Rebecca Howe weeping in "Rebecca Gaines, Rebecca Loses" (1993)
|First appearance||"Home is the Sailor"
(season 6, episode 1)
|Last appearance||"One for the Road"
(season 11, episode 25)
|Created by||Glen Charles
|Portrayed by||Kirstie Alley|
|Occupation||Bar manager and waitress|
|Spouse(s)||Don Santry (ex-husband)|
Rebecca Howe (formerly Howe-Santry) is a fictional character portrayed by Kirstie Alley on the American television show Cheers. She debuts in the season six episode "Home Is the Sailor" after Shelley Long—who played overeducated barmaid Diane Chambers—left the show to pursue a movie career. Much of the show's humor in previous seasons had been based around the interaction and sexual tension between the womanizing, working-class main character, bartender Sam Malone, and the high-class, snobbish Diane. Rebecca was intended to fill the gap as Sam's new female foil.
From the character's debut, Rebecca manages the bar under corporation. She gradually becomes neurotic and falls in love with almost every rich man in Boston. Sam and Rebecca attempt relationships without success. In the series finale, Rebecca marries plumber Don Santry; in the spin-off series Frasier, Sam says the couple have divorced and she no longer works at the bar. Rebecca appeared in 147 episodes of Cheers between 1987–1993 and in one episode of Wings. With the exception of the late Nicholas Colasanto, Alley is the only Cheers regular cast member who never reprised her role in the spin-off series Frasier.
Creation and casting
When Shelley Long—who played Diane Chambers—decided to leave the show in 1987, ending the five-year Sam and Diane storyline, the creators wanted a new female lead and decided that she would not have blonde hair, would not resemble Long, and would be unknown to television viewers. Kirstie Alley, one of the first actresses to audition for the role of Rebecca Howe, seemed to be an ideal choice. Although she met all the criteria, the producers continued auditioning actresses for the part but none improved on Alley's portrayal of the character.
According to Cheers' co-creator and executive producer James Burrows, Rebecca Howe was originally conceived as an executive businesswoman in a "Tracey-Hepburn relationship" with Sam Malone, "that marvelous mixture of romance and antagonism of two people in a competitive situation." The concept evolved into a relationship between Sam and pretentious, college-educated waitress Diane. After Long's departure, the producers reverted to the show's original concept with Alley as Rebecca Howe.
Despite concerns about losing Long, ratings rose after Alley's debut. Rebecca began as a martinet and a "smart, tough businesswoman". However, the writers were not thrilled with the character and did not find her funny. Writer Ken Levine said, "In one episode though, she had to fall apart for some reason and was hysterical. We realized that the more neurotic, insecure, and sexually frustrated she was—the funnier she was. So the character evolved in that direction."
Rebecca Howe is first seen at Cheers as the manager assigned by the bar's new corporate franchise owner, the Lillian Corporation. Elements of her back story are revealed over several years. She was born in San Diego, one of four children. Rebecca's father (Robert Prosky) is an ex-Navy man and her mother was a concert cellist. Rebecca's sister Susan (Marcia Cross) is an actress and former Miss San Diego who has stolen her past boyfriends. In the episode "The Last Angry Mailman", it is revealed that Rebecca was nicknamed "Backseat Becky" for her behavior as a party girl while at the University of Connecticut. In her early appearances, Rebecca appears as a confident, cool and collected businesswoman but in the episode "Paint Your Office", Rebecca is having a mid-life crisis. Her behavior slowly becomes neurotic as the series progresses and her competent facade crumbles away entirely by the series' end.
When she first meets bartender and ladies' man Sam Malone (Ted Danson), Rebecca's reaction to him is negative. Sam often tries to seduce her; in her first years at Cheers she always rejects his advances. During her debut season (1987–88), Rebecca has a crush on her boss, Evan Drake (Tom Skerritt). Throughout the season she tries unsuccessfully to make Evan notice her. In "Little Carla, Happy at Last" (1987), Rebecca plans Carla's wedding to please Evan but, when he does not arrive, Rebecca gets drunk. During the final scene with him in the episode "Backseat Becky, Up Front" (1988), Evan is leaving for Japan. Rebecca steals his limousine to confess her love for him but he has another lover so Rebecca decides to let him go.
In the 1988–89 season, after Evan's departure, his replacement fires Rebecca and promotes Sam to manager. Rebecca does occasional waitressing and eventually gets her job back. In the 1989–90 season, she dates millionaire Robin Colcord (Roger Rees), but discovers that he intends to secretly retrieve information from Rebecca's computer to facilitate a corporate takeover, leading to their breakup. In the episode "Love Is a Really, Really Perfectly Okay Thing" (1990), Rebecca finally gives in to Sam and they have sex in his office. However, the affair is short-lived because Sam becomes complacent about it, especially when his friends discuss it.
