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Friday, July 05, 2013

Where Everybody Knows Your Name

Okay, so I'll be the first one to admit that I was having a little case of writer's block this Friday.

It isn't very often that I can't think of a decent topic to write about in this space, but I think that the excitement of snapping some shots of my town followed by posting said photos in a virtual scrapbook made me lose my train of thought for a moment. When it came down to writing my blog, I was stumped over what I should write about.

So, you know what I do whenever I get stumped on topics (and it's NOT an all-request day)? I pull out this baby.

BAM! I introduce you to my secret weapon behind this blog. People Magazine's “1000 Greatest Moments in Pop Culture 1974-2011”! I bought myself this book not too long after I began this blogging venture, and since then, I have referred to this book often. I have selected so many topics just by perusing this book alone.

I guess you could say that in some ways, this People Magazine retrospective is kind of like my own personal pop culture bible of sorts.

So, to choose today's television feature, I decided that I would randomly open the book to a specific page, and choose a section that had to do with prime time TV. The book begins with the same year that People Magazine began (1974), and runs until the year the book was published (2011). So with thirty-seven years of pop culture information to choose from, I knew that it was a fool proof solution.

So, I opened up the book randomly to page 77, which happens to be the section that talked about everything that happened during the year 1993. And, listed at number #512 was this entry...

Cheers” - and the wisdom of Norm – ends after 11 seasons and 270 episodes.

Of course! “Cheers”! I haven't done an entry on “Cheers” yet (which absolutely shocks even me as that show was HUGE on television!)

Oh well...I'm making up for lost time.

So, yes, “Cheers” (the creation of James Burrows, Les Charles, and Glen Charles) ended its run on NBC on May 20, 1993...but eleven years earlier, on September 30, 1982, “Cheers” debuted...rather horribly.

When “Cheers” started airing on television during the 1982/1983 television season, it debuted on the Neilson ratings at #74. Unfortunately, there were 77 shows on the schedule for that year, making “Cheers” a prime target for cancellation early on in its run.

Given that information, how the heck did it end up lasting for eleven years and 270 episodes?

Well, the opinions shared by critics of the time period literally saved the show from the axe. Though viewers weren't initially responsive to the program, television critics fell in love with the show from the pilot episode, and consistently gave it glowing reviews, which helped persuade some people to give the show a fighting chance. The show also had success at the Emmy Awards, with Shelley Long winning for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series, and multiple production Emmy Awards for directing, writing, and title design.

And, how could you not give an award for title design? “Cheers” remains one of my all-time favourite sets of opening credits. Ever! Have a look for yourselves below!

God...thirty-one years later, and I still love that song.

And, when you consider that then-head of NBC programming Brandon Tartikoff stood by the show, and promoted it heavily after the first season's shows were filmed, it was inevitable that “Cheers” would one day rise to the top. And in the end, Tartikoff got his wish, as the show hit the #1 spot during the show's 1990-1991 season. So, not only did the show rise from the bottom to the top, but for the show to achieve such a feat on its NINTH season...why that was absolutely miraculous!

Truth be told, “Cheers” was in the Top 10 ranked shows from 1985 until the show was cancelled in 1993.

I think that part of the reason why the show was extremely popular was due to the brilliance of the cast that starred in “Cheers”. Although the show was frequently subjected to cast changes, no matter who was in the cast at any given time, they found instant chemistry with each other. Here's a picture of the original cast from 1982.

Starting at the top and going clockwise...

Carla Tortelli (Rhea Perlman) - a cocktail waitress at “Cheers”.  While she'll never win any awards for stellar customer service, she might win the award for most likely to get pregnant. Carla ended up having a total of EIGHT children – four of whom she gave birth to while on the show (to accommodate Perlman's maternity leave from giving birth to the children she had with Danny DeVito).

Norm Peterson (George Wendt) – a struggling accountant who spends most of his free time drinking at the bar. He was originally named George, and only had one line during the pilot episode, but the character was renamed Norm, and had a much bigger role.

Diane Chambers (Shelley Long) – the leading lady of the series, Diane is a graduate student who is forced to become a cocktail waitress at “Cheers” after she is unceremoniously dumped by her fiance. While she considers herself a member of Boston's upper crust and therefore only wants to associate with Boston's most elite and rich...there's something about Sam Malone that Diane simply can't resist.

Sam Malone (Ted Danson) – the star of the show and bartender/co-owner of “Cheers”. At one time, Sam had a promising career as a star baseball player, but his alcoholism ended that career goal. Therefore, it seems kind of...well...stupid for Sam to work as a bartender where he is constantly surrounded by booze. But alcohol addiction isn't the only addiction Sam has. He's also a player off the baseball diamond as he is constantly seducing every single woman he sees.

Cliff Clavin (John Ratzenberger) – like Norm, he is also a regular at the bar. Unlike Norm, he has a job as a postal worker, and he seems to possess a “know-it-all” attitude...which causes much frustration and anger between himself and the other “Cheers” patrons.

