Cheers is an American sitcom that ran for eleven seasons between 1982 and 1993. The show was produced by Charles/Burrows/Charles Productions in association with Paramount Network Television for NBC and created by the team of James Burrows, Glen Charles, and Les Charles. The show is set in a bar named Cheers (named after the popular toast) in Boston, Massachusetts, where a group of locals meet to drink, relax, and socialize. The show’s main theme song, written and performed by Gary Portnoy, and co-written with Judy Hart Angelo, lent its famous refrain, “Where Everybody Knows Your Name”, as the show’s tagline.
After premiering on September 30, 1982, it was nearly canceled during its first season when it ranked last in ratings for its premiere (74th out of 77 shows). Cheers, however, eventually became a highly rated television show in the United States, earning a top-ten rating during eight of its eleven seasons, including one season at number one. The show spent most of its run on NBC’s Thursday night “Must See TV” lineup. Its widely watched series finale was broadcast on May 20, 1993, and the show’s 275 episodes have been successfully syndicated worldwide. Nominated for Outstanding Comedy Series for all eleven of its seasons on the air, it earned 28 Emmy Awards from a record of 117 nominations. The character Frasier Crane (Kelsey Grammer) was featured in his eponymous spin-off show, which later aired up until 2004 and included guest appearances by virtually all of the major and minor Cheers characters.
In 1997, the episodes “Thanksgiving Orphans” and “Home Is the Sailor”, aired originally in 1987, were respectively ranked No. 7 and No. 45 on TV Guide’s 100 Greatest Episodes of All Time. In 2002, Cheers was ranked No. 18 on TV Guide’s 50 Greatest TV Shows of All Time. In 2013, the Writers Guild of America ranked it as the eighth best written TV series and TV Guide ranked it #11 on their list of the 60 Greatest Shows of All Time.
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Before the Cheers pilot, “Give Me a Ring Sometime”, was completed and aired in 1982, the series originally consisted of four employees of Cheers, the bar, in the first script. Neither Norm Peterson nor Cliff Clavin, regular customers of Cheers, were featured; later revisions added them as among the regular characters of the series.
In later years, Woody Boyd replaces Coach, who dies off-screen in season four (1985-86) to account for the actor’s demise. Frasier Crane starts as a recurring character and becomes a permanent character. In season six (1987-88) Rebecca Howe replaces Diane Chambers, who was written out of the show after the finale of the previous season (1986-87). Lilith Sternin starts as a one-time character in an episode of season four, “Second Time Around” (1985). After she appears in two episodes in season five, she becomes a recurring character, featured as a permanent one for seasons ten and eleven (1991-93).
+Before production of season 3 was finished, Nicholas Colasanto died. Therefore, his character Coach was written out as deceased in season 4.
*In season 11, Bebe Neuwirth is given “starring” credit only when she appears.
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Original main characters
- Ted Danson portrays Sam Malone, a bartender and an owner of Cheers. Sam is also a lothario. Before the series began, he was a baseball relief pitcher for the Boston Red Sox nicknamed “Mayday Malone” until he became an alcoholic, taking a toll on his career. He has on-again, off-again relationships with Diane Chambers, his class opposite, in the first five seasons (1982-1987). During their off-relationships, Sam has flings with many not-so-bright “sexy women”, yet fails to pursue a meaningful relationship and fails to seduce other women, such as intellectuals. After Diane is written out of the series, he tries to pursue Rebecca Howe, but he either fails to achieve or gets uninterested if passion is attempted. At the end of the series, he is still unmarried and recovering from sexual addiction with a help of Dr. Robert Sutton’s (Gilbert Lewis) group meetings, advised by Frasier.
- Shelley Long portrays Diane Chambers, an academic, sophisticated graduate student. In the pilot, Diane is abandoned by her fiancé, leaving her without a job, money, and man. Therefore, she reluctantly becomes a cocktail waitress. Later, she becomes a close friend of Coach and has on-and-off relationships with bartender Sam Malone, her class opposite. During their off-relationships times, Diane dates men who fit her upper-class ideals, such as Frasier Crane. In 1987, she leaves Boston behind for a writing career and to live in Los Angeles, California.
- Nicholas Colasanto portrays Coach Ernie Pantusso, a “borderline senile” co-bartender, widower, and retired coach. Coach is also a friend of Sam and a close friend of Diane. He has a daughter, Lisa. Coach is often tricked into situations, especially ones that put the bar at stake. Coach listens to people’s problems and solves them. In 1985, Coach is explained to have died without explicit explanation; the actor Colasanto died of a heart attack.
- Rhea Perlman portrays Carla Tortelli, a “wisecracking, cynical” cocktail waitress, who treats customers badly. She is also highly fertile and matrimonially inept. When the series premiered, she is the mother of four children by her ex-husband Nick Tortelli (Dan Hedaya). Later, she gives birth to four more, incorporated by Perlman’s real-life pregnancies. All of her children are notoriously ill-behaved, except Ludlow, whose father is a prominent academician. She flirts with men, including ones who are not flattered by her ways, and believes in superstitions, but secretly carries the torch for Sam. Later, she marries Eddie LeBec, an ice hockey player, who later becomes a penguin mascot for ice shows. After he died in an ice show accident by an ice resurfacer, Carla later discovers that Eddie had committed bigamy with another woman, whom he had gotten pregnant.
