JUMP TO COMMENTS
Previous
Next

There are few sitcoms more beloved than Cheers. The show’s behind-the-scenes secrets reveal a fascinating world that lent to the funny, timely episodes. During its original run, bits and pieces of the offscreen drama behind Cheers made it into the press – namely, Shelley Long’s clashes with other cast members and producers – but the drama doesn’t negate the outright magic and undeniable chemistry this group of people created.

Cheers premiered on NBC on September 30, 1982, and ran for 11 seasons. It chronicled the professional and personal lives of a Boston bar’s staff and a few select patrons. Despite the often-wacky hijinks in which the characters got involved, there was always a core of reality and authenticity running throughout the series. Show writers visited real bars and incorporated some of the dialogue they overhead into the show. But Cheers couldn’t have had the legacy it has today without its characters and cast: Sam and Diane, Frasier and Lilith, Cliff and Norm, Rebecca and Woody and Carla.

Photo:  NBC

The Show Almost Didn’t Survive Season 1

While Cheers was always a critical darling, audiences took a while to warm up to it. In fact, it almost didn’t live to see a second season. The show’s low ratings prompted NBC to consider cancellation. Out of the 77 shows on the air that season, Cheers‘s first episode ranked an abysmal 74th.

By the end of its run, and still today, it’s considered by many to be the greatest sitcom of all time.

Photo:  NBC

Viewers Found The Laugh Track Annoying – But There Was No Laugh Track

If you’ve been an astute Cheers fan from the beginning, you may remember that the first few episodes didn’t include the preshow disclaimer, “Cheers was filmed before a live studio audience.” It was filmed before a live studio audience, but that disclaimer had to be added to later shows because home viewers thought the laughs were canned.

“Viewers didn’t believe the laughs were earned… although they were,” show writer Ken Levine remembered.

Photo:  NBC

The Show Fired Jay Thomas For Saying It Was “Brutal” To Kiss Rhea Pearlman

The late Jay Thomas played the recurring character of Eddie LeBec, Carla’s husband. Thomas also hosted a radio show at the same time he was on Cheers, and when someone called in and asked him about what it was like working on the celebrated sitcom, Thomas replied, “It’s brutal. I have to kiss Rhea Perlman.” One of the listeners that day was none other than Rhea Pearlman.

When Cheers returned the following season, Eddie LeBec was no more. The show revealed he had been killed offscreen in a run-in with a Zamboni, and Carla found out he was a bigamist with another grieving widow in tow.

Photo:  NBC

There’s A “Crack” Running Right Down The Middle Of The Bar

Over the years, sharp-eyed viewers may have noticed a pronounced line bisecting the bar; seen from the studio audience’s perspective, this crack is front and center (in the image here, it’s behind Coach and to the left). Viewers may not have known, however, that the “crack” serves a purpose.

“It’s on a hinge and actually the right half can swing around,” according to producer Ken Levine, “allowing room for the right wall to swing back revealing Sam’s office.” It’s one of many subtle and practical touches from production designer Richard Sylbert, who designed the bar so that patrons entered on the left because most television audiences read from left to right.

Photo: NBC

Season 6 Was Meant To End With An HIV Scare For Sam

Cheers didn’t shy away from broaching the subject of HIV. At a time when HIV and AIDS were ravaging large swaths of the world population, Cheers planned an episode in which the always-promiscuous Sam fears he may have contracted the virus from a former girlfriend.

The plotline was intended to be the Season 6 cliffhanger, but co-creator Les Charles felt the episode was too serious and needed rewriting. Then, television writers went on strike, and they abandoned the whole premise.

Photo: NBC

Katharine Hepburn And Spencer Tracy Inspired Sam And Diane

The romance between Sam and Diane was one of the sparks that kept Cheers going in the first several seasons. Writer-director James Burrows originally viewed the characters as a sort of modern-day Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn. “She is uptown, he is downtown,” Burrows said.

But, as time went on, he admitted that Sam and Diane forged their own path and strayed from the Hepburn-Tracy mold. “Our initial concept was to… [have] that marvelous mixture of romance and antagonism of two people in a competitive situation,” he later said. “We got away from that in the Sam-Diane scenes.”

Photo: NBC

Norm Is Based On An Actual Person

Everybody now: “Norm!” regular patron who frequented a bar Cheers co-creator Les Charles used to work at inspired good ol’ Norm Peterson. “I worked at a bar after college, and we had a guy who came in every night. He wasn’t named Norm, [but he] was always going to have just one beer, and then he’d say, ‘Maybe I’ll just have one more,'” Charles told GQ.

“We had to help him out of the bar every night. His wife would call, and he’d always say, ‘Tell her I’m not here.'”

Fun Norm Peterson fact: George Wendt’s real-life wife, Bernadette Birkett, provides the voice of the never-seen character of Vera Peterson whenever Norm’s wife has a part offscreen.

Photo: NBC

Norm Drank Real Beer

Well, sort of. Norm was drinking near-beer, which has an alcoholic content of less than .5 percent.

“It was pretty nasty,” George Wendt admitted in a Q&A with ESPN:

It wasn’t available in kegs, and the producers wanted it to be on tap. So they took these cans of this generic non-alcoholic beer and put it into soda pop dispensers and put it in well before we would roll the cameras, so it was nice and flat. So the prop masters would put some salt in the mug to give the head a little pop. That was some serious acting to pretend I liked that stuff.

