Cheers was a popular TV show in America in the 1980s and early 1990s. It was about a group of quirky characters in a bar, tackling romantic problems or everyday problems. Although it went off the air in 1993, Cheers is one of the most syndicated shows to date and lives on with a cult following.
The show was set at Cheers, a Boston bar. The show opened up with a theme song, perhaps the most famous theme song in America, telling the audience of a place 'where everybody knows your name'. A comedy-romance, the show tended to avoid social issues, despite some of the characters being working class and despite the statistic that many bar workers live below the poverty line. This was an old-fashioned, romantic idea of life behind a bar. The format was very character-based as well, presenting stories mostly off the attitudes and lives of the characters.
The bar is the setting of the entire show, essentially. Some episodes never went beyond the area of the bar, and when a transition was needed, the characters simply moved to a different room. The exterior shot, introducing a scene at the bar, would show a railed staircase leading down to a pair of doors. Above Cheers is a restaurant (identified in the series as Melville's Seafood), which also appears in the exterior shot most of the time. Today, the bar set is preserved in The Hollywood Waxwork Museum.
The Main Area
The room where most of the action takes place is the entrance from outdoors. In the centre is a hollow rectangular bar surrounded with stools. In the middle of the bar is where the bartenders prepare drinks, and generally spend their time. Scattered periodically about the main area are a number of tables. There is a staircase leading up to Melville's in the back and to the right is a hallway and a door leading to an office.
A large amount of action takes place in the office. It is used for private discussions, and sometimes for hiding from visitors to the bar, such as awkward ex-spouses or soon-to-be-ex-lovers. At one end, there is a large desk, usually untidy. Throughout the run of the series, Sam and Rebecca both inhabited the office over the years; when the office was Sam's, it was disorganised and decorated with a moose head; in contrast, Rebecca's office is tidy and well maintained. To the left side of the room, in Sam's office, is a long couch. This occasionally serves as a site for Sam's accomplishments with women.
The Pool Room
The Pool Room contains a billiards table and a dart board. This room is, like the office, sometimes used for private discussions for the people who don't work for the bar. It turns out that the Pool Room is technically owned by Melville's, and John Hill, the owner of Melvilles, rents it to Sam.
Probably the least seen area of the bar is the bathroom. In it is a very simple sink and a few dirty stalls. It has handwritten remarks all over it, implying that it isn't very well maintained.
Sam Malone (Ted Danson)
Sam Malone is the central character in the large ensemble cast. Sam used to be an alcoholic, which makes it a challenge to own a bar. He was once a famous relief pitcher for the Boston Red Sox and is constantly trying to relive that fame. He is obsessed with his (thinning) hair and his Corvette and he is a notorious womaniser. He keeps a little black book with the phone numbers of women. This book is occasionally coveted by the more deprived men in the bar.
Diane Chambers (Shelley Long)
Diane Chambers is a pretentious, educated barmaid. Diane isn't completely willing to be a barmaid; she finds herself in the bar after being abandoned by her fiancée but ends up accepting a 'temporary' job there. Diane doesn't quite fit in with the Cheers gang, best shown by the many jokes at her expense (invariably from Carla, her fellow barmaid). She tries to share her knowledge of culture with the group, but usually fails. Sam of course sees seducing her as an exciting challenge, while Diane is flattered but protests (perhaps a little too much) that she finds him uncouth - this is the source of much romantic tension in the first few years.
Cliff Clavin (John Ratzenberger)
Cliff Clavin, played by John Ratzenberger, is the know-it-all of the bar. In the early days, most of what he said might have been true, but in the later years of the show, most of the 'facts' he says are clearly made up. He has a strange relationship with his mother, who is very similar to him in his 'fact-spewing' nature. Cliff is a mailman, and very proud of it.
Norm Peterson (George Wendt)
Norm Peterson is a somewhat overweight bar regular. He is an accountant, but is out of work for much of the series. He is married to Vera Peterson1, and, although she's often the butt of his jokes, it's quite obvious he loves her. Norm sits at the same bar stool every day, the one closest to the beer tap. It's hinted that he has a huge bar tab, and the documentation of it is kept in a heavy binder. Aside from alcohol, Norm's best friend is Cliff, who regularly sits on the bar stool next to him.
Norm is so well-known in Cheers that whenever he walks into the bar, and greets its patrons, he is answered back with an enthusiastic 'Norm!'2.
Carla Tortelli-Lebec (Rhea Pealman)
Carla Tortelli-Lebec is a superstitious barmaid of Italian descent. She mothered almost a dozen children to several fathers. She had two husbands during the series alone - Eddie Lebec and Nick Lozupone. Of course, having so many children is expensive and she is usually strapped for money. It is hinted that her children are out of control and regularly have brushes with the law. She is extremely bitter, mostly over her children but also at life in general, and makes mean jokes at the expense of everyone in the bar, except Sam. Despite her grouchy exterior, she remains well-liked thanks to her honesty and direct approach to everyone.
