CLOSE

10 Minor TV Characters Who Stole the Show

No matter how intriguing a show's premise, or how tight the script, there’s just no telling what might capture the audience’s attention. Here are 10 famous TV characters who weren't originally supposed to carry their shows.

1. Steve Urkel // Family Matters

Family Matters was officially a spin-off of Perfect Strangers (Harriette Winslow was the elevator operator at the Chicago Chronicle). The show was supposed to focus on the everyday trials and tribulations of a department store employee, her police officer husband, and their three children. Midway through season one, their nerdy neighbor Steve Urkel (portrayed by Jaleel White) appeared, oversized glasses, suspenders, high-rise pants, squeaky voice and all. Urkel was originally intended as a one-episode character, but after White’s initial appearance, studio audiences started chanting “Urkel! Urkel!” during subsequent tapings. Several unfilmed first-season episodes were hastily re-written in order to feature the whiny-voiced, clumsy character. Interestingly enough, Jaleel White had been acting (mostly in commercials) since the age of three, and just prior to being cast as Urkel had told his mother that he wanted to quit the business in order to play JV basketball when he entered high school the next fall.

2. Alex P. Keaton // Family Ties


Gary David Goldberg envisioned Matthew Broderick for the role of Alex when he was casting Family Ties, a sitcom about liberal 60s-era parents raising 80s-era children. But Broderick didn’t want to leave New York for a long-term project, so Goldberg was left back at square one. At the urging of a casting director, he gave a young Canadian actor named Michael J. Fox a second screen test, and reluctantly hired him (NBC chief Brandon Tartikoff’s infamous observation at the time about Fox was “There’s a face you’ll never see on a lunch box.”) Much to everyone’s surprise, Michael J. Fox had an on-screen charisma that quickly made him an audience favorite; he could deliver the most absurd and extreme remarks about, say, women “knowing their place” and garner a laugh instead of a groan as long as he flashed that adorable smile. Meredith Baxter-Birney was just a bit miffed, because her understanding when she signed on for Family Ties was that the parents would be the focus of the series. But teen magazine profiles and posters have their own unique impact on a celebrity’s “Q-factor,” and soon many of the show’s plots revolved around Alex. During the taping of the episode where Alex lost his virginity, the audience’s laughter went on so long that the show ran 12 minutes overtime. Goldberg was standing backstage with Baxter-Birney at the time and said to her, “If you want to leave the show, I’ll understand.”

3. Daryl Dixon // The Walking Dead

Norman Reedus originally read for the role of Merle Dixon when AMC’s zombie show was being cast, but that part was given to Michael Rooker. Nevertheless, producers liked something about that Reedus fellow, so they had the writers give Merle a younger brother named Daryl. The redneck bow-hunter was intended to be just another member of the ensemble that rounded out the cast that supported lead characters Rick, Lori, Shane and Carl. But Norman took what could’ve been a one-note character and, with just a few lines of dialog per episode, made him intriguingly complex instead. He was gruff, anti-social, and tough-as-nails, yet it was also obvious that there was a sensitive, caring, damaged person underneath those many layers of grime. By season three, Daryl (a character that didn’t exist in the WD graphic novels the TV show is based on) had become Rick’s second-in-command and rabid fans were frequently spotted wearing T-shirts warning “If Daryl Dies, We Riot.”

4. Fonzie // Happy Days

The idea for a sitcom set in the 1950s was inspired by a vignette on the 1970s anthology series Love, American Style. One year after “Love and the Happy Days” aired, Ron Howard starred in the blockbuster film American Graffiti, which solidified his ability to play a retro-teenager. Howard had previously played “Opie” on The Andy Griffith Show, and with his recent film triumph under his belt, it was clear that he was the intended star of Happy Days. But the producers were caught by surprise when Fonzie (Henry Winkler), who was only an occasional character during the first season, started getting a substantial amount of press. Suddenly “Ayyyy” was on everyone’s lips and you couldn’t walk past a storefront without seeing some sort of Fonz replica giving the ol’ thumbs up. The ABC brass even suggested changing the name of the show to Fonzie’s Happy Days, but Winkler himself vehemently opposed such a change. In fact, Winkler has always staunchly credited the success of Happy Days to the work of the entire cast, particularly Ron Howard and Tom Bosley.

