CHARLOTTE, N.C., January 10, 2018: With the NFL playoffs now in full swing and the latest super-hyped Super Bowl just weeks away, it seems appropriate to focus this week’s trivia column on America’s longtime favorite sports bar, Cheers.
Like so many popular television series, “Cheers” – named after the fictional bar where most of the action took place – took a few espisodes to catch on with the TV audience. The impetus for the show’s soon legendary popularity allegedly occurred when a Boston bar in the Beacon Hill neighborhood was identified as the locale and inspiration for the series. Although only exterior shots were ever filmed at that location, it nonetheless quickly became a tourist attraction. A legend was born.
Later, another site was added near Faneuil Hall that was actually called “Cheers” and designed as a replica of the bar on the television show.
Sam Malone, the show’s central character, was described as a former pitcher for the Red Sox. But Sam was originally supposed to be an ex-NFL defensive end. When Ted Danson was cast for the role however, the producers changed football to baseball because that sport better fit with Danson’s body type.
If you watch some of the early shows in the series, it is obvious that two of “Cheers'” most popular characters, Norm and Cliff, were not intended to be regulars. Early on Norm had only a single line. As he entered the bar, he shouted, “Beer!” Actually, Norm did have an actual first name on the show which was, believe it or not, Hillary.
Cliff Clavin, the show’s know-it-all mailman, evolved differently. Departing to audition for the new show, John Ratzenberger asked some of his office colleagues whether they encountered a fellow bar buddy at their favorite watering hole who was a walking encyclopedia of worthless knowledge. The answer was resoundingly affirmative. That confirmed Ratzenberger’s thoughts on the matter. He grew up in Connecticut, and gradually learned that every tavern in town had at least one guy who knew everything, or claimed to know it. Adopting that as his premise during the audition, he was cast as Cliff Clavin.
As “Cheers” evolved, many of Cliff’s random bits of trivia were ad libbed by Ratzenberger. The producers eventually gave him the green light to improvise odd-ball off-the-wall information during scenes where Clavin was supposed to pontificate. As Ratzenberger pointed out, the improv was not difficult because he knew when to stop. The art was in knowing when to shut up and let others respond.
Norm Peterson, on the other hand, was based upon a real person that co-creator Les Charles knew back in his college days. While working as a bartender, he encountered a regular patron who would stop in every night for “just one beer.” By the end of the evening, Charles and his fellow workers would have to carry the customer out. Also reflecting this real-life character in the show, if that patron’s wife called the bar to check in on him, the bar’s response was always to be, “Tell her I’m not here.”
Avid “Cheers” trivia buffs probably know that Bernadette Birkett, George Wendt’s (Norm’s) real-life wife, was the voice of Vera, that inquiring spouse. Ironically, although she is only credited with one on-camera appearance during the entire run of the show (Season Three), Birkett also played a love interest of Cliff in the script.
One signature feature of “Cheers” was the ongoing series of opening vignettes for each show. These frequently had little or nothing to do with each episode’s actual storyline. However, when the producers were in need of fresh material for these vignettes, they would frequently visit local pubs in Los Angeles (where the series was primarily filmed) to eavesdrop on actual conversations that served as their inspiration for later gags and one-liners.
Case in point: In the season premiere of “Cheers” a rousing argument arises concerning which motion picture was the sweatiest film ever made. The dialogue in the show was taken from an actual overheard barroom debate.
As “Cheers” grew in popularity one of its standard disclaimers arose from complaints by viewers that the show’s laugh track was too loud. The problem was, “Cheers” did not use a laugh track. The complaints, however, were eventually addressed by weekly announcements delivered by various cast members at the start of each program; namely, that “Cheers is filmed before a live studio audience.”
As portrayed by Ted Danson, Sam Malone is a former alcoholic who has been clean for a number of years. One of the redeeming qualities of the show was a concerted effort by the producers to emphasize that drinking and driving do not mix. That’s at least one reason why there are frequent messages during varioua shows making references to calling a cab or having a designated driver available. At the same time The Harvard Alcohol Project used the theme to spread the word throughout the region and the country.
Jay Thomas, who played Carla’s husband, former NHL goalie Eddie LeBec, never appeared in another episode after telling a caller to his radio show that “being on ‘Cheers’ is brutal. I have to kiss Rhea Perlman.” Perlman was listening that day.
When Ted Danson finally announced he was leaving the show after the 1992-93 season, producers offered the job of running the bar to Woody Harrelson, who wasn’t interested in continuing without Danson.
And so we said goodbye to one of America’s iconic television programs: “CHEERS!”
About the Author: Bob Taylor is a veteran writer who has traveled throughout the world. Taylor was an award winning television producer/reporter/anchor before focusing on writing about international events, people and cultures around the globe. Taylor is founder of The Magellan Travel Club (www.MagellanTravelClub.com)
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