Ernie 'Coach' Pantusso (Nicholas Colanstano)
The perpetually confused Coach was the bartender at Cheers for many years. He was Sam's coach when Sam was still a pitcher for the Red Sox. Though we might assume this is how he earned the title 'Coach', he contends that it comes from the fact that he never flew First Class, he always flew coach. The actor Nicholas Colanstano died in the middle of the run of Cheers, and as a result so did Coach.
Frasier Crane (Kelsey Grammer)
Dr Frasier Crane is a psychiatrist who regularly visits the bar. He is introduced as a very serious character when Diane invites him to analyse the behaviour of the bar patrons. Around the middle of the series, he is quite bitter, for a number of reasons, mostly because of Diane leaving him at the altar at their wedding, but by the end of the series, he becomes just as light natured as Cliff or Norm. He eventually starts dating Lilith Sternin; they eventually marry and have a child named Frederick.
Lilith Sternin (Bebe Neuwirth)
Dr Lilith Sternin is a psychiatrist who opposes Frasier's Freudian ways. She is buttoned down, pale and very serious, and her voice is in a constant monotone; she has often been compared to a dead person.
Rebecca Howe (Kirstie Alley)
Rebecca Howe became the bar's manager after Sam was forced to sell the bar. She thinks of herself as a career woman and tries to climb the corporate ladder, though all she really wants to do is marry a rich man. In more ways than one, Rebecca replaces Diane, both in her sparring with Carla and as the target of Sam's amorous intentions, which she resists... initially at least.
Woody Boyd (Woody Harrelson)
Woody Boyd is a naïve farm boy from Hanover, Indiana. Woody is often confused, and somewhat simple minded. He is the junior bartender, always eager to help out friends and bar patrons. Woody does work for and occasionally acts at a community theatre. He has an equally confused and naïve girlfriend named Kelly, whose parents are very wealthy and so consider Woody to be 'beneath' them.
Harry the Hat - Harry periodically comes by the bar, scamming people with magic tricks or bets. He easily makes money off less intelligent or street-smart people, usually without their knowledge.
Robin Colcord - Robin is a millionaire who becomes engaged to Rebecca Howe. When he is found guilty of fraud, Robin is sent to jail.
Alan - Alan is a bar regular, though not a show regular. He is an old man without many lines. He shows up as a prop in the background in many episodes but only occasionally has something to say.
Gary - Gary owns a competing bar, Gary's Old Towne Tap. The Cheers regulars regularly compete with Gary's regulars in sports, practical jokes, or even making margaritas. Of course the Cheers lot always fail.
Paul Kraypantz - Paul is the chubby barfly who appears in many episodes. It's hinted that he's very insensitive and apathetic, but is generally a well-liked character. In the beginning of the series, he was referred to as Glen and Gregg as well as Paul. Clearly not everyone knew his name at that point.
John Hill - John is the snobby upstairs neighbour of Cheers, owning the Melville's seafood restaurant that lies o top of everyone's favourite basement bar. Sam constantly feuds with John, almost going mad on several occasions.
Eddie Lebec - Eddie is probably the only good-natured, nice man ever to be interested in Carla. He is a very successful hockey goalie until he starts dating Carla. They marry and Eddie starts working on an ice show. Unfortunately Eddie is killed when he saves another penguin dancer in the ice show from a Zamboni. At his funeral, however, it is revealed that Eddie lived two very different and separate lives.
Nick Lozupone3 - Nick is the disgusting husband of Carla. Infamous for his strange power over women, Nick charms her, but later abandons her for a younger woman called Loretta. Nick and Carla occasionally meet again, but Carla is very bitter for the way Nick treated her.
Dick Cavett - In episode 31 'They Called Me Mayday' Dick Cavett stops by the bar and suggests that Sam write an autobiography.
Alex Trebek - Episode 182 'What is... Cliff Clavin?' Alex Trebek hosts Jeopardy which Cliff Clavin appears on.
Gary Coleman4 - In episode 30 'Manager Coach' Coleman appears as a child on a team that Coach is managing.
John Cleese - In episode 116, 'Simon Says', Cleese plays Dr Simon Finch-Royce, a marriage counsellor who finds himself pestered by Sam and Diane.
Johnny Carson - In episode 245 'Heeeeeere's... Cliffy!' Carson appears as himself hosting the Tonight Show. Cliff submitted a joke for the Tonight Show and Norm tells Cliff that they're using his material. They're not. But Cliff has Tonight Show tickets!
Mike Ditka - In the first part of the last episode 273 'One for the Road' Mike Ditka, the famous coach appears presenting an award on TV.
Tip O'Neill - Tip O'Neill, the former US Speaker of the House appears in episode 18 'No Contest' at the bar. Everyone in the bar is criticising the government with this seemingly normal man until they realise who he is.
Despite evolving into one of the biggest hits ever, Cheers started out as a long shot. James Burrows, who was collaborating with Glen Charles and Les Charles5 was looking for a bar in which to set a sitcom. He walked into The Bull and Finch Tavern in Boston and quickly thought that it was the right bar for his concept. He bought the floor plan of The Bull and Finch Tavern for just one dollar6.
