively kiss Sam, the bar's owner and a former alcoholic, after a wonderful evening out together. However, as Miss Long explained, ''We all felt it didn't quite work. It was no one person's idea - it's always a combination.''
Miss Long then suggested dropping her purse so both characters could reach to pick it up and accidentally kiss. The show's director, James Burrows, watched as she and Mr. Danson fumbled with the purse, then Mr. Burrows commented, ''How about 'La Boheme'?'' He was alluding to the moment in the Puccini opera where two lovers reach in search of a dropped key and their hands meet. So, with the addition of a little ''La Boheme,'' the kiss was revised.
''You have to have an environment where your juices can flow,'' Miss Long said later. ''You've got a lot of talent in this circle - one idea spurs another idea.''
Yet, even when they are out of character, there are comedic sparks among the actors. During the kissing scene, when Mr. Danson was on the floor reaching for the purse, Miss Long ordered him teasingly, ''On all fours - you'll like that, won't you, Ted?'' Later, when the clowning around began to get out of hand, Mr. Danson shouted: ''Director, direct her!''
The quest for freshness and spontaneity in the brewing of each weekly episode continues to challenge the show's creators, brothers Les and Glen Charles and Mr. Burrows. The very sense of not knowing precisely what's next may have a lot to do with the effervescence of the series.
In some cases, unexpected plot detours have been forced upon the show, such as the death last year of Nicholas Colasanto, the actor who portrayed one of the establishment's bartenders and its beloved ''coach.'' His demise was woven into story lines, and this season his chores behind the bar have been taken over by a naive country youth (played by Woody Harrelson).
But more often, story twists occur spontaneously. ''Sometimes in the middle of the week we can put changes into scripts that aren't working which can completely turn a character's life around,'' Mr. Charles explained.
Even now, the relationship between Sam and Diane, which has evolved from animal attraction to consummation to separation, is something of a mystery to its creators. In May, at the end of this season, there will be a three-part cliffhanger revolving around the introduction of a new love interest for Sam, but there is still no decision on how far his relationship with her will go. The script for the final episode is now in its third draft and there will no doubt be four or five more versions.
''We definitely know that there is going to be a triangle, a pretty hot little triangle,'' Mr. Charles said, but the outcome will depend on ''how we react when it's on its feet, or possibly we will leave it ambiguous so the audience won't know how it ends, and we won't know.''
Originally, NBC gave Mr. Burrows and the Charleses a commitment for a 13-week series based on their work together on ''Taxi.'' Les and Glen Charles were the producers of this situation comedy, and Mr. Burrows, the son of the late playwright and director Abe Burrows, had directed 75 episodes. All three men had worked their way up the ranks of MTM Productions, where the craft of filming television comedy before live audiences flourished; they agreed that they too should film their own series the same way.
''The very first thing we had in mind was the setting,'' said Les Charles. ''After working on 'Taxi,' where the whole concept of the series was a bunch of characters in a place that they wanted to get out of'' - the taxi garage - ''for a change of pace, we wanted to do the opposite, have a setting people like to be in.''
But restricting most of the action to one set - the now-familiar well-worn barroom with red Naugahyde stools and a wooden counter where the meaning of life can be discussed over a draft beer - also meant the emphasis would be on the characters who populated it, rather than on, say, fast action or glittery scenery. ''A contrast of all different types appealed to us,'' said Glen Charles. ''We wanted to be able to get laughs from every character in a different way.''
What they came up with, in addition to the employees, was a rotund, wise-cracking married accountant (played by George Wendt) and a totally nondescript neighborhood mailman (John Ratzenberger). A self-absorbed psychiatrist (Kelsey Grammer) has become one of the bar's habitues.
From the start, big-name stars were avoided even for the romantic duo in order to create a true ensemble of actors, in which no one had to be catered to. Although some of the cast members have since achieved high profiles, ''during the season we had best not be stars,'' said Mr. Danson. ''Off-season we get to go off and do that.''
