|Theme music composer|
|Opening theme||"Where Everybody Knows Your Name" by Gary Portnoy|
|Country of origin||United States|
|No. of seasons||11|
|No. of episodes||275 (including three double-length episodes and a triple-length finale) (list of episodes)|
|Camera setup||Film; Multi-camera|
|Running time||30 minutes|
|Distributor||CBS Television Distribution|
|Original release||September 30, 1982 –|
May 20, 1993
Cheers is an American sitcom television series that ran on NBC from September 30, 1982, to May 20, 1993, with a total of 275 half-hour episodes across eleven seasons. The show was produced by Charles/Burrows Productions in association with Paramount Network Television, and was created by the team of James Burrows and Glen and Les Charles. The show is set in a bar named "Cheers" in Boston, Massachusetts, where a group of locals meet to drink, relax, and socialize. The show's main theme song, co-written and performed by Gary Portnoy, lent its refrain "Where Everybody Knows Your Name" as the show's catchphrase.
At the center of the show was the bar's owner and head bartender Sam Malone, a womanizing former relief pitcher for the Boston Red Sox. The show's ensemble cast included waitresses Carla Tortelli and Diane Chambers, who would be Sam's love interest for the first several seasons of the show, as well as a dimwitted second bartender, Coach Ernie Pantusso for the first three seasons, and Woody Boyd for the rest of the series, and regular bar patrons Norm Peterson, Cliff Clavin, and Frasier Crane. Later main characters of the show include Rebecca Howe, who manages the bar after Sam sells it and later becomes his love interest, and Lilith Sternin, who is Frasier's wife.
After premiering on September 30, 1982, it was nearly canceled during its first season when it ranked almost last in ratings for its premiere (74th out of 77 shows). However, Cheers eventually became a Nielsen ratings juggernaut in the United States, earning a top-ten rating during eight of its eleven seasons, including one season at number one (season 9). The show spent most of its run on NBC's Thursday night "Must See TV" lineup. Its widely watched series finale was broadcast on May 20, 1993, and the show's 275 episodes have been successfully syndicated worldwide. Nominated for Outstanding Comedy Series for all eleven of its seasons on the air, it earned 28 Primetime Emmy Awards from a record of 117 nominations.
During its run, Cheers became one of the most popular series in history and received critical acclaim from its start to its end. In 1997, the episodes "Thanksgiving Orphans" and "Home Is the Sailor", aired originally in 1987, were respectively ranked No. 7 and No. 45 on TV Guide's 100 Greatest Episodes of All Time. Its series finale was watched by an estimated 93 million viewers, almost 40% of the US population at the time. In 2002, Cheers was ranked No. 18 on TV Guide's 50 Greatest TV Shows of All Time. In 2013, the Writers Guild of America ranked it as the eighth-best-written TV series and TV Guide ranked it No. 11 on their list of the 60 greatest shows.
The bar was based on a real location, the Bull & Finch Pub in the Beacon Hill neighborhood of Boston. Exterior shots of the Bull & Finch (in Cheers regalia) were used as establishing shots for the series, and in occasional outdoor scenes (the series itself was usually filmed on a sound stage in Hollywood). Today, the Bull & Finch has been rebranded as "Cheers Beacon Hill". There was also a "Cheers Faneuil Hall", which was located in Quincy Market until it closed in 2020.
Before the Cheers pilot "Give Me a Ring Sometime" was completed and aired in 1982, the series consisted of four employees in the first script. Neither Norm Peterson nor Cliff Clavin, regular customers of Cheers, were featured; later revisions added them as among the regular characters of the series.
In later years, Woody Boyd replaced Coach, after the character died off-screen in season four (1985–86), following actor Nicholas Colasanto's death. Frasier Crane started as a recurring character and became a permanent one. In season six (1987–88), new character Rebecca Howe was added, having been written into the show after the finale of the previous season (1986–87). Lilith Sternin started as a one-time character in an episode of season four, "Second Time Around" (1985). After her second season five appearance, she became a recurring character, and was later featured as a permanent one during season ten (1991–92).
Original main characters
- Ted Danson as Sam Malone:
A bartender and proprietor of Cheers, Sam is also a lothario. Before the series began, he was a baseball relief pitcher for the Boston Red Sox nicknamed "Mayday Malone" until he became an alcoholic, harming his career. He has an on-again, off-again relationship with Diane Chambers, his class opposite, in the first five seasons (1982–1987). During their off-times, Sam has flings with many not-so-bright "sexy women", yet fails to pursue a meaningful relationship. After Diane is written out of the series, he tries to pursue Rebecca Howe, with varying results. At the end of the series, he is still unmarried and faces his sexual addiction with the help of Dr. Robert Sutton's (Gilbert Lewis) group meetings, advised by Frasier.
- Shelley Long as Diane Chambers:
An academic, sophisticated graduate student attending Boston University. In the pilot, Diane is abandoned by her fiancé, leaving her without a job, a man, or money. Realizing that one of her few practical skills is memorization, which comes in handy when dealing with drink orders, she reluctantly becomes a barmaid. Later, she becomes a close friend of Coach and has an on-and-off relationship with bartender Sam Malone, her class opposite. During their off-relationship times, Diane dates men who fit her upper-class ideals, such as Frasier Crane. In 1987, she leaves Boston behind for a writing career and to live in Los Angeles, California. Diane returns to Cheers to cure Sam of his drinking. Diane's biggest enemy is Carla but Diane does not insult Carla the way Carla does Diane, which serves to annoy Carla even more.
- Nicholas Colasanto as Coach Ernie Pantusso:
A "borderline senile" co-bartender, widower, and retired baseball coach. Coach is also a friend of Sam and a close friend of Diane. He has a daughter, Lisa (Allyce Beasley). Coach listens to people's problems and solves them. However, other people also help resolve his own problems. In 1985, Coach died without explicit explanation, as Colasanto died of a heart attack.