After the setting for the series had been determined, Cheers went into production. The two leading parts, Sam and Diane, were cast very carefully. The actors were auditioned in pairs, which meant that a Sam and a Diane had to be cast together. Ted Danson and Shelley Long, who were considered to be the underdogs by some, emerged as the winning 'Sam and Diane' pair.
The producers decided that they needed a barfly and wrote the character of Norm. Both John Ratzenberger and George Wendt were the main contenders for the part, but when Wendt was cast as Norm, Ratzenberger made an effort to create a new character. He demonstrated a bar know-it-all who was confident of himself and always jangled keys around in his pockets. The producers decided to give Norm a best friend and Ratzenberger's improvisation formed the basis for the character of Cliff Clavin.
After writing and casting, Cheers finally went to air in September 1982. Unfortunately, at the time, the genre of comedy was losing favour. During its first season, Cheers found itself way at the bottom of the ratings. Despite this, critics reviewed the show and Cheers was nominated for an unprecedented 13 Emmys, including a nod for Outstanding Comedy Series - it was unheard of for a new show to receive such recognition.
It was nominated7 in the 1982-1983 series for the art direction, music, outstanding comedy series, editing, graphics and title sequences, outstanding lead actor, outstanding lead actress, outstanding director, outstanding supporting actor, outstanding supporting actress, and outstanding writing awards. On the night of the awards, it was the surprise of the ceremony when Cheers managed to bag a number of these awards.
After this, executives at NBC realised that this show had the capacity to become a hit. It escaped cancellation narrowly, due in part to the gut feeling of an NBC executive. By the 1984-1985 season, Cheers became better known and had a strong enough following to avoid cancellation again. It repeated a good performance at the Emmy awards, earning the Outstanding Comedy Series award for the second time.
Unfortunately, at the end of the third season Nicholas Colasanto, who played the much beloved Coach, died. He had been in the hospital through much of the end of the season. He provided his voice to use as if Coach was on vacation or at a family reunion and calling on the telephone. To replace Coach, writers created a new character called Woody Boyd, who was introduced in the fourth season. A young Woody Harrelson, who happened to have the same first name as the character, auditioned and received the part. Harrelson's youthful appearance was credited with helping the network maintain a link to a younger demographic who would have been watching the show scheduled immediately before Cheers, the hit comedy Family Ties (which starred teen heartthrob Michael J Fox).
It wasn't until the 1985-1986 season that Cheers really became a hit. It developed a strong following and ended the year at the number five ranking in the season's Nielsen ratings8. For the next six seasons, Cheers didn't drop below number five in the yearly ratings.
At the start of season five, a psychiatrist character called Frasier Crane9 joined the cast, having previously appeared as a minor character in a handful of episodes.
Shelley Long, like her character, didn't exactly fit in with the Cheers gang; while the other stars played games or entertained themselves on the set, Long was apparently excluded on a regular basis.
Her contract required her to stay until the sixth season, at which point she could exit or renew it. Long informed producers that she intended to leave the show and not return for the sixth season. Writers shifted away from the love story between Sam and Diane to focus on the love story between Frasier and Lilith to cushion the public for her leaving. In order to maintain secrecy about Shelley Long leaving Cheers, an episode was taped in which Diane and Sam got married. This of course never made it to air. Long was replaced by Kirstie Alley as Rebecca Howe, a character that managed the bar and was quite bossy and independent.
In 1993, Cheers finally went off the air. Ted Danson, who earned almost half a million dollars per episode, refused to continue his role. Encouraged by the chance of a film career, Danson said that no amount of money would change his mind. This coupled with overall high production costs caused Paramount to cancel the series. After 11 years though, Cheers had become NBC's longest running sitcom.
To round off the series, NBC created a three-part finale. This finale was the second-most-watched single episode of any show ever. It earned a whopping 64 percent audience share. Cheers had racked up a record 111 Emmy nominations, 26 wins10 and many other awards along the way.
After the show, George Wendt created a failed series The George Wendt Show. About a year after the finale of Cheers, Kelsey Grammer launched his own sitcom, Frasier. Woody Harrelson and Ted Danson went on to successful careers in movies.
The Cheers actors and characters still often meet. Ted Danson's latest show, Becker, often had guest appearances from regulars on Cheers, including Rhea Pearlman and George Wendt. On Kelsey Grammer's show, Frasier, a number of old Cheers pals have made guest appearances. Sam and Woody have had entire episodes dedicated to their visits to Seattle to see Frasier, while one episode saw Frasier travel back to Boston, where he bumped into Cliff, Norm, Carla and Paul.
Because of the show, the Bull and Finch Tavern is Boston's fourth-busiest tourist attraction and fills the glasses of over a million people every year. It generates millions of dollars in income from its gift shop. Also, one enterprising bar franchise has called itself 'Cheers' and has established bars and restaurants that have décor like the one from the show. The food and drink is themed after the characters of the show. In fact, the only two characters not mentioned on the menu are Rebecca and Woody. They even have robot barflies11.
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