Cheers is an American situation comedy television series that ran eleven seasons from 1982 to 1993. It was produced by Charles-Burrows-Charles Productions in association with Paramount Television for NBC, having been created by the team of James Burrows, Glen Charles, and Les Charles. The show is set in the Cheers bar (named for the toast "Cheers") in Boston, Massachusetts, where a group of locals meet to drink and have fun. The show's theme song was written by Judy Hart Angelo and Gary Portnoy and performed by Portnoy; its famous refrain, "Where Everybody Knows Your Name" also became the show's tagline.
After premiering on September 30, 1982, it was nearly cancelled during its first season when it ranked dead last in ratings. However, Cheers 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 #1, and spending the bulk of its run on NBC's "Must See Thursday" lineup. Its widely watched series finale was broadcast on May 20, 1993. The show's 275 episodes have been successfully syndicated worldwide, and have earned 28 Emmy Awards from of a total of 117 nominations. The character Frasier Crane (Kelsey Grammer) was featured in his own successful spin-off, Frasier.
The table below summarizes the main cast of Cheers.
|Sam Malone||Ted Danson||Bartender/Owner||Former pitcher for the Boston Red Sox||1982-1993|
|Diane Chambers||Shelley Long||Waitress||Author; graduate student||1982-1987 (1993; guest)|
|Rebecca Howe||Kirstie Alley||Manager/Waitress||Businesswoman; superintendent||1987-1993|
|Carla Tortelli||Rhea Perlman||Waitress||Homemaker||1982-1993|
|"Woody" Boyd||Woody Harrelson||Assistant Bartender||Actor; politician||1985-1993|
|Norm Peterson||George Wendt||Customer||Accountant; interior decorator; house painter||1982-1993|
|Cliff Clavin||John Ratzenberger||Customer||Mailman||1982-1993|
|Frasier Crane||Kelsey Grammer||Customer||Psychiatrist||1984-1993|
|Ernie "Coach" Pantusso||Nicholas Colasanto||Assistant Bartender||Former baseball player and coach||1982-1985|
|Lilith Sternin||Bebe Neuwirth||Customer||Psychiatrist||1986-1993|
The character of Sam Malone was originally intended to be a retired football player and was originally supposed to be played by Fred Dryer, but after casting Ted Danson it was decided that a former baseball player would be more believable, given Danson's slimmer physique. The character of Cliff Clavin was created for John Ratzenberger after he auditioned for the role of "Norm". While chatting with producers afterwards, he asked if they were going to include a "bar know-it-all", the part which he eventually played. Kirstie Alley joined the cast when Shelley Long left, and Woody Harrelson joined when Nicholas Colasanto died. Danson, George Wendt, and Rhea Perlman were the only actors to appear in every episode of the series. Paul Willson, who played the recurring barfly character of "Paul", made early appearances in the first season as "Glen", was credited as "Gregg", and also appeared in the show as a character named "Tom".
After choosing a plot, the three had to choose a location. Early discussions centered around Barstow, California, then Kansas City, Missouri. They eventually turned to the East Coast and Boston. The Bull & Finch Pub in Boston that Cheers was styled after was originally chosen from a phone book. When Glen Charles asked the owner to shoot initial exterior and interior shots the owner agreed, charging $1. He has since gone on to make millions, licensing the pub's image and selling a variety of Cheers memorabilia, making the Bull & Finch the 42nd busiest outlet in the American food and beverage industry in 1997. Coincidentally during Shelley Long's casting (who was in Boston at the time filming A Small Circle of Friends) she remarked that the bar in the script resembled a bar she had come upon in Boston, which turned out to be the Bull & Finch.
Most Cheers episodes were shot before a live studio audience on Paramount Stage 25, 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. Nearly 100 crewmembers were involved in the shooting of a single episode. Burrows, who directed most episodes, insisted on shooting on film rather than videotape. He was also noted for using motion in his directorial style, trying to always keep characters moving rather than standing still.
