Cliff Clavin

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Cliff Clavin
Cheers character
Cliff Clavin in Cheers.jpg
Cliff Clavin
First appearance Cheers:
"Give Me a Ring Sometime"
(season 1, episode 1)
Last appearance Frasier:
"Cheerful Goodbyes"
(season 9, episode 21)
Portrayed by John Ratzenberger
Information
Gender Male
Occupation Mail carrier[1]
Family Esther Clavin (mother)
Cliff Clavin, Sr. (father)
Nationality American

Clifford C. Clavin, Jr.[2] (born 1947[3]), also known as Cliff Clavin, is a fictional character on the American television show Cheers co-created (and played) by John Ratzenberger.[4] A postal worker, he is the bar's know-it-all and was a contestant on the game show Jeopardy! Cliff was not originally scripted in the series' pilot episode, "Give Me a Ring Sometime", but the producers decided to add a know-it-all character and Ratzenberger helped flesh it out. The actor made guest appearances as Cliff on Wings and Frasier.

Development[edit]

Creation[edit]

The original script for the 1982 pilot, "Give Me a Ring Sometime", did not include Norm Peterson (contrary to the belief that Norm is an original character) or Cliff Clavin. George Wendt and John Ratzenberger originally auditioned for a minor character George, and George Wendt was hired for that role.[5][6] George was Diane Chambers' first customer, had one line (consisting of the order, "Beer!") and was intended for only one episode.[5]

Smiling, middle-aged man with beard in evening dress
John Ratzenberger

Since Wendt was cast as George (who evolved into Norm Peterson),[6] Ratzenberger suggested to the producers that a know-it-all character should be added; this led to the creation of Cliff Clavin.[6] Ratzenberger based his role on a police officer in his hometown of Bridgeport, Connecticut. Cliff was originally a security guard, but two days before the pilot's filming he was changed to a postman; the producers thought a postman would be more knowledgeable than a guard. Ratzenberger agreed to seven episodes of the first season, but his role expanded.[7]

Cliff is the kind of guy who wishes he'd been a combat Marine, but maybe he was nearsighted or had flat feet and became a mailman. He loves the respect he gets. [...] As for women, Cliff is like the construction workers who whistle at women but turn to a quivering mass when they're face-to-face with a woman. The greatest fear of men is that they won't live up to their expectations.[7]

—John Ratzenberger, The Associated Press, June 1985

Stephen Tobolowsky told SplitSider.com that he had auditioned for Cliff.[8]

Other appearances[edit]

Ratzenberger appeared as Cliff in a series of New Zealand Post advertisements during the 1990s, each featuring a different aspect of the postal service.[citation needed] He also appeared in a Pitney-Bowes commercial for automated postal scales for small businesses.[citation needed]

On the Cheers 200th-episode special, host John McLaughlin asked Ratzenberger about Cliff Clavin. The actor replied that Cliff would describe himself as the "wingnut that holds Western civilization together"; however, Ratzenberger said he would describe Cliff simply as "a wingnut". When McLaughlin asked Ratzenberger if there was any part of him in Cliff, the actor replied that although he was interested in fascinating facts the only part of Cliff in him was that they both wear white socks.

Cliff appeared in 273 episodes of Cheers between 1982 and 1993. He also made guest appearances as an animated character (voiced by Ratzenberger) in The Simpsons episode "Fear of Flying",[9] in the Wings episode "The Story of Joe" and the Frasier episode "Cheerful Goodbyes".

In 2014, Cliff emerged in an advertisement for RadioShack that aired during Super Bowl XLVIII in which he and other icons from the 1980s such as Hulk Hogan, Mary Lou Retton and ALF rid the store of outdated items, a nod to the perception that RadioShack is a relic.[10]

Character[edit]

Cliff is a postal worker, and Norm Peterson's best friend. He lives with his mother, Esther Clavin (Frances Sternhagen)—first in his childhood two-story house (which was bulldozed in 1987's "The Last Angry Mailman" after Esther sold it to a convenience-store builder), and then in a condominium (which first appears in the season 6 episode "My Fair Clavin") with a sofabed. In "The Barstoolie" (1985) Cliff meets his father, Cliff Clavin Sr. (Dick O'Neill), who left Cliff and his mother years earlier. Cliff later realizes that his father is a fraudster and a fugitive from justice, and will run off again without saying goodbye to Esther. Cliff does not want to turn his father in; Cliff Sr. disappears, leaving his son disappointed.

