Bartender Sam Malone (Ted Danson) in the pilot episode "Give Me a Ring Sometime"
Sam in the series finale "One for the Road"
|First appearance||"Give Me a Ring Sometime" (episode 1.01)|
|Last appearance||"The Show Where Sam Shows Up" (Frasier episode 2.16)|
|Portrayed by||Ted Danson|
|Significant other(s)||Coach Ernie Pantusso
Diane Chambers (ex-girlfriend)
Rebecca Howe (ex-boss)
Frasier Crane (psychiatrist)
Samuel "Mayday" Malone is a fictional character on the American television show Cheers, portrayed by Ted Danson. The central character of the series, Sam is a former relief pitcher for the Boston Red Sox Major League Baseball team and an owner and a bartender of Cheers. He is a recovering alcoholic and notorious lothario.
Although his celebrity status was short-lived, Sam retains that standing within the confines of Cheers, where he is beloved by the regular patrons. He seduces many women, yet he fails to achieve a meaningful relationship with them. Notoriously, he has on-and-off relationships with Diane Chambers (Shelley Long) in 1982–1987 and the series finale in 1993, "One for the Road." Also, he attempts to seduce Rebecca Howe (Kirstie Alley) but fails whenever she rejects his advances. Sam and Rebecca attempt a relationship many times, but they find no passion for each other and then decide to be friends.
Sam appeared in all 275 episodes of Cheers between 1982–1993. He also made a guest appearance in the Frasier episode "The Show Where Sam Shows Up". He has been a favorite of viewers and critics alike and the subject of academic analyses (primarily about masculinity).
Before the series began in September 1982, other actors considered or were considered for the role of Sam Malone. Ed O'Neill auditioned for the role but did not win the part. John Lithgow missed the audition when he was ill. Ted Danson appeared as a hairdresser in "The Unkindest Cut", the 1982 episode of the television series Taxi; Glen and Les Charles, creators of then-upcoming television series Cheers along with James Burrows, were executive consultants for that episode. Danson and the other two actors, William Devane and Fred Dryer, were the three finalists for the audition of Sam Malone.
Originally, Sam Malone was supposed "to be a former wide receiver for the American football team, New England Patriots." Fred Dryer was initially chosen for that role due to his status as a former football player, but NBC executives witnessed the chemistry between Ted Danson and Shelley Long, so the creators chose Ted Danson instead. Therefore, Sam then evolved into a former relief pitcher for the baseball team, Boston Red Sox. To prepare for his role, Danson attended a bartending school in Burbank, California.
Fred Dryer later appeared as Dave Richards, one of Sam Malone's friends and a sports commentator, in Cheers.
I had no idea how unintelligent [Sam] was. At first I thought he was making these – because Sam would come out with these things that were funny, and I thought, well, maybe he's being ironic. You know, maybe he's smart enough to know that he's saying stupid things in the beginning. I think it took me about a year and a half before, maybe a season and a half before I had an inkling on how to play Sam Malone, because he was a relief pitcher, which comes with a certain amount of arrogance.
You know, you only get called in when you're in trouble and you're there to save the day, and that takes a special kind of arrogance, I think. And Sam Malone had that arrogance. And I, Ted Danson, did not. I was nervous, scared, excited about, you know, grateful about my new job.—Ted Danson, NPR's "Fresh Air", September 17, 2009
Danson earned $450,000 per episode as Sam Malone within the last few years of Cheers before "One for the Road" was aired on May 20, 1993. In the final season of Cheers (1992–93), Danson wanted to stop portraying Sam Malone, which contributed to the end of Cheers. When an interviewer asked Danson about changes of Sam, Danson responded, "He got older, you know," and then, "They tried to make him Sammy again. But he's 45 now. I'm 45. It's OK to be chasing around when you're 37. But when you're 45, it's kind of sad to be chasing around that way." There were attempts to revamp the show without Ted Danson, such as moving the show to the first-run syndication, but these ideas were later dropped.