- Rhea Perlman as Carla Tortelli:
A "wisecracking, cynical" cocktail waitress, who treats customers badly. She is also highly fertile and matrimonially inept. When the series premieres, she is the mother of four children by her ex-husband Nick Tortelli (Dan Hedaya). Over the course of the series, she bears four more, the depiction of which incorporated Perlman's real-life pregnancies. All of her children are ill behaved, except Ludlow, whose father is a prominent academic. She flirts with men, including ones who are not flattered by her ways, and believes in superstitions. Later she marries Eddie LeBec, an ice hockey player, who later becomes a penguin mascot for ice shows. After he dies in an ice show accident by an ice resurfacer, Carla later discovers that Eddie had committed bigamy with another woman, whom he had gotten pregnant. Carla sleeps with Sam's enemy John Allen Hill to Sam's annoyance and anger.
- George Wendt as Norm Peterson:
A bar regular and occasionally-employed accountant. A recurrent joke on the show, especially in the earlier seasons, was that the character was such a popular and constant fixture at the bar that anytime he entered through the front door everyone present would yell out his name ("NORM!") in greeting; usually this cry would be followed by one of the present bartenders asking Norm how he was, usually receiving a sardonic response and a request for a beer. ("It's a dog-eat-dog world, and I'm wearing Milkbone underwear.") He has infrequent accounting jobs and a troubled marriage with (but is still in love with and married to) Vera, an unseen character, though she is occasionally heard. Later in the series, he becomes a house painter and an interior decorator. Even later in the series, Norm secures his dream job, tasting beer at a brewery. The character was not originally intended to be a main cast role; Wendt auditioned for a minor role of George for the pilot episode. The role was only to be Diane Chambers' first customer and had only one word: "Beer!" After he was cast in a more permanent role, the character was renamed Norm.
- John Ratzenberger as Cliff Clavin:
A know-it-all bar regular and mail carrier. He lives with his mother Esther Clavin (Frances Sternhagen) in first the family house and later an apartment. In the bar, Cliff continuously spouts nonsensical and annoying trivia, making him an object of derision to the bar patrons. Ratzenberger auditioned for the role of a minor character George, but it went to Wendt, evolving the role into Norm Peterson. The producers decided they wanted a resident bar know-it-all, so the security guard Cliff Clavin was added for the pilot. The producers changed his occupation into a mail carrier as they thought such a man would have wider knowledge than a guard.
Subsequent main characters
- Kelsey Grammer as Frasier Crane:
A psychiatrist and bar regular. Frasier started out as Diane Chambers' love interest in the third season (1984–85). In the fourth season (1985–86), after Diane jilts him at the altar in Europe, Frasier starts to frequent Cheers and becomes a regular. He later marries Lilith Sternin and has a son, Frederick. After the series ends, the character becomes the focus of the spin-off Frasier, in which he is divorced from Lilith and living in Seattle.
- Woody Harrelson as Woody Boyd:
A not-so-bright bartender. He arrives from his Midwest hometown of Hanover, Indiana to Boston, to see Coach, his "pen pal" (as referring to exchanging "pens", not letters). When Sam tells Woody that Coach died, Sam hires Woody in Coach's place. Later, he marries his girlfriend Kelly Gaines (Jackie Swanson), also not-so-bright but raised in a rich family. In the final season, he runs for political office and, surprisingly, wins.
- Bebe Neuwirth as Lilith Sternin:
A psychiatrist and bar regular. She is often teased by bar patrons about her uptight personality and appearance. In "Second Time Around" (1986), her first episode, also her only one of the fourth season, her date with Frasier does not go well because they constantly argue. In the fifth season, with help from Diane, Lilith and Frasier begin a relationship. Eventually, they marry and have a son, Frederick. In the eleventh and final season, she leaves Frasier to live with another man in an experimental underground environment called the "Eco-pod." She returns later in the season and reconciles with Frasier. However, in the spinoff Frasier, Lilith divorces Frasier and bears the custody of Frederick.
- Kirstie Alley as Rebecca Howe:
She starts out as a strong independent woman, manager of the bar for the corporation that bought Cheers from Sam after his on-off relationship with Diane ended. Eventually, when Sam regains ownership, she begs him to let her remain, first as cocktail waitress and later as manager. She repeatedly has romantic failures with mainly rich men and becomes more and more "neurotic, insecure, and sexually frustrated". At the start, Sam frequently attempts to seduce Rebecca without success. As her personality changes, he loses interest in her. In the series finale, after failed relationships with rich men, Rebecca marries a plumber and quits working for the bar. In the Frasier episode "The Show Where Sam Shows Up", she is revealed to be divorced and back at the bar. When Frasier asks whether this means that she is working there again, Sam says "no, she's just at the bar."
In season 11, Bebe Neuwirth is given "starring" credit only when she appears.