Cliff is unlucky in love. In "Cliffie's Big Score" (1986), he and Diane (Shelley Long) are dancing partners for a one-night contest; Carla (who was supposed to be his partner) learns that Diane was Cliff's first choice, and tells him that Diane finds him attractive. He makes a pass at Diane in his car; she orders him out and drives off, leaving him stranded in the woods.

Cliff has relationships—some short-lived—with several women, including Sally (Karen Akers) in "My Fair Clavin" (who becomes more attractive with the help of his makeup magazines and advice from Rebecca). He has a relationship with fellow postal worker Margaret O'Keefe (Annie Golden), which begins during Cheers '​ seventh season (1988–89). When Margaret becomes pregnant with another man's child in 1993's "Do Not Forsake Me O My Postman", Cliff stays by her side as the baby's stepfather before Margaret returns to the child's biological father.

Cliff is ridiculed by friends and enemies alike, including Carla (Rhea Perlman) and Norm, for his know-it-all attitude. He appears on Jeopardy! in the season-eight episode, "What Is... Cliff Clavin?" (1990). The postman wins $22,000, but loses it all with a wrong answer in Final Jeopardy (launching into a tirade which frightens off host Alex Trebek).

In the 1993 series finale, Cliff finally receives a promotion. In "The Show Where Sam Shows Up" (1995), an episode of the Cheers spinoff Frasier, Sam (Ted Danson) tells Frasier that Cliff has not left home since he read an article about flesh-eating bacteria; however, Sam then discovers that Cliff is one of two other men with whom Sam's fiance Sheila (Téa Leoni) had had sex. In another Frasier episode, "The Show Where Woody Shows Up", Woody tells Frasier that Cliff almost got married to a mail order bride, but she decided to go back to Bosnia after spending a few days with him. In another Frasier episode, "Cheerful Goodbyes", Cliff has his retirement party at the airport bar; he had planned to move to Florida, but decides to stay in Boston (to Carla's dismay).

Reception[edit]

Steve Craig of the University of North Texas called Cliff Clavin a buffoon "to be ridiculed and pitied for [failing] the standards of hegemonic masculinity".[11] On the NBC News website, Wendall Wittler called Cliff a "classic" character; however, Wittler found his friendship with Norm Peterson "superficial" and unworthy of comparison with the relationship between Ralph Kramden (Jackie Gleason) and Ed Norton (Art Carney) on The Honeymooners.[12]

According to an April 1–4, 1993 telephone survey of 1,011 people by the Times Mirror Center for the People and the Press (now the Pew Research Center),[N 1] Sam Malone was voted a "favorite character" by twenty-six percent of respondents and Cliff Clavin by two percent.[13][14] Choosing a character for a spinoff, 15 percent voted for Sam Malone, 29 percent opposed a character spinoff, and less than 10 percent voted for Cliff.[14][15]

Cliff's appearance on Jeopardy! in "What Is... Cliff Clavin?" received several reviews. In his book Hope, Andrew Razeghi described Cliff as a poster child for psychologist J. P. Guilford for a response to the Final Jeopardy! clue which Razeghi considered neither right nor wrong.[16] Jeffrey Robinson of DVD Talk found the Jeopardy! category topics during Cliff's appearance (including "post office" and "beer") a "riot".[17] In the Jeopardy! fan community Cliff's losing $22,000 (won in two rounds) in Final Jeopardy! inspired "Clavin's rule", discouraging future contestants from attempting the same.[18] The Hot Springs Village Voice considered his know-it-all nature the cause of his mishap on the game show.[19]

Lawsuit[edit]

In 1993, Ratzenberger and Wendt sued Host International for copyright infringement, trademark infringement and violating the actors' personality rights. The company had manufactured two robotic toys (one heavyset and the other a postal worker) who, the actors argued, resembled Cliff Clavin and Norm Peterson. The case was twice rejected by "a federal judge in California". At one hearing, the judge ruled that the defendant did not violate copyright because Paramount Pictures had already granted it a license to produce Cheers-based themes and decor for (primarily) airport bars. At another, the judge ruled that the toys did not resemble the characters.[20]