Some people think Cheers is 'Cheers', and the bar is the soul of [Cheers]. Other people think Cheers is Cheers plus Sam, and Sam is the soul. Because [Danson] had chicken pox, [as Sam did in "The Ghost and Mrs. LeBec" (1990)], we had to do one show without Sam, and it was a challenge. He's the one who [is] everyone's friend, tells the truth, [and] takes care of everybody.—Cheri Eichen, Los Angeles Daily News, November 1990
Early life 
Sam's family is Irish Catholic. He dropped out of high school in favor of his potential baseball career.[e 1] He became a relief pitcher for the Major League Baseball team, Boston Red Sox, in which he met Coach Ernie Pantusso (Nicholas Colasanto). His baseball career took a nosedive when he developed an alcohol problem. Sam has run the bar, Cheers, for five years when the series Cheers began in 1982 after his baseball career was over.[e 2][e 3] Over time, his role as a bartender turned him into the "resident ringleader for an assortment of poor souls and wanna-bes." He has a highly successful older brother named Derek, who is an unseen character, voiced by George Ball, and with whom he barely gets along.
Post-baseball activities 
Sam appears in beer commercials in "Now Pitching, Sam Malone" (1983). In "Take My Shirt... Please?" (1986), his very old baseball shirt that he wore during his baseball day has been auctioned three times, but no one buys it. In "Everyone Imitates Art" (1986), he sends one of Diane's old love letters to Reader's Digest as a poem and then credits himself for that. He also substitutes for his friend, Dave Richards (Fred Dryer), as a televised sports commentator in "I on Sports" (1987). (Nevertheless, Sam has proven himself to be inept for this job, and his further attempts to save his career, like rapping and ventriloquism, fail to succeed.)
Sam is "athletically handsome" yet "a sleazy, promiscuous, aggressive, exhibitionistic narcissist". As a lothario, Sam dates and has flings with women in his life, including "women who want to have fun," even before Cheers began in 1982. Nevertheless, he fails to fulfill every relationship in his life. In "Sam Turns the Other Cheek" (1984), he went out with one of his women until he found out that she is married. Moreover, as discovered, at his standards, he does not go for married women, underaged girls, and comatose women. As discovered in "Sam's Women" (1982), he was once married to Debra (Donna McKechnie), but his marriage did not last. Notoriously, Sam Malone is irresistible to Diane Chambers (Shelley Long) and somewhat resisted by Rebecca Howe (Kirstie Alley), inspired by works about "mixture of romance and antagonism of two people, [portrayed by Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn], in a competitive situation."
In "Now Pitching, Sam Malone" (1983), Sam has an affair with his publicity agent Lana (Barbara Babcock) to appear in commercials, but he breaks off this relationship and then loses his job. In "Battle of the Exes" (1984), Sam pretends to be Carla's "boyfriend" at her request to spite her ex-husband Nick Tortelli (Dan Hedaya) and Nick's wife Loretta (Jean Kasem). Later, they embrace, then kiss, and decide to be mere friends with a handshake. In "Teacher's Pet" (1985), he has a fling with his adult high school teacher to gain his chances to earn himself a diploma, but he breaks off this relationship, has his exams re-examined, and then successfully earns a diploma without having another fling with her again. In "Dark Imaginings" (1986), he attempts to seduce a young woman, but he ends up with a hernia and has an operation for it.
In "What's Up, Doc?" (1989), Sam flirts with unamazed therapist Dr. Shiela Rydell (Madolyn Smith Osborne), a friend of Frasier and Lilith. Despite his failed attempts to seduce her, including a failed pretense to suffer from impotence, Sam goes on a date with Dr. Rydell. However, during the date in the bar, after closing time, she tells him that his life is full of sex primarily to mask his loneliness and his inability to fulfill a meaningful relationship and nothing more. Despite her best efforts to excite him, Sam deems her as bad as any smart women whom he went out with, ends the relationship, and kicks her out of the bar.
Sam appears to be happily single and free from having a family of his own, and to never be concerned about conceiving illegitimate children. In "Swear to God" (1988), he is afraid that he might be a father of an illegitimate child, whose mother is one of his ex-girlfriends. Therefore, he vows to believe in God and, at risk of agony, tries to stay away from sex in order to avoid betraying God, which would lead to superstitious events, which Carla scaremongers.
Diane Chambers 
He has on- and off-relationships with "a bright, attractive graduate student" Diane Chambers (Shelley Long). In the first five seasons (1982–1987), Sam and Diane find each other attractive but condemn each other as social class opposites. Every time they consummate their relationship, they break up. During their off-relationships, Sam has flings with many women, while Diane has relationships with men who fit her upper-class ideals. In the two-part first season finale, "Showdown" (1983), his successful brother Derek arrives in Boston, becomes beloved by bar patrons, and starts dating Diane, leaving Sam jealous. No longer able to keep their feelings to themselves about each other, Sam and Diane make a passionate embrace toward each other, leaving Derek aside.