Coach Ernie Pantuzzo (Nicholas Colasanto) – the eldest cast member of the series, Coach is a friend of Sam, a former coach, and senior bartender on the staff of “Cheers”. While Coach is always ready to lend an ear, he isn't exactly the brightest penny in the roll. Often he gets involved in a situation in which his naivety almost causes the loss of the bar!

As the show progressed, the cast would lose Nicholas Colasanto (who passed away in February 1985) and Shelley Long (who left the series in 1987), but gained the cast members Kelsey Grammer (Dr. Frasier Crane), Woody Harrelson (Woody Boyd), Bebe Neuwirth (Lilith Sternim), and Kirstie Alley (Rebecca Howe).

And, for a show as successful as “Cheers” was, you know that the behind-the-scenes stories about the show and place where “everybody knows your name” had to be just as interesting and good. And, certainly after researching the show on, I would agree with that statement.

Just have a look...

01 – Did you know that Fred Dryer and Julia Duffy were frontrunners for the roles of Sam and Diane? Obviously neither got the roles, but both would later go on to appear on “Cheers” in guest roles.

02 – Sam Malone was supposed to be a retired football player, but that was changed to an alcoholic former baseball player when Ted Danson won the part.

03 – Both John Ratzenberger and Kelsey Grammer were initially hired for just seven episodes...they ended up staying the rest of the series!

04 – The only three characters to have a contract role for the entire length of the series were Ted Danson, Rhea Perlman, and George Wendt (Ratzenberger initially started as a recurring character).

05 – The show probably would have gone on for several more seasons, but it was Ted Danson's decision to leave the show at the end of the show's eleventh season that caused NBC to pull the plug.

06 – Kirstie Alley had gotten pregnant during the show's tenth season, and writers were planning to write the pregnancy into the show by saying that the child was Sam's. Sadly, Kirstie miscarried, and the story was dropped.

07 – Every single lead actor and actress was nominated for at least one Emmy Award. Six ended up winning statuettes – Shelley Long, Ted Danson, Kirstie Alley, Rhea Perlman, Bebe Neuwirth, and Woody Harrelson.

08 – Kelsey Grammer would later star in the television series “Frasier”, which debuted in 1993. That series also lasted eleven seasons, which meant that Grammer had played the same role in two different series for a combined total of twenty years (remember, Grammer didn't join “Cheers” until season three).

09 – Norm's real first name was Hillary.

10 – John Ratzenberger initially auditioned for the role of George (which later became Norm, and which was won by George Wendt). But producers liked him so much that the part of Cliff Clavin was especially written for him.

11 – There was one episode that was filmed, but did not air on network television. The episode (Uncle Sam Malone) was specially produced for the U.S. Treasury to encourage the purchase of American savings bonds.

12 – Longtime writer of the series, David Angell, was one of the casualties in the September 11, 2001 attacks. He and his wife were on Flight 11, which crashed into the World Trade Center.

13 - “Cheers” was initially supposed to be set at a hotel...but when most of the scenes took place at the hotel bar, the setting was changed to a Boston pub.

14 – Nicholas Colasanto had a picture of Geronimo hanging in his dressing room. After his death, that picture was moved to the set of “Cheers”.

15 - “At Seventeen” singer Janis Ian was once offered the role of Carla Tortelli. She turned it down to record an album, which was a commercial failure.

16 – Kirstie Alley's character was originally written as an ice queen...but due to her rapport with the cast of “Cheers”, as well as Rebecca confesses that she has feelings for Sam while drunk, her character became a lot more zany and crazy, which audiences seemed to enjoy.

17 – Jay Thomas was cast as a love interest for Rhea Perlman's character. His character was named Eddie LeBec. However, his character was killed off shortly after making some rather unflattering comments towards Perlman...and Perlman just happened to be listening to every word! Can we say...whoops!

18 – Ted Danson would later go on to star in the CBS series “Becker”. Rhea Perlman would later guest star on an episode of the series.

19 – Carla's full name is Carla Maria Victoria Angelina Theresa Apollonia Lozupone Tortelli LeBec! Say that five times fast!!!

20 – Every single cast member from “Cheers” reprised their roles for at least one episode of “Frasier” - except Scientologist Kirstie Alley, who claimed that her beliefs clashed with psychiatry (Dr. Frasier Crane was a radio psychiatrist).

21 – Kirstie Alley stayed on the series one season longer than Shelley Long.

22 – Sam was incredibly vain when it came to his hair. In reality, Ted Danson wore a hairpiece because his own hair was thinning!

23 – Because of the 1988 writer's strike, several episodes of “Cheers” were never filmed, including the scheduled cliffhanger in which Sam Malone discovers that one of his former girlfriends was HIV positive.

24 – John Lithgow turned down the role of Dr. Frasier Crane.

25 - Most of the actors and actresses of "Cheers" reprised their roles in an episode of "The Simpsons".  One notable exception was Kelsey Grammer with good reason...he already had a semi-recurring role on the series playing Sideshow Bob.  The show also spoofed the classic theme song, which you can hear above!

26 – Actresses who auditioned for the role of Rebecca included Sharon Stone, Kim Cattrall, and Marg Helgenberger.

27 - When Shelley Long left the series, two separate endings were filmed to confuse the audience!  

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