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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|
|Family||Derek Malone (brother)|
|Significant other(s)||Diane Chambers (ex-fiancée)|
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 1982–87 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. Sometimes, when desperate, Sam and Rebecca attempt a relationship many times without avail.
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.
When the series debuted in 1982, Sam has been the bartender and owner of Cheers for five years.[e 1][e 2] Chronologically within the series, Sam Malone with Irish Catholic background dropped out of high school in his senior year to play professional baseball.[e 3] He became a relief pitcher for the Boston Red Sox (wearing number 16), where he met Coach Ernie Pantusso (Nicholas Colasanto). Sam's baseball career declined when he became an alcoholic. Over time, Sam's role as a bartender turns him into the "resident ringleader for an assortment of poor souls and wanna-be's".
Throughout his life, Sam has had casual flings with many beautiful flirty women, usually of average intelligence or below. However, in "Sam's Woman" (1982), it is discovered that Sam was married to his more sophisticated ex-wife, Debra (Donna McKechnie). (In some syndicated prints, Sam's past marriage is omitted.) Also, he has on-and-off relationship with "a bright, attractive graduate student", Diane Chambers (Shelley Long). Before his relationship with her has yet to be consummated, or during his off-relationships with Diane, Sam has many affairs. In "Now Pitching, Sam Malone" (season 1, 1983), Sam sleeps with his publicity agent Lana (Barbara Babcock) to appear in television commercials, especially one beer commercial. He regrets it and breaks up with Lana, costing him his career. In "Sam Turns the Other Cheek" (season 3, 1984), where he encounters a jealous ex-husband, whose wife had cheated on him with Sam until Sam realized she was married, Sam says he refrains himself from married wives, underage girls, and comatose women. In "Teacher's Pet" (season 3, 1985), Sam sleeps with his high school teacher (an unseen character) to pass a geography course, but he breaks off this relationship, has his exams re-examined, and is able to earn his high school diploma despite a bad grade in geography.
In the series premiere, "Give Me a Ring Sometime" (1982), Sam hires Diane, who was deserted by her fiancé Sumner (Michael McGuire) for his ex-wife, as a bar waitress. (Later in "Sumner's Return" (1983), Sumner's relationship with his ex-wife is revealed to have ended some time ago.) Throughout the first season, Sam and Diane develop their attraction toward each other by trading each other flirts and innuendos without consummating the relationship. In the two-part first season finale, "Showdown" (1983), Diane briefly dates Sam's estranged successful brother, Derek (an unseen character voiced by actor George Ball), making Sam jealous. No longer able to suppress their feelings, Sam and Diane make a passionate embrace. Throughout the second season (1983–84), Sam and Diane's consummated relationship becomes a dysfunctional, endless cycle of breakups and restarts. After Sam and Diane end their on-and-off relationship in the second season finale "I'll Be Seeing You, Part 2" (1984), in the third season premiere "Rebound, Part One" (1984), Sam has relapsed into alcoholism and begins excessive womanizing, and Diane enters a psychiatric hospital where she meets Frasier Crane (Kelsey Grammer), eventually a long-running character who would have his own spin-off series. Diane finds out Sam's relapse from Coach and involves her now-boyfriend Frasier into helping him slowly regain his sobriety in the next episode, "Rebound, Part Two". At first Sam is reluctant to rehire Diane, but then he relents when Coach convinces Sam that she might end up in a mental hospital again. In "Cheerio, Cheers" (1985), Diane departs to Europe with Frasier to be eloped, devastating Sam.
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 fourth season (1985–86), Sam and Diane put their feelings for each other aside and remain friendly, although they try to rekindle their relationship numerous times without success. In "Dark Imaginings" (1986), Sam develops a hernia when he tries to impress a young woman and ends up in a hospital, where it is operated. In the fourth season finale, "Strange Bedfellows" (1986), Sam dates an intelligent, attractive politician Janet Eldridge (Kate Mulgrew), although Janet breaks up with Sam because she realizes that he may be 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 fifth season (1986–87), 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.
In the sixth season premiere, "Home Is the Sailor" (1987), Sam sells Cheers to the Lillian Corporation six months before the episode, travels with his yacht, and later returns to the bar to work under employment of a "voluptuously beautiful" new manager, Rebecca Howe. Within the period, Sam constantly flirts with and attempts to seduce Rebecca, but she rejects all of his advances. In the eighth season 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 ninth season premiere, "Love Is a Really, Really, Perfectly Okay Thing" (1990), Sam devastatingly tells Rebecca that their lovemaking lacked passion. In the tenth season (1991–92), they try to conceive a child, but by then they have decided to stay friends.
In an episode of the sixth season, "I on Sports" (1987), he substitutes for his friend, Dave Richards (Fred Dryer), as a televised sports news anchor and commentator. He delivers sports news well but poorly executes his commentaries. His attempts to save his career as a commentator, like rapping and ventriloquism, fail, presumably putting an end to his broadcasting career.
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.
In "The Guy Can't Help It" (1993), Sam asks Rebecca and then Carla to marry him, but they both reject his proposals for his past sexual behavior, especially at his 40s. Sam tries to deny his sexual addiction, but then he comes into terms with it and starts participating in Dr. Robert Sutton's (Gilbert Lewis) group meetings, advised by Frasier. In the series finale, "One for the Road" (1993), 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 asks her for another shot of romance. 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 the 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]
In a Frasier episode, "The Show Where Sam Shows Up" (1995), 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. Unbeknownst to Sam, she slept with Frasier, whom she does not reveal to Sam.
Conception, writing, and casting
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
Sam is "athletically handsome" and a womanizer who casually dates and has sex with various women—including "women who want to have fun". However, his relationships invariably fail. Les Charles said that Sam was a "straight man" to Diane; after Shelley Long's departure, he became more "carefree" and a "goof-off."
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 42nd Primetime Emmy Awards (1990). In the episode, "It's Lonely on the Top" (1993), Sam Malone reveals his baldness to Carla (Rhea Perlman).
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
Characterization and analysis
Sam's on-screen relationships with Diane and Rebecca were inspired by works about "mixture of romance and antagonism of two people, [portrayed by Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn], in a competitive situation".
Sam is subject to and satire of masculinity. He is described as "a sleazy, promiscuous, aggressive, exhibitionistic narcissist", one of the "new macho [heroes]" of the 1980s pop culture, "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 throughout the series "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, called Sam "a dog, a feminist caricature of men", and a cultural representation of the "lower-class conservative," in contrast to portrayer Ted Danson, who identifies himself as liberal. Glen Charles, a creator of Cheers, considered 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".
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".
Throughout most of Cheers, Sam is "allowed to be happy" and "[to live] a rich life". Towards the end of the series' run, however, 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 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".
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.
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."
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.
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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