- George Wendt portrays Norm Peterson, a bar regular and semi-unemployed accountant. A recurrent joke on the show, especially in the earlier seasons, was that the character was such a popular and constant fixture at the bar that anytime he entered through the front door everyone present would yell out his name (“NORM!”) in greeting; usually this cry would be followed by one of the present bartenders asking Norm how he was, usually receiving a sardonic response and a request for a beer. He has infrequent accounting jobs and a troubled marriage with (but is still in love with and married to) Vera, an unseen character. Later in the series, he becomes a house painter and an interior decorator. The character was not originally intended to be a main cast role; Wendt auditioned for a minor role of George for the pilot episode. The role was to only be Diane Chambers’ first customer and had only one word: “Beer!” After he was cast in a more permanent role, the character was renamed Norm.
- John Ratzenberger portrays Cliff Clavin, a know-it-all bar regular and postal worker. He lives with his mother Esther Clavin (Frances Sternhagen) in first the family house and later an apartment. In the bar, Cliff unwittingly says things that either annoy people, motivate people into mocking him, drive people away, confuse people, are inaccurate, or are unnecessary to people. Ratzenberger auditioned for the role of a minor character George, but it went to Wendt, evolving the role into Norm Peterson. The producers decided they wanted a resident bar know-it-all, so the security guard Cliff Clavin was added for the pilot. The producers changed his occupation into a postal worker as they thought such a man would have wider knowledge than a guard.
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Later main characters
- Kelsey Grammer portrays Frasier Crane, a psychiatrist and bar regular. Frasier started out as Diane Chambers’s love interest in the third season (1984-85). In the fourth season (1985-86), after Diane jilts him at the altar in Europe, Frasier ends up frequenting Cheers and becomes a regular. After the series ended, in the spin-off Frasier, he gives child custody of their son Frederick to Lilith and moves to Seattle.
- Woody Harrelson portrays Woody Boyd, a not-so-bright bartender. He arrives from his Midwest hometown to Boston, to see Coach, his “pen pal” (as referring to exchanging “pens”, not letters). When he learns that Coach passed away, Woody is hired in his place. Later, he marries his girlfriend Kelly Gaines (Jackie Swanson), also not-so-bright but raised in a rich family.
- Bebe Neuwirth portrays Lilith Sternin, a psychiatrist and bar regular. She is often teased by bar patrons about her uptight personality and appearance. In “Second Time Around” (1986), her first episode, also her only one of the fourth season, her date with Frasier does not go well because they constantly argue. In the fifth season, with help from Diane, Lilith and Frasier begin a relationship. Eventually, they marry and have a son, Frederick. In the eleventh and final season, she leaves Frasier to live with another man in an experimental underground environment called the “Eco-pod.” However she returns later in the season and reconciles with Frasier.
- Kirstie Alley portrays Rebecca Howe. She starts out as a strong independent woman, managing the bar for the corporation that was given the bar by Sam after Diane jilted him. Eventually, when Sam regains ownership, she begs him to let her remain as business manager. She repeatedly has romantic failures with mainly rich men and becomes more and “more neurotic, insecure, and sexually frustrated”. At the start, Sam frequently attempts to seduce Rebecca without success. As her persona changes, he loses interest in her. In the eleventh and final season, Rebecca marries the plumber Don Santry and quits working for the bar.
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Although Cheers operated largely around that main ensemble cast, guest stars and recurring characters did occasionally supplement them. Notable repeat guests included Dan Hedaya as Nick Tortelli, Jean Kasem as Loretta Tortelli who were the main characters in the first spin-off The Tortellis, Jay Thomas as Eddie LeBec, Roger Rees as Robin Colcord, Tom Skerritt as Evan Drake, and Harry Anderson as Harry ‘The Hat’ Gittes.
Paul Willson played the recurring barfly character of “Paul Krapence”. (In one early appearance in the first season he was called “Glen”, and was later credited on-screen as “Gregg” and “Tom”, but he was playing the same character throughout.) Thomas Babson played “Tom”, a law student often mocked by Cliff Clavin, for continually failing to pass the Massachusetts bar exam. “Al”, played by Al Rosen, appeared in 38 episodes, and was known for his surly quips. Rhea Perlman’s father Philip Perlman played the role of “Phil”. Jackie Swanson, who played the recurring role of Woody’s girlfriend and eventual wife “Kelly Gaines-Boyd”, appeared in 24 episodes from 1989 to 1993. The character is as equally dim and naive–but ultimately as sweet-natured–as Woody.
