The Realism Was The Work Of Ted Danson
Danson took his role very seriously and wanted to bring a bit of realism to his character. To achieve that goal he enrolled in and completed, bartending school in Burbank, California.
Despite The Realism, The Show Nearly Didn’t Survive
When Cheers first debuted it didn’t sit well with a large number of viewers. The show premiered in 1982 as the 77th most watched show out of 100, according to Nielsen. NBC entertainment president Brandon Tartikoff was convinced the TV network had a hit on its hands and he convinced the network to let it run for another season.
Sam Malone Was Supposed To Be A Football Player
We all know Sam Malone as a former MLB pitcher but the original script had him in the role of a former NFL player. The role was written for Fred Dryer, a former NFL defensive end, so it makes sense the role would feature a different type of professional athlete. Ted Danson ended up winning the role because producers loved his chemistry with Shelley Long. Danson didn’t have the body type to be a former NFL player so his profession was changed.
Norm And Cliff Had To Fight For Their Roles
George Wendt and John Ratzenberger auditioned for the same role for the pilot. The minor role of George featured only a single line: “Beer!” Eventually, Wendt was cast in that role and the character was named Norm Peterson. Ratzenberger loved the concept of the show and wanted to become a regular, “As I was leaving the office after the audition, I turned around and asked them, ‘Do you have a bar know-it-all?,’” Ratzenberger told Ability Magazine. “None of the creators was from New England. They were all Hollywood-centered. And I said, ‘Well, every local 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.’” Cliff Clavin was born from that conversation and his character became iconic.
Norm Peterson Existed In Real Life
Cheers creator Les Charles modeled the character of Norm after a guy he knew in college. The man’s name wasn’t Norm, but every day he would enter the bar Charles worked at and proclaim that he was having “just one beer.” That single beer turned into multiple drinks and the man constantly needed help out of the bar every night.
John Lithgow Was Supposed To Play Frasier
John Lithgow was coming off a hot streak thanks to roles in The World According to Garp, Blow Out, and All That Jazz. Producers approached the actor about the role of Frasier but he wasn’t ready to make the leap to the small screen. Lithgow later recalled that he gave a quick “no” and said, told The Hollywood Reporter. “I barely even remembered that … It was like swatting away a fly … I just wasn’t going to do a series.”
Sam Was Obsessed With His Hair — Which Was A Hairpiece
If you’re a fan of Cheers you know that Sam was obsessed with his hair. Ted Danson wore a hairpiece to match his character’s obsession. In the 1993 episode, “It’s Lonely on the Top,” Sam opens up about his hair challenges with Carla.
George Wendt’s Real Life Wife Voiced Norm’s Wife’s
We never see Norm’s wife in the series but we hear her voice on numerous occasions. It was George Wendt’s real life wife, Bernadette Birkett who actually spoke with Norm on the phone. Birkett did appear as Cliff’s love interest during one episode in season three but she was playing a different character.
Cliff’s Fun Facts Were Often Improvised
John Ratzenberger dished up a lot of random and untrue facts while playing the role of Cliff Clavin. What many fans may not realize is that he improvised a lot of those lines. Ratzenberger says as the show went on producers realized he had a knack for improvisation and they gave him increasing freedoms to know when to talk and when to shut up.
Real Bar Conversations Were Often Used
Cheers was all about realism and that includes many of the conversations that were overheard at real bars. The show’s creators would often travel around Los Angeles and eavesdrop on patrons’ conversations. The show premiered with a conversation about the sweatiest movie ever made and the dialog for that conversation were overheard at a bar in Los Angeles.
Fans Hated The Loud Laugh Track — Which Didn’t Exist
The TV shows staff would regularly receive letters complaining about the volume of the TV show’s laugh track. There was just one problem — there was no laugh track. In 1983, producers added a quick disclaimer that read, “Cheers was filmed before a live studio audience.”
An HIV Scare Was Abandoned
The Writers Guild of America went on strike in 1988 and that meant several episodes were cut from the Cheers season. One of those episodes was a season six cliffhanger in which Sam learns that a former girlfriend is HIV positive.
Rhea Perlman’s Sister And Dad Also Worked On Cheers
Rhea Perlman’s younger sister Heide produced more than two dozen episodes between 1985 and 1986 and she wrote several episodes throughout the show’s run. Perlman’s dad, Phil, also played a bar regular named Phil.