|Character||Actress / Actor||Role at Cheers||Occupation||Seasons|
|Sam Malone||Ted Danson||Owner/Bartender||Former baseball player||Main|
|Carla Tortelli||Rhea Perlman||Waitress||Mother||Main|
|Norm Peterson||George Wendt||Customer||Accountant; house painter; interior decorator||Main|
|Cliff Clavin||John Ratzenberger||Customer||Mailman||Recurring||Main|
|Ernie "Coach" Pantusso||Nicholas Colasanto||Bartender||Former baseball player and coach||Maina|
|Diane Chambers||Shelley Long||Waitress||Graduate student, writer||Main||Guest|
|Woody Boyd||Woody Harrelson||Assistant Bartender||Actor; politician||Main|
|Rebecca Howe||Kirstie Alley||Owner/Manager||Businesswoman||Main|
|Frasier Crane||Kelsey Grammer||Customer||Psychiatrist||Recurring||Main|
|Lilith Sternin||Bebe Neuwirth||Customer||Psychiatrist||Guest||Recurring||Mainb|
Although Cheers operated largely around that main ensemble cast and their interactions with various one-off characters, guest stars and recurring characters did occasionally supplement them. Notable repeat guests included Dan Hedaya as Nick Tortelli and Jean Kasem as Loretta Tortelli, who were the main characters in the first spin-off The Tortellis, Fred Dryer as Dave Richards, Annie Golden as Margaret O'Keefe, Derek McGrath as Andy Schroeder (also referred to as Andy Andy), interchangeably Joel Polis and Robert Desiderio as rival bar owner Gary, Jay Thomas as Eddie LeBec, Roger Rees as Robin Colcord, Tom Skerritt as Evan Drake, Frances Sternhagen as Esther Clavin, Richard Doyle as Walter Gaines, Keene Curtis as John Allen Hill, Anthony Cistaro as Henri, Michael McGuire as Professor Sumner Sloan, and Harry Anderson as Harry 'The Hat' Gittes. Jackie Swanson, who played the recurring role of Woody's girlfriend and eventual wife "Kelly Gaines-Boyd", appeared in 24 episodes from 1989 to 1993. The character is as equally dim and naive—but ultimately as sweet-natured—as Woody.
Paul Willson played the recurring barfly character of "Paul Krapence". (In one early appearance in the first season he was called "Glen", and was later credited on-screen as "Gregg" and "Tom", but he was playing the same character throughout.) Thomas Babson played "Tom", a law student often mocked by Cliff Clavin, for continually failing to pass the Massachusetts bar exam. "Al", played by Al Rosen, appeared in 38 episodes, and was known for his surly quips. Rhea Perlman's father Philip Perlman played the role of "Phil".
Other celebrities guest-starred in single episodes as themselves throughout the series. Sports figures appeared on the show as themselves with a connection to Boston or Sam's former team, the Red Sox, such as Luis Tiant, Wade Boggs and Kevin McHale (of the Boston Celtics). Some television stars also made guest appearances as themselves such as Alex Trebek, Arsenio Hall, Dick Cavett, Robert Urich, George McFarland and Johnny Carson. Various political figures even made appearances on Cheers such as then-Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral William J. Crowe, former Colorado Senator Gary Hart, then-Speaker of the House Tip O'Neill, then-Senator John Kerry, then-Governor Michael Dukakis, Ethel Kennedy (widow of Robert F. Kennedy), and then-Mayor of Boston Raymond Flynn, the last five of whom all represented Cheers' home state and city.
In maternal roles, Glynis Johns, in a guest appearance in 1983, played Diane's mother, Helen Chambers. Nancy Marchand played Frasier's mother, Hester Crane, in an episode that aired in 1985. In an episode that aired in 1992, Celeste Holm played Kelly's jokester of a paternal grandmother. Melendy Britt appeared in the episode "Woody or Won't He" (1990) as Kelly's mother, Roxanne Gaines, a very attractive high-society lady and a sexy, flirtatious upper-class cougar who tries to seduce Woody.
The musician Harry Connick Jr. appeared in an episode as Woody's cousin and plays a song from his Grammy-winning album We Are in Love (c. 1991). John Cleese won a Primetime Emmy Award for his guest appearance as "Dr. Simon Finch-Royce" in the fifth-season episode, "Simon Says". Emma Thompson guest-starred as Nanny G/Nannette Guzman, a famous singing nanny and Frasier's ex-wife. Christopher Lloyd guest-starred as a tortured artist who wanted to paint Diane. Marcia Cross portrayed Rebecca's sister Susan in the season 7 episode Sisterly Love. John Mahoney once appeared as an inept jingle writer, which included a brief conversation with Frasier Crane, whose father he later portrayed on the spin-off Frasier. Peri Gilpin, who later played Roz Doyle on Frasier, also appeared in one episode of Cheers, in its 11th season, as Holly Matheson, a reporter who interviews Woody. The Righteous Brothers, Bobby Hatfield and Bill Medley, also guest-starred in different episodes. In "The Guy Can't Help It" Rebecca, meets a plumber played by Tom Berenger who came to fix one of the beer keg taps. They marry in the series finale, triggering her resignation from Cheers. Judith Barsi appears in the episode Relief Bartender.
Notable guest appearances of actresses portraying Sam's sexual conquests or potential sexual conquests include: Kate Mulgrew in the three-episode finale of season four, portraying Boston councilwoman Janet Eldridge; Donna McKechnie as Debra, Sam's ex-wife (with whom he is on good terms), who pretends to be an intellectual in front of Diane; Barbara Babcock as Lana Marshall, a talent agent who specializes in representing male athletes, her clients with whom she routinely sleeps on demand; Julia Duffy as Rebecca Prout, a depressed intellectual friend of Diane's; Alison LaPlaca as magazine reporter Paula Nelson; Carol Kane as Amanda, who Sam eventually learns was a fellow patient at the sanitarium with Diane; Barbara Feldon as Lauren Hudson, Sam's annual Valentine's Day fling (in an homage to Same Time, Next Year); Sandahl Bergman as Judy Marlowe, a longtime casual sex partner and whose now grown daughter, Laurie Marlowe (Chelsea Noble), who has always considered Sam a pseudo-father figure, Sam falls for; Madolyn Smith-Osborne as Dr. Sheila Rydell, a colleague of Frasier and Lilith; Valerie Mahaffey as Valerie Hill, John Allen Hill's daughter who Sam pursues if only to gain an upper hand in his business relationship with Hill; and Alexis Smith as Alice Anne Volkman, Rebecca's much older ex-professor. In season 9, episode 17, I'm Getting My Act Together and Sticking It in Your Face, Sam, believing Rebecca wants a more serious relationship, pretends to be gay, his lover being a casual friend named Leon (Jeff McCarthy)—the plan ultimately leads to a kiss between Sam and Leon.