Sam and Diane consummate a relationship, which becomes dysfunctional, however, by an endless cycle of breakups and reunions, but then end their relationship in the second season finale, "I'll Be Seeing You, Part 2" (1984). In the two-part third season premiere "Rebound" (1984), Sam relapses into alcoholism and begins excessive womanizing, and Diane ends up in a psychiatric hospital, where she meets Frasier. With the help of Coach, Diane, and Frasier, Sam slowly regains his sobriety. Convinced by Coach that Diane will lose her mind if she leaves Cheers again, Sam hires her back to Cheers as a waitress. Later in the season, Sam becomes heartbroken again when Diane leaves Boston again to elope with Frasier.
In the fourth season premiere, "Birth, Death, Love, and Rice" (1985), Sam finds out from Frasier that Diane dumped Frasier at the altar, hooked up with many men, and then checked into a convent. Suddenly, Sam comes to her rescue and takes her back to Cheers. During the whole season (1985–86), Sam and Diane avoid their feelings for each other and then end up rekindling without success. In the fourth season finale, "Strange Bedfellows" (1986), Sam dates the intelligent, attractive, female politician; Janet Eldridge (Kate Mulgrew), who tells him to fire Diane as a waitress. Eventually, after his water gun play with Diane at her press conference, Janet breaks him up because she sees that he is still in love with Diane.
In the fifth season premiere, "The Proposal" (1986), Sam proposes to Diane. Nevertheless, she rejects his proposal. Many times throughout the season (1986–87) he proposes, but she rejects. In "Chambers vs. Malone" (1987), Sam is charged by Diane for crimes that he did not commit. In the courtroom, he proposes again at a judge's behest; she finally accepts. In the fifth season finale, "I Do, Adieu" (1987), they attempt to marry, but they agree to call off the wedding, so Diane leaves Cheers and Sam behind for a writing career. As Les Charles observed, Sam was a "straight man" to Diane; after Long's departure, he became more "carefree" and a "goof-off."
Rebecca Howe 
In 1987, Sam sells Cheers to the corporation, travels with his yacht, and soon returns to the bar to work there under employment of a "voluptuously beautiful" new manager, Rebecca Howe. Since then, Sam many times flirts with and attempts to seduce Rebecca, but she rejects his advances. In the Season Eight finale, "Cry Harder" (1990), Sam retrieves ownership of the bar from the corporation by paying it 85 cents (retail price was one dollar) to save the bar from financial victimization of Robin Colcord (Roger Rees), Rebecca's lover. At the last minute, Sam and Rebecca embrace with a kiss. However, in the Season Nine premiere, "Love Is a Really, Really, Perfectly Okay Thing" (1990), Sam becomes less enthusiastic about their passion and admits it to Rebecca with disappointments. In Season Ten (1991–1992), they try to conceive a child, but then they have decided to stay friends.
Final years 
Ted Danson wore a hairpiece to conceal his baldness for the role of Sam Malone during filming of Cheers. His baldness was revealed at the 1990 Primetime Emmy Awards. In the Cheers episode, "It's Lonely on the Top" (1993), Sam Malone reveals his own hairpiece that conceals his actual baldness to Carla (Rhea Perlman).
According to the April 1–4, 1993, telephone survey of 1,011 people by the Times Mirror Center for the People and the Press (now Pew Research Center),[N 1] Sam Malone was a top favorite character by 26%. For whom he should marry, 21% voted Diane Chambers, 19% voted Rebecca Howe, 48% voted Sam to stay single, and 12% had "no opinion" on this matter. For which character should star in a spin-off, 15% voted Sam, 12% voted Woody Boyd (Woody Harrelson), 10% voted Norm Peterson (George Wendt), and 29% voted no spin-offs. Frasier Crane (Kelsey Grammer), whose own spin-off Frasier debuted in September 1993, was voted 2% to have his own show. According to the 1993 article from People magazine, newspaper columnist Mike Royko chose Diane to be with Sam. Novelist Jackie Collins picked Rebecca. Celebrated personality Zsa Zsa Gabor chose both as Sam's potentials. Tennis player Martina Navratilova found Sam too good for either of them. Novelist-archaeologist Clive Cussler perceived Carla Tortelli (Rhea Perlman) as "Sam's best bet."
