The American sitcom world came alive with the hugely popular show Cheers, which aired for eleven seasons from 1982 to 1993. Anyone who’s ever had a popular hangout spot where they could meet up with friends and drink their troubles away could relate to the series, and with an eclectic cast gracing the screen each week, there was something for everyone. The highly-acclaimed comedy received a record 117 Emmy nominations, 28 of them wins! Was it all a bed of roses though? Let’s check out some of the behind-the-scenes dirt.
1. What Do Sam Malone and Donald Trump Have in Common?
Ted Danson, who played “Sam Malone,” the charming owner/bartender of Cheers, had a lush head of hair, though all of it wasn’t his. Accepting an Emmy without the hairpiece revealed this to astonished fans. Not only that, but initially Danson wasn’t sure what sport his character was going to be great at. Fans would know him as a retired baseball player, but originally he was written in as a football player—but then the writers thought his body-type was better suited to baseball. Danson decided to leave Cheers in 1993 and writers offered Woody Harrelson the main role, but he refused it as Danson was leaving. You probably didn’t notice, but Sam’s first appearance on Cheers saw him enter from the pool room, and in his last appearance, he left through the same pool room—perfect bookends. As for his bartending skills? Danson picked them up after two weeks of bartending school in Burbank, California, while preparing for the role that made him famous.
2. What the Heck Is Near Beer?!
While the laidback accountant “Norm” played by George Wendt was a regular at the bar and seemed attached to his favourite bar stool, he was never actually drinking beer. Instead he was sipping on “near bear” which had a pinch of salt added to keep the liquid foamy under the studio lights’ intense heat and had an alcohol content of 3.2 percent.
3. All About the Perlmans
“Carla Tortelli,” played by Rhea Perlman, had a few extra reasons for loving her job. Throughout 1985 and 1986 as her character dropped various wisecracks, behind-the-scenes Perlman’s sister Heidi was scribbling away. She ended up writing 17 of the show’s episodes, and produced over two dozen. Philip Perlman, their father, also made 32 appearances in the series as an extra.
4. “It’s brutal, I have to kiss Rhea Perlman”
Famous last words and two seconds later Jay Thomas was a “dead Cheers actor” walking. Thomas played “Eddie LeBec,” Carla’s boyfriend and later husband on the show. However, after his less than pleasant comments on a radio show he was hosting, he was quickly dismissed from the Cheers cast. It’s rumored that Perlman heard those radio comments and soon after Thomas’ character had a fatal accident (run over by a Zamboni, no less), was found out to be a polygamist and ultimately, the rest is history. Perlman denies this was the reason Thomas wasn’t asked back.
5. Pregnant Ladies Shouldn’t Drink
“Diane Chambers,” the smart but uptight waitress played by actress Shelley Long, hid her growing baby bump during season 3 under her aprons and behind the bar. Two seasons after her pregnancy, Long decided she didn’t want to become “old and stale” as she felt like she was continuously repeating the same episode. The actress left the show after season 5 to spend more quality time with her daughter. Unfortunately, her career kind of faltered after that move.
6. Cliff Loved to Improvise
If you were always wondering where “Cliff Clavin,” the annoyingly talkative mail carrier got his false facts, look no further than the actor himself. John Ratzenberger was the mind behind many of these know-it-all additions to the bar’s conversation, as the show’s writers soon realized that instead of having Ratzenberger mess up his lines, it was easier to just let him have at it. The off-the-cuff results were often hilarious.
7. Two Woodys And A Bar
Cheers’ writers had no idea they were being prophetic when they wrote the script. They had no idea that the character “Woody Boyd” would end up being played by an actor who had the same name. Woody Harrelson didn’t get the role because of his name though, he was a perfect fit for the loveable—if not a tad daft—assistant bartender, and fans ate him up. It seems Woody playing Woody was destiny.
8. R.I.P. Coach
Just before Sam says his final line before leaving Cheers, he adjusts the picture of Geronimo that hung on the back wall from the end of season 3. What many fans might not know is that the picture used to hang in Nicholas Colasanto’s—who played “Coach”—dressing room. After the actor passed in 1985, the creators moved the picture as a way to honour him, and the lovable character was not re-cast.