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Other celebrities guest-starred in single episodes as themselves throughout the series. Sports figures appeared on the show as themselves with a connection to Boston or Sam’s former team, the Red Sox, such as Luis Tiant, Wade Boggs and Kevin McHale (of the Boston Celtics). Some television stars also made guest appearances as themselves such as Alex Trebek, Arsenio Hall, Dick Cavett, Robert Urich, George “Spanky” McFarland and Johnny Carson. Various political figures even made appearances on Cheers such as then-Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral William J. Crowe, former Colorado Senator Gary Hart, then-Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill, then-Senator John Kerry, then-Governor Michael Dukakis, and then-Mayor of Boston Raymond Flynn, the last four of whom all represented Cheers’ home state and city. In a guest appearance in 1983, Glynis Johns played Diane’s mother, Mrs. Helen Chambers. In an episode that aired in 1985, Nancy Marchand played Frasier’s mother, Hester Crane.
The musician Harry Connick, Jr. appeared in an episode as Woody’s cousin and plays a song from his Grammy-winning album We Are in Love (c. 1991). John Cleese won an Emmy for his guest appearance as “Dr. Simon Finch-Royce” in the fifth season episode, “Simon Says”. Emma Thompson guest starred as Nanny G/Nannette Guzman, a famous singing nanny and Frasier’s ex-wife. Christopher Lloyd guest starred as a tortured artist who wanted to paint Diane. Marcia Cross portrayed Rebecca’s sister Susan in the season 7 episode Sisterly Love. John Mahoney once appeared as an inept jingle writer, which included a brief conversation with Frasier Crane, whose father he later portrayed on the spin-off Frasier. Peri Gilpin, who later played Roz Doyle on Frasier, also appeared in one episode of Cheers, in its 11th season, as Holly Matheson, a reporter who interviews Woody. The Righteous Brothers, Bobby Hatfield and Bill Medley, also guest starred in different episodes, and Kate Mulgrew appeared in the three-episode finale of season four. In the final episode of Kirstie Alley’s run as Rebecca, she was wooed away from Cheers by the guy who came to fix one of the beer keg taps – surprising for a “high-class” lady – who happened to be Tom Berenger.
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Death of Nicholas Colasanto
Near the end of production of the third season, the writers of Cheers had to deal with the death of one of the main actors. During the third season, Nicholas Colasanto’s heart condition (which had been diagnosed in the mid-1970s) had worsened. He had lost weight and was having trouble breathing during filming. Shortly before third season filming wrapped, Colasanto was hospitalized due to fluid in his lungs. Though he recovered, he was not cleared to return to work. While visiting the set in January 1985 to watch the filming of several episodes, co-star Shelley Long commented, “I think we were all in denial. We were all glad he was there, but he lost a lot of weight.” Co-star Rhea Perlman added, “[He] wanted to be there so badly. He didn’t want to be sick. He couldn’t breathe well, it was hard; he was laboring all the time.” Colasanto died of a heart attack in his home on February 12, 1985. While the cast was saddened, they knew he had been very ill.
The third season episodes of Cheers were filmed out of order, partly to accommodate the pregnancy of cast member Long. As a result, the season finale, which included several scenes with Colasanto, had already been filmed at the time of his death. In the third season episodes that had not been filmed at this point, Coach is said to be “away” for various reasons.
The Cheers writing staff assembled in June 1985, at the start of the production of the fourth season, to discuss how to deal with the absence of Coach. They quickly discarded the idea that he might have moved away, as they felt he would never abandon his friends. In addition, as most viewers were aware of Colasanto’s death, they decided to handle the situation more openly. The season four opener, “Birth, Death, Love and Rice”, dealt with Coach’s death as well as introducing Woody Harrelson, Colasanto’s replacement.
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Nearly all of Cheers took place in the front room of the bar, but the characters often went into the rear pool room or the bar’s office. Cheers did not show any action outside the bar until the first episode of the second season, which took place in Diane’s apartment.
Cheers had several running gags, such as Norm arriving in the bar always saying “Afternoon everybody” and being greeted by a loud “Norm!” Early episodes generally followed Sam’s antics with his various women, following a variety of romantic comedy clichés to get out of whatever relationship troubles he was in during each episode. As the show progressed and Sam got into more serious relationships, the general tone switched to a comedic take on Sam settling into a monogamous lifestyle. Throughout the series, larger story arcs began to develop that spanned multiple episodes or seasons, interspersed with smaller themes and one-off episodes.
The show’s main theme in its early seasons was the romance between the intellectual waitress Diane Chambers and the bar owner Sam Malone, a former major league baseball pitcher for the Boston Red Sox and a recovering alcoholic. After Shelley Long (Diane) left the show, the focus shifted to Sam’s new relationship with Rebecca, a neurotic corporate ladder climber. Both relationships featured sexual tension that spanned many episodes.
Many Cheers scripts centered or touched upon a variety of social issues, albeit humorously. As Toasting Cheers puts it, “The script was further strengthened by the writers’ boldness in successfully tackling controversial issues such as alcoholism, homosexuality, and adultery.”