The following table summarizes awards won by the Cheers cast and crew.
|Kirstie Alley||Emmy, Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series (1991)|
|Golden Globe, Best Performance by an Actress in a TV-Series - Comedy/Musical (1991)|
|Ted Danson||Emmy, Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series (1990, 1993)|
|Golden Globe, Best Performance by an Actor in a TV-Series - Comedy/Musical (1990, 1991)|
|Woody Harrelson||Emmy, Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series (1989)|
|Shelley Long||Emmy, Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series (1983)|
|Golden Globe, Best Performance by an Actress in a TV-Series - Comedy/Musical (1985)|
|Golden Globe, Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role in a Series, Mini-Series or Motion Picture Made for TV (1983)|
|Bebe Neuwirth||Emmy, Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series (1990, 1993)|
|Rhea Perlman||Emmy, Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series (1984, 1985, 1986, 1989)|
|John Cleese||Emmy, Outstanding Guest Actor in a Comedy Series (1987)|
|Production Awards||Emmy, Outstanding Directing in a Comedy Series (1983, 1991)|
|Emmy, Outstanding Writing in a Comedy Series (1983, 1984)|
|Emmy, Outstanding Individual Achievement in Graphic Design and Title Sequences (1983)|
|Emmy, Outstanding Film Editing for a Series (1984)|
Emmy, Outstanding Editing for a Series - Multi-Camera Production (1988, 1993)
|Emmy, Outstanding Live and Tape Sound Mixing and Sound Effects for a Series (1985)|
Emmy, Outstanding Sound Mixing for a Comedy Series or a Special (1986, 1987, 1990)
The show's main theme in its early seasons was the romance between the intellectual waitress Diane Chambers and bar owner Sam Malone, a former major league baseball pitcher for the Boston Red Sox and a recovering alcoholic . After Long left the show, the focus shifted to Sam's new relationship with neurotic corporate climber Rebecca. Both relationships featured multi-episode "will they or won't they" sexual tension that drew viewers in. After Sam and Diane's courtship was consummated, the show's popularity grew greatly and subsequent TV shows now very commonly have such "will they or won't they" tensions between opposites.
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 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 seeing each of the major female characters as a flawed feminist in her own way. Diane was a vocal feminist, but 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, while Carla merely insulted people. Carla was respected because of her power, while Diane was ignored as she commanded little respect. Rebecca was a stereotypical ambitious and golddigging woman, seeking relationships with her superiors at the Lillian Corporation, most notably Robin Colcord, to gain promotions or raises. However, she encountered a glass ceiling and ended the show by marrying a plumber rather than a rich businessman.
Homosexuality was dealt with from the very first season, a rare move for American network television in the early 1980s. In the first season episode "The Boys In The Bar" (after the 1970s film The Boys in the Band) 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 & David Isaacs, were nominated for an Emmy Award for their writing. Harvey Fierstein would later appear in the 1990s as "Mark Newberger", Rebecca's old high school sweetheart who is gay. Finally, the final episode included a gay man who gets into trouble with his boyfriend (played by Anthony Heald) after agreeing to pose as Diane's husband.
Addiction also plays a role in Cheers, almost exclusively through Sam, although some critics believed the issue was never really developed. Sam was a recovering alcoholic who ended up buying a bar after his baseball career was ruined by his drinking. Frasier also has a notable bout of drinking in the fourth season episode "The Triangle." Some critics believe Sam was a generally addictive personality who had largely conquered his alcoholism but was still a sexual addict, shown through his womanizing.
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 as revealed in the 8th season episode "The Stork Brings a Crane"). In the second episode, "Sam's Women", Norm tells a customer looking for the owner of Cheers that the man he thought was the owner has been replaced, and his replacement was replaced by Sam. Then in a later episode Gus O'Mally comes back from Arizona for one night and runs the bar while Sam goes to a drive-in movie with the guys.
The biggest storyline surrounding the ownership of Cheers begins in the fifth season finale, "I Do, Adieu", when Sam and Diane part ways, Shelley Long leaves the regular cast, and Sam leaves to attempt circumnavigating the Earth. Before he leaves, Sam sells Cheers to the Lillian Corporation. Sam 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. Throughout the sixth season, Sam tries a variety of schemes to buy back Cheers. This plot largely comes to an end in the seventh season premiere, "How to Recede in Business", when 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 "agree" (in absentia) to a long list of demands that the corporation had for her.
From there Sam would occasionally attempt to buy the bar back with schemes that usually involved wealthy executive Robin Colcord. Cheers did eventually end up back in Sam's hands in the eighth season finale, when it was sold back to him for eighty-five cents by the Lillian Corporation after he alerted the company of Colcord's insider trading. Fired by the corporation over her keeping quiet, Rebecca earns back a hostess/office manager job from Sam.