5. Ben Linus // Lost

Michael Emerson was invited to make a guest appearance on Lost based on the strength of his Emmy-winning portrayal of a serial killer on The Practice. That initial appearance in the episode “One of Them” led producers to invite him back for three more episodes, still billed as a “guest star.” His morally ambiguous Benjamin Linus (originally known as Henry Gale) struck a chord with viewers, who loved to hate him, and as of season three, Emerson was offered a contract and became a series regular as well as the leader of the Others.

6. Chrissy // Three’s Company

When Three’s Company was being cast, John Ritter was the only actor hired who had any sort of name recognition, having played the Reverend Fordwick on The Waltons. Luckily, he also had a knack for slapstick comedy, and managed to make the most out of what was basically a one-joke role (a closet heterosexual man living platonically with two beautiful young women). But even though Ritter was the acknowledged star of the show (and won an Emmy Award for his portrayal of Jack Tripper), it was Suzanne Somers who got her picture on all the magazine covers and had her own mega-selling poster. Actually, as soon as Somers landed the role of Chrissy, she contacted powerhouse manager Jay Bernstein and begged him to take her on as a client. She wanted to be “bigger than Farrah,” and although (according to Somers) Bernstein questioned her looks and her talent, he was impressed by her passion, and agreed to manage her. Of course, it probably helped that Somers also pledged to give him every penny of her salary from the first six episodes of Three’s Company. Nevertheless, thanks to Bernstein’s savvy promotion, soon every episode of Three’s Company, no matter what the plot, focused heavily on Chrissy prancing around in tight T-shirts and short-shorts.

7. Vinnie Barbarino // Welcome Back, Kotter

Veteran comic writer Alan Sacks had seen stand-up comic Gabe Kaplan’s act a few times and thought that there might be a viable sitcom to be mined out of Kaplan’s tales of his days in remedial high school classes. When previewing Welcome Back, Kotter in front of test audiences, network brass noted that John Travolta (whose character was then known as “Eddie Barbarina”) elicited unsolicited random squeals from the crowd and decided, on the strength of a possible teen heartthrob as a side bonus to Kaplan’s schtick, to greenlight the series. Travolta, for his part, didn’t discourage the Tiger Beat aspect of his fame, but he also craved acceptance as a bona fide actor, and he spent much of his Kotter salary on a high-priced agent, who landed him progressively larger film roles, from The Boy in the Plastic Bubble, to Carrie, to Saturday Night Fever. By the fourth (and ultimately final) season of Welcome Back, Kotter, John Travolta was billed as a “special guest star” and appeared in less than half of that season’s episodes.

8. Sandra Clark // 227


Marla Gibbs, star of the NBC sitcom 227, had once played something of a breakout character in her own right; her portrayal of the maid on The Jeffersons garnered her a huge fan following and many Florence-centric episodes. So perhaps she wasn’t completely surprised when Jackée Harry’s over-the-top characterization of sassy and saucy Sandra Clark suddenly took front and center on what was supposed to be Gibbs’ show. On the other hand, Gibbs wasn’t entirely enchanted by Jackée’s popularity, either; when Jackée won an Emmy Award in 1987 (against formidable competition that included Rhea Perlman of Cheers and The Golden Girls’ Estelle Getty) she not only didn’t receive any sort of congratulations from the series’ star, she also found her character’s participation in upcoming plotlines significantly reduced.

9. J.J. Evans // Good Times

The NAACP was full of praise for Good Times when it debuted in 1974; here was a poor but close-knit African-American family with two hard-working parents at the helm. The younger two kids were intelligent and determined to do well in school and make their parents proud. It was the oldest Evans sibling who eventually became the “problem child” and changed the civil rights organization’s collective mind. Jimmie Walker’s eye-popping, jive-talking J.J. also offended and irritated the actors who played his parents. “The writers can save time by having J.J. clap his hands and say ‘dy-no-mite’ in a scene; they don’t have to bother to come up with any meaningful dialog,” John Amos complained. Esther Rolle was likewise upset that the plots began to focus on the chronically unemployed, barely literate James Junior while minimizing the role of the more serious and cerebral younger son Michael. Both Amos and Rolle ended up leaving the series, and despite some hasty re-tooling of J.J.’s character, the show was cancelled in 1979.