Cheers Produced A Mini-Episode For The U.S. Treasury
When Cheers first hit the airwaves, the show’s creators were approached by the U.S. Treasury to create a mini-episode that would promote the purchase of U.S. savings bonds. “Uncle Sam Malone” was the name of the episode but it never aired on TV and it wasn’t included in any DVD or Blu-Ray sets. The mini-episode was only screened as a promotional piece at savings bond drives.
The Bull & Finch Pub Was Eventually Renamed Cheers
The bar Cheers was modeled after the Bull & Finch Pub in Boston. For years, fans of the show would search for the Cheers bar but it didn’t exist. As word spread about the bar it eventually changed its name. A replica bar was eventually opened in 2001 at Faneuil Hall but one year later the Bull & Finch changed its name to Cheers.
Frasier’s Dad Rose From The Dead For The Spinoff
If you followed Cheers closely you are probably aware that Frasier’s ex-cop dad had passed away. Eventually, John Mahoney would be resurrected for the TV series spinoff. In a twist of fate, John Mahoney actually appeared in a one-off appearance of Cheers where he played as fast-talking jingle writer named Sy Flembeck.
Frasier Left Kirstie Alley Out Of Guest Appearances
Every major character on Cheers made a guest appearance on Frasier except for Kirstie Alley. Despite being a main character on the original TV show, she refused a guest appearance on Frasier. As a practicing Scientologist, the TV spinoff conflicted with the psychiatric profession. It’s sad because if anyone needs a psychiatrist, it’s a practicing member of the Church of Scientology.
Norm’s First Name Was Hillary
Hillary Norman Peterson just doesn’t have the same ring to it as just plain “Norm.”
Woody Harrelson’s Character Wasn’t Named After Him
The character of Woody Boyd was played by Woody Harrelson and that was just a big coincidence. The character’s name was written into the script before auditions for the role were even started. However, a lot of bar patrons were given their real life first name for their role.
Norm Had To Drink Salty “Near Beer”
It’s incredibly difficult to perfectly mimic the look of beer so Wendt was forced to drink “near beer” which is comprised of a weakened strain of ale mixed with salt that allows the beer to keep a perfect head. Wendt had to drink this less than appetizing concoction on numerous occasions.
Designated Drivers Were Promoted On The Show
Watch Cheers closely and you’ll notice a lot of people were driven home by a DD. The Harvard Alcohol Project helped spread this message and a lot of references were made to calling cabs or designated drivers.
A Spanish Version Launched In 2011 And Quickly Failed
Instead of simply dubbing the original show, a Spanish version also called Cheers debuted in 2011. The series, starring former soccer player Alberto San Juan, only lasted for one season. Apparently, there was no TV executive sitting around this time trying to defend the second season.
Ted Danson Ended The Show
After the series ended following the 1992-1993 season, it was revealed that Ted Danson made the decision not to return to his role as Sam. The show’s producers were prepared to hand the bar over to Woody Harrelson but he refused the offer.
Are you ready to head back to where everybody knows your name? Relive Cheers, one of the most successful sitcoms that launched the careers of some of Hollywood’s heaviest hitters. Discover what Sam, Woody, Rebecca, Diana, Carla, Frasier, Cliff and, of course, NORM! ended up doing in life after the bar.
Ted Danson As Sam Malone
Ted Danson played the lead role of Sam Malone, former Red Rox pitcher and owner/lead bartender at Cheers. Before he landed the role in 1982, Danson appeared in the daytime soap operas Somerset and The Doctors and had a few appearances in television commercials.
Recently, Danson was cast as sheriff Hank Larsson in the television series based on the film Fargo. Since September 2016, Danson has been part of the cast of the NBC sitcom The Good Place.
Shelley Long As Diane Chambers
Shelley Long appeared in a few feature-length films prior to portraying Malone’s sophisticated first love interest on the show. She was a regular character for the first five seasons of Cheers and landed herself two Emmy Awards.
She has recently made guest appearances on some television shows and made-for-TV movies such as Modern Family, Boston Legal, and Falling In Love With The Girl Next Door. In 2016, she became the producer and star of the full-length road trip film Different Flowers.