Indeed, Mr. Danson is the co-star of two films opening soon: ''Just Between Friends,'' with Mary Tyler Moore, and a Blake Edwards comedy, ''A Fine Mess.'' Miss Long is starring opposite Tom Hanks in Steven Spielberg's ''Money Pit,'' opening later this month. Mr. Wendt is appearing in ''Gung Ho,'' a Ron Howard film comedy that opened last week.
Les Charles said that Miss Long's combined qualities of intelligence and vulnerability made her the perfect Diane. But Mr. Danson was ''more multi-layered'' than the producers envisioned Sam, the womanizing bar proprietor. ''Originally, Sam was a little dimmer,'' said Glen Charles. ''We had a Stanley Kowalski type in mind, and a former football player. Ted looked more like a baseball player to us.''
''I think I've been to two bars in my life,'' said Mr. Danson, a tall, classically featured man who once posed for Aramis Cologne ads, acted on Broadway and played dramatic roles in the feature films ''Body Heat'' and ''The Onion Field.'' ''Am I a womanizer? I was born married,'' he joked.
But Mr. Danson's extra layers paid off. Sam is a man with a history, the professional baseball star with a shot at money and glory who fizzled when his drinking got out of control. ''He's a sad character,'' said Glen Charles. ''He had such dreams. There's an inherent pathos in him. I think every character on the show is somewhat sad, very sad if you look at them.''
Before joining ''Cheers,'' Miss Long, a slender blonde, had starred in the movie ''Nightshift,'' appeared in several television pilots and was once a television talk-show host in Chicago. She believes the setbacks Diane has had to face, such as committing herself to a psychiatric institution after she and Sam split up, have contributed to the character's growth as a human being. ''Committing her was the most tragic to me of what has happened to Diane,'' the actress said. ''There are huge disappointments and gaps in her life - she wants to get married, she wants to have a baby, she aspires to greater career levels.''
Mr. Danson said he thinks ''Diane got a lot smarter, and Sam got a lot dumber. He's man-woman dumb. From the second year on, he's had brain damage. He talks dirty, macho, whatever, but the truth is you don't see him jumping on women left and right.''
Meanwhile, back on the set, Mr. Harrelson was describing the highlights of the day before: A water-pistol attack that he and Mr. Danson launched on the writers, which continued over to the Paramount Studio commissary. ''Working on 'Cheers' is a lot like being in a real bar,'' explained Mr. Harrelson, ''but without the liquor.''
An Article from The New York Times
BRIEFING; Hart Appears on 'Cheers'
By WAYNE KING AND WARREN WEAVER JR.
Published: March 28, 1986
Following the lead of the House Speaker, Thomas P. O'Neill Jr., Senator Gary Hart of Colorado will make a cameo appearance on the NBC television program set in a bar, ''Cheers.''
In the segment, scheduled to air May 8, the Senator plays himself, walking into the bar amid an argument about politicians. He returns a coat that Sam, the bartender, had left in his car and thanks Sam for his advice on sports trivia. Declining an offer of a drink, Mr. Hart leaves, and, according to a Hart aide, the waitress Diane gushes: ''I met Senator Hart. He was almost President and may still be someday.''
An Article From USA TODAY Talking About Shelley Long's Exit From Cheers.
TELEVISION/BY MONICA COLLINS
Published: May 7, 1987
Three 'Cheers'! It's Diane's last call
Goodbye Diane Chambers. You're the woman of Sam Malone's dreams. But some of us won't miss you very much at all, you snitty, selfish snob. So there.
In Thursday's episode of NBC's Cheers , a show that could have been titled " The Long Goodbye," Shelley Long-as barmaid Diane Chambers-made her last appearance in the hit comedy.
It was a moving story, full of sweet sentiment and a moving tribute to the ultimately non-commital Sam and Diane relationship-the heart of the series for five years now.
Yet the episode also pointed out why Diane won't really be missed by anyone other than the mock-macho barkeep who loved her.
Ms. Chambers, until the end, was a pretentious priss who, even when her fiancee suggested they invite all the barflies over to their house for a wedding, wouldn't allow it.