Social class was a subtext of the show. The “upper class” – represented by characters like Diane Chambers, Frasier Crane, Lilith Sternin and (initially) Rebecca Howe – rubbed shoulders with middle and working-class characters — Sam Malone, Carla Tortelli, Norm Peterson and Cliff Clavin. An extreme example of this was the relationship between Woody Boyd and a millionaire’s daughter Kelly Gaines. Many viewers enjoyed Cheers in part because of this focus on character development in addition to plot development.
Feminism and the role of women were also recurring themes throughout the show, with some critics seeing each of the major female characters portraying an aspect as a flawed feminist in her own way. Diane was a vocal feminist, and Sam was the epitome of everything she hated: a womanizer and a male chauvinist. Their relationship led Diane to several diatribes on Sam’s promiscuity. Carla insulted people, but was respected because of her tough attitude, wit, and power, while Diane was often ignored as she commanded little respect in any successful way. Rebecca was an ambitious businesswoman and gold-digger, seeking relationships with her superiors at the Lillian Corporation, most notably Evan Drake, to gain promotions or raises. She encountered a glass ceiling, and ended the show by marrying a plumber rather than a rich businessman. It was later revealed on Frasier that her husband struck it rich and left her, after which Rebecca returned to Cheers as a patron. Lilith was a high-profile psychiatrist with many degrees and awards, and commanded respect with her strong and rather stern demeanor. Like Rebecca, she was an executive woman of the 1980s who put much emphasis on her professional life. She was often shown to have the upper hand in her and Frasier’s relationship.
Homosexuality was dealt with from the first season, which was rare in the early 1980s for American network television. In the first season episode, “The Boys In The Bar”, a friend and former teammate of Sam’s comes out in his autobiography. Some of the male regulars pressure Sam to take action to ensure that Cheers does not become a gay bar. The episode won a GLAAD Media Award, and the script’s writers, Ken Levine and David Isaacs, were nominated for an Emmy Award. Harvey Fierstein later appeared in the 1990s as “Mark Newberger”, Rebecca’s old high school sweetheart who is gay. The final episode included a gay man who gets into trouble with his boyfriend, played by Anthony Heald.
Addiction also plays a role in Cheers, almost exclusively through Sam. He is a recovering alcoholic who had bought a bar during his drinking days. After he achieved sobriety, Sam decided to continue to own and operate the bar for “sentimental reasons.” Frasier has a notable bout of drinking in the fourth season episode, “The Triangle”, while Woody develops a gambling problem in the seventh season’s, “Call Me Irresponsible”. Some critics believe Sam was portrayed as a generally addictive personality.
In addition to extended story lines, Cheers had recurring themes. A heated rivalry between Cheers and a rival bar, Gary’s Olde Towne Tavern, was portrayed starting with the fourth season episode, “From Beer to Eternity”. Beginning in the sixth season, one episode of each season depicted some wager between Sam and Gary, which resulted in either a sports competition or a battle of wits that devolved into complex practical jokes. Aside from the very first and very last “Bar Wars” episodes, the Cheers gang almost always lost to Gary’s superior ingenuity. They tricked him into missing the annual Bloody Mary contest in one episode. Another had Sam collaborating with Gary’s crew to get revenge on his co-workers for a prior practical joke. Another episode involved a pickup basketball game, in which Gary tricked the people of Cheers into believing that a minor injury sustained by basketball great Kevin McHale was a season-ending injury. In the final season, Gary is tricked into destroying his own bar by Cheers patron Harry “The Hat”.
Sam had a long-running feud with the upscale restaurant above the bar, Melville’s Fine Sea Food. The restaurant’s management disliked the bar’s patrons, while Sam regarded the restaurant as snobbish (though customers often moved between the two businesses via a prominent staircase). This conflict escalated after Melville’s came under the ownership of John Allen Hill (Keene Curtis), as Sam did not technically own the bar’s poolroom and bathrooms. Subsequently forced to pay rent for them, Sam was often at the mercy of Hill’s tyranny. Rebecca eventually helped Sam buy the back section from Hill.
Cheers obviously had several owners before Sam, as the bar was opened in 1889. The “Est. 1895” on the bar’s sign is a made-up date chosen by Carla for numerological purposes, revealed in the 8th season episode, “The Stork Brings a Crane”. In the second episode, “Sam’s Women”, Coach tells a customer looking for Gus, the owner of Cheers, that Gus was dead. In a later episode, Gus O’Mally comes back from Arizona for one night and helps run the bar.
The biggest storyline surrounding the ownership of Cheers begins in the fifth season finale, “I Do, Adieu”, when Sam and Diane part ways, due to Shelley Long’s departure from the series. In addition, Sam leaves on a trip to circumnavigate the Earth. Before he leaves, Sam sells Cheers to the Lillian Corporation. He returns in the sixth season premiere, “Home is the Sailor”, having sunk his boat, to find the bar under the new management of Rebecca Howe. He begs for his job back and is hired by Rebecca as a bartender. In the seventh season premiere, “How to Recede in Business”, Rebecca is fired and Sam is promoted to manager. Rebecca is allowed to keep a job at Lillian vaguely similar to what she had before, but only after Sam had Rebecca (in absentia) “agree” to a long list of demands that the corporation had for her.