In 1997, however, "the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals twice reinstated" the case (Wendt v. Host International, Inc.).[21] At one hearing, it ruled that "federal copyright law" did not necessarily override the California Celebrities Rights Act. At another, the 9th Circuit ordered a jury trial on the basis of publicity rights.[20] The case resulted an undisclosed 2001 settlement by the company.[22]

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

Footnotes
  1. ^ The margin of error in the survey was ±3%, according to the polls.[13]
Inline citations
  1. ^ Reinhold, Robert (April 2, 1993). "One Last Round as 'Cheers' Finale Is Taped". The New York Times. Retrieved August 16, 2010. 
  2. ^ Bjorklund, Dennis A. "Cliff Clavin". Cheers TV Show: A Comprehensive Reference. p. 241. Retrieved July 8, 2014. 
  3. ^ "A Kiss Is Still a Kiss". Cheers. Season 6. Episode 10.
  4. ^ Steinberg, Jacques (May 21, 1993). "Hoisting a Few to Say Goodbye to Themselves; At Tavern in Larchmont, the Appeal of 'Cheers' Can Be Seen in the Barroom Mirror". The New York Times. Retrieved August 16, 2010. 
  5. ^ a b Wendt, p. 112.
  6. ^ a b c Wendt, pp. 113–114. John Ratzenberger auditioned for the role George, as well.
  7. ^ a b Buck, Jerry (June 28, 1985). "Actor created character from hometown friends". The Day (New London, Connecticut). p. 49. Retrieved November 1, 2012. 
  8. ^ Tobolowsky, Stephen (December 13, 2012). The Lost Roles Interview with Stephen Tobolowsky. SplitSider.com. Interview with Bradford Evans. 
  9. ^ Martyn, Warren; Wood, Adrian (2000). "Fear of Flying". BBC. Retrieved August 19, 2010. 
  10. ^ McCracken, Harry (2014). "RadioShack’s Super Bowl Ad Revels in an Uncomfortable Truth: It’s a 1980s Throwback". Time. Retrieved February 3, 2014. 
  11. ^ Craig 1993, p. 17.
  12. ^ Wittler, Wendall (May 5, 2004). "TV friendship before Friends". MSNBC. Retrieved July 16, 2012. 
  13. ^ a b Mills, Kim I. "TV viewers glad Sam stayed single." The Sunday Gazette [Schenectady, NY] May 2, 1993: A3. Google News. Web. Jan 21, 2012. [1]. In this web source, scroll down to see its headline.
  14. ^ a b Leefler, Pete. "Show Piles Up Viewer Cheers." The Morning Call [Allentown, NY] May 2, 1993: A01. Web. Jan 17, 2012. [2]. (subscription required) Norm Peterson was voted 10 percent for a spinoff. The source mentions only Sam Malone, Woody Boyd (Woody Harrelson), and Norm.
  15. ^ "Mixed Reaction to Post-Seinfeld Era." Pew Research Center for the People & the Press. Pew Research Center May 10, 1998. Web. Feb 10, 2012 [3]
  16. ^ Razeghi 2006, p. 34.
  17. ^ Robinson, Jeffrey. "Cheers – The Complete Eighth Season." DVD Talk June 18, 2006. Web. May 11, 2012.
  18. ^ "J! Archive Help: Clavin's Rule." J! Archive, 2012. Web. May 11, 2012.
  19. ^ "Cheers star John Ratzenberger to be marshal at St. Patrick's Day parade." Hot Springs Village Voice December 3, 2008. Web. May 11, 2012.
  20. ^ a b "Justices Reject Cheers Appeal". Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (Milwaukee, Wisconsin). The Associated Press. October 3, 2000. p. 6B. Retrieved July 23, 2012. 
  21. ^ Wendt v. Host International, Inc. (9th Cir. 1997). Text No. 96-55243.
  22. ^ "Cheers Lawsuit Happily Settled". Sunday Star-News. The Associated Press. June 24, 2001. p. 4D. Retrieved July 23, 2012. 

References[edit]