10. Mimi Bobeck // The Drew Carey Show

Mimi Bobeck was only supposed to appear in the pilot episode of The Drew Carey Show, but when the show’s producers discovered that test audiences laughed the hardest at scenes that featured Mimi and Drew, Kathy Kinney was hired as a regular cast member. Having a workplace nemesis with a pre-existing grudge against Carey gave the writers a whole new avenue of plot lines to draw from, since Mimi and Drew were forever playing evil practical jokes on one another. But every scene focusing on the muu-muued woman with the Earl Scheib make-up job meant less screen time for the other supporting players, which didn’t necessarily go down well behind the scenes.

nextArticle.image_alt|e
NBC
arrow
entertainment
13 Forgotten Sequels to Popular TV Shows
NBC
NBC

While sequels can promise bigger and better things to come, sometimes they fall short ... really short. Here are 13 sequels to popular TV shows you probably forgot existed (if you ever even knew they existed at all).

1. THE BRADYS (1990)

After the success of The Brady Bunch during its five-year run on ABC during the early 1970s and in syndication throughout the 1980s, rival network CBS commissioned a sequel series after seeing positive ratings from A Very Brady Christmas, a 1988 made-for-TV reunion movie. Two years later, The Bradys debuted with its original cast, except Maureen McCormick, who declined to reprise the role of Marcia Brady. She was replaced with Leah Ayres. While the original Brady Bunch was a 30-minute comedy, The Bradys was a soapy, hour-long “dramedy,” with adult-themed storylines like Mike starting a career in politics, Marcia battling alcoholism, Bobby becoming paralyzed after a race car accident, and Peter dating an abusive woman. Yikes!

Considering The Bradys's harsher subject matter and themes, the new TV show only lasted for a few episodes in early 1990. CBS aired The Bradys on Friday nights against ABC’s TGIF juggernaut lineup of Perfect Strangers, Family Matters, and Full House. Including A Very Brady Christmas and The Bradys, there were whooping seven TV spinoffs and sequels for The Brady Bunch, including The Brady Kids, The Brady Bunch Variety Hour, The Brady Girls Get Married, Day by Day: "A Very Brady Episode," and Kelly's Kids—which was a “backdoor” pilot that never became a new TV series.

2. THE NEW GIDGET (1986 - 1988)

After the high rating numbers for the 1985 made-for-TV movie Gidget's Summer Reunion, original series producer Harry Ackerman launched a sequel the following year called The New Gidget with actress Caryn Richman in the titular role instead of Sally Field. It still followed Frances Elizabeth “Gidget” Lawrence, who was now grown up and married to her longtime boyfriend Jeff “Moondoggie” Griffin. The pair lived in Santa Monica and still made it to the beach once and a while, despite their busy lives as a travel agent (her) and an architect (him). The New Gidget only lasted for two seasons, which is actually double the original 1960s series. However, the latter is far more popular because it was Sally Field's breakout role.

3. THE MUNSTERS TODAY (1987 – 1991)

After a made-for-TV reunion movie called The Munsters’ Revenge failed to get off the ground, producers Lloyd J. Schwartz and Bryan Joseph created The Munsters Today instead. The new TV show was in full color and took place in 1988, which was 22 years after the black-and-white original went off the air. However, CBS passed on the sequel, so it aired in first-run syndication. The Munsters original cast Fred Gwynne (Herman Munster) and Yvonne De Carlo (Lily Munster) declined to appear on the new TV show, while Al Lewis was not happy he was not considered to reprise the role of Grandpa.

In 2012, NBC commissioned Bryan Fuller (Pushing Daisies, Hannibal) for a new TV reboot starring Jerry O'Connell as Herman Munster and Portia de Rossi as Lily Munster called Mockingbird Lane. The reboot was eventually canceled, but the broadcast network aired the failed TV pilot as a Halloween special later in the year. In 2017, it was reported that Seth Meyers was reportedly working on an all-new reboot of The Munsters for NBC.

4. THE NEW WKRP IN CINCINNATI (1991 - 1993)

In 1991, nine years after the original WKRP In Cincinnati left the airwaves on CBS, its sequel series called The New WKRP In Cincinnati debuted in syndication. The new TV show brought back many of its original cast, such as Gordon Jump, Frank Bonner, and Richard Sanders, while other cast members dropped in for special guest appearances, like Loni Anderson and Tim Reid. However, with a mixed critical response and the numerous problems of first-run syndicated TV shows (including inconsistent time slots and air dates), The New WKRP In Cincinnati was canceled two years later.