She made no friends in five years. Carla, her earthy barmaid compadre, dispised her throughout, crying at the wedding that never was and breaking into laughter when it didn't come off.
Carla's motivation, we've assumed all along, was jealousy. She loves the barkeep too.
Indeed, Diane Chambers seemed the sort of woman who didn't befriend other women. In her five years on Cheers, we never saw her pursue a friendship with a female. Instead her world revolved around men-teasing them more than pleasing them.
She virtually emasculated two other fiances who fell from favor. And in the muck of their romance, she nearly toppled Sam.
Maintaining a cool distance toward barroom regulars, she condescended to them. After all, they were the rubes, the proles, the unwashed. Yicky.
Cliff, Norm, Woody-they were never true friends, despite her occasional protests that they meant so much to her. In truth, she barely tolerated them.
Good riddance. Diane stuck out in that barroom. She was the sour mash.
An Article From USA TODAY Published The Day Of Kirstie Alley's Debut On Cheers.
September 24, 1987
TV PREVIEW/BY TOM GREEN
A Toast and 'Cheers' to Kirstie Alley
Three certain things about tv: Cosby will always wear great sweaters, Ray and Jenna are no Bobby and Pam, and there's never been a tough jam Cheers couldn't wiggle out of.
Faced with a major hangover in the upcoming season caused by the departure of co-star Shelley Long as prissy Diane, producers Glen and Les Charles and James Burrows dipped way down into the beer nuts and came up with a perfect cashew.
Kirstie Alley makes an eyepopping debut tonight as the bar's icy boss and Sam Malone's new-as Diane might say-objet de love/hate.
The producers have left more signals around the bar than cocktail napkins that they intend to wind the sexual tension in Boston so tight that people will feel the hot flashes all the way to central Ohio.
The Cheers sixth-season opener begins with the bar under the gose-step control of some cretinous corporation that has pregnant Carla ( Rhea Perlman) in green and white ruffles and Woody ( Woody Harrelson) in a green vest and the wrong name tag.
Sam, who sold out and sailed off to get over Diane ( who is now-wink, wink-in Hollywood trying to write for television), returns when his boat sinks and then tries to get his old job back by hitting on Rebecca Howe, who now runs the place and is one tough scotch-on-the-rocks.
" The usual perks?" asks a smirking Sam. " Medical? Dental? Horizontal?"
" You know ,Mr. Malone," says Rebecca. " We've known each other seconds but I'm already tired of you."
Oh, yes, everything on Cheers is going to be just fine. The whole gang is still in terrific form. Sam grovels and pity wins out in the end. Rebecca's tongue is rapier-sharp when necessary, but her mushy insides are deliciously transparent.
Charles, Charles, and Barrows took a gamble in giving Sam the hots again so quickly. But Alley is going to be the best addition to Cheers since Woody Harrelson.
Beers all around to celebrate. They're on the house.
An Article From Time Magazine
Passing The Sitcom Torch
Monday, May. 10, 1993
By RICHARD ZOGLIN Article
Flash forward to the year 2000. Seinfeld, the NBC sitcom starring Jerry Seinfeld as one of a quartet of angst-ridden New Yorkers, is finally going off the air after 10 acclaimed seasons. For the gala final episode, Julia Louis- Dreyfus makes a return appearance as Elaine (the movie career didn't work out) and meets her successor in the cast, Melanie Mayron. In a typically Seinfeldian life-imitates-art riff, George (Jason Alexander), now head of network programming, tells Jerry his sitcom is being canceled. Kramer (Michael Richards), elected to Congress in the eighth season, finds himself involved in a sex scandal. Meanwhile, Jerry wonders just what's the deal with those little air bubbles in packing crates . . .
Hold on. One farewell at a time. The Seinfeld gang may be the hottest in TV comedy right now, but they are hardly the type to horn in on somebody else's celebration. And Cheers, as everybody knows, is the show saying the lavish goodbyes this month: only three more episodes left, culminating in a 90-minute finale on May 20 in which Shelley Long (who left after the fifth season) returns as Diane Chambers. And the festivities don't end there. Preceding the last show will be a 30-minute special featuring clips from past seasons. Following it, the Tonight show will originate from Boston's Bull and Finch bar, the model for the Cheers pub. It's all part of what NBC is trumpeting as "the television event of a lifetime."