Death of Nicholas Colasanto
Near the end of production of the third season, the writers of Cheers had to deal with the death of one of the main actors. During the third season, Nicholas Colasanto's heart condition (which had been diagnosed in the mid-1970s) had worsened. He had lost weight and was having trouble breathing during filming. Shortly before third season filming wrapped, Colasanto was hospitalized due to fluid in his lungs. Though he recovered, he was not cleared to return to work. While he was visiting the set in January 1985 to watch the filming of several episodes, co-star Shelley Long commented, "I think we were all in denial. We were all glad he was there, but he lost a lot of weight." Co-star Rhea Perlman added, "[He] wanted to be there so badly. He didn't want to be sick. He couldn't breathe well. It was hard. He was laboring all the time." Colasanto ultimately died of a heart attack at his home on February 12, 1985.
The third-season episodes of Cheers were filmed out of order, partly to accommodate Shelley Long's pregnancy. As a result, they already completed filming the season finale at the time of his death, which had scenes with Colasanto in it. In the third-season episodes that had not been filmed at this point, Coach is said to be "away" for various reasons.
The Cheers writing staff assembled in June 1985, at the start of the production of the fourth season, to discuss how to deal with the absence of Coach. They quickly discarded the idea that he might have moved away, as they felt he would never abandon his friends. In addition, as most viewers were aware of Colasanto's death, the writing staff decided to handle the situation more openly. The season four opener, "Birth, Death, Love and Rice", dealt with Coach's death and introduced Woody Harrelson, Colasanto's replacement.
|Season||Episodes||Originally aired||Rank||Rating||Households (seasons 1-6)/|
Viewers (seasons 7-11)
|First aired||Last aired|
|1||22||September 30, 1982||March 31, 1983||75||13.1||10.9|
|2||22||September 29, 1983||May 10, 1984||34||16.6[a]||13.8|
|3||25||September 27, 1984||May 9, 1985||13||19.7||16.7|
|4||26||September 26, 1985||May 15, 1986||5||23.7||20.4|
|5||26||September 25, 1986||May 7, 1987||3||27.2||23.8|
|6||25||September 24, 1987||May 5, 1988||3||23.4||20.7|
|7||22||October 27, 1988||May 4, 1989||4||22.3||33.9|
|8||26||September 21, 1989||May 3, 1990||3||22.7||34.7|
|9||27||September 20, 1990||May 2, 1991||1||21.3||32.7|
|10||26||September 19, 1991||May 14, 1992||4||17.6||27.3|
|11||28||September 24, 1992||May 20, 1993||8||16.1[b]||28.2|
Nearly all of Cheers took place in the front room of the bar, but the characters often went into the rear pool room or the bar's office. Cheers did not show any action outside the bar until the first episode of the second season, which took place in Diane's apartment.
The show's main theme in its early seasons was the romance between intellectual waitress Diane Chambers and the bar's owner Sam Malone, a former Major League Baseball pitcher for the Boston Red Sox and recovering alcoholic. After Shelley Long (Diane) left the show, the focus shifted to Sam's new relationship with Rebecca Howe, a neurotic corporate-ladder climber.
Many Cheers scripts centered or touched upon a variety of social issues, albeit humorously. As Toasting Cheers puts it, "The script was further strengthened by the writers' boldness in successfully tackling controversial issues such as alcoholism, homosexuality, and adultery."
Social class was a subtext of the show. The "upper class" —represented by characters like Diane Chambers, Frasier Crane and Lilith Sternin— rubbed shoulders with middle- and working-class characters —Sam Malone, Carla Tortelli, Norm Peterson and Cliff Clavin. An extreme example of this was the relationship between Woody Boyd and a millionaire's daughter, Kelly Gaines. Many viewers enjoyed Cheers in part because of this focus on character development in addition to plot development.
Feminism and the role of women were also recurring themes throughout the show, with some critics seeing each of the major female characters portraying an aspect as a flawed feminist in her own way. Diane was a vocal feminist, and Sam was the epitome of everything she hated: promiscuity and chauvinism. (See "Sam and Diane".)
Homosexuality was dealt with from the first season, which was rare in the early 1980s on American television. In the first-season episode "The Boys in the Bar" (the title being a reference to the play and subsequent movie The Boys in the Band), a friend and former teammate of Sam's comes out in his autobiography. Some of the male regulars pressure Sam to take action to ensure that Cheers does not become a gay bar. The episode won a GLAAD Media Award, and the script's writers, Ken Levine and David Isaacs, were nominated for a Primetime Emmy Award.
Addiction also plays a role in Cheers, almost exclusively through Sam. He is a recovering alcoholic who had bought a bar during his drinking days. Frasier has a notable bout of drinking in the fourth-season episode "The Triangle", while Woody develops a gambling problem in the seventh season's "Call Me Irresponsible". Carla and other characters drink beer while pregnant, but nobody seems to mind.
Cheers had several owners before Sam, as the bar was opened in 1889. The "Est. 1895" on the bar's sign is a made-up date chosen by Carla for numerology purposes, revealed in season 8, episode 6, "The Stork Brings a Crane", which also revealed the bar's address as 1121⁄2 Beacon Street and that it originated under the name Mom's. In the series' second episode, "Sam's Women", Coach tells a customer looking for Gus, the owner of Cheers, that Gus was dead. In a later episode, Gus O'Mally comes back from Arizona for one night and helps run the bar.
The biggest storyline surrounding the ownership of Cheers begins in the fifth-season finale, "I Do, Adieu", when Sam and Diane part ways, due to Shelley Long's departure from the series. In addition, Sam leaves on a trip to circumnavigate the globe. Before he leaves, Sam sells Cheers to the Lillian Corporation. He returns in the sixth-season premiere, "Home is the Sailor", having sunk his boat, to find the bar under the new management of Rebecca Howe. He begs for his job back and is hired by Rebecca as a bartender. In the seventh-season premiere, "How to Recede in Business", Rebecca is fired and Sam is promoted to manager. Rebecca is allowed to keep a job at Lillian vaguely similar to what she had before, but only after Sam had Rebecca (in absentia) "agree" to a long list of demands that the corporation had for her.