From there Sam occasionally attempted to buy the bar back with schemes that usually involved the wealthy executive Robin Colcord. Sam acquired Cheers again in the eighth season finale, when it was sold back to him for 85¢ by the Lillian Corporation, after he alerted the company to Colcord’s insider trading. Fired by the corporation because of her silence on the issue, Rebecca is hired by Sam as a hostess/office manager. For the rest of the episode, to celebrate Sam’s reclaiming the bar, a huge banner hung from the staircase, reading “Under OLD Management”!
Three men developed and created the Cheers television series: Charles brothers–Glen and Les–and James Burrows. The show centers around two characters, Sam Malone and Diane Chambers, similar to that of Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn role types. Malone represents the average man, while Chambers represents class and sophistication. The show revolves around characters in a bar under humorous adult themes and situations.
The concept for Cheers was the result of a long process. The original idea was a group of workers who interacted like a family, the goal being a concept similar to The Mary Tyler Moore Show. The creators considered making an American version of the British Fawlty Towers, set in a hotel or an inn. When the creators settled on a bar as their setting, the show began to resemble the radio show Duffy’s Tavern. They liked the idea of a tavern, as it provided a continuous stream of new people, for a variety of characters.
After choosing a setting, the creators needed to choose a location. Early discussions centered on Barstow, California, then Kansas City, Missouri. They eventually turned to the East Coast and finally Boston. The Bull & Finch Pub in Boston, which was the model for Cheers, was chosen from a phone book. When Glen Charles asked the bar’s owner, Tom Kershaw, to shoot exterior and interior photos, he agreed, charging $1. Kershaw has since gone on to make millions, licensing the pub’s image and selling a variety of Cheers memorabilia. The Bull & Finch became the 42nd busiest outlet in the American food and beverage industry in 1997. During initial casting, Shelley Long, who was in Boston at the time filming A Small Circle of Friends, remarked that the bar in the script resembled a bar she had come upon in the city, which turned out to be the Bull & Finch.
The crew of Cheers numbered in the hundreds. The three creators–James Burrows and the Charles brothers, Glen and Les–kept offices on Paramount’s lot for the duration of the Cheers run. The Charles Brothers remained in overall charge throughout the show’s run, frequently writing major episodes, through starting with the third season they began delegating the day-to-day running of the writing staff to various showrunners. Ken Estin and Sam Simon were appointed as showrunners for the third season, and succeeded by David Angell, Peter Casey and David Lee the following year. Angell, Casey and Lee would remain as showrunners until the end of the seventh season when they left to develop their own sitcom, Wings, and were replaced by Cheri Eichen, Bill Steinkellner and Phoef Sutton for the eighth through tenth seasons. For the final season, Tom Anderson and Dan O’Shannon acted as the showrunners.
James Burrows is regarded as being a factor in the show’s longevity, directing 243 of the 270 episodes and supervising the show’s production. Among the show’s other directors were Andy Ackerman, Thomas Lofaro, Tim Berry, Tom Moore, Rick Beren, as well as cast members John Ratzenberger and George Wendt.
Craig Safan provided the series’ original music for its entire run except the theme song. His extensive compositions for the show led to him winning numerous ASCAP Top TV Series awards for his music.
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The character of Sam Malone was originally intended to be a retired football player and was slated to be played by Fred Dryer, but, after casting Ted Danson, it was decided that a former baseball player (Sam “Mayday” Malone) would be more believable. Dryer, however, would go on to play sportscaster Dave Richards, an old friend of Sam, in three episodes. The character of Cliff Clavin was created for John Ratzenberger after he auditioned for the role of Norm Peterson, which eventually went to George Wendt. While chatting with producers afterward, he asked if they were going to include a “bar know-it-all”, the part which he eventually played. Alley joined the cast when Shelley Long left, and Woody Harrelson joined when Nicholas Colasanto died. Danson, Perlman and Wendt were the only actors to appear in every episode of the series.
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Filming styles and locations
Most Cheers episodes were, as a voiceover stated at the start of each, “filmed before a live studio audience” on Paramount Stage 25 in Hollywood, generally on Tuesday nights. Scripts for a new episode were issued the Wednesday before for a read-through, Friday was rehearsal day, and final scripts were issued on Monday. Burrows, who directed most episodes, insisted on using film stock rather than videotape. He was also noted for using motion in his directorial style, trying to constantly keep characters moving rather than standing still. During the first season when ratings were poor Paramount and NBC asked that the show use videotape to save money, but a poor test taping ended the experiment and Cheers continued to use film.
Due to a decision by Glen and Les Charles, the cold open was often not connected to the rest of the episode, with the lowest-ranked writers assigned to create the jokes for them. Some cold opens were taken from episodes that ran too long.