Nevertheless, in "The Guy Can't Help It" (1993), Sam begs Rebecca and then Carla to be his wife, but they reject his proposals and confront his past sexual behaviors, especially at his current age. Sam realizes his sexual addiction and begins to participate in Dr. Robert Sutton's (Gilbert Lewis) group meetings, advised by Frasier.
In the 1993 series finale, "One for the Road," after six years of separation, Sam becomes reunited with Diane, who arrives from Los Angeles. However, they admit that they are never destined to be together because they are total opposites, despite their good times together. As Diane prepares to leave Boston again, Sam stops her and then begs her for another fling again. The next day, Sam and Diane become engaged again and then leave Boston behind for Los Angeles, much to the gang's dismay. At the plane, Sam and Diane begin to have second thoughts about their future together with rhetorical questions from announcers. Finally, when the plane becomes delayed, they break up and then part ways again. Sam returns to Boston, and Diane goes to Los Angeles.
At the bar, Sam and his friends celebrate his return. Then, when everyone leaves except Norm and Sam, Norm Peterson (George Wendt) reassures Sam that Sam would "come back" to and never leave his one "true love". (TV Guide implied that Cheers, the bar, is Sam's true love, but Norm's comments are deemed as vague and confusing.)
Other appearances 
Ted Danson reprised his role of Sam Malone from Cheers in pregame segments of the 1983 Super Bowl and of one of baseball games of the 1986 World Series, The Magical World of Disney episode "Mickey's 60th Birthday", and The Simpsons episode "Fear of Flying".[o 1] In the Super Bowl pregame skit, Sam and his buddies at the bar chide Diane for not knowing and ridiculing football and then meet Pete Axthelm, the NBC sportscaster who stops by.[o 2] In the pregame skit of the 1986 World Series game, Sam is interviewed by Bob Costas at the bar. In "Mickey's 60th Birthday", Sam realizes that he forgets Rebecca's birthday, so he begs Mickey Mouse to sing "Happy Birthday to You" as her birthday present. However, Rebecca chooses Mickey over Sam, who still wants to seduce her.[o 3] In The Simpsons, Sam is dating twins whose names are Diane and Rebecca.[o 1]
Frasier (1995) 
Throughout most of Cheers, Sam is "allowed to be happy" and "[to live] a rich life". However, towards the end of the series' run, Sam goes into therapy for sex addiction. In "The Show Where Sam Shows Up", the 1995 episode of Frasier, Sam is depicted as a self-identified sexual addict with help from group meetings and committed to change himself. Sam is engaged to Sheila (Téa Leoni), a fellow sex addict whom he met during group therapy, but he breaks off the engagement after she admits that she slept with two regular Cheers barflies during their engagement, including Cliff Clavin.
A Massachusetts Institute of Technology author, in his 1991 journal article, thanked Sam Malone as part of his acknowledgements for "bringing [him] laughter" along with other cast of Cheers. McKechnie from the Totem journal called Sam's "lucky bottle cap" from the episode, "Endless Slumper" (1982), an example of fetishes used by baseball players for "good fortune". Bill Simmons, previously from ESPN, praised Danson's performance for giving life and color to Sam Malone. In The Complete Idiot's Guide book, Sam Malone "[brings] magic to establishment" and is praised for "successfully running [Cheers]." The Shark Guys website ranked Sam the No. 3 bartender of the "top ten coolest bartenders of all time". In the 2009 NPR interview, Terry Gross called Sam "the opposite of intellectual".
Actor Roger Rees, who portrayed Robin Colcord in Cheers, remarked that no other character may fill in Sam Malone's spot if Sam is written out of the show. Actor Woody Harrelson, who played Woody Boyd, called Sam the person who brings an ensemble together. Rees further commented that the show would not survive without Sam and Danson. Television critic Phil Rosenthal from Los Angeles Daily News found Danson's performance as Sam irreplaceable and remarked that no other actor may capture Sam's "sexiness, vulnerability, and goofiness". Rosenthal credited Sam Malone for helping the series survive by becoming the show's central.
