Thursday, March 10, 2022


 The Beloved Spouse™ and I recently completed viewing every episode of Cheers. For those who weren’t around to enjoy the original broadcasts, here’s an idea of why we watched at least two episodes almost every night.


First, and most important for a comedy, the show is hilarious. Some of the humor may seem dated – and, to some, bits of it may seem inappropriate – but it’s always clever, and, for a show that builds much of its humor on the cluelessness of the characters, much more intelligent than most comedies, with the possible exception of its spin-off, Frasier. (By this I don’t mean droll, or something high-brow that inspires conspiratorial smiles from the viewer. I mean laugh out loud funny.)


The characters are well-drawn, and provide enough variety to help keep the writing fresh for eleven years. Each has his or her own well-defined persona, and they stick to it, though there are still some surprises, just as with the people we know.


This works because the producers cast actors suit their roles and are good at their jobs. I’ve always been a Ted Danson fan, but watching the show now made me appreciate how good he really is. Even his background reactions were always in character and complemented the punch line or situation.


There are a couple of examples of how well the producers chose their actors. Kelsey Grammar (Frasier Crane) and his eventual wife, Lilith (Bebe Neuwirth) came in to fill short term needs. Frazier became a regular and eventually got his own show, which ran as long as Cheers; Lilith became regular enough to get a credit.


Necessary replacements provide even better examples. Nicholas Colasanto (Coach), beloved of