1 9 8 2 – 1 9 9 3 (USA)
267 x 30 minute episodes
2 x 60 minute episodes
1 x 90 minute episode
Set in the Boston bar of the title – Established in 1889 (although the sign outside says 1895, which was a date made up by waitress Carla for numerology purposes) – and located at 112½ Beacon Street – Cheers was one of the most popular comedies of the 80s – although the show finished a lowly 77th in the ratings after its first season.
Premiering on 30 September 1982, the show performed poorly against Simon & Simon and Too Close for Comfort in its 9 PM Thursday time slot. Both Paramount and NBC believed in the show, however, and their tenacity certainly paid off.
The series followed the lives of recovered alcoholic ex-baseball player (relief pitcher for the Red Sox) Sam Malone (Ted Danson) and the gang at his Cheers bar:
Other core characters included Ernie “Coach” Pantusso; promiscuous and acid-tongued waitress Carla Tortelli (played by Rhea Perlman, real-life wife of Danny DeVito); Barfly Norm Peterson (classic quote – “women, you can’t live with ’em . . . pass the beer nuts”); Prissy English literature graduate Diane Chambers (played by the delectable Shelley Long) and anally retentive mailman Cliff Clavin.
The first season storylines were dominated by Sam and Diane’s love/hate relationship. She eventually left him to marry the pompous psychiatrist, Frasier Crane (Kelsey Grammer).
Unable to forget Sam, she jilted Frasier and returned to waiting on tables at Cheers.
When Coach passed away (as did Nicholas Colasanto in real life) he was replaced by Woody Boyd, a simple farm boy from Hanover, Indiana (and inventor of a game called “Hide Bob’s Pants”).
Around the same time, the dejected Frasier took to frequenting a bar stool and married a night creature called Lilith, also a psychiatrist and the famous author of a best-selling book called Good Gils/Bad Boys.
In 1987 Diane left the bar to write a novel and a forlorn Sam sold the bar and set off to sail the world.
Unfortunately, his yacht sunk and he dragged himself back to Cheers where he had to beg for a job from the bar’s new business manager, Rebecca Howe (Kirstie Alley – entertaining but not a patch on Shelley Long’s Diane).
Meanwhile, Carla – full name, Carla Maria Victoria Angelina Teresa Apollonia Lozupone Tortelli – married Hockey player, Eddie LeBec (who was subsequently killed in an accident at the ice rink). Sam eventually regained ownership of his beloved bar, finally making the supercilious Rebecca his underling.
Although Cheers was a veritable gold mine of one-line gags, it was the stable of characters who provided the majority of laughs. One of the most notable guest appearances came from John Cleese as a deranged British marriage guidance counsellor.
Cheers ended after 11 seasons, but only because Ted Danson called it quits. By the time the show ended, Frasier and Lilith had a kid, Woody was a City Councilman, and Sam and Diane nearly got married.
The final episode was screened in the US in May 1993 and attracted a viewing audience of 150 million, making it the most-watched show in TV history. Cheers also holds the record for most Emmy nominations, with a whopping 117.
The last line of the final episode was “Sorry, we’re closed.”
Kirstie Alley died in December 2022 from recently diagnosed cancer. She was 71.
The Cheers bar was loosely based on a real tavern in Boston, the Bull and Finch. Although the bar was fully functional (and many NBC after-hours parties were held on the set), the suds served on camera weren’t exactly a tasty microbrew.
In fact, it was “near beer,” with an alcohol content of 3.2 per cent, and a pinch of salt added so that the mug kept a foamy head under the hot studio lights. It took 30 to 40 extras to fill up the pub set as “customers”. Any less, and the bar looked too empty.
Look closely, and you’ll notice a “seam” down the centre of the bar. It was built on a hinge so that the right half could swing out, allowing the wall to slide open to reveal Sam’s office.
John Ratzenberger (Cliff) originally auditioned for the role of barfly Norm Peterson. When he lost that role to George Wendt, Ratzenberger asked the producers if they had written a “resident know-it-all” into their show. All bars have one, he pointed out. Thanks to his persistence, the character of mail carrier Cliff Clavin became a regular patron.
Jay Thomas was the morning DJ at LA’s KPWR-Power 106 when he auditioned for (and won) the role of hockey star Eddie LeBec.
He was brought back for several episodes in order to give Carla a story arc, and Eddie and Carla eventually wed on the show.
Eddie might have made it to the series finale had Jay Thomas not taken a call on the air one morning asking him “What’s it like working on Cheers?” Thomas made several unflattering remarks about Rhea Perlman and having to kiss her . . . and Rhea happened to be listening to his show. Not surprisingly, a few weeks later Eddie LeBec was killed in a bizarre Zamboni accident.
Hilary “Norm” Peterson
Carla Tortelli LeBec
Woodrow Tiberius Boyd (‘Woody’)