In the 1990–91 season, Robin—now a wanted white-collar criminal—surrenders himself to the police and confesses his love for Rebecca. Meanwhile, Sam recovers ownership of the bar just after the Lillian Corporation fires Rebecca. Sam rehires her as manager and Robin proposes matrimony to Rebecca after he is released from jail, and she accepts. In "Wedding Bell Blues" (1991), she questions her feelings for Robin after he losses millions of dollars and goes on a drunken binge. She tries to have sex with Sam but she is too drunk. At Rebecca and Robin's wedding in "I'm Getting My Act Together and Sticking It in Your Face" (1991), Rebecca jilts Robin and tells him, "I only loved you for your money!" Robin leaves her, taking millions of dollars hidden under the desk with him, as she wallows in despair. Later, Rebecca decides to buy Cheers for herself after John Allen Hill becomes the new owner of the restaurant upstairs. John also owns the bar's back room. Using money from her father, Rebecca helps Sam buy the back room of Cheers, and the two co-own the bar.
During the first half of the tenth season (1991–92), Sam and Rebecca try to conceive a child, but they decide to stay friends. Towards the end of the show, Rebecca does little work. Whenever she tries to complete a task she spills drinks and breaks the glasses. She is unable to mail the liquor license renewal in time and spends an entire evening secretly selling non-alcoholic drinks.
In the final season (1992–93), Rebecca's cigarette causes an enormous fire at Cheers and she remorsefully uses her life savings to repair the bar. In "Look Before You Sleep" (1993), she is also discovered to be the building superintendent of her apartment complex. In the penultimate episode "The Guy Can't Help It" (1993), Rebecca initially rejects the advances of plumber Don Santry (Tom Berenger), but Frasier orders her to give Don another chance. For weeks Rebecca and Don have dated each other. Sam tries to convince her that she is making a big mistake with Don, then proposes marriage to her. Rebecca calls him an aging lothario, which prompts him to reconsider his own love life. In the series finale, she marries Don and resigns from Cheers to devote more time to her husband and to start a family. At first she regrets the marriage, but when Don later works for the Boston sewer department, she becomes happier with it.
Alley appeared as Rebecca briefly in a fourth-season episode of Wings titled "I Love Brian". In the episode of the Cheers spin-off series Frasier called "The Show Where Sam Shows Up", Sam visits Frasier and tells him that Don left Rebecca after he made a fortune on a plumbing-related invention, and Rebecca was "back at the bar". When Frasier asks whether Sam means she is working at Cheers again, Sam replies, "No, she's just back at the bar".
According to a telephone survey of 1,011 people by the Times Mirror Center for the People and the Press (now Pew Research Center) conducted on April 1–4, 1993, Sam Malone was a favorite of 26% and Rebecca was a favorite by 6%. Twenty-one percent said Sam should marry Diane Chambers, 19% said he should marry Rebecca, 48% wanted him to stay single, and 12% had "no opinion" on this matter. When asked which character should be spun-off, 15% voted for Sam, 12% voted for Woody Boyd (Woody Harrelson), 10% voted for Norm Peterson (George Wendt), and 29% voted no spin-offs. 2% of those questioned said Frasier Crane (Kelsey Grammer)—whose own spin-off Frasier debuted in September 1993—should have his own show.
According to a 1993 article from People magazine, newspaper columnist Mike Royko chose Diane to marry Sam, novelist Jackie Collins picked Rebecca, actress Zsa Zsa Gabor chose both as Sam's potential partners. Tennis player Martina Navratilova found Sam too good for either of them. Novelist and archaeologist Clive Cussler said Carla Tortelli (Rhea Perlman) was "Sam's best bet."
Steve Craig from the University of North Texas considered Rebecca a parody of femininity for rejecting Sam's advances and attempting to marry a tycoon. Bill Simmons, who wrote previously for ESPN, considered her one of his two least favorite characters, along with Lilith Sternin. A syndicated television columnist from Chicago said that in her second season on the show, Rebecca was "nothing more than an annoying presence on a program otherwise populated with lovable wackos." J.D. Reed from People called her a "neurotic overachiever". Rick Marin from The Washington Times praised Kirstie Alley for bringing life into Rebecca Howe and making Rebecca a sympathetic "loser" who has full of ideals but lacks success, and her bringing more physical comedy than Shelley Long did.
Bill Carter from The New York Times said Rebecca was "hard-on-the-outside-mush-on-the-inside". Lance Mannion in his Typepad blog said Rebecca wanted to be "part of a world the gang at Cheers could never join. To be part of the gang, she would have to give up her too high opinion of herself, just as Diane had to." Mannion praised Kirstie Alley for physical comedy and her comical scenes with Ted Danson in the series. Columnist Faye Zuckerman praised Rebecca's "broad range of talents" as a character. Josh Robertson of Complex website included Rebecca and Sam at number 13 on his list of "The 25 Most Sexual Sitcom Couples of All", said Rebecca "may not have been as good for the comedy on Cheers, but she was way more attractive than Diane".
This role earned Kirstie Alley a Golden Globe Award in 1991 as the Best Actress in a Comedy or Musical Series. It also earned her an Emmy Award in 1991 as an Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series.
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