Nicholas Colasanto As Coach Ernie Pantusso
Colasanto was the original co-bartender to Sam who often finds his way into precarious situations and acted as a confidant to those on the show needing advice. Prior to being cast as Coach on Cheers, Colosanto was a Navy veteran who served during World War II.
In the mid-1970s, Colosanto was diagnosed with heart disease that worsened throughout the years. He was forced to leave the show in November of 1984 and died of a heart attack on February 12, 1985.
Rhea Perlman As Carla Tortelli
Perlman played the smart-mouthed and quick-witted flirty cocktail server Carla Tortelli throughout the duration of the show. Prior to Cheers, she was well-known for her role as Zena co-starring with her real-life husband Danny DeVito on the hit sitcom Taxi.
Since 2014, she has been a regular character as Danny’s mother Annette Castellano on The Mindy Project. Her and DeVito separated in 2012 only to reunite in 2013. They live happily in Beverly Hills.
George Wendt As Norm Peterson
Wendt was a regular on the show, and landed himself six Primetime Emmy nominations during his tenure. He was well-known to the bar patrons who would greet him with “NORM!” in unison every time he walked in.
Wendt’s most recent projects included the role of Cliff on the BBC TV show Green Green Grass and a stage performance in The Fabulous Lipitones at the New Theatre Restaurant in Kansas from November 2016 through February 2017.
John Ratzenberger As Cliff Claven
Ratzenberger was also a Cheers regular who played a mail carrier known for making outrageous statements that would confuse his counterparts. Prior to acting, John Ratzenberger was a house framer and originally auditioned for the part of Norm Peterson.
Ratzenberger’s voice can be heard in every single Pixar feature film that has been released so far. He is an avid outdoorsman and right-wing activist having campaigned for John McCain and even considered running for the Senate in 2012.
Kelsey Grammar As Frasier Crane
Psychologist Frasier Crane was introduced to the Cheers audience as the love interest of Diane Chambers in season 3 and became a bar regular. Grammar spent his education at prep school before attending the prestigious Julliard School for two years.
Grammar starred in the Cheers spinoff Frasier for 11-years, making his 20-years of playing the character a tie for the television record. Grammar won a Tony Award in 2016 for his producer role of The Color Purple and is starring the 2017 film Bunyon and Babe.
Woody Harrelson As Woody Boyd
Harrelson played the hilarious role of the dim-witted Woody Boyd, who became Malone’s co-bartender after the passing of Coach. He won one Emmy Award out of his five nominations for his role and was on the show for eight seasons.
Harrelson is an environmental activist and avid marijuana reformer who also spoke out against the Iraq War. It was recently announced that he would be playing the role of Han Solo’s mentor in the upcoming Star Wars spinoff movie.
Kirstie Alley As Rebecca Howe
Alley joined the Cheers cast after Diane’s character was written off of the show. She played the business manager for the corporation who purchased the bar and remained in that role when Sam’s character regained ownership.
From 1997-2000, Alley played the leading role on the show Veronica’s Closet. She had a brief sitcom in 2013 called Kirstie and in 2016 she played Ingrid Hoffel in the show Scream Queens.
Bebe Neuwirth As Lillith Sternin
Neuwirth was perfectly cast as the uptight psychiatrist, Cheers regular and love interest to Frasier Crane beginning in the fourth season. She is also a trained singer and dancer who began her career in the theater.
After her extensive television career, she returned to the theater to play the role of Morticia Addams in The Addams Family, she had a role in the stage production of Fame in 2014 and has earned several Tony Awards for her talents.
Dan Hedaya As Nick Tortelli
Hedaya is a notable actor who often portrays sleazy characters and was a notable repeat guest on Cheers playing Carla’s ex-husband Nick Tortelli. He is unkempt and obnoxious and makes no effort to help raise their children.
Hedaya made an extensive career in television and film since Cheers went off the air including appearances in E.R., The Hurricane, Mulholland Drive, and Gotham. He most recently played the part of Red in Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them.
Fred Dryer As Dave Richards
The former NFL defensive end made several repeat appearances on Cheers as Sam Malone’s former teammate. He first appeared in season one to interview Malone for a “Where Are They Now?” show, only because no other famous athletes were available.