From there, Sam occasionally attempted to buy the bar back with schemes that usually involved the wealthy executive Robin Colcord. Sam acquired Cheers again in the eighth-season finale, when it was sold back to him for 85¢ by the Lillian Corporation, after he alerted the company to Colcord's insider trading. Fired by the corporation because of her silence on the issue, Rebecca is hired by Sam as a hostess/office manager. For the rest of the episode, to celebrate Sam's reclaiming the bar, a huge banner hung from the staircase, reading "Under OLD Management"!
Sam had two main battles, one with Gary's Olde Towne Tavern, trying to beat them at some activity or another but always failing, except for one episode when Diane helped Cheers win the bowling trophy, extending to the practical jokes they played on each other. The second was with Melville's owner John Allen Hill who kept annoying Sam with his pettiness and ego. Hill had an ongoing relationship with Carla.
Creation and concept
Some believe that the show is a rehashing of Boston's American Broadcasting Company affiliate WCVB's locally produced 1979 sitcom Park Street Under featuring Steve Sweeney and American Repertory Theater founder Karen MacDonald. Three men developed and created the Cheers television series: Glen and Les Charles ("Glen and Les") and James Burrows, who identified themselves as "two Mormons and a Jew." They aimed at "creating a show around a Spencer Tracy-Katharine Hepburn-type relationship" between their two main characters, Sam and Diane. Malone represents the average man, while Chambers represents class and sophistication. The show revolves around characters in a bar under "humorous adult themes" and "situations."
The original idea was a group of workers who interacted like a family, the goal being a concept similar to The Mary Tyler Moore Show. The creators considered making an American version of the British Fawlty Towers, set in a hotel or an inn. When the creators settled on a bar as their setting, the show began to resemble the radio programming Duffy's Tavern, a program originally written and co-created by James Burrows' father Abe Burrows. They liked the idea of a tavern, as it provided a continuous stream of new people, for a variety of characters. An early concept revolved around a woman becoming the new owner of the bar and the animosity created between her and the regulars, an idea which was used later in Season 6 when the character of Rebecca Howe was introduced.
Early discussions about the location of the show centered on Barstow, California, then Kansas City, Missouri. They eventually turned to the East Coast and finally Boston. The Bull & Finch Pub in Boston, which was the model for Cheers, was chosen from a phone book. When Glen Charles asked the bar's owner, Tom Kershaw, to shoot exterior and interior photos, he agreed, charging $1. Kershaw has since gone on to make millions of dollars, licensing the pub's image and selling a variety of Cheers memorabilia. The Bull & Finch became the 42nd-busiest outlet in the American food and beverage industry in 1997. During initial casting, Shelley Long, who was in Boston at the time filming A Small Circle of Friends, remarked that the bar in the script resembled a bar she had come upon in the city, which turned out to be the Bull & Finch.
The crew of Cheers numbered in the hundreds. The three creators—James Burrows and Glen and Les Charles—kept offices on Paramount's lot for the duration of the Cheers run. The Charles Brothers remained in overall charge throughout the show's run, frequently writing major episodes, though starting with the third season they began delegating the day-to-day running of the writing staff to various showrunners. Ken Estin and Sam Simon were appointed as showrunners for the third season, and succeeded by David Angell, Peter Casey and David Lee the following year. Angell, Casey and Lee would remain as showrunners until the end of the seventh season when they left to develop their own sitcom, Wings, and were replaced by Bill and Cheri Steinkellner and Phoef Sutton for the eighth through tenth seasons. For the final season, Tom Anderson and Dan O'Shannon acted as the showrunners.
James Burrows is regarded as being a factor in the show's longevity, directing 243 of the 270 episodes and supervising the show's production. Among the show's other directors were Andy Ackerman, Thomas Lofaro, Tim Berry, Tom Moore, Rick Beren, as well as cast members John Ratzenberger and George Wendt.
The character of Sam Malone was originally intended to be a retired football player and was slated to be played by Fred Dryer, but Danson was chosen in part because he was younger and had more acting experience than Dryer. After casting Ted Danson, it was decided that a former baseball player (Sam "Mayday" Malone) would be more believable than a retired football player. Dryer, however, would go on to play sportscaster Dave Richards, an old friend of Sam, in three episodes. Bill Cosby was also considered early in the casting process for the role of Sam, after being recommended by the network.
Shelley Long was recommended by various sources to the producers for the role of Diane Chambers, but Long wished to be offered the part straight out and had to be coaxed into giving an audition. When she did read for the part, according to Glen Charles, "that was it, we knew that we wanted her." Before the final decision was made, three pairs of actors were tested in front of the producers and network executives for Sam and Diane: Danson and Long, Fred Dryer and Julia Duffy, William Devane and Lisa Eichhorn. The chemistry was so apparent between Long and Danson that it secured them the roles. Ted Danson was sent to bartending school to prepare him for the part and, according to Burrows, had to learn "how to pretend that he knew a lot about sports" since Danson was not a sports fan in real life and had never been to a baseball game.
The character of Cliff Clavin was created for John Ratzenberger after he auditioned for the role of Norm Peterson, which eventually went to George Wendt. While chatting with producers afterward, he asked if they were going to include a "bar know-it-all", the part which he eventually played. Alley joined the cast when Shelley Long left, and Woody Harrelson joined when Nicholas Colasanto died. Danson, Perlman and Wendt were the only actors to appear in every episode of the series; Ratzenberger appears in all but one (and his name wasn't part of the opening credit montage during the first season).
Filming styles and locations
"On Cheers, we never did everything twice. On Cheers, we went through the scene and I only reshot jokes that didn't work or I went back and picked up shots I missed."