5. NEW MONKEES (1987)

In 1986, The Monkees were at the top of pop culture (again) after MTV aired reruns of the classic 1966 TV show for a new audience. Micky Dolenz, Peter Tork, and Davy Jones reunited (minus Michael Nesmith) for a special 20th anniversary tour, while their albums were reissued and a new one was released. In fact, there was so much excitement over The Monkees's revival that Columbia Pictures Television announced a new sequel TV series with a nationwide talent search to find the New Monkees.

After auditioning thousands upon thousands of young hopefuls, Jared Chandler, Larry Saltis, Konstantinos "Dino" Kovas, and Marty Ross (who also played guitar for a power pop band called The Wigs) were selected to star, as well as release a new synth pop-driven, self-titled album to coincide with the premiere of New Monkees in syndication.

Much like the original, the new TV show followed the adventures of a struggling young band that lived together, but the difference being they lived in a giant mansion with a butler, many unexplored rooms—which was the source of said adventures—a diner with a sassy waitress, and a talking computer named Helen.

However, by the time the new TV show and album were released to the public in 1987, The Monkees had become passé again. New Monkees was canceled after just 13 episodes, despite a 22-episode series order. The new album also bombed and failed to garner a single hit.  

6. SANFORD (1980 - 1981)

During the 1970s, Sanford and Son (a remake of the BBC’s Steptoe and Son) was a smash hit for NBC. Although the series was widely popular, it was canceled in 1977 after Redd Foxx left to star in The Redd Foxx Comedy Hour for rival network ABC (which was eventually canceled after only four months). Foxx later came back to NBC for the return of Sanford and Son in 1980.

However, Demond Wilson, who played Lamont Sanford, didn’t want to return, so NBC just centered the sequel series around Fred Sanford and his new business partner Cal Pettie (Dennis Burkley). It was simply called Sanford, while his son Lamont was written out of the show with the explanation that the character moved away to work on the Alaskan pipeline. Unfortunately, Sanford was not nearly as popular as the original Sanford and Son, so it was canceled after two seasons in 1981.  

7. THE NEW LEAVE IT TO BEAVER (1986 - 1989)

After ABC canceled Leave It To Beaver in 1963, rival network CBS brought The Cleavers back in the 1983 made-for-TV reunion movie Still The Beaver. The movie had such positive reviews and ratings, the Disney Channel picked it up for a sequel series the following year, but ultimately, it was canceled in 1985. Cable network TBS later picked up the series and renamed it The New Leave It To Beaver in 1986. It ran for an additional three seasons before it was canceled for good in 1989.  

The New Leave It To Beaver followed a middle-aged Wally (Tony Dow) and Theodore "Beaver" Cleaver (Jerry Mathers ) with their own families and children. After The Beaver divorced his wife, his widowed mother June (Barbara Billingsley) moved in with him to help raise his two sons. Fan favorite Eddie Haskell (Ken Osmond) also returned with his sons, Freddie and Bomber, who were played by Osmond’s real-life sons, Eric and Christian, respectively. Fun fact: A young Giovanni Ribisi also appeared on The New Leave It To Beaver as the character Duffy Guthrie; he was credited as Vonni Ribisi at the time.  

8. TEAM KNIGHT RIDER (1997 - 1998)

In 1997, NBC created Team Knight Rider as a sequel to the hit early 1980s TV show Knight Rider. Instead of a man and his high-tech car, it featured a team of five members with their very own high-tech vehicles called the Foundation for Law and Government (or F.L.A.G.). Although the original was a pop culture hit back in the early 1980s, Team Knight Rider failed to live up to expectations in the late 1990s. It was canceled after one season in first-run syndication in 1998.  

9. MELROSE PLACE (2009)

In 2009, more than 15 years after the massive success of the original Melrose Place on Fox, The CW and producers Todd Slavkin and Darren Swimmer debuted a new TV show with the same title. The new primetime soap opera, much like the original, followed the lives of several 20-somethings living in a fictional apartment complex in West Hollywood with a cast that included then-pop star Ashlee Simpson-Wentz (now Ashlee Simpson-Ross).

