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Cheers (NBC 1982-1993, Ted Danson, Kirstie Alley)

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The 50’s brought sitcoms centered on the family. In the 60’s, TV comedy moved into the workplace. The 70’s had a little bit of both. And then came the 80’s, bringing the trend to its inevitable end—people trying to drink their way into forgetting both work and family…

Welcome to a bar called Cheers, a Boston hangout where everybody knows your name, is always glad you came, and never nags you about taking out the garbage. Cheers wasn’t just a loafer’s paradise; it was a sitcom lover’s dream, and it became one of the most popular TV comedies of all time.

The title bar was run by ex-Boston Red Sox pitcher Sam ‘Mayday’ Malone, a former alcoholic who felt confident enough in his total recovery to manage a bar. Sam’s former Red Sox coach Ernie ‘Coach’ Pantusso worked behind the bar, and spitfire waitress Carla Tortelli carted the drinks out to regulars like accountant Norm Peterson and mailman Cliff Clavin. In the debut episode, the staff got a new member in would-be novelist Diane Chambers, who took a waitressing job after her fiancé abandoned her.

Nearly all of the show’s scenes took place in the confines of the bar, but the comedy was never cramped. The verbal gags flew fast and thick: Sam was a notorious (and quite successful) womanizer, Diane was an intellectual snob, Carla was a single mother of six and Diane’s earthy arch-nemesis, Coach was a loveable dimwit with plenty of stories to tell, Cliff had an encyclopedic knowledge of useless facts, and the beerhound Norm was so popular that the other patrons shouted his name every time he came in the door. The sexual tension between Sam and Diane was an ongoing story, and by the start of the second season the two were an item.

Actually, Cheers was lucky even to get a second season. One of the most famous slow starters in TV history, Cheers actually ranked briefly at the bottom of all programs in its first season, but NBC’s head office decided to stick with the show. The gamble paid off in earnest in the fall of 1984, when a Cheers slot sandwiched between The Cosby Show, Family Ties, Night Court and Hill Street Blues helped turn Thursday nights into the original NBC Must-See TV lineup. By the mid-80’s, Cheers was a ratings powerhouse and a perennial Emmy favorite (two-time Outstanding Comedy Series winner, and no less than six different actors won lead or supporting acting statues).

Around the time Cheers started climbing the ratings charts, Diane dumped Sam in favor of stuffy, neurotic psychiatrist Dr. Frasier Crane. The two nearly married, but Diane jilted the doctor, who settled for becoming another regular Cheers barfly. Not long thereafter, actor Nicholas Colasanto (‘Coach’) passed away, a fact that the show dealt with in a heartfelt farewell. To fill the dopey void, in came new bartender Woody Boyd, a naïve Indiana boy with a good heart.

Sam and Diane had an on-and-off romance through the end of the 1986-87 season, and the two headed for the altar in the season finale. But after finding out that a publisher was interested in her long-forgotten manuscript, Diane jilted Sam, promising she’d be back. Sam knew better (and the audience knew that actress Shelley Long had decided to leave the show), and rather than hang around moping, he sold his interest in Cheers, bought a sailboat, and set off to sail around the world.

The voyage came to an abrupt end when Sam’s boat sank, and the former Cheers owner/manager returned to his bar as a bartender. The new owner was actually a corporation, and power-hungry Rebecca Howe was the new manager. Sam, being Sam, tried to score with his new boss, but Rebecca was more interested in her boss, Evan Drake.

In the meantime, Carla married once again—this time to hockey player Eddie LeBec—and became the mother of twins (raising the total of her brood to eight). Frasier found love of his own—of a sort—in frosty psychiatrist Dr. Lillith Sternin, and the two were also married in the 1987-88 season.

With Rebecca in the office, the sexual tension was just as high as during the Diane years, and Cheers became an even bigger hit, the #1 show of the 1990-91 season. Sam eventually bought back Cheers, Rebecca (now a barmaid) moved on to new mark Robin Colcord (a corporate raider), Carla once more became a single mother when Eddie was run over by a Zamboni, Frasier and Lillith became parents, then divorced, and Woody married long-time girlfriend Kelly Gaines.

The changes kept the characters growing, but the bar dynamic hadn’t changed much since 1982. Sam was still a lecher, Carla still spat fire, Norm and Cliff still spouted one-liners from their permanent barstools, Woody filled the dumb guy role, and Rebecca brought a spirit of shallow ditziness to the proceedings.

Cheers was a consistent ratings smash, but lead actor Ted Danson (Sam) decided to leave the show after the 1992-93 season. Rather than continue on without him, the show’s producers decided to send Cheers out in style, leading up to an extravagant finale in the summer of ’93. Diane returned for one more near-marriage, the gang got together to smoke a few stogies, and Sam shut the lights out and closed the door of his beloved bar, delivering the exit line, ‘We’re closed.’

The series finale was the top-ranked show of the year, and Cheers has remained an evergreen favorite in syndication, serving up frothy laughs for years to come.

‘Makin’ your way in the world today takes everything you’ve got,
Takin’ a break from all your worries sure would help a lot,
Wouldn’t you like to get away…?’

‘You wanna go where people know, people are all the same,
You wanna go where everybody knows your name…’

production details
USA | NBC – Charles – Barrow – Charles | 271 episodes mostly x25 minutes | Broadcast 30 September 1982 – 20 May 1993

Creators: Glen Charles, Les Charles, James Burrows
Theme Music: Judy Hart Angelo, Gary Portnoy
Producers: Glen Charles, James Burrows, Les Charles, Ken Levine, David Isaacs, Tim Berry

cast
Ted Danson as Sam Malone
Kirstie Alley as Rebecca Howe
Rhea Perlman as Carla Tortelli
John Ratzenberger as Cliff Clavin
George Wendt as Norm Peterson
Kelsey Grammer as Frasier Crane
Woody Harrelson as Woody Boyd
Bebe Neuwirth as Lilith Sternin
Paul Willson as Paul Krapence

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