9. Guess Who Read Pages of Script Taped to the Bar Counter?!
The Cheers set was pretty sizeable and it took up to forty extras to make the bar look full. Though most of the time all eyes were focused on the bar’s regular customers, many viewers didn’t know that because Colasanto had some difficulty memorizing lines, lights were installed so he could read pages of script taped to the counter. Re-watch and see if you see any paper waving in the wind. As for Sam’s office, the bar was built on a hinge and there was a seam down the center so the right half could easily swing out, letting the wall slide open to reveal the office.
10. Terrible Ratings in the Beginning
For a television show that was once voted “the best television show that has ever been” by GQ, it’s hard to imagine that Cheers was not a runaway hit from the get-go. In fact, Brandon Tartikoff, NBC’s then entertainment president, seemed to see something that critics couldn’t and saved the show from the terrifying first season cancellation road it was on. This was a surprise according to Nielsen, as when it premiered on September 30, 1982, it placed 77th out of 100 shows from that week, and no one would have batted an eye had it been cancelled. By the end of that season however, it was obvious that Tartikoff had bet big and won. At the end of its run, Cheers had the second most-watched series finale of all time.
11. Cheers Actually Exists
The Bull and Finch tavern gained popularity as the show did, becoming a tourist attraction as fans caught on to the Cheer’s set resemblance to the actual establishment. Only exterior shots were filmed at the Beacon Hill location, but this didn’t curb its popularity, and in 2001 a second location called “Cheers” was opened close-by in Faneuil Hall. In 2002, the Bull & Finch got fully on-board and is now known as Cheers.
12. The Treasured Episode
Think you’ve watched every Cheers episode there is? Maybe not. “Uncle Sam Malone” was a special mini-episode that was written and filmed to promote the purchase of U.S. savings bonds, at the request of the U.S. Treasury. The show’s creators were contracted to produce the episode early in the series’ run and as its purpose was only for promotional purposes at savings bond drives. Subsequently it never aired on television and won’t be found on any of the DVDs.
13. Did They Or Didn’t They?
Producers wanted to keep Shelly Long’s departure from the series a secret as long as possible, which was a bit of a conundrum as Cheers was filmed before a live audience. To keep developments from being leaked they had to get a little crafty, and the audience witnessed Sam and Diane’s wedding at the end of season 5. However, the true ending was filmed on a closed set where Diane leaves to finish her book.
14. Norm Was Actually Hillary
Norm’s never-fully-seen wife Vera once let it slip to Carla that the resident barfly’s real name was actually Hillary Norman Peterson. He was named after his grandfather who once killed a man for mocking his name. Can you imagine everyone shouting “Hillary” as he walked into the bar? Speaking of Norm, you may or may not recall that Frasier’s son Fredrick’s first word was “Norm!”
15. Kelsey Grammer Could Deliver
It is said that the writers of Cheers often gave Kelsey Grammer, aka “Frasier,” some flat lines just to see what he would do with them. He had a way of making even dry material seem funny. No wonder he managed to parlay his spin-off series into a subsequent success. He ended up playing the role of Frasier a record twenty consecutive years.
16. Rebecca Lasted Longer Than Diane
The saga of Sam and Diane, a mismatched duo seething sexual tension, was central to the first few seasons of the show and they became an iconic couple of 80s television. It’s hard to believe, but Rebecca Howe, played by Kirstie Alley, was actually on the show longer than Shelly Long’s character Diane was. She debuted in season six as Sam’s new female foil in 147 episodes.
17. Ratzenberger’s At It Again
After learning about Ratzenberger’s affinity for crazy random facts, it must come as no surprise that he had a hand in creating his character “Cliff.” The actor had come in to read for another part and asked creators if they’d cast a character to be the bar know-it-all. Learning that they hadn’t, Ratzenberger explained that, “Every bar in New England has got a know-it-all—someone who pretends to have the knowledge of all mankind between his ears and is not shy about sharing it.” The creators loved the idea, and audiences loved Cliff.
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