Norm Peterson continually searched for gainful employment as an accountant but spent most of the series unemployed, thereby explaining his constant presence in Cheers at the same stool. The face of his wife, Vera, was never fully seen onscreen, despite a few fleeting appearances and a couple of vocal cameos. Cliff Clavin seemed unable to shake the constant presence of his mother, Esther Clavin (Frances Sternhagen). Though she did not appear in every episode, he would refer to her quite often, mostly as both an emotional burden and a smothering parent. Carla Tortelli carried a reputation of being both highly fertile and matrimonially inept. The last husband she had on the show, Eddie LeBec, was a washed-up ice hockey goaltender who ended up dying in an ice show accident. Carla later discovered that Eddie had cheated on her, marrying another woman after impregnating her. Carla's sleazy first husband, Nick Tortelli, also made frequent appearances, mostly to torment Carla with a new custody battle or legal scam that grew out of their divorce. Carla's eight children (four of whom were "born" during the show's run) were also notoriously ill-behaved.
NBC dedicated a whole night to the final episode of Cheers. 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 80.4 million viewers (64 percent of all viewers that night), and ranked 11th all time in entertainment programming. The episode originally aired in the usual Cheers spot of Thursday night and was then rebroadcast on Sunday. Some estimate that 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. Toasting Cheers also notes that television had greatly changed between the M*A*S*H and Cheers finales, leaving Cheers with a broader array of competition for ratings.
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. The most successful Cheers spin-off was the show Frasier which directly followed Frasier Crane after he moved back to Seattle, Washington (on the other end of Interstate 90) to live with his recently-disabled father and to host a call-in radio show. Frasier was originally supposed to be a small disliked character who only existed to further Diane and Sam's relationship, but Kelsey Grammer's acting turned what were supposed to be unfunny lines into comedy the audience enjoyed. Sam, Diane and Woody all had individual crossover appearances on Frasier where they came to visit Frasier, and his ex-wife Lilith was a constant supporting character throughout Frasier. Cliff, Norm, Carla, and two of Cheers' regular background barflies Paul and Phil had a crossover together in the Frasier episode "Cheerful Goodbyes". In the episode Frasier, on a trip to Boston, meets the Cheers gang (not at Cheers itself however) and Cliff thinks Frasier has flown out specifically for his (Cliff's) retirement party, which Frasier ends up attending. Rebecca Howe is the only "Cheers" regular aside from Coach (whose actor, Nicholas Colasanto, had died, after which the character died in the series) to not appear on "Frasier". Frasier was on the air for as many seasons as Cheers, going off the air in 2004 after an eleven-season run. Although Frasier was the most successful spin-off, The Tortellis was the first series to spin-off from Cheers, premiering in 1987. The show featured Carla's husband Nick Tortelli and his wife Loretta, but was cancelled 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. In The Simpsons episode "Fear of Flying", Homer stumbles into a Cheers-like bar after being kicked out of Moe's. Most of the central cast appears in the episode, including Frasier (though ironically Frasier does not speak, as Grammer already had a recurring role on The Simpsons as Sideshow Bob). The tagline for Moe's Tavern "Where nobody knows your name" is also a reference to Cheers. Characters also had crossovers with Wings—which was created by Cheers producers/writers—and St. Elsewhere in a somewhat rare comedy-drama crossover. The Star Trek: Deep Space Nine character Morn, who remained mostly at Quark's Bar, is named (as an anagram) for Norm Peterson. The bar and its patrons were also featured in a scene in The Wonderful World of Disney TV special Mickey's 60th Birthday. The opening sequence and theme song has become iconic of the series, leading to parody such as on The Simpsons' episode "Flaming Moe's".
The Scrubs episode "My Life in Four Cameras" makes numerous jokes about Cheers and multicamera setup laugh track sitcoms. Scrubs is notable for using a single camera setup, no laugh track, and not being filmed before a live audience. Cheers had all four cameras, a laugh track and was filmed before a live studio audience, and a dream sequence in "My Life in Four Cameras" was shot with three cameras. In addition, the main patient treated was fictional Cheers writer "Charles James," a mixture of Cheers three creators James Burrows, Glen Charles, and Les Charles. The episode makes repeated comments about these "traditional" sitcoms and ends with the opening notes of the Cheers theme playing while J.D. says "Unfortunately, around here things don't always end as neat and tidy as they do in sitcoms.
In "The Ticket" episode of Seinfeld, Ted Danson's salary per episode of Cheers occasionally comes up as a point of debate between Jerry and George.
