Friday, May 30, 2014

Classic TV: Cheers (1982)

It was the place "where everybody knows your name", according to the theme song. For 11 seasons (1982-93), Cheers, for the most part, was appointment television, one of the first links in the chain that would become NBC's Must-See TV Thursday block.

Set and partially filmed in Boston, Cheers' strength lay in its ensemble cast. The idea was to imagine a typical neighborhood bar whose clientele have become like unto a close knit extended family. Sam, the bartender (Ted Danson) was previously a pitcher for the Red Sox, who at the time were enjoying greater cable television exposure outside of Boston. Then, there's Cliff, the mailman (John Ratzenberger), who's also a bit of an annoying know-it-all who ended up one night appearing on Jeopardy!. Norm, an accountant by trade (George Wendt), seemed to be the most popular guy in the room. His wife, Vera, was discussed but never seen. In later seasons, Norm took up interior decorating as a side gig, probably to pay his overflowing bar tab.

The series began with Diane (Shelley Long) taking a waitress job at Cheers after she was jilted at the altar. The crux of the storylines in the early years was built around Sam's pursuit of Diane, but never quite reaching the finish line, if you will. Long left the series to pursue a movie career, and Diane was written out after jilting her latest beau, psychiatrist Frasier Crane (Kelsey Grammer, who'd joined the series in season 3). Frasier would, in turn, find true love and marry psychologist Lilith (Bebe Neuwirth), only to divorce at the end of the series, with Frasier heading west to Seattle and a solo series that lasted 11 years itself. The other barmaid, Carla (Rhea Perlman) was tart, often rude, but was softened in later years to the point where they teased pairing her with Sam after her 2nd husband, Eddie (Jay Thomas) passed away. Eddie, a hockey mascot, was killed off when he was trapped under the ice by a zamboni.

Then, there was Coach (Nicholas Colasanto), a former baseball coach who was the other bartender, and a good listener who solved customers' problems. Coach was written out after the 3rd season when Colasanto passed away from a heart attack. That cleared the way for dim-witted Woody (Woody Harrelson) to fill the void. To say that Woody wasn't the sharpest tool in the drawer would be an understatement. In season 6, Kirstie Alley joined the show as Rebecca, Sam's new boss, who at first was able to resist and turn back Sam's advances.

Cheers spawned not one, but two spin-offs. The first, The Tortellis, came about after Carla's 1st husband (Dan Hedaya) remarried, but his new bride (Jean Kasem) was actually more of a match for Woody in the IQ department. The Tortellis, however, didn't last very long, and seems to be swept under the rug in the CBS-Paramount vaults. As noted earlier, Frasier lasted 11 years of its own (1993-2004), with Dr. Crane adding a gig as a radio talk show host. Apparently, Paramount wasn't comfortable with Frasier concentrating solely on his practice, which would've drawn comparisons to The Bob Newhart Show from the 70's.

If memory serves, "Where Everybody Knows Your Name", co-written and sung by Gary Portnoy, actually enjoyed a significant amount of radio airplay during the early years. Where it finished on the Hot 100, I don't know.

In the following sample episode, obtained from Hulu, Diane has more than altruistic reasons for ramping up her relationship with Sam...........




Today, Ted Danson is giving drama a whirl, starring on CSI. George Wendt reprised a Saturday Night Live skit in a pair of ads for State Farm. John Ratzenberger popped up in a Radio Shack spot that aired during the Super Bowl. Could a reunion special be far off, even though most of the cast are busy these days? One never knows.

Rating: A-.

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