Sort of. The end of Cheers may not have the emotional resonance of the M*A*S*H finale, but it's a TV milestone worth toasting. For a decade, Cheers has represented the gold standard of TV comedy writing, directing and acting, having won 26 Emmy awards and reigned in the Nielsen Top 10 for eight straight seasons. Yet Cheers' departure dovetails so neatly with the emergence of the show that will take over its time slot next season that the transition seems almost a generational passing of the torch. As the Cheers era ends, the Seinfeld era begins.
The shows have a few obvious similarities. Both are intelligent, verbally sophisticated sitcoms that focus on a group of friends linked by locale rather than family. Both are proof, moreover, of the oft-repeated TV adage that good shows take time to find their audience. Seinfeld went on the air in May 1990 but broke into the Top 10 only two months ago, when it was moved to Thursday nights after Cheers.
Cheers too struggled when it first went on the air in 1982: in its debut season it ranked dead last out of 75 prime-time shows. Yet, encouraged by critical acclaim and a slew of Emmys, NBC stuck with it. The show would probably still be going strong if it weren't for star Ted Danson's decision to leave at the end of this season. "Our thinking was, we rolled the dice twice, when we replaced Nick Colasanto ((with Woody Harrelson)) and Shelley Long ((with Kirstie Alley)), and we won," says James Burrows, who created the show with Glen and Les Charles and has directed nearly every episode. "We didn't want to risk that again. It is better to leave early than to leave late."
In most ways, though, Cheers and Seinfeld line up on opposite sides of TV's generational divide. Cheers is the product of a group of writers and producers who learned their craft in the 1970s at the MTM factory and created such hits as Mary Tyler Moore and Taxi. Their shows typically revolve around the workplace rather than the family, are filled with intricately crafted one- liners and feature ensemble casts of exaggerated comic types. By the end of its run, the Cheers laughpoints had become so familiar -- Woody's naivete, Carla's surly put-downs, mailman Cliff's out-to-lunch monologues -- that the show seemed almost to write itself:
Frasier (reading a goodbye letter from Lilith): "Dear Frasier: Life in the Eco Pod is wonderful. Gogie and I are happier than we've ever been. Please start divorce proceedings. Our marriage is . . ." (He is overcome.)
Woody (dumbly): Made in heaven?
Frasier: ". . . our marriage is over."
Cliff: That really burns my hide that Lilith sent him that mailgram.
Frasier: Well, thank you, Cliff.
Cliff: All of a sudden a first-class stamp isn't any good anymore?
Cheers was TV's most well-oiled comedy engine, but that machinelike predictability was its major drawback. Regular characters came and went, coupled and uncoupled, but the relationships seemed inspired less by anything organic in the show than by the simple need to open up new gag territory. Gags, moreover, that too often depended on the quaint TV fiction that people always play out their intimate moments in front of at least four other people. Cheers was a bar where everybody not only knew your name; they also knew your embarrassing secrets and the details of your sex life.
The characters in Seinfeld talk about intimate things too, but they at least come across as friends who might really confide in one another. Maybe because they are, in a sense, all variations on the same person. The series (created by Seinfeld with writer Larry David) is, like several other new-generation sitcoms, an outgrowth of stand-up comedy material. Episodes spin off the sort of trivial incidents and observations that Seinfeld dwells on in his monologues. (Jerry feels guilty over a gift pen; Jerry's girlfriend thinks he picks his nose.)
Unlike the well-made, two-act structure of Cheers, Seinfeld episodes are freewheeling, anecdotal and -- paradoxically, for a show based on stand-up material -- almost devoid of typical sitcom one-liners. Here is George, for example, complaining that his new job as a comedy writer is going to waste: "Can you believe my luck? The first time in my life I have a good answer to the question 'What do you do?' and I have a girlfriend. I mean, you don't need a girlfriend when you can answer that question. That's what you say in order to get girlfriends. Once you can get girlfriends, you don't want a girlfriend, you just want more girlfriends." Jerry's deadpan reply: "You're going to make a very good father someday."