Most Cheers episodes were, as a voiceover stated at the start of each, "filmed before a live studio audience" on Paramount Stage 25 in Hollywood, generally on Tuesday nights. Scripts for a new episode were issued the Wednesday before for a read-through, Friday was rehearsal day, and final scripts were issued on Monday. Burrows, who directed most episodes, insisted on using film stock rather than videotape. He was also noted for using motion in his directorial style, trying to constantly keep characters moving rather than standing still. Burrows and the Charles brothers emphasized to the cast to "never assume that you're not being watched" because the camera would be focused on the actors at all times, so they had to always be reacting and "always be funny". During the first season when ratings were poor Paramount and NBC asked that the show use videotape to save money, but a poor test taping ended the experiment and Cheers continued to use film.
Due to a decision by Glen and Les Charles, the cold open was often not connected to the rest of the episode, with the lowest-ranked writers assigned to create the jokes for them. Some cold opens were taken from episodes that ran too long.
The first year of the show took place entirely within the confines of the bar, the first location outside the bar being Diane's apartment. When the series became a hit, the characters started venturing further afield, first to other sets and eventually to an occasional exterior location. The exterior location shots of the bar were of the Bull & Finch Pub, located directly north of the Boston Public Garden. The pub has become a tourist attraction because of its association with the series, and draws nearly one million visitors annually. It has since been renamed Cheers Beacon Hill; its interior is different from the TV bar. The pub itself is at 84 Beacon Street (on the corner of Brimmer Street). In August 2001, there was a replica made of the bar in Faneuil Hall to capitalize on the popularity of the show.
After the show ended, the 1,000 square foot bar set from Cheers was offered to the Smithsonian, which turned it down because it was too large. It was displayed for a short time at the defunct Hollywood Entertainment Museum, but later returned to storage, where it remained for many years. In 2014, CBS donated the set to the Museum of Television after a years-long campaign by James Burrows and his office on behalf of the museum's founder, James Comisar. At the time of the donation, Comisar initiated a planned $100,000 restoration of the set using former conservators from the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, although a site for the 10,000 item collection of the Museum had not been decided upon.
Before "Where Everybody Knows Your Name", written by Gary Portnoy and Judy Hart Angelo, became the show's theme song, Cheers' producers rejected two of Portnoy's and Hart Angelo's songs. The songwriters had collaborated to provide music for Preppies, an unsuccessful Broadway musical. When told they could not appropriate "People Like Us", Preppies' opening song, the pair wrote another song "My Kind of People", which resembled "People Like Us" and intended to satirize "the lifestyle of old decadent old-money WASPs," but, to meet producers' demands, they rewrote the lyrics to be about "likeable losers" in a Boston bar. The show's producers rejected this song, as well. After they read the script of the series pilot, they created another song "Another Day". When Portnoy and Hart Angelo heard that NBC had commissioned thirteen episodes, they created an official theme song "Where Everybody Knows Your Name" and rewrote the lyrics. On syndicated airings of Cheers, the theme song was shortened to make room for additional commercials.
Cheers was critically acclaimed in its first season, though it landed a disappointing 74th out of 77 shows in that year's ratings. This critical support, the early success at the Primetime Emmy Awards, and the support of the president of NBC's entertainment division Brandon Tartikoff, are thought to be the main reasons for the show's survival and eventual success. Tartikoff stated in 1983 that Cheers was a sophisticated adult comedy and that NBC executives "never for a second doubted" that the show would be renewed. Writer Levine believes that the most important reason was that the network recognized that it did not have other hit shows to help promote Cheers; as he later wrote, "[NBC] had nothing else better to replace it with."
In 2013, GQ magazine held an online competition to find the best TV comedy. Cheers was voted the greatest comedy show of all time. In 2017, James Charisma of Paste magazine ranked the show's opening sequence No. 5 on a list of The 75 Best TV Title Sequences of All Time.
Ratings improved for the summer reruns after the first season. The cast went on various talk shows to try to further promote the series after its first season. By the second season Cheers was competitive with CBS's top-rated show Simon & Simon. With the growing popularity of Family Ties, which ran in the slot ahead of Cheers from January 1984 until Family Ties was moved to Sundays in 1987, and the placement of The Cosby Show in front of both at the start of their third season (1984), the line-up became a runaway ratings success that NBC eventually dubbed "Must See Thursday". The next season, Cheers ratings increased dramatically after Woody Boyd became a regular character as well. The fifth season earned the series the highest rating for the year that it would ever achieve. Although ratings mostly declined each year after that, the show retained a competitive advantage and rose to rank number one for the year for its first and only time in the ninth season. Although ratings and ranking both lost ground in the last two seasons, it still performed well, as it was the only show on NBC during those seasons to be in the top 10. By the end of its final season, the show had a run of eight consecutive seasons in the top ten of the Nielsen ratings; seven of them were in the top five.
NBC dedicated a whole night to the final episode of Cheers, following the one-hour season finale of Seinfeld (which was its lead-in). The show began with a "pregame" show hosted by Bob Costas, followed by the final 98-minute episode itself. NBC affiliates then aired tributes to Cheers during their local newscasts, and the night concluded with a special Tonight Show broadcast live from the Bull & Finch Pub. Although the episode fell short of its hyped ratings predictions to become the most-watched television episode, it was the most watched show that year, bringing in 93 million viewers (64 percent of all viewers that night), almost 40% of the US population at the time, and ranked 11th all time in entertainment programming. The 1993 final broadcast of Cheers also emerged as the highest rated broadcast of NBC to date, as well as the most watched single episode from any television series throughout the decade 1990s on U.S. television.[c]
The episode originally aired in the usual Cheers spot of Thursday night, and was then rebroadcast on Sunday. While the original broadcast did not outperform the M*A*S*H finale, the combined non-repeating audiences for the Thursday and Sunday showings did. Television had greatly changed between the two finales, leaving Cheers with a broader array of competition for ratings.