Photo: NBC

The Show Had To Wait Months To Acknowledge A Major Character’s Death

Ernie “Coach” Pantusso was arguably the most popular character throughout the first three season of Cheers. The lovable but none-too-swift bartender exemplified the show’s laid-back, unassuming charm and sense of community. Actor Nicholas Colasanto was nominated for three consecutive Emmys for his performance, but an ongoing cardiac illness caused him to miss three episodes in Season Three.

When he visted the set after a weeks-long hospitalization, Colasanto told the cast he hoped to back to film the season finale, but he passed away just four days later on February 12, 1985. Producers used existing footage of Colasanto as Coach in the finale’s cold open, but his death occurred late enough in the shooting schedule that they deferred openly addressing it until the following season, the premiere of which eulogized Coach and introduced his replacement behind the bar: Woody Boyd, played by Woody Harrelson.

Photo: NBC

Coach And Woody Were Both Dumb To Make Writing Easier

Both the principal bartenders, Coach and Woody, were defined by a certain mental slowness. In the case of Coach, it was the result of injuries sustained over years as baseball catcher. Woody, who replaced Coach following Colasanto’s death, was an earnest but naive farmboy from the Midwest, utterly lacking in guile and sophistication.

The results were similar: both characters are endearingly dumb. And this was no accident. In fact, it was a clever tactic to keep audiences clued in. According to writer and producer Ken Levine:

When [Nicholas Colasanto] died, they wanted the new character to be similar because of the role Coach played. Having such a ‘dumb’ character (from too many head concussions in baseball) allows you to get exposition out. When you explained things to Coach, you were really explaining it to the audience.

Photo: NBC

Ted Danson Researched And Prepared For His Role

In preparation for his role of the recovering alcoholic, former pro-baseball-playing bartender Sam Malone, Ted Danson dove into research by going to bartending school. But it was all for naught, according to Danson.

“I went to bartender school and worked my little butt off to learn how to make drinks, and for the first month of shooting I was making Manhattans and Grasshoppers and all sorts of weird drinks,” he told Seth Myers. “They didn’t give a sh*t. They want their jokes said well and on time, and they’re shooting you above your hand.”

Danson also wore a hairpiece to achieve Sam’s legendarily luscious locks. The show had a bit of fun with this fact – in one episode, Sam removes the piece and reveals his secret to a stunned Carla.

Photo: NBC

Cliff Was The Creation Of John Ratzenberger

In all of television history, there is no single character quite like the Cheers mailman Cliff Clavin. He is a truly original creation that was primarily the brainchild of actor John Ratzenberger. Ratzenberger went in to audition for Norm, but suspecting he wasn’t right for the part, asked producers if they had a know-it-all type of character.

He improvised a quick scene, and showrunners were so impressed they wrote the character of Cliff for him. Ratzenberger’s ad-libbing skills came in handy during filming; he improvised many of Cliff’s “facts” right on the spot.

Photo: NBC

A ‘Cheers’ Mini-Episode Was Made To Get People To Buy Savings Bonds

In 1983, the US Treasury recruited the Cheers team to encourage viewers to buy savings bonds. The result was the Cheers mini-episode entitled “Uncle Sam Malone.”

Coming in at just under 12 minutes, the single scene shows the ensemble discussing Cliff’s trip to Tahiti, which he paid for by cashing in his US savings bonds. The gang then wonders whether they too should invest in bonds.

Photo: NBC

Sam And Diane Got Married In Season 5 – But The Footage Never Aired

The will-they-or-won’t-they marriage of Sam and Diane was one of the most longed-for moments throughout Cheers‘s run. For the Season 5 finale, the show shot a wedding between the two beloved characters… but it never aired. It was all a ruse to fool the live studio audience. Shelley Long’s exit from the show was a secret, and producers didn’t want to risk the secret leaking early. So they shot the wedding as an “alternate ending” to the season.

“We knew we weren’t using it, so we were going to throw [the studio audience] off the trail,” James Burrows said later. “We did pretty good.”

Photo: NBC

The Show Promoted Responsible Drinking

Cheers never did after-school-special episodes, but they did insert some social consciousness into the storylines, namely messages to prevent drunk driving. There was a concerted effort throughout the series to show bar staff calling cabs for inebriated patrons.

Cheers, along with The Cosby Show and Growing Pains, was among the first sitcoms to use the term “designated driver.”

Photo: NBC

Shelley Long Supposedly Despised Kelsey Grammer

The now-iconic character of Frasier Crane was reportedly only supposed to be in a few episodes of Cheers. But, according to Kelsey Grammer, Shelley Long hated Grammer so much that the writers and producers made him a permanent fixture just to spite her. Cheers writer Ken Levine has disputed this story, saying that Grammer earned the promotion because of his standout performance.

Whatever the true story may be, Long and Grammer appear to have buried the hatchet. She guest-starred on a few episodes of Frasier, so there couldn’t be that much bad blood remaining between the two.

Photo: NBC

The Show Addressed Social Issues In Clever And Subtle Ways

Anti-drunk-driving campaigns weren’t the only social issues addressed on Cheers. They took on heavier topics as well and did so in funny and subtle ways. Sam, for instance, is a recovering alcoholic. It isn’t a punchline, and it isn’t a character failing. It’s just part of who he is, and it makes him no more or less the person we see before us on the screen.

The show tackled other delicate topics, especially for its time, like homophobia. In a Season 1 episode, one of Sam’s former teammates comes out as gay, and it generates much discussion among the bar patrons. Again, his sexuality isn’t a punchline; it’s a fact of life.

Viewers knew Cheers could do comedy well, but these episodes showed that Cheers could handle more sensitive material with ease and respect.

JUMP TO COMMENTS
Previous
Next
Please wait...

And Now... A Few Links From Our Sponsors