Dryer made a name for himself as an actor started his own production company in Los Angeles called Fred Dryer Productions. In 2015, he appeared as HYDRA agent Octavian Bloom on Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
Roger Rees As Robin Colcord
Colcord had the recurring role as the multi-millionaire love interest of Rebecca Howe. Because of this, he clashed with Sam Malone and became his regular rival. The character lost all of his wealth and wound up in prison for plotting a hostile takeover of the bar.
The Welsh actor/director is also an Olivier Award and Tony Award-winner. He passed away from brain cancer in 2014 and was inducted into the American Theater Hall of Fame in November 2015.
Jackie Swanson As Kelly Gaines Boyd
Swanson was raised in Michigan and appeared in 24 episodes of Cheers over the years as Woody Boyd’s love interest and wife. The characters met in the seventh season.
Swanson had a role in the show Baby Talk and also did runway modeling for Ralph Lauren. She has also appeared in many television commercials. Her most recent role was as a Texas Socialite in the 2007 film Charlie Wilson’s War. She is an avid traveler and remains active.
Francis Sternhagen As Esther Clavin
Sternhagen plays Cliff’s overprotective mother on the show and it is revealed that she is the loud mouth of the family and not her know-it-all son. She was referenced early on in the show multiple times before she started making regular appearances through the final season.
She has had an accomplished acting career and appeared alongside Danson on the show Becker in 2004. She had a regular role in The Closer and was most recently in the show Parenthood. Apparently, she is still acting although there are no reports of any specific projects.
The Real “Cheers”
The show was originally supposed to take place at a bar inside of a hotel. The writers decided to move the bar’s location to New England. After the show began to rise in popularity, it was said that Boston’s Beacon Hill tavern was the bar the show was based on.
A second location was opened in 2001 called “Cheers” that contained a replica of the bar shown in the television program.
The Birth Of Cliff Claven
As we mentioned, both John Ratzenberger and George Wendy auditioned for the role of Norm Peterson. The role itself was said to only have one line throughout the show… “Beer!”
Ratzenberger realized he would most likely get the part and since none of the show’s creators were from Boston, he told them, “Well, every local 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,” and Cliff Claven was created.
Cliff’s Fun Facts
Cliff Claven was a favorite character on Cheers and would entertainingly annoy his fellow patrons with useless fun facts, many of them having no basis in truth.
Ratzenberger himself improvised many of the random tidbits saying, “little by little [the creators] let me just sort of run off. Because I know when to stop … It’s easy to improvise comedy. It really is. But the art is knowing when to shut up and let other people talk. That’s a hard thing to learn.”
The Perlman Family
Rhea Perlman’s character Carla Tortelli stole many of the scenes with her hilarious banter and candid personality. What many people do not know is that members of Perlman’s family were on set numerous times in less visible roles.
Her sister Heide produced over two dozen episodes of the series, and even earned a few writing credits as well. Perlman’s dad, Phil, played the part of a bar regular, also named Phil.
Scientology And Psychiatry Don’t Mix
When Cheers was canceled, Frasier became the most notable and popular spinoff of the show. Throughout the show’s 11-year run, nearly every fellow main character and cast member made a guest appearance alongside Kelsey Grammar. Many people believe that Kirstie Alley’s Scientology beliefs kept her from appearing on the show. Scientologists maintain that psychology is a fraudulent industry, and Founder L. Ron Hubbard once called it an evil enterprise and a form of terrorism.
In 2002, Grammar even told Entertainment Weekly, “Kirstie once said … she’d never do a show about a psychiatrist.”
The Cast Got Incredibly Wasted For the Series Finale
When Cheers was going off the air the team at NBC made a huge deal of the sendoff. Cast and crew gathered to celebrate at Boston’s Bull & Finch Pub, where thousands of fans gathered outside to watch the show on two Jumbotrons. The crew got wasted and then had to make an appearance on The Tonight Show. “The cast, in no condition to face anybody, much less 40 million people, dutifully trooped downstairs to do the live show,” Levine explained. The cast who appeared on The Tonight Show were so drunk they required “designated walkers.” Kirstie Alley ended up singing a song which featured only the lyrics, “d*ck d*ck d*ck.”
Cheers may have gone after the air after 11 seasons but it lives on in syndication with millions of fans discovering and rediscovering the popular TV series. To the men and women who made this show what it was, we raise our glasses to you and send you off with one final “Cheers.”