- Season 1 Episodes 1–12: Thursday at 9:00 pm
- Season 1 Episode 13 – Season 2 Episode 10: Thursday at 9:30 pm
- Season 2 Episode 11 – Season 11 Episode 28: Thursday at 9:00 pm
Although not the first sitcom to do it, Cheers employed the use of end-of-season cliffhangers and, starting with the third season, the show's storylines became more serialized. The show's success helped make such multi-episode story arcs popular on sitcoms, which Les Charles regrets.
[W]e may have been partly responsible for what's going on now, where if you miss the first episode or two, you are lost. You have to wait until you can get the whole thing on DVD and catch up with it. If that blood is on our hands, I feel kind of badly about it. It can be very frustrating."
Cheers began with a limited five-character ensemble consisting of Ted Danson, Shelley Long, Rhea Perlman, Nicholas Colasanto and George Wendt. By the time season 10 began, the show had eight front characters in its roster. Cheers was also able to gradually phase in characters such as Cliff, Frasier, Lilith, Rebecca, and Woody.
Awards and honors
Over its eleven-season run, the Cheers cast and crew earned many awards. The show garnered a record 111 Primetime Emmy Award nominations, with a total of 28 wins. In addition, Cheers earned 31 Golden Globe nominations, with a total of six wins. Danson, Long, Alley, Perlman, Wendt, Ratzenberger, Harrelson, Grammer, Neuwirth, and Colasanto all received Emmy nominations for their roles. Cheers won the Golden Globe Award for "Best TV-Series – Comedy/Musical" in 1991 and the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Comedy Series in 1983, 1984, 1989, and 1991. The series was presented with the "Legend Award" at the 2006 TV Land Awards, with many of the surviving cast members attending the event.
The following are awards that have been earned by the Cheers cast and crew over its 11-season run:
|Kirstie Alley||Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series||1991||Best Performance by an Actress in a TV-Series – Comedy/Musical||1991|
|Ted Danson||Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series||1990
|Best Performance by an Actor in a TV-Series – Comedy/Musical||1990 |
|Woody Harrelson||Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series||1989||N/A|
|Shelley Long||Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series||1983||Best Performance by an Actress in a TV-Series – Comedy/Musical||1985|
|N/A||Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role in a Series, Mini-Series, or Motion Picture Made for TV||1983|
|Bebe Neuwirth||Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series||1990
|Rhea Perlman||Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series||1984 |
|John Cleese||Outstanding Guest Actor in a Comedy Series||1987|
|Production Awards||Outstanding Directing in a Comedy Series||1983 |
|Outstanding Writing in a Comedy Series||1983 1984|
|Outstanding Individual Achievement in Graphic Design and Title Sequences||1983|
|Outstanding Film Editing for a Series||1984|
|Outstanding Editing for a Series – Multi-Camera Production||1988 |
|Outstanding Live and Tape Sound Mixing and Sound Effects for a Series||1985|
|Outstanding Sound Mixing for a Comedy Series or Special||1986 |
Cheers grew in popularity as it aired on American television and entered off-network syndication in 1987, initially distributed by Paramount Domestic Television. When the show went off the air in 1993, Cheers was syndicated in 38 countries, with 179 American television markets and 83 million viewers. When the quality of some earlier footage of Cheers began to deteriorate, it underwent a careful restoration in 2001. The series aired on Nick at Nite from 2001 to 2004 and on TV Land from 2004 to 2008, with Nick at Nite airing week-long Cheers "Everybody Knows Your Name" marathons. The show was removed from the lineup in 2004. The series began airing on Hallmark Channel in the United States in October 2008, and WGN America in 2009. In January 2011, Reelz Channel began airing the series in hour-long blocks. MeTV began airing Cheers weeknights in 2010. USA Network has aired the series on Sunday early mornings and weekday mornings to allow it to show extended-length films of 2+1⁄2 hours and maintain symmetric schedules.
Cheers began airing on Eleven (a digital channel of Network Ten) in Australia on January 11, 2011. NCRV in the Netherlands aired all 275 episodes in sequence, once per night, repeating the series a total of three times.
Cheers was first screened in the UK on Channel 4, and was one of the then-fledgling network's first imports. As of 2012, Cheers has been repeated on UK satellite channel CBS Drama. It has also been shown on the UK free-to-air channel ITV4, with two episodes every weeknight. On March 16, 2015, the series began airing on UK subscription channel Gold on weekdays at 9:30 a.m. and 10:00 a.m. Cheers aired again daily in 2019 on Channel 4.
A high-definition transfer of Cheers began running on HDNet in the United States in August 2010. The program was originally shot on film (but transferred to and edited on videotape) and broadcast in a 4:3 aspect ratio, but the newly transferred versions are in 16:9.[original research?] However, in the United Kingdom, the HD repeats on ITV4 HD, and later Channel 4 HD, are shown in the original 4:3 aspect ratio.
Paramount Home Entertainment and (from 2006 onward) CBS Home Entertainment have released all 11 seasons of Cheers on DVD in Region 1, Region 2 and Region 4. In the US, some episodes from the final three seasons appear on the DVDs with music substitutions. For example, in the episode "Grease", "I Fought the Law" was replaced even though its removal affects the comedic value of the scenes in which it was originally heard. The finale episode (73 minutes long without commercials) is presented in its three-part syndicated cut.
On March 6, 2012, CBS released Fan Favorites: The Best of Cheers. Based on the 2012 Facebook poll, the selected episodes are:
- "Give Me a Ring Sometime" (season 1, episode 1)
- "Diane's Perfect Date" (season 1, episode 17)
- "Pick a Con, Any Con" (season 1, episode 19)
- "Abnormal Psychology" (season 5, episode 4)
- "Thanksgiving Orphans" (season 5, episode 9)
- "Dinner at Eight-ish" (season 5, episode 20)
- "Simon Says" (season 5, episode 21)
- "An Old Fashioned Wedding", parts one and two (season 10, episodes 25)
On May 5, 2015, CBS DVD released Cheers – The Complete Series on DVD in Region 1.
