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.
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.
Designed 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).
John 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.
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.)
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.
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.