While cast members from the original series—including Josie Bissett, Thomas Calabro, Laura Leighton, Daphne Zuniga, and Heather Locklear as Amanda Woodward—appeared as special guest stars, Melrose Place couldn’t find a devoted audience and it received a mixed critical response. It was canceled after one season.  

10. WHAT’S HAPPENING NOW!! (1985 - 1988)

In 1985, six years after ABC canceled the original What’s Happening!! in 1979, screenwriter Eric Monte created a sequel series called What’s Happening Now!! The new TV show still followed Raj (Ernest Thomas), Dwayne (Haywood Nelson), and Rerun (Fred Berry) living in the neighborhood of Watts in Los Angeles, but now the characters are in their mid-20s instead of teenagers. Both TV shows, which were based on Monte’s coming-of-age film Cooley High, lasted for just three seasons each. Both received higher ratings in syndication than their original runs. Fun fact: Martin Lawrence made his TV debut in What’s Happening Now!!; he played a recurring role during its final season in 1987-88.  

11. DALLAS (2012)

While the original Dallas aired for 13 seasons on CBS from 1978 to 1991, its follow-up of the same name only lasted for three on TNT, from 2012 to 2014. Dallas followed the next generation of Ewing Oil’s family feud with many of the original cast members returning for another go-around. The original Dallas had a big influence on pop culture during the 1980s with its “Who shot J.R.?cliffhanger and ad campaign that fueled its popularity for 13 seasons.  

12. SAVED BY THE BELL: THE COLLEGE YEARS (1993 - 1994)

From the late 1980s through the 1990s, young Americans watched the many adventures of Zack Morris and his friends throughout junior high and high school. While Good Morning, Miss Bliss and Saved By The Bell were staples of Saturday morning programming, Saved By The Bell: The College Years premiered in primetime on NBC in 1993.

Instead of taking the original cast to college, the sequel only followed Zack Morris (Mark-Paul Gosselaar), A.C. Slater (Mario Lopez), and Screech (Dustin Diamond) as freshmen living in the dorms of the fictional California University. However, Tiffani Amber Thiessen reprised her role as Kelly Kapowski after the pilot received poor ratings. Executive producer Peter Engel regretted the decision not to involve the original cast.  

“I should’ve taken all the six kids to college. I should’ve insisted we take them all and I didn’t. It was my decision and I made a mistake,” Engel admitted to The Wrap in 2016. “I was trying to make it different than Bell and I think we made it too different,” he concluded. “I think we lost some of our—what’s the word?—innocence.”  

Saved By The Bell: The College Years was just too different for longtime fans and young viewers, while also too cheesy and cornball for mature audiences during primetime. It was canceled after only one season in 1994.

Meanwhile, Saved By The Bell: The College Years wasn't the only new TV show from Peter Engel in 1993. Saved by the Bell: The New Class debuted a few months later and was a hit on Saturday mornings for NBC; it lasted for a respectable seven seasons.  

13. STAR TREK: PHASE II (1978)

While Star Trek: The Next Generation is the official sequel to the original series, Star Trek: Phase II was the first planned follow-up, which ultimately went unproduced and unaired. After a growing Star Trek cult following and the surprise success of Star Wars in 1977, Paramount Pictures wanted their own science fiction phenomenon on the big screen, so executives asked Gene Roddenberry to adapt Star Trek into a feature film. However, plans for a movie were later scrapped when executives believed interest couldn’t support two big sci-fi movies, so instead, Roddenberry started working on a new TV series for Paramount Television Services (PTVS was slated to be the “fourth” television network), which ordered a two-hour pilot and 13 episodes that would premiere in 1978.

Many of the original cast members from Star Trek agreed to return, including DeForest Kelley, Nichelle Nichols, George Takei, and Walter Koenig, while Leonard Nimoy turned down the series altogether and William Shatner was just too darn expensive to cast at the time. New characters including a Vulcan named Xon and Captain Willard Decker were created to fill the void. But due to production problems, budget concerns, and the demise of PTVS, the Phase II project was canceled, as its story elements and characters evolved into Star Trek: The Motion Picture, which was released in 1979. Luckily, Roddenberry eventually got his sequel TV series with The Next Generation in 1987. Check out test footage from Star Trek: Phase II above.

nextArticle.image_alt|e
NBC
arrow
entertainment
30 Things You Might Not Know About Cheers
NBC
NBC

On May 20, 1993—25 years ago today—television audiences said farewell to Sam Malone, the fictional Red Sox pitcher-turned-proprietor of Cheers. Though it's the Boston bar where everybody knows your name, there’s plenty you probably don’t know about the classic sitcom, which spent 11 seasons on the air.