In Region 2, only the first 6 seasons have been released on DVD.
|DVD Name||Ep #||Release dates|
|Region 1||Region 2|
|The Complete 1st Season||22||May 20, 2003||November 24, 2003|
|The Complete 2nd Season||22||January 6, 2004||June 7, 2004|
|The Complete 3rd Season||25||May 25, 2004||September 6, 2004|
|The Complete 4th Season||26||February 1, 2005||July 18, 2005|
|The Complete 5th Season||26||May 17, 2005||November 27, 2006|
|The Complete 6th Season||25||September 13, 2005||May 14, 2007|
|The Complete 7th Season||22||November 15, 2005||N/A|
|The Complete 8th Season||26||June 13, 2006||N/A|
|The Complete 9th Season||26||April 29, 2008||N/A|
|The Complete 10th Season||25||September 2, 2008||N/A|
|The Complete 11th Season||26||January 27, 2009||N/A|
Woody Harrelson has also had a successful career following Cheers, including appearances in a number of notable films that have established him as a box-office draw. He also earned an Academy Award nomination in 1997 for The People vs. Larry Flynt.
Ted Danson, who had been the highest paid Cheers cast member earning $450,000 an episode in the final season, has starred in the successful sitcom Becker as well as the unsuccessful sitcoms Ink and Help Me Help You and the drama series Damages. He has starred in a number of movies, including Three Men and a Baby and Made in America. Ted and his wife regularly play themselves on Curb Your Enthusiasm as Larry David's friends.
John Ratzenberger has voice acted in all of Pixar's computer-animated feature films and currently hosts the Travel Channel show Made in America. On Made in America he travels around the U.S. showing the stories of small towns and the goods they produce. Coincidentally, Ted Danson starred in a film also called Made in America. Ratzenberger is heavily involved in a charity known as the Nuts, Bolts and Thingamajigs Foundation, which encourages children to get involved with tinkering and mechanical work, as well as to encourage schools to resurrect Industrial Arts programs. He also was on Dancing with the Stars.
Bebe Neuwirth has gone on to star in numerous Broadway musicals, earning two Tony Awards for her work, and co-star in numerous successful films. She also did voice work for All Dogs Go to Heaven 2 and All Dogs Go To Heaven the TV series.
Although some believe Shelley Long leaving the show was a bad career move, she has gone on to star in several television and film roles, notably The Brady Bunch Movie and its sequels.
In addition to continuing careers after Cheers, some of the cast members have had personal problems. In 2004, Shelley Long grew depressed after divorcing her husband of 23 years and appears to have attempted suicide by overdosing on drugs. Kirstie Alley gained a significant amount of weight after Cheers, which somewhat affected her career. She went on to write and star in a sitcom partly based on her life and weight gain, Fat Actress. She formerly was a spokeswoman for Jenny Craig.
The Host Marriott Corporation installed 46 bars modeled after Cheers in their hotel and airport lounges. Paramount Pictures licensed the characters and details of the show, allowing the bars to have fake memorabilia such as Sam Malone's supposed jersey while playing for the Red Sox. Among the details Marriott included were two robots, "Bob" and "Hank", one of which was heavy (resembling Norm Peterson), with the other wearing a postal uniform (Cliff Clavin).
Ratzenberger and Wendt filed a groundbreaking lawsuit against Paramount in 1993 (around the time that Viacom purchased Paramount), claiming that the company was illegally licensing and earning off their images without their permission. Ratzenberger and Wendt claimed that Paramount could not earn off their images simply because the robots are dressed like the characters over which Paramount still holds rights. The case was dismissed by a Los Angeles Superior Court judge in 1996, though a federal judge reinstated the case in the Los Angeles court. Paramount tried to bring the case before the Supreme Court of the United States but the court refused to hear the case, instead merely reaffirming the ruling to reinstate the case in the Superior Court. Some believe the case could have had significant implications in Hollywood, as its outcome would have determined whether rights over a character imply rights to reproduce the actor's image with or without his or her permission, so long as the image is of the actor as the character. Rather, Paramount settled with the two before a ruling in the suit was delivered.
The first year of the show took place entirely within the confines of the bar. (The first location outside the bar ever seen was 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 actually of the Bull & Finch Pub, located directly north of the Boston Public Garden, which has become a tourist attraction because of its association with the series and draws in nearly a million visitors annually. It has since been renamed Cheers Beacon Hill, though its interior is different from the TV bar. To further capitalize on the show's popularity, another bar, Cheers Faneuil Hall, was built to be a replica of the show's set to provide tourists with a bar whose interior was closer to the one they saw on TV. It is near Faneuil Hall, about a mile from the Bull & Finch Pub. The official Cheers site is www.cheersboston.com In 1997 Europe's first officially licensed Cheers bar opened in London's Regent's Street W1. Like Cheers Faneuil Hall, Cheers London is an exact replica of the set. The gala opening was attended by James Burrows and cast members George Wendt and John Ratzenberger. The actual bar set was on display at the Hollywood Entertainment Museum until the museum’s closing in early 2006.