The first year of the show took place entirely within the confines of the bar, the first location outside the bar being Diane’s apartment. When the series became a hit, the characters started venturing further afield, first to other sets and eventually to an occasional exterior location. The exterior location shots of the bar were of the Bull & Finch Pub, located directly north of the Boston Public Garden. The pub has become a tourist attraction because of its association with the series, and draws nearly one million visitors annually. It has since been renamed Cheers Beacon Hill; its interior is different from the TV bar. Cheers Beacon Hill is opposite the Boston Public Garden. The Pub itself is at 84 Beacon Street. (On the corner of Brimmer St). From August 2001 until 2014, there is a replica of the bar in Faneuil Hall to capitalize on the popularity of the show.
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Before “Where Everybody Knows Your Name”, written by Gary Portnoy and Judy Hart Angelo, became the show’s theme song, Cheers? ‘ producers rejected two of Portnoy’s and Hart Angelo’s songs. The songwriters had collaborated to provide music for Preppies, an unsuccessful Broadway musical. When told they could not appropriate “People Like Us”, Preppies? ‘s opening song, the pair wrote another song “My Kind of People”, which resembled “People Like Us” and intended to satirize “the lifestyle of old decadent old-money WASPs,” but, to meet producers’ demands, they rewrote the lyrics to be about “likeable losers” in a Boston bar. The show’s producers rejected this song, as well. After they read the script of the series pilot, they created another song “Another Day”. When Portnoy and Hart Angelo heard that NBC had commissioned thirteen episodes, they created an official theme song “Where Everybody Knows Your Name” and rewrote the lyrics.
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Cheers was critically acclaimed in its first season, though it landed a disappointing 74th out of 77 shows in that year’s ratings. This critical support, the early success at the Emmys, and the support of the president of NBC’s entertainment division Brandon Tartikoff, are thought to be the main reasons for the show’s survival and eventual success. Tartikoff stated in 1983 that Cheers was a sophisticated adult comedy and that NBC executives, “never for a second doubted” that the show would not be renewed. Writer Levine believes that the most important reason was that the network recognized that it did not have other hit shows to help promote Cheers; as he later wrote, “[NBC] had nothing else better to replace it with.”
Ratings improved for the summer reruns after the first season. The cast went on various talk shows to try to further promote the series after its first season. By the second season Cheers was competitive with CBS’s top rated show Simon & Simon. With the growing popularity of Family Ties, which ran in the slot ahead of Cheers from January 1984 until Family Ties was moved to Sundays in 1987, and the placement of The Cosby Show in front of both at the start of their third season (1984), the line-up became a runaway ratings success that NBC eventually dubbed “Must See Thursday”. The next season, Cheers ratings increased dramatically after Woody Boyd became a regular character as well. By the end of its final season, the show had a run of eight consecutive seasons in the Top Ten of the Nielsen ratings; seven of them were in the Top Five.
Cheers? ‘ was perhaps the first sitcom with a serialized storyline, starting with the third season. The show’s success helped make such multi-episode story arcs popular on television, which Les Charles regrets: “[W]e may have been partly responsible for what’s going on now, where if you miss the first episode or two, you are lost. You have to wait until you can get the whole thing on DVD and catch up with it. If that blood is on our hands, I feel kind of badly about it. It can be very frustrating.”
Cheers began with a limited five-character ensemble consisting of Ted Danson, Shelley Long, Rhea Perlman, Nicholas Colasanto and George Wendt. By the time season 10 began, the show had eight front characters in its roster. Cheers was also able to gradually phase in characters such as Cliff, Frasier, Lilith, Rebecca, and Woody. During season 1, only one set, the bar, housed all of the episodes. Later seasons introduced other sets, but the show’s ability to center the action in the bar and avoid straying was notable.
NBC dedicated a whole night to the final episode of Cheers, following the one-hour season finale of Seinfeld (which was its lead-in). The show began with a “pregame” show hosted by Bob Costas, followed by the final 98-minute episode itself. NBC affiliates then aired tributes to Cheers during their local newscasts, and the night concluded with a special Tonight Show broadcast live from the Bull & Finch Pub. Although the episode fell short of its hyped ratings predictions to become the most watched television episode, it was the most watched show that year, bringing in 93.5 million viewers (64 percent of all viewers that night), and ranked 11th all time in entertainment programming. The 1993 final broadcast of Cheers also emerged as the highest rated broadcast of NBC to date, as well as the most watched single episode from any television series throughout the decade 1990s on U.S. television.
The episode originally aired in the usual Cheers spot of Thursday night, and was then rebroadcast on Sunday. While the original broadcast did not outperform the M*A*S*H finale, the combined non-repeating audiences for the Thursday and Sunday showings did. It should also be noted that television had greatly changed between the two finales, leaving Cheers with a broader array of competition for ratings.
In 2013 GQ magazine held an online competition to find the best TV comedy. Cheers was voted the greatest comedy show of all time.