1. CHEERS ALMOST DIDN’T MAKE IT THROUGH SEASON ONE.

Like many of television’s greatest success stories (e.g. Seinfeld), Cheers was not an immediate hit. It premiered on September 30, 1982 to dismal ratings—77th place out of 100 shows that week, according to Nielsen. It was NBC’s entertainment president at the time, Brandon Tartikoff, who saved the show from cancellation during its first season.

2. THE BULL & FINCH PUB, ON WHICH CHEERS IS MODELED, IS NOW CALLED CHEERS

Talk about life imitating art. After it was decided that the series would be set in a bar instead of a hotel, co-creators Glen and Les Charles decided the locale should be moved to New England. “Boston was chosen partially because only five short-lived television shows claimed the city and the East Coast pubs were real neighborhood hangouts,” wrote Dennis A. Bjorklund in his book, Toasting Cheers.

As the show’s popularity rose, it didn’t take long for word to spread that the Beacon Hill tavern was the “real” Cheers (though only the exterior shots were filmed there), turning the neighborhood hangout into a tourist attraction. To satisfy the masses, a second location—this one was actually called "Cheers" and featuring a replica of the bar viewers were used to—was opened in nearby Faneuil Hall in 2001. One year later, the Bull & Finch officially changed its name to Cheers.

3. SAM MALONE WAS ORIGINALLY A PROFESSIONAL FOOTBALL PLAYER.

In the script’s earliest incarnations, Sam Malone was an ex-football player, which made sense considering that Fred Dryer—the former NFL defensive end who would go on to star in Hunter—was a top choice to play the role of Sam (opposite Julia Duffy as Diane; William Devane was also a strong contender). Ultimately, it was the chemistry between Ted Danson and Shelley Long that led to them getting the gigs. Once the casting was finalized, the creators swapped out football for baseball, based on Danson’s body type.

4. TED DANSON ATTENDED BARTENDING SCHOOL.

Danson spent two weeks at a bartending school in Burbank, California as part of his training to play Sam.

5. NORM AND CLIFF WEREN’T INTENDED TO BE REGULAR CHARACTERS.

Both George Wendt and John Ratzenberger auditioned for the same role in the pilot, a minor character named George who had a single line: “Beer!” The character’s name was changed to Norm Peterson when Wendt was cast. But Ratzenberger wasn’t about to give up so easily. “As I was leaving the office after the audition, I turned around and asked them, ‘Do you have a bar know-it-all?,’” the Bridgeport, Connecticut-born Ratzenberger recalled to 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.’” Thus, Cliff Clavin was born.

6. NORM PETERSON IS BASED ON A REAL GUY.

In 2012, co-creator Les Charles told GQ that Norm was based on a real person. “I worked at a bar after college, and we had a guy who came in every night. He wasn't named Norm, [but he] was always going to have just one beer, and then he'd say, ‘Maybe I'll just have one more.’ We had to help him out of the bar every night. His wife would call, and he'd always say, ‘Tell her I'm not here.’”

7. NORM’S NEVER-SEEN WIFE VERA IS VOICED BY GEORGE WENDT’S REAL WIFE.

Though she’s only credited in one episode, George Wendt’s wife, Bernadette Birkett, provided the voice for Norm’s wife, Vera. Birkett did make one appearance on the show—as a love interest of Cliff’s—in season three.

8. JOHN RATZENBERGER IMPROVISED MANY OF CLIFF’S FUN FACTS.

Many of the random (and untrue) facts that Cliff Clavin offers up were ad libbed by Ratzenberger. “After a couple of years on the show they realized they could trust me not to mess it up,” Ratzenberger told Deseret News in 1993. “So little by little they've 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.”

9. SOME OF THE DIALOGUE CAME FROM REAL BAR CONVERSATIONS.

In order to nail the bar talk aspect of the series, the creators regularly visited bars in the Los Angeles area to eavesdrop on patrons’ conversations. In the series premiere, there’s an argument about the sweatiest movie ever made, which was lifted from one of these overheard conversations.