The characters on Seinfeld are more rounded and less stereotyped than practically any on TV. Kramer, for example, the next-door neighbor with the electric hair and thrift-shop wardrobe, could have been a typical sitcom shtick figure. Instead he's an impassioned eccentric with endless reserves of nuttiness. (After the group orders Chinese food, he shouts a final request into the phone: "And extra MSG!")
Seinfeld marks a TV departure in other ways as well. Brandon Tartikoff, former president of NBC Entertainment, who helped develop both shows, notes the ethnic gulf: "Cheers is the most goyish show on TV; Seinfeld is the most Jewish." The series, moreover, tackles sensitive subjects with almost brazen matter-of-factness. In this season's most famous episode, the group bet on which one of them could refrain from masturbating the longest. "I compare the show to The Twilight Zone," says supervising producer Larry Charles. "It is about behaviors that we don't like to admit about ourselves -- that we are sometimes greedy, sometimes selfish. Jerry is like Rod Serling -- a guide to take us to those lower depths." Out of those lower depths, Seinfeld is starting to soar.
An Article From USA TODAY
Published: May 20, 1993
TELEVISION NEWS & VIEWS/BY MATT ROUSH
One For The Road
A farewell toast to 'Cheers'
Maybe Frasier Crane ( Kelsey Grammer) put it best recently: " Everyone in this bar is on a connecting flight to beyond loony."
Or in the words of Harry ( "The Hat") Anderson, back for one last sleight-of-hand scam on St. Patrick's Day: " You're a bunch of losers...( But) if it weren't for you guys, how would we know who the winners are?"
As Cheers leaves NBC tonight in a juggernaut of publicity-with a retrospective at 9 ET/PT, followed at 9:22 by an extended 98 minute finale and a live Tonight from Boston-a question nags: If they're such loony losers, how come these boobs are anything but belly up at the bar?
Grammer already has an NBC spinoff, Frasier, to air after Seinfeld on Thursdays. His co-stars aren't hurting, either, although they'll resurface out of character: John Ratzenberger ( Cliff) has a Fox sitcom; George Wendt ( Norm), now off-Broadway, plans a midseason NBC comedy; Ted Danson ( Sam), Kirstie Alley ( Rebecca) and Woody Harrelson ( Woody) all have feature film aspirations. Only Rhea Perlman ( Carla) is cooling it for a while.
Cheers has been very, very, good to them.
And to us.
In this pivotal spring of TV familiars bidding adieu , Cheers' passing earns its place as the most momentous in some time.
The numbers alone add up to a TV legend: 11 years, starting from the ratings basement to its position as a faltering network's prime-time tentpole. Four Emmys as best comedy, 26 in all, more nominations ( 111)than any other. An awesome 275 episodes, enough to air once a week-night and not repeat during a year.
But unlike most beloved hits that leave by their own choice , Cheers' retirement is not an occasion for warm fuzzles and sentimental farewells. Carla would have us for lunch.
These guys don't know from hype . Or cheap sentiment. Or records set, like a reported $650,000 per half-minute commercial, the most for any entertainment program ever.
I've often thought, as this final episode bloated beyond 90 minutes and the countdown to last call swelled to epic proportions in the media, that the fringe element making up Cheers' cast of clods would probably forget to tune in their own swan song-which anylists speculate might outdraw M*A*S*H's more emotional final act in 1983: 121 million viewers.
We're more likely to catch this gang absorbed in an ESPN curling match ( while Rebecca sulks in the office, husband-shopping on QVC.)
The grandstanding of these final weeks is not Cheers' style.
Bless their pickled hearts.
As Norm once muttered when asked how's life: " Ask somebody who's got one."
At Cheers, the writing was always the thing, a sophisticated patter of barbs among the beer nuts, loving and laugh-out-loud character comedy that survived death ( the Coach), departure ( Diane) and an occasional case of the doldrums.
