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Old 04-12-2013, 01:11 AM   #1
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Default 10 episodes that show how Cheers stayed great for 11 seasons

Cheers stands almost alone in American sitcom history. It was on the air for 11 seasons and 270 episodes, and it was good for nearly all of that run. Its weakest season—the 10th—also contains some of its funniest episodes, and every time the show seemed like it was losing its powers, it would rebound with a great episode or stretch of episodes. Other shows ran as long—M*A*S*H, for instance—but they entered inevitable declines that all series that run that long succumb to. There were other shows that lasted for more than 100 episodes and were good for their whole runs—The Mary Tyler Moore Show—but those series also ran for a far shorter period of time than Cheers did. There’s a reason Cheers holds such a hallowed place for everyone from TV writers to the executives who put shows on the air: It defied all known laws of TV decay, and it joined a handful of sitcoms as a perpetual success in syndication, defying mortality as well.

But why? When Cheers began, it was hailed as the best new sitcom in ages—at least since Taxi, which its creators had all worked on—but it was also a fairly basic workplace hangout comedy about a bunch of people who spent their time in a bar. Sure, there was a romantic element added on, which would prove to be one of the most influential in TV history, but there was nothing groundbreaking that suggested the show would be as good as it was for as long as it was. But maybe that was part of the reason Cheers worked: Shows that break ground tend to burn hot and fast, making lots of news but also running out of whatever fuel was driving them. Cheers was content to make consistent, well-crafted, funny comedy week after week, and it did so thanks to a crackerjack team both in front of and behind the camera.

The series was co-created by Glen and Les Charles, brothers who theorized that they could write for TV and found themselves doing so in short order, working on The Bob Newhart Show and Taxi before moving on to Cheers. Bob Newhart was a production of MTM Enterprises, the company founded by Grant Tinker and Mary Tyler Moore in 1969 to produce her aforementioned show, which grew into one of the foremost purveyors of good TV in the ’70s and ’80s. Several MTM hands moved on from the company to Paramount in the late ’70s, where they were responsible for creating Taxi as well. The MTM approach to comedy favored character interaction and pathos above all else, and Cheers may well have been the height of that approach, blending the darkly comic worldview of the Charles brothers with a hard-earned sentimentality. Their writing staff would include more than a few comedy legends as well, with many going on to great work on other shows. To list all of the significant comedy writers who worked on the show would add several hundred more words to this piece.

The show’s other co-creator was a director, unusual in TV comedy, but he was arguably the greatest multi-camera comedy director in television history, James Burrows. Already well known for his work on several MTM sitcoms and, yes, Taxi, Burrows joined the Charles brothers to turn Cheers into a proving ground for all that could be done in the multi-camera format. Yes, he did experimental things no other multi-camera shows were doing at the time, like a long tracking shot through the bar to close out an episode, but his comfort with actors and his understanding of pace made even the more garden-variety episodes of Cheers delightful. Excited to work with the Charles brothers and Burrows, NBC gave Cheers a direct-to-series order, and the three used the time they’d received to perfectly hone their concept, going from a bar in a hotel (and a rough spin on Fawlty Towers) to a bar in Barstow to the Boston-set pub that ended up as the center of the series. The show always had at its core the idea of a reforming athlete—driven by the creators’ wish to tie the series somewhat to a popular series of Miller Lite ads airing at the time—and the brothers wished to add in a Hepburn-and-Tracy-style romantic-comedy element.

They also took their time in casting. Three different pairs of actors read for the roles of Sam Malone and Diane Chambers, who would be the center of the show for the first half of its run, and the creators and network finally settled on the pairing of Ted Danson and Shelley Long. As dumbass, brawny former baseball pitcher Sam, Danson created one of the greatest characters in sitcom history, a ladies’ man with a surprisingly sensitive soul who’d never even realized it was there until he ran into Diane. And as graduate student and intellectual wannabe Diane, Long created a prickly picture of perfection who also had a nasty habit of falling completely apart. The chemistry between Danson and Long was palpable; their dance around a relationship would drive the show for five seasons.

It’s that five-season mark that’s key to why Cheers stayed good throughout its run. At the end of season five, Long decided to leave the show to pursue a movie career. Seen at the time as a sign of the show’s end, her departure inspired the producers—who secretly were tired of the Sam-and-Diane dance and didn’t want it to consume the show—to head in a completely different direction. They brought in Kirstie Alley to play ultra-cool businesswoman Rebecca Howe, the steely brunette whose relationship to Sam would be very different from the one he’d had with Diane. (Like all characters on the show, she’d be revealed as a complete nutcase within half a season.) And while the series played around with Sam and Rebecca hooking up, it also evolved from a romantic comedy into more of an ensemble workplace show, placing the focus on the bar itself and the barflies who occupied it.

Cheers was able to do this because it had a tremendous cast and because it was willing to keep evolving that cast. When Nicholas Colasanto (who played the sweet, naïve Coach) died near the end of season three, Woody Harrelson was brought in as a younger spin on the same sort of character. George Wendt’s downtrodden bar regular Norm and John Ratzenberger’s know-it-all Cliff held down their end of the bar, where they were eventually joined by Kelsey Grammer’s Frasier, a psychiatrist who’d fallen in love with Diane and kept coming back to Cheers after she inevitably left him for Sam again. Rhea Perlman’s Carla, a waitress who indulged in her anger and frequently insulted customers, proved a very different type than Perlman’s sweet Taxi character. And the show added characters even in later seasons, like ice queen Lilith (Bebe Neuwirth), who married Frasier and brought life to the show just when it needed it most. Were the Diane years or the Rebecca years better? What’s most interesting about this question is that the show essentially broke into two completely different sitcoms with the same cast and premise elements, making the question almost irrelevant.

Yet this also makes boiling the show down to 10 episodes extraordinarily difficult. Even though the show breaks down into two distinct eras—romantic comedy and ensemble show—those eras break down into their own smaller units. The best choice, then, is to simply watch a smattering of the show’s finest half-hours to understand why it worked so well. It’s tremendously unlikely anyone will watch just these 10 and decide that’s enough. To watch Cheers is to get sucked into what’s arguably the multi-camera sitcom at its peak. Why mess with the best?
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Old 04-13-2013, 09:54 AM   #2
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Fantaastic post!I always thought that the "regular person" apporaoch was how the show lasted so long without anything getting too "old" or "stale".Although Diane Chambers and Frasier Crane were highly eduacted and sophisticated at first glance,their characters came to reveal much more "common" sides as they become more and more engrossed in their relationships with a bartender,a mailman and an accountant.Fundamentally,people are people and no matter what walk of life they may strive towards,we all have an inherent need for social acceptance and worthwhile communications.Over the years,Frasier went from nearly insufferably stuck up to "one of the guys".
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Old 05-20-2013, 12:03 PM   #3
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I thought that was awesome!
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