Sam Malone cutting off lemon peels in the pilot "Give Me a Ring Sometime"
|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)||Diane Chambers (ex-girlfriend)|
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; he owns a bar called "Cheers" and works there as a bartender. He is a recovering alcoholic and a notorious womanizer.
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 meaningful relationships with them. Sam had an on-and-off relationship with Diane Chambers (Shelley Long) in 1982–1987 and the series finale in 1993, "One for the Road." When Diane leaves the bar, Sam tries to seduce her replacement, Rebecca Howe (Kirstie Alley), but she rejects his advances. Sam and Rebecca attempt a relationship many times, but they have no passion for each other and decide to remain as friends.
Sam appeared in all 275 episodes of Cheers, which ran from 1982 until 1993. He also made a guest appearance in an episode of the spin-off comedy show Frasier called "The Show Where Sam Shows Up". The character was a favorite of viewers and critics alike; he has been the subject of academic analyses—primarily ones 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 because he was ill. Ted Danson had appeared as a hairdresser in a 1982 episode of the television series Taxi called "The Unkindest Cut", for which Cheers creators Glen and Les Charles—along with James Burrows—were executive consultants. Danson, William Devane and Fred Dryer were shortlisted for the role of Sam Malone.
Originally, Sam Malone was intended "to be a former wide receiver for the American football team New England Patriots." Fred Dryer was initially chosen for that role because he is a former football player, but the Charles brothers chose Danson because NBC executives noticed the chemistry between him and Shelley Long. The character then evolved into a former relief pitcher for the baseball team Boston Red Sox. To prepare for the 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. Danson said:
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 ... 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 US$450,000 per episode as Sam Malone during the last few years of Cheers. In the final season of Cheers (1992–93), Danson wanted to stop portraying Sam Malone, which contributed to the end of Cheers. Danson said about the way the character changed, "He got older, you know ... [the writers] 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." The producers tried to continue the show without Ted Danson, and they attempted to move the show to the first-run syndication, but these ideas were shelved.
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
Sam's family is Irish Catholic. He dropped out of high school in his senior year to play professional baseball.[e 1] He became a relief pitcher for the Boston Red Sox, where he met Coach Ernie Pantusso (Nicholas Colasanto). Sam's baseball career declined when he became an alcoholic. When the series begins in 1982, Sam has been running Cheers for five years.[e 2][e 3] Over time, Sam's role as a bartender turns him into the "resident ringleader for an assortment of poor souls and wanna-bes". Sam has a strained relationship with his more successful older brother named Derek, who is an unseen character voiced by George Ball.
During the series, Sam appears in television commercials for beer in the episode "Now Pitching, Sam Malone" (1983), and unsuccessfully tries to auction his Red Sox jersey in the episode"Take My Shirt... Please?" (1986). In "Everyone Imitates Art" (1986), Sam sends one of Diane's old love letters to Reader's Digest as a poem and then credits himself for it. He substitutes for his friend, Dave Richards (Fred Dryer), as a televised sports commentator in "I on Sports" (1987). His other attempts to save his career as a commentator, like rapping and ventriloquism, fail.
Relationships with women
Sam is described as "athletically handsome" yet "a sleazy, promiscuous, aggressive, exhibitionistic narcissist". Sam is a womanizer who dates and has sex with various women—including "women who want to have fun"—including in his fictional past before Cheers began in 1982. However, his relationships invariably fail. In "Sam Turns the Other Cheek" (1984), he dated one woman until he discovered she was married. Sam says he chooses not to have relationships with married women, underage girls, and comatose women. In "Sam's Women" (1982), Sam reveals that he was once married to Debra (Donna McKechnie), but his marriage did not last. Sam is irresistible to Diane Chambers and is somewhat resisted by Rebecca Howe; his on-screen relationships were 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, kiss and decide to be mere friends with a handshake. In "Teacher's Pet" (1985), Sam has an affair with his adult high school teacher to increase his chances of getting a diploma, but he breaks off this relationship, has his exams re-examined and earns his diploma without having another affair with her. In "Dark Imaginings" (1986), he attempts to seduce a young woman, but he suffers a hernia and has an operation for it.