Adult but never quite grown-up, scornful of any situation that might carry a message, the show made the ridiculous sublime.
Familiarity did not breed contempt at Cheers, except between Carla and whatever dame-Diane, Rebecca, Lillith-crossed her path. Misery loved company, and this show was the greatest company.
Three springs ago, when this fan visited the set, Cheers was at a pinnacle. It had won its third best-comedy Emmy, was No. 1 despite competition from then-hot Twin Peaks, and the end was nowhere in sight.
On that post-rehearsal Friday, the actors sparred in a lounge over a grunting macho game of Foosball. Danson said at the time he wouldn't pull the plug. " I'm fairly sure it will be a consensus." ( Actually he did call it quits, but the rest of the cast opted not to continue without him.)
" Right now the writing is so fast and trustworthy, and it's so much a part of our life, this is where I get my jollies," Danson said. " It's like school, and by the end of summer you can't wait to see your buddies again."
Welcome, endless summer.
That same day, the show's then executive-producers-who left to create one of this year's best ( but now dead) sitcoms, Bob-basked and reflected in well-deserved glory.
" It's like those pizza pans in the East," said Bill Steinkellner, an ex-Chicagoan, of Cheers' enduring appeal. " You use them again and again, and the oil gets deep into them. It seems like those pizzas are a lot better than you get anywhere else. We're an old pizza of a show."
Holy anchovy, what a metaphor.
James Burrows, who co-created the show and stayed on to direct most episodes, explained its place in the " great sitcom" tradition of anthems to the underdog. " Gleason was a loser, you knew Bilko would never get out of the army, and even Mary Tyler Moore could never find a guy. Cheers has evolved into a mix of people who are really very ordinary."
But with an extraordinary following, especially as it became one of the most ubiquitous series in syndication, where it has reaped hundreds of millions for Paramount and promises to keep the Cheers mystique alive for years, perhaps forever.
" I don't know if Cheers will ever go into the 'graveyard fringe' of syndication where it basically disappears. It's like M*A*S*H in terms of shows that never really go away," says Herb Scannell, programming chief at Nick at Night, the cable network with a mission to " reclaim fame" for TV icons that slip away-most recently, and successfully, The Mary Tyler Moore Show.
The best and most fondly remembered shows, says Scannell, " are about good characters and good stories. Cheers' theme song-though too saccharine-is all about people you know, and that's really true about why people like classic TV.
" It's about becoming familiar with characters, and that has to do with expecting certain kinds of behavior, and having that expectation delivered time and time again."
Cheers had so many dependable comic beats to fall back on. Babe-hound Sam's unquenchable lust. Rebecca's humiliations. The entrances of " NORM!!!!" Cliff's eye-glazing know-it-all trivia ( " I happen to be a bit of an expert on tapeworms"). Woody's a-beat-behind naivete. Carla's withering zingers-in Bart Andrews 1987 Cheers Scrapbook, he lists Carla's many epithets for Diane: Pencil Neck, Gozzle Head, Whitey, Bleachbag, Spindle Shanks, Fish Face, Lady Dye-Job, Answer Geek.
Diane's comeback: " To those of us who no longer scrape our knuckles on the ground when we walk , your views are incredibly primitive."
Tonight Diane ( Shelley Long) makes another comeback, a long-awaited return to the place where everyone still evokes her name, not always fondly. The episode, written by co-creators Glen and Les Charles, has been kept away from critics to heighten the aura of mystery about the final scenes, shot in secrecy.
Will Diane marry Sam? Don't count on it. The producers want to leave us with the feeling that life goes on pretty much as usual at Cheers: bubbling, brewing, satisfying unsatisfying. An eternal happy hour to soothe the bruised ego.
After tonight it's history.
And when viewers tune in next week, the episode ( from February) revolves around the demise of a more local institution: a cheesy drive-in theater, prompting this gag:
Cliff: " What are they going to close next?"
Carla: " Hopefully your mouth!"
What else goes down so smoothe, but with such a delicious bite?
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