The role of Sam Malone earned Ted Danson two Emmy Awards as the Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series: one in 1990 and another in 1993. It also earned Danson two Golden Globe Awards as the Best Actor in a Musical or Comedy Series: one in 1990 and another in 1991. It also earned him an American Comedy Award as the Funniest Male Performer in a TV Series.
Sam's appearance in Frasier is mixed. Scott D. Pierce from The Deseret News found him too "old and [tiring]" Nevertheless, John Martin, a syndicate from The New York Times, enjoyed Sam's interaction with main characters of Frasier. Frazier Moore from The Associated Press called Sam's appearance a ratings ploy but a must-see for a Cheers fan and any other viewer who lacks interest in the show Frasier. Gregory Wakeman from Screen Junkies called Sam one of the worst boyfriends on television for his promiscuity.
Sam Malone has been compared to a few later roles whom Ted Danson portrayed. In 1998, David Bianculli from New York Daily News metaphorized Danson's guest role, the plumber, in Veronica's Closet as Sam Malone's "close cousin: a confident womanizer, and not the brightest guy in the room". In 1999, Danson remarked that Sam and John Becker (Becker) are in common "very lonely men".
Sam Malone is a subject of and a satire of masculinity. In the 1990 and 1997 journal articles, he is one of the "new macho [heroes]" of the 1980s, "the target of humor," and not a "likely [candidate] to lead the post-feminist counter revolution." Like Sam, a `new' macho hero of the 1980s is an opposite of an `old' pre-1980s macho hero that "constituted an antifeminist backlash." In the 1993 journal, Steve Craig from the University of North Texas considered him a parody of "traditional male values" and of a negative stereotype of masculinity. To the journal's analysis, Sam's "attempts" to define and exemplify "his version of masculinity" are satirized in the show Cheers "to explore gender identity" without threatening a viewer's own definition of one's own gender.
Ben Shapiro, an American conservative writer, in his 2011 book Primetime Propaganda, calls Sam "a dog, a feminist caricature of men," and a cultural representation of "lower-class conservative." Glen Charles, a creator of Cheers, considers Sam "a spokesman for a large group of people who thought that [the women's movement] was a bunch of bull and look with disdain upon people who don't think it was." Nonetheless, Ted Danson is a declared liberal himself.
Heather Hundley noted that the series sends a "double standards" about men and women, involved in promiscuity. She noted that the series portrays Sam as heroic, who never suffers from negative consequences of his promiscuity, while it portrays Carla Tortelli as "nymphomaniac", who regrets her own promiscuities for out-of-wedlock pregnancies and wrong lovers. She finds the series's portrayal of premarital sex "negative and unhealthy", especially for omitting other dangers of promiscuity, like sexually transmitted diseases and HIV/AIDS.
- The margin of error in the survey was ±3, according to the polls.
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- Tankel, J. D., and B. J. Banks. "The Boys of Prime Time: An Analysis of `New' Male Roles in Television." Communication and Culture: Language, Performance, Technology, and Media 4 (1990): 285–95. Print.
Further reading 
- Andrews, Bart. Cheers: The Official Scrapbook. New York: Signet, 1987. Print.
- Fallows, Randall. "The Enneagram of Cheers: Where Everybody Knows Your Number." The Journal of Popular Culture 34.2 (2000): 169–179. Print. (subscription required) doi:10.1111/j.0022-3840.2000.3402_169.x
- Heilbronn, Lisa M. "What Does Alcohol Mean? Alcohol's Use as a Symbolic Code." Contemporary Drug Problems 15.2 (1988): 229–248. Web. <https://www.ncjrs.gov/App/abstractdb/AbstractDBDetails.aspx?id=115089>. (subscription required)
- Hundley, Heather L. "The Naturalization of Beer in Cheers." Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media 39.3 (1995): 350–359. Web. January 9, 2012. (subscription required) doi:10.1080/08838159509364311.
- Jennings, Marianne M. "Moral Disengagement and Lawyers: Codes, Ethics, Conscience, and Some Great Movies." Duquesne Law Review 37.4 (1999): 573–602. Print. (subscription required) An official website of Marianne M. Jennings said that the issue number is 2, not 4.
- Phibbs, Bob. The Retail Doctor's Guide to Growing Your Business: A Step-by-Step Approach to Quickly Diagnose, Treat, and Cure. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc, 2010. xv–xvii. Google Books. Web. January 14, 2012.