10. CHEERS WASN’T AFRAID TO TACKLE SOCIAL ISSUES.

Cheers’ writers never shied away from taboo topics such as alcoholism or homosexuality, through they always had a sense of humor about them. The season one episode “The Boys in the Bar,” in which one of Sam’s former teammates announces that he is gay, earned writers Ken Levine and David Isaacs a GLAAD Media Award.

11. PLANS FOR AN HIV SCARE FOR SAM HAD TO BE ABANDONED.

In 1988, the Writers Guild of America went on strike, which meant that several planned episodes of the series were never filmed. Among them was a season six cliffhanger in which Sam learns that a former girlfriend is HIV positive.

12. RHEA WASN’T THE ONLY PERLMAN ON THE SET.

Rhea Perlman wasn’t the only member of her family to grace the set of Cheers. Her younger sister, Heide, produced more than two dozen episodes between 1985 and 1986 and wrote several episodes throughout the show’s run. Perlman’s father, Phil, played one of the bar regulars (named Phil).

13. JAY THOMAS MURDERED EDDIE LEBEC.


Getty Images

When character actor Jay Thomas wasn’t portraying Carla’s Bruin-turned-ice-show-performer husband Eddie LeBec, he was the host of a popular morning radio show in Los Angeles. Which is exactly what led to his character being killed off rather prematurely by way of Zamboni. “A few episodes of recurring bliss and then one day on Jay’s radio show, a caller asked him what it was like to be on Cheers,” recounted writer Ken Levine. “He said something to the effect of, ‘It’s brutal. I have to kiss Rhea Perlman.’ Well, guess who happened to be listening ... Jay Thomas was never seen on Cheers again.”

14. A CHEERS MINI-EPISODE WAS PRODUCED FOR THE U.S. TREASURY.

Early in Cheers’ run, its creators were contracted by the U.S. Treasury to create a special mini-episode to promote the purchase of U.S. savings bonds. Titled “Uncle Sam Malone,” the episode never aired on television nor is it included on any of the DVDs; it was intended to be screened for promotional purposes at savings bond drives only.

15. A “LOST” SCENE ALSO AIRED AS PART OF THE 1983 SUPER BOWL XVII PREGAME SHOW.

Back in early 1983, writers Ken Levine and David Isaacs wrote a special one-off scene to air before Super Bowl XVII in which Sam, Diane, Carla, Norm, Cliff, and NBC announcer Pete Axthelm bet on who will win the big game. “They ran it just before game time and it was seen by 80,000,000 people,” Levine recalled of the spot on his blog. “Nothing we've ever written before or since has been seen by that many eyeballs at one time. But the scene was never repeated. It never appeared on any DVDs. It just disappeared.” (Until now: You can watch it at the link above.)

16. TED DANSON WORE A HAIRPIECE TO PLAY HAIR-OBSESSED SAM


Getty Images

A fact that became apparent when he accepted the Emmy—sans hairpiece—in 1990. In the 1993 episode “It’s Lonely on the Top,” Sam shares his follicular challenge with Carla.

17. VIEWERS FREQUENTLY COMPLAINED ABOUT THE VOLUME OF THE LAUGH TRACK, EVEN THOUGH THERE WAS NO LAUGH TRACK.

In 1983, a quick disclaimer—spoken by one of the regular cast members—was added to the beginning of each episode: “Cheers was filmed before a live studio audience.” This was a direct response to viewer complaints that the “laugh track” was too loud.

18. THE PART OF FRASIER WAS WRITTEN FOR JOHN LITHGOW.


Getty Images

After recent roles in All That Jazz, Blow Out, and The World According to Garp (for which he received his first of two consecutive Oscar nominations), Lithgow was not interested in working on the small screen. “I just said, 'No,’” Lithgow recalled to The Hollywood Reporter. “I barely even remembered that … It was like swatting away a fly … I just wasn’t going to do a series.”

19. KELSEY GRAMMER PLAYED FRASIER CRANE FOR 20 YEARS.

Grammer made his Cheers debut in the third season premiere in 1984. Though he was intended to be a short-lived character, Crane’s popularity with audiences led to him becoming a series regular. Four months after Cheers ended in May of 1993, Frasier made its debut (on the redesigned Cheers stage, no less) and ran for its own 11 seasons. Grammer’s two-decade run as the pretentious psychiatrist is a record-breaking one for an American comedy actor.