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Awards and honors
Over its eleven-season run, the Cheers cast and crew earned many awards. The show garnered a record 111 Emmy Award nominations, with a total of 28 wins. In addition, Cheers earned 31 Golden Globe nominations, with a total of six wins. Danson, Long, Alley, Perlman, Wendt, Ratzenberger, Harrelson, Grammer, Neuwirth, and Colosanto all received Emmy nominations for their roles. Cheers won the Golden Globe for “Best TV-Series – Comedy/Musical” in 1991 and the Emmy for “Outstanding Comedy Series” in 1983, 1984, 1989, and 1991. The series was presented with the “Legend Award” at the 2006 TV Land Awards, with many of the surviving cast members attending the event.
The following are awards that have been earned by the Cheers cast and crew over its 11-season run:
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Cheers grew in popularity as it aired on American television and entered into off-network syndication in 1987, initially distributed by Paramount Domestic Television. When the show went off the air in 1993, Cheers was syndicated in 38 countries with 179 American television markets and 83 million viewers. After going off the air, Cheers entered a long and successful continuing syndication run on Nick at Nite, later moving to TV Land in 2004, lasting until 2008 on their line-up.
The series began airing on Hallmark Channel in the United States in 2008, and WGN America in 2009, where it continues to air on both channels. In January 2011, Reelz Channel began airing the series in hour-long blocks. Me-TV began airing Cheers weeknights in 2010. When the quality of some earlier footage of Cheers began to deteriorate, it underwent a careful restoration in 2001 due to its continued success. And more recently, USA Network also reran the series, but only on Sunday early mornings and weekday mornings (if there is a movie running in 2 1/2 hours).
In October 2008, Cheers began airing on The Hallmark Channel.
As of April 2011, Netflix began including Cheers as one of the titles on its “watch instantly” streaming service.
A Cheers rerun notably replaced the September 4, 1992 airing of Australia’s Naughtiest Home Videos on Australia’s Nine Network. The latter was canceled mid-episode on its only broadcast by Kerry Packer, who pulled the plug after a phone call. It was repeated several years later on the Nine Network shortly after Packer’s death in 2005. Cheers currently airs on Eleven starting January 11, 2011 in Australia. Cheers was aired by NCRV in the Netherlands. After the last episode, NCRV simply began re-airing the series, and then again, thus airing the show three times in a row, showing an episode nightly.
As of 2012, Cheers has been repeated on UK satellite channel CBS Drama. Cheers is also shown on the UK free-to-air channel ITV4 where it is shown two episodes every weekday night. Because of the ITV syndication it is also available to watch on the online ITV Player for seven days after broadcast. On March 16, 2015, the series began airing on UK subscription channel Gold on weekdays at 9:30am and 10:00am.
They are also currently airing on ReelzChannel.
A high-definition transfer of Cheers began running on HDNet in the United States in August 2010. Originally shot on film (but transferred to and edited on videotape) the program was broadcast in a 4:3 aspect ratio, the newly transferred versions are in 16:9. However in the United Kingdom, the HD repeats on ITV4 HD are shown in the original 4:3 aspect ratio.
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Paramount Home Entertainment and (from 2006 onward) CBS Home Entertainment have released all 11 seasons of Cheers on DVD in Region 1, Region 2 and Region 4.
On March 6, 2012, they released Fan Favorites: The Best of Cheers. Based on the 2012 Facebook poll, the selected episodes are:
- “Give Me a Ring Sometime” (season 1, episode 1)
- “Diane’s Perfect Date” (season 1, episode 17)
- “Pick a Con, Any Con” (season 1, episode 19)
- “Abnormal Psychology” (season 5, episode 4)
- “Thanksgiving Orphans” (season 5, episode 9)
- “Dinner at Eight-ish” (season 5, episode 20)
- “Simon Says” (season 5, episode 21)
- “An Old Fashioned Wedding”, parts one and two (season 10, episodes 25)
On May 5, 2015, CBS DVD will release Cheers- The Complete Series on DVD in Region 1.
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The series lent itself naturally to the development of “Cheers” bar-related merchandise, culminating in the development of a chain of “Cheers” themed pubs. Paramount’s licensing group, led by Tom McGrath, developed the “Cheers” pub concept initially in partnership with Host Marriott, which placed “Cheers” themed pubs in over 15 airports around the world. Boston boasts the original Cheers bar, historically known to Boston insiders as the Bull and Finch, as well as a Cheers restaurant in the Faneuil Hall marketplace, and Sam’s Place, a spin-off sports bar concept also located at Faneuil Hall. In 1997 Europe’s first officially licensed Cheers bar opened in London’s Regent’s Street W1. Like Cheers Faneuil Hall, Cheers London is a replica of the set. The gala opening was attended by James Burrows and cast members George Wendt and John Ratzenberger. The Cheers bar in London closed on 31st Dec 2008. The actual bar set had been on display at the Hollywood Entertainment Museum until the museum’s closing in early 2006.
The theme song to the show was eventually licensed to a Canadian restaurant, Kelsey’s Neighbourhood Bar & Grill.
CBS currently holds the rights to the Cheers franchise as the result of the 2006 Viacom split which saw Paramount transfer its entire television studio to CBS.