Digital media distribution
The series lent itself naturally to the development of Cheers bar-related merchandise, culminating in the development of a chain of Cheers themed pubs. Paramount's licensing group, led by Tom McGrath, developed the Cheers pub concept initially in partnership with Host Marriott, which placed Cheers themed pubs in over 15 airports around the world. Boston boasts the original Cheers bar, historically known to Boston insiders as the Bull and Finch, as well as a Cheers restaurant in the Faneuil Hall marketplace, and Sam's Place, a spin-off sports bar concept also located at Faneuil Hall. In 1997 Europe's first officially licensed Cheers bar opened in London's Regent's Street W1. Like Cheers Faneuil Hall, Cheers London is a replica of the set. The gala opening was attended by James Burrows and cast members George Wendt and John Ratzenberger. The Cheers bar in London closed on December 31, 2008. The actual bar set had been on display at the Hollywood Entertainment Museum until the museum's closing in early 2006.
Spin-offs, crossovers, and cultural references
Some of the actors and actresses from Cheers brought their characters into other television shows, either in a guest appearance or in a new spin-off series. The most successful Cheers spin-off was Frasier, which featured Frasier Crane following his relocation back to Seattle, Washington. Sam, Diane, and Woody all individually appeared in Frasier episodes, with Lilith appearing as a guest on multiple episodes. In the season nine episode "Cheerful Goodbyes", Frasier returns to Boston and meets up with the Cheers gang, later attending Cliff's retirement party.
Although Frasier was more successful, The Tortellis was the first series to spin off from Cheers, premiering in 1987. The show featured Carla's ex-husband Nick Tortelli and his wife Loretta, but was canceled after 13 episodes and drew protests for its stereotypical depictions of Italian Americans.
In addition to direct spin-offs, several Cheers characters had guest appearance crossovers with other shows, including Wings and St. Elsewhere (episode "Cheers"). Cheers has also been spoofed or referenced in other media, including The Simpsons (spoofing the title sequence and theme song in "Flaming Moe's"; actually visiting the place with vocal role reprises of the majority of the principal cast in "Fear of Flying"), Scrubs (episode "My Life in Four Cameras"), Adventure Time (episode "Simon & Marcy"), the 2012 comedy film Ted, and the 2011 video game Dragon Age II.
In the Cheers episode "Woody For Hire, Norman Meets the Apes" Woody shows and tells everyone how he was an extra on Boston based drama Spenser: For Hire. In the season 4 episode of Seinfeld titled "The Pitch", Jerry and George are presenting their idea for a sitcom to NBC executives. George is unhappy with their offer and feels that he deserves the same salary as Ted Danson which he claims was $800,000 per episode, being that Cheers is also an NBC show. Danson's reported salary was actually $250,000 per episode. At this point Cheers was in its 10th season and Ted Danson had won an Emmy and a Golden Globe the year before.
In the seventh episode of the second season of How I Met Your Mother, a coffee shop barista mistakenly hears Barney's name as "Swarley" and writes it on his cup. This leads to a running gag in which everyone mercilessly refers to Barney as "Swarley" despite his protests, which culminates in everyone in McClaren's bar shouting "Swarley" when he enters and playing the Cheers theme song. The credits are then shown in the "Cheers" style.
In the 2015 video game Fallout 4, set in Boston, there is a bar named 'Prost Bar' near Boston Common which, when entered, is an almost exact replica of the bar used in the series. It includes two dead bodies sat at the end of the bar, with one of them wearing a mail carrier's uniform, a direct reference to regular barfly Cliff Clavin.
The eighth anniversary special of Late Night with David Letterman, airing in 1990, began with a scene at Cheers, in which the bar's TV gets stuck on NBC, and all of the bar patrons decide to go home instead of staying to watch David Letterman. The scene was re-used to open Letterman's final episode in 1993. A similar scene aired in the Super Bowl XVII Pregame Show on NBC, in which the characters briefly discuss the upcoming game.
In the season 2 finale of the NBC sitcom The Good Place, Ted Danson's character Michael appears as a bartender while wearing a blue plaid button-down, in a clear homage to Danson's character in Cheers.
In 2019 members of the Cheers cast, Rhea Perlman, George Wendt, John Ratzenberger and Kirstie Alley reprised their characters in an episode of The Goldbergs where they play customers of Geoff's short-lived food delivery business.
In September 2011, Plural Entertainment debuted a remake of the series on Spanish television, also titled Cheers. Set at an Irish pub, it starred Alberto San Juan as Nicolás "Nico" Arnedo, the equivalent of Sam Malone in the original series. It also used the original theme song, rerecorded in Spanish by Dani Martín, under the title "Dónde la gente se divierte."
In December 2012, The Irish Film and Television Network announced that casting was underway on an Irish-language version of Cheers produced by production company Sideline. The new show, tentatively titled Teach Seán, would air on Ireland's TG4 and features a main character who, like Sam Malone, is a bar owner, a retired athlete and a recovering alcoholic. However, because of being set in Ireland, the barman is a "former hurling star" rather than an ex-baseball player. As of August 2019, the Irish remake has not occurred.
Cheers: Live on Stage
On September 9, 2016, a stage adaptation called Cheers: Live on Stage opened at the Shubert Theatre in Boston. Comprising pieces of the original TV series, the play was adapted by Erik Forrest Jackson. It was produced by Troika/Stageworks. The director was Matt Lenz. It starred Grayson Powell as Sam Malone, Jillian Louis as Diane Chambers, Barry Pearl as Ernie 'Coach' Pantusso, Sarah Sirotta as Carla Tortelli, Paul Vogt as Norm Peterson, and Buzz Roddy as Cliff Clavin. The production was scheduled to tour through 2017, but was cancelled in 2016.
- Tied with Goodnight, Beantown.
- Tied with The CBS Sunday Movie.
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