20. TONY SOPRANO'S MOM PLAYED FRASIER'S MOM, TOO.


CBS Television Distribution

Nancy Marchand's character threatened to kill Diane. The role of Frasier's mom was played by Tom Hanks' wife Rita Wilson in a 2001 Frasier flashback.

21. KIRSTIE ALLEY IS THE ONLY MAIN CHARACTER WHO DIDN’T MAKE A GUEST APPEARANCE ON FRASIER.

Throughout Frasier’s 11-season run, Kirstie Alley was the only one of Cheers’ main actors to not make an appearance on the popular spinoff, possibly because the psychiatric profession conflicts with her beliefs as a Scientologist. “Kirstie once said ... she'd never do a show about a psychiatrist,” Kelsey Grammer told Entertainment Weekly in 2002.

22. FRASIER’S DAD WAS MAGICALLY RESURRECTED FOR THE SPINOFF.

When Frasier talked about his family on Cheers, he noted that his father—also a well-respected psychiatrist—had passed away. Yet his ex-cop dad, played by John Mahoney, is a main character in Frasier. Incidentally, Mahoney made a one-off appearance in Cheers’ eleventh season, as a fast-talking jingle writer named Sy Flembeck:

23. NORM’S FIRST NAME IS HILLARY.

His full name is Hillary Norman Peterson.

24. THAT WOODY PLAYED WOODY WAS A TOTAL COINCIDENCE.

Though many of the non-regular bar patrons’ real names were used in filming, that Woody Harrelson ended up playing Woody Boyd is by sheer coincidence. The character’s name was written into the script long before any actors had auditioned for the role.

25. NORM DRANK “NEAR BEER.”

The bar on the set may have been fully functional, but that doesn’t mean the cast got to spend the day throwing back cold ones. Norm may have had it the worst. As the bar’s resident lush, he’s rarely seen without a sudsy glass of beer in his hand. But what’s really in that glass is “near beer,” a weakened strain of ale mixed with a bit of salt to keep a perfect head on the glass at all times. Which Wendt unfortunately had to consume on more than one occasion.

26. THE SHOW HELPED PROMOTE THE IDEA OF A DESIGNATED DRIVER.

It was important to the producers of Cheers that no tipsy bar patron ever drove him or herself home, so there are frequent references to calling cabs and designated drivers. The Harvard Alcohol Project had a hand in spreading this message.

27. SAM AND DIANE DID GET MARRIED AT THE END OF SEASON FIVE.

Because Cheers was filmed in front of a live studio audience, the producers had to occasionally trick the audience so that show developments weren’t leaked. In order to keep Shelley Long’s departure from the series a secret, the live audience saw Sam and Diane get married at the end of season five. The real ending—which sees Diane leaving for six months to finish her book, only to return for a guest appearance in the final season—was filmed on a closed set.

28. CHEERS HABLA ESPAÑOL.

In September 2011, a Spanish version of the series—also called Cheers—made its debut. It starred Alberto San Juan as a former soccer player turned Irish pub owner and ran for just one season.

29. THE END OF THE SHOW IS ALL TED DANSON’S FAULT.

Though understandably so. When Danson announced that he’d be leaving the series at the end of the 1992-1993 season, producers decided that Woody could take over the bar. But Woody Harrelson wasn’t interested in continuing the show without Danson, and so its series finale was set.

30. THE CAST AND CREW GOT REALLY, REALLY DRUNK FOR THEIR SENDOFF.

NBC made a major event of the series finale, with cast and crew celebrating at Boston’s Bull & Finch Pub, where thousands of fans gathered outside to watch the show on two Jumbotrons. Then the drinks started flowing … and flowing … and flowing. “The show ended at eleven,” Ken Levine wrote in a 2013 remembrance of the evening for Vulture. “The next half-hour was an emotional tsunami. Everyone was hugging and crying and doing a lot of drinking. We were all completely wrecked.”

Then it was time for the cast 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 continued. “Us non-celeb types stayed back and watched on TV … in horror. They were so drunk they needed designated walkers. They giggled like schoolgirls over nothing, fired spitballs into each other’s mouths, squirted water guns, Woody Harrelson implied he gave oral sex to both Ted Danson and Oliver Stone, and Kirstie Alley sang a song where the only lyric was ‘dick, dick, dick.’”

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios