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6 Behind-the-Scenes Secrets from Cheers

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Cheers finished a lowly 77th in the ratings after its first season in 1982-83, performing poorly against Simon & Simon and Too Close for Comfort in its 9 p.m. Thursday time slot. Both Paramount and NBC believed in the show, however, and their tenacity certainly paid off. Cheers ended after 11 seasons, but only because Ted Danson decided to call it quits.

1. Why Sam Malone was originally a football player

Fred Dryer
The final two actors in contention for the role of ex-jock-turned-bar-owner Sam Malone were Fred Dryer and Ted Danson. The show's original concept called for Sam to be a retired football player, and Dryer seemed perfect since he had spent 13 years as a defensive end in the NFL. But while Fred was new to acting, Ted had accumulated a handful of TV and film roles in the late 1970s and early 1980s. When Danson won the role, the back story was changed to make the character a former relief pitcher to better match Danson's physique. Ted later revealed that he'd spent two weeks attending a bartending school in Burbank to prepare for his audition, only to find that (like most bartenders) most of his mixology was performed below sight level of the bar, out of camera range.

DID YOU KNOW? Fred Dryer appeared on a few Cheers episodes as TV sportsman Dave Richards. In real life, Dryer tried his hand at sportscasting after leaving the NFL, but decided he wasn't cut out for it. Although he missed out with Cheers, Fred embarked on his own long-running TV series a couple years later: Hunter.

2. The Secret Behind the Crack in the Bar

CheersDesigned by Richard Sylbert, the Cheers set was loosely based on Boston's Bull and Finch bar. Look closely and you'll notice a "seam" down the center of the bar; it was built on a hinge so that the right half could swing out, allowing the wall to slide open to reveal Sam's office. Designers installed lights underneath the bar so that Nick "Coach" Colasanto (who had difficulty memorizing lines) could read the script pages taped to the counter. It took 30 to 40 extras to fill up the pub set as "customers"; any less, and the bar looked too empty.

DID YOU KNOW? Kirstie Alley (as Rebecca Howe) appeared in more episodes of Cheers than did Shelley Long (as Diane Chambers).

3. How Cliff Clavin Lobbied for his Job

CheersJohn Ratzenberger originally auditioned for the role of barfly Norm Peterson. When he lost that role to George Wendt, Ratzenberger asked the producers if they had written a "resident know-it-all" into their show. All bars have one, he pointed out. Thanks to his persistence, the character of mail carrier Cliff Clavin became a regular Cheers patron. Likewise, psychiatrist Dr. Frasier Crane was brought in at the beginning of Season 3 as a plot device to further the relationship between Sam and Diane. While he wasn't intended to become a permanent cast member, Kelsey Grammer had a knack for making even the most mundane dialog funny. The audience loved him, so it wasn't long before Frasier became a regular on the show.

DID YOU KNOW? Before John Ratzenberger made it big on Cheers, he had bit roles in some of Hollywood's biggest blockbusters, including The Empire Strikes Back, Superman, and Gandhi.

4. The Secret of Norm's Brew

Norm!Although the Cheers bar was fully functional (and many NBC after-hours parties were held on the set), the suds served to George Wendt weren't exactly a tasty microbrew. In fact, it was "near beer," with an alcohol content of 3.2 percent, and a pinch of salt added so that the mug kept a foamy head under the hot studio lights. And yes, poor George had to periodically sip that ghastly concoction in order to keep his character "real."

DID YOU KNOW?: A few members of the Cheers cast had memorable roles in horror films: Ted Danson appeared in Creepshow, George Wendt in House, and Shelley Long in Caveman. (Okay, Caveman wasn't horror, but it was horrible.)

5. Babies in the Bar?

Carla!Both Shelley Long and Rhea Perlman were pregnant at different times during the filming of Cheers. Shelley was with child near the end of the third season, and the producers opted to hide her under aprons and behind the bar. Rhea Perlman was allowed to "let it all hang out" when she was carrying her daughter at the end of season one because her character was known for being particularly fecund. The "Rebecca wants Sam to father her baby" story line was originally incorporated into the script because Kirstie Alley was pregnant. Sadly, she miscarried, so that plot was abandoned.

DID YOU KNOW? Rhea Perlman's father, Phil, appeared as a bar patron in several episodes of Cheers over the years.

6. Loose Lips Sink Careers

Jay Thomas was the morning DJ at LA's KPWR-Power 106 when he auditioned for (and won) the role of hockey star Eddie LeBec. He was brought back for several episodes in order to give Carla a story arc, and Eddie and Carla eventually wed on the show. Eddie might have made it to the series finale had Jay Thomas not taken a call on the air one morning asking him "What's it like working on Cheers?" Thomas made several unflattering remarks about Rhea Perlman and having to kiss her... and Rhea happened to be listening to his show. Not surprisingly, a few weeks later Eddie LeBec was killed in a bizarre Zamboni accident.

DID YOU KNOW? Leah Remini, later to star in The King of Queens, appeared in two Cheers episodes as one of Carla's daughters, Serafina.

As always, you're welcome to weigh in with your opinions on Diane versus Rebecca, Coach versus Woody, and how a bar managed to function for 11 years when none of the patrons ever seemed to pay their tabs.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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Nick Briggs/Comic Relief
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What Happened to Jamie and Aurelia From Love Actually?
May 26, 2017
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Nick Briggs/Comic Relief

Fans of the romantic-comedy Love Actually recently got a bonus reunion in the form of Red Nose Day Actually, a short charity special that gave audiences a peek at where their favorite characters ended up almost 15 years later.

One of the most improbable pairings from the original film was between Jamie (Colin Firth) and Aurelia (Lúcia Moniz), who fell in love despite almost no shared vocabulary. Jamie is English, and Aurelia is Portuguese, and they know just enough of each other’s native tongues for Jamie to propose and Aurelia to accept.

A decade and a half on, they have both improved their knowledge of each other’s languages—if not perfectly, in Jamie’s case. But apparently, their love is much stronger than his grasp on Portuguese grammar, because they’ve got three bilingual kids and another on the way. (And still enjoy having important romantic moments in the car.)

In 2015, Love Actually script editor Emma Freud revealed via Twitter what happened between Karen and Harry (Emma Thompson and Alan Rickman, who passed away last year). Most of the other couples get happy endings in the short—even if Hugh Grant's character hasn't gotten any better at dancing.

[h/t TV Guide]

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