In "What's Up, Doc?" (1989), Sam flirts with therapist Dr. Sheila Rydell (Madolyn Smith Osborne), a friend of Frasier and Lilith. Despite his failed attempts to seduce her, Sam goes on a date with Rydell. During the date at Cheers, she tells him that he uses promiscuous sex to mask his loneliness and his inability to maintain a meaningful relationship. Despite her best efforts to excite him, Sam deems her too smart for him, ends the relationship, and ejects her from the bar.
Sam appears to be happily single and free from having his own family and concerns over fathering illegitimate children. In "Swear to God" (1988), he is afraid that he has fathered an illegitimate child with an ex-girlfriend. Sam is relieved that he is not the father, but he vows to stay away from sex. When he is willing to betray his oath, Carla scares him about superstitious events. At risk of his sexual agony, Sam reluctantly avoids sex, especially when he encounters women and bibles in motels.
Sam has on- and-off relationship 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 decide they are social class opposites. Every time they consummate their relationship, they break up. During their off-relationships, Sam has many affairs and Diane has relationships with men who fit her upper-class ideals. In the two-part first season finale, "Showdown" (1983), Sam's successful brother Derek arrives in Boston, becomes beloved by bar patrons, and starts dating Diane, leaving Sam jealous. No longer able to suppress their feelings, Sam and Diane make a passionate embrace, leaving Derek aside.
Sam and Diane's relationship becomes a dysfunctional, endless cycle of breakups and reunions; they 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 goes to live in a psychiatric hospital, where she meets Frasier. With the help of Coach, Diane, and Frasier, Sam slowly regains his sobriety. At first, Sam is reluctant to re-hire Diane, but does so. Later in the season, Sam becomes heartbroken again when Diane leaves Boston in "Cheerio, Cheers" (1985) to elope with Frasier.
In the fourth season premiere, "Birth, Death, Love, and Rice" (1985), Frasier tells Sam that Diane dumped Frasier at the altar, had multiple relationships with men, and then checked into a convent. Sam rescues her and takes her back to Cheers. Throughout the 1985–86 season, Sam and Diane suppress their feelings for each other and try to rekindle their relationship without success. In the fourth season finale, "Strange Bedfellows" (1986), Sam dates an intelligent, attractive politician Janet Eldridge (Kate Mulgrew), who tells him to fire Diane from her waitressing job. Janet breaks up with Sam because she realizes that he is still in love with Diane.
In the fifth season premiere, "The Proposal" (1986), Sam proposes to Diane but she rejects his proposal. Sam proposes to her several times throughout the 1986–87 season, but she rejects him every time. 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 try to marry but agree to call off the wedding. Diane leaves Cheers and Sam behind for a writing career. Les Charles said that Sam was a "straight man" to Diane; after Long's departure he became more "carefree" and a "goof-off."
In 1987, Sam sells Cheers to a corporation, travels with his yacht, and soon returns to the bar to work under employment of a "voluptuously beautiful" new manager, Rebecca Howe. Sam constantly flirts with and attempts to seduce Rebecca, but she rejects all of his advances. In the Season Eight finale, "Cry Harder" (1990), Sam buys back the bar from the corporation to save it from financial victimization by Robin Colcord (Roger Rees), Rebecca's lover. At the last minute, Sam and Rebecca embrace and kiss. However, in the Season Nine premiere, "Love Is a Really, Really, Perfectly Okay Thing" (1990), Sam becomes less enthusiastic about their passion and disappointedly tells Rebecca. In Season Ten (1991–1992), they try to conceive a child, but by then they have decided to stay friends.
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 episode, "It's Lonely on the Top" (1993), Sam Malone reveals his 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%. The survey asked which character Sam should marry. 21% voted Diane Chambers, 19% voted Rebecca Howe, 48% voted Sam to stay single, and 12% had "no opinion" on this matter. When asked 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 by 2% to have his own show.
According to the 1993 article in 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 potential partner. Tennis player Martina Navratilova found Sam too good for either of them. Novelist-archaeologist Clive Cussler said Carla Tortelli (Rhea Perlman) was "Sam's best bet."