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Spin-offs, crossovers, and cultural references
Some of the actors and actresses from Cheers brought their characters into other television shows, either in a guest appearance or in a new spin-off series. The most successful Cheers spin-off was Frasier, which featured Frasier Crane following his relocation back to Seattle, Washington. Sam, Diane, and Woody all individually appeared in Frasier episodes, with Lilith appearing as a guest on multiple episodes. In the season nine episode “Cheerful Goodbyes”, Frasier returns to Boston and meets up with the Cheers gang, later attending Cliff’s retirement party.
Although Frasier was more successful, The Tortellis was the first series to spin-off from Cheers, premiering in 1987. The show featured Carla’s ex-husband Nick Tortelli and his wife Loretta, but was canceled after 13 episodes and drew protests for its stereotypical depictions of Italian-Americans.
In addition to direct spin-offs, several Cheers characters had guest appearance crossovers with other shows, including Wings and St. Elsewhere (episode “Cheers”). Cheers has also been spoofed or referenced in other media, including The Simpsons (episode “Fear of Flying”), Scrubs (episode “My Life in Four Cameras”), Adventure Time (episode “Simon & Marcy”), the 2012 comedy film Ted, and the 2011 video game Dragon Age II.
The final edition of “Late Night with David Letterman” (which aired on June 25, 1993; more than a month after Cheers’ final episode) began with a scene at Cheers, in which the bar’s TV gets stuck on NBC, and all of the bar patrons decide to go home instead of staying to watch Letterman. A similar scene aired in the Super Bowl XVII Pregame Show on NBC, in which the characters briefly discuss the upcoming game.
In the second season episode Swarley of the sit-com How I Met Your Mother, in the final scene, Barney walks into the bar, everyone shouts “Swarley” same as when the characters traditionally yelled “Norm!” whenever Norm Peterson entered the “Cheers” bar, and he turns and walks out dejectedly as Carl the bartender plays “Where Everybody Knows Your Name.” and the camera angle changes to show the same bar set-up and framing for the main interior bar-shots featured in Cheers. Additionally, the end credits are done in the gold “Cooper Black” font of the Cheers credits (which was a highly popular font for sitcoms of the early-to-mid-1980s).
In September 2011, Plural Entertainment debuted a remake of the series on Spanish television, also titled Cheers. Set at an Irish pub, it starred Alberto San Juan as Nicolás “Nico” Arnedo, the equivalent of Sam Malone in the original series. It also used the original theme song, rerecorded in Spanish by Dani Martín, under the title of “Dónde la gente se divierte.”
In December 2012, The Irish Film and Television Network announced that casting is underway on an Irish language version of Cheers produced by production company Sideline. The new show, tentatively titled Teach Seán, would air on Ireland’s TG4 and features a main character who, like Sam Malone, is a bar owner, a retired athlete and a recovering alcoholic. Except because of the setting in Ireland, the barman is a “former hurling star” rather than an ex-baseball player.
- Bjorklund, Dennis A. (1997). Toasting Cheers: An Episode Guide to the 1982-1993 Comedy Series, with cast biographies and character profiles. McFarland & Company, Inc., Jefferson, North Carolina. ISBN 978-0-89950-962-4.
- Jones, Gerald (1992). Honey, I’m Home! Sitcoms: Selling the American Dream. New York: Grove Weidenfeld–Grove Press. ISBN 978-0-8021-1308-5.
- Wendt, George (2009). Drinking with George. New York: Simon Spotlight Entertainment. ISBN 978-1-4391-4958-4.
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- Andrews, Bart; Blythe, Cheryl (1987). Cheers : the official scrapbook. New York, N.Y.: New American Library. p. 209. ISBN 978-0-451-82160-7.
- Carter, Bill (April 29, 1990). “The Tonic That Keeps ‘Cheers’ Bubbling Along”. The New York Times. p. 6.
- Carter, Bill (May 9, 1993). “Why ‘Cheers’ Proved So Intoxicating”. The New York Times. p. 6.
- Fallows, Randall (September 1, 2000). “The Enneagram of Cheers: Where Everybody Knows Your Number”. The Journal of Popular Culture 34 (2): 169-179. doi:10.1111/j.0022-3840.2000.3402_169.x.
- Hundley, Heather L. (June 1, 1995). “The naturalization of beer in Cheers”. Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media 39 (3): 350-359. doi:10.1080/08838159509364311.
- “‘Cheers’ – the TV Series”. h2g2. July 4, 2003. Retrieved December 27, 2011.
- Bird, J.B. (2005). “Cheers”. In Horace Newcomb. Encyclopedia of television (2nd ed.). New York: Fitzroy Dearborn. pp. 497-499. ISBN 1-57958-394-6.
- Snauffer, Douglas (2008). The Show Must Go On: How the Deaths of Lead Actors Have Affected Television Series. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland. ISBN 978-0-7864-3295-0.
- “Cheers”. Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Inc. Retrieved December 27, 2011.
- Tom Pendergast, Sara Pendergast, ed. (1999). St. James encyclopedia of popular culture. (1st ed.). Farmington Hills, MI: St. James Press. p. 488. ISBN 1-55862-400-7.
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