Tidbits of…”Cheers” (& an Important Life Lesson)

Welcome to the new Tidbit series, “Tidbits of…” where we dig into the lesser-known behind-the-scenes trivia of your favorite movies and television shows. Being that I finally finished Cheers in its entirety after starting it two-and-a-half years ago, I figured that would be a good place to start.

Cheers, the iconic sitcom where everybody knows your name, debuted in 1982 and landed dead last in ratings from its premiere episode. Network execs believed enough in the show to keep it going, and the series eventually climbed the ratings ladder and had a healthy 11-year run (where ratings for season 9 were at number one).

Since the show had 11 seasons, it seems fitting to share 11 fun tidbits about the series.

  • Ted Danson attended bartending school as a way to research his role of Sam Malone. However, when he realized the camera wasn’t focusing much on the fancy cocktail concoctions he would make, he threw in his infamous towel and switched to easier tasks (like constantly refilling Norm’s mug with beer).
  • Much like Phoebe and Chandler on Friends, Norm and Cliff weren’t intended to be regular characters. In fact, Cliff wasn’t even intended to be a character, period. However, when John Ratzenberger auditioned for the role of Norm, he asked creators to consider developing a “know it all” character and quickly improvised his vision for that character. This turned into Cliff Claven, which Ratzenberger played for 11 years.
  • From the very beginning, writers and producers made it a point to never show anyone leaving the bar drunk to drive home. The series would come to be recognized and cited by anti-drinking and driving groups for depicting and helping promote designated driver programs. In fact, viewers can even see a designated driving poster near the stairs that lead up to Melville’s.
  • According to GQ, co-creator Les Charles said that Norm was based on a real person. “I worked at a bar after college, and we had a guy who came in every night. He wasn’t named Norm, [but he] was always going to have just one beer, and then he’d say, ‘Maybe I’ll just have one more.’ We had to help him out of the bar every night. His wife would call, and he’d always say, ‘Tell her I’m not here.’”
  • Nick Colastano, who played the beloved Coach, was sick when he was cast and passed away about three years into the series. Ted Danson told GQ, “When Nick had heart disease, he was getting less and less oxygen. There wasn’t a surface on that set that didn’t have his lines written down. There was one episode where a friend of Coach dies, and he says, “It’s as if he’s still with us now.” Nick had written the line on the wood slats by the stairs the actors would use to enter the studio. Nicky dies, and the next year, we’re all devastated, and the first night we come down the stairs, right there was his line: “It’s as if he were with us now.” And so every episode, we’d go by it and pat it as we’d come down to be introduced to the audience. And then, one year, they repainted the sets and they painted over the line. People almost quit. Seriously. They were so emotionally infuriated that that had been taken away from them.”
  • In the first few seasons of the series, viewers would complain to the network that the laugh track was too loud. However, the show was filmed in front of a live studio audience and had no laugh track. Eventually, each episode would start with a different cast member saying, “Cheers is filmed before a live studio audience”. Even with that in place, people still complained about the laugh track.
  • During the run of the series, Ted Danson starred in 3 Men and a Baby (and the sequel, 3 Men and a Little Lady) and Kirstie Alley starred in It Takes Two. Both films also starred Steve Guttenburg. Recently, Guttenburg appeared as a guest at Wizard World Chicago, which also featured George Wendt.
  • According to IMDB, Jay Thomas was responsible for the death of his character, Eddie LeBec. When character actor Jay Thomas wasn’t portraying Carla’s Bruin-turned-ice-show-performer husband Eddie LeBec, he was the host of a popular morning radio show in Los Angeles. Which is exactly what led to his character being killed off rather prematurely by way of Zamboni. “A few episodes of recurring bliss and then one day on Jay’s radio show, a caller asked him what it was like to be on Cheers,” recounted writer Ken Levine. “He said something to the effect of, ‘It’s brutal. I have to kiss Rhea Perlman.’ Well, guess who happened to be listening … Jay Thomas was never seen on Cheers again.” It’s rumored that Perlman had creators write him off the show.
  • Aside from being a ladies’ man, Sam’s trademark is his obsession with his hair. It’s revealed towards the end of the series that Sam wears a hairpiece. Sam had been wearing the piece all along, as Ted Danson had a bald spot that required the piece.
  • Despite the fact that Kirstie Alley (Shelley Long’s replacement as leading lady) appeared on more seasons of the show than Long, Long’s character is deemed more iconic due to the “will they, won’t they?” nature of her story line with Sam.
  • If you go on a tour of Paramount Studios in California, it’s likely that you’ll be shown a curb where ‘Ted Danson’ and ‘Woody Harrelson (Naked)’ are written in what was once wet cement. Whether or not this is true, tour guides will tell the story that Danson and Harrelson were once drunk and lost a bet where they had to strip down naked and streak around the lot. During their streak, they stumbled upon the wet cement and signed their names. (I’ve seen the cement in person and heard the story myself. See the inscriptions below, courtesy of Seeing Stars).

While the series is best known for its endless comedic moments, there was a particular scene that I know will stay with me forever. Towards the end of the series, Sam begins examining the purpose of his life and is ruminating on the fact that he’s alone and that he let the love of his life get away. Norm, in his drunken infinite wisdom, tells Sam that he in fact does have a true love. At first, Sam questions what he means, but then takes a look around the bar and says, “I’m the luckiest son of a bitch in the world”.

It seems that most series and films force a “happy ending” of two individuals winding up together and completing one another. Cheers took an alternate route by pointing to the fact that one’s life’s work can be their true love. The life that they’ve created and worked so hard for can be the thing that completes them – and that’s perfectly okay.

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