In "The Guy Can't Help It" (1993), Sam begs Rebecca and then Carla to marry him, but they both reject his proposals and confront him with his past sexual behavior, especially at his current age. Sam realizes he is addicted to sex 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 reunites with Diane, who arrives from Los Angeles. However, they admit that they are not destined to be together because they are total opposites, despite their good times. As Diane prepares to leave Boston again, Sam stops her and then begs her for another fling. The next day, Sam and Diane become engaged again and leave Boston for Los Angeles. At the airport, Sam and Diane begin to have doubts about their future together. Finally, when their flight is delayed, they decide amicably to part, having made their peace. 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 reassures Sam that Sam would return and never leave his one "true love"—which according to TV Guide is Cheers bar.
Ted Danson reprised the role of Sam Malone in pre-game 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 customers at the bar chide Diane for not knowing and ridiculing football. They meet Pete Axthelm, an NBC sportscaster who visits the bar.[o 2] In the pregame skit of the 1986 World Series game, Bob Costas interviews Sam at the bar. In "Mickey's 60th Birthday", Sam forgets Rebecca's birthday and begs Mickey Mouse to sing "Happy Birthday to You" as her birthday present. Rebecca chooses Mickey over Sam, who still wants to seduce her.[o 3] In The Simpsons, Sam is dating twins while trying to marry Diane without Rebecca knowing.[o 1]
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 undergoes therapy for sex addiction. In a 1995 episode of Frasier called "The Show Where Sam Shows Up", Sam is depicted as a self-identified sexual addict; he gets help from group meetings and commits to changing 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 customers—including Cliff Clavin—during their engagement.
Bill Simmons writing for ESPN praised Danson's performance for giving life and color to Sam Malone. In The Complete Idiot's Guide book, John Steve and Carey Rossi said Sam Malone "[brings] magic to establishment" and is praised for "successfully running [Cheers]." The Shark Guys website ranked Sam at number three on its list of the "top ten coolest bartenders of all time". In a 2009 NPR interview, Terry Gross called Sam "the opposite of intellectual".
Woody Harrelson, who played Woody Boyd, called Sam the person who brings an ensemble together. Roger Rees, who portrayed Robin Colcord in Cheers, said that no other character may fill in Sam Malone's spot if he was written out of the show. Rees also said that the show would not survive without Sam and Danson. Television critic Phil Rosenthal from Los Angeles Daily News said Danson's performance as Sam was irreplaceable and that no other actor could capture Sam's "sexiness, vulnerability, and goofiness". Rosenthal credited Sam Malone for helping the series survive by becoming the show's central character.
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.
A.J. McKechnie from the University of Western Ontario journal "Totem" called Sam's lucky bottle cap seen in the episode, "Endless Slumper" (1982), an example of a fetish used by baseball players for good fortune.
Sam Malone is a subject of and a satire of masculinity. In 1990 and 1997 journal articles, Sam is described as 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 the opposite of a pre-1980s macho hero that "constituted an antifeminist backlash".
In his 1993 journal, Steve Craig from the University of North Texas considered Sam a parody of "traditional male values" and of a negative stereotype of masculinity. Craig wrote that 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. In his 2011 book Primetime Propaganda, Ben Shapiro, an American conservative writer, calls Sam "a dog, a feminist caricature of men", and a cultural representation of the "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 wrote that the series sends "double standards" about promiscuous men and women. She said that the series portrays Sam as heroic; he never suffers from negative consequences of his promiscuity, while it portrays Carla Tortelli as a "nymphomaniac" who regrets her own promiscuities, which lead to out-of-wedlock pregnancies. She said the series' portrayal of premarital sex is "negative and unhealthy", omitting other dangers of promiscuity such as sexually transmitted diseases and HIV/AIDS. Gregory Wakeman from Screen Junkies called Sam one of the worst boyfriends on television for his promiscuity. Mark LaFlamme of the Sun Journal called Sam's relationship with Rebecca Howe "mundane" and his flirtation with her "bawdy".
Sam Malone has been compared with some of Ted Danson's later roles. In 1998, David Bianculli from New York Daily News called Danson's Guest appearance as a plumber in Veronica's Closet Sam Malone's "close cousin: a confident womanizer, and not the brightest guy in the room". In 1999, Danson said that Sam Malone and John Becker (Becker) are both "very lonely men".
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. Danson was awarded an American Comedy Award as the Funniest Male Performer in a TV Series.
- The margin of error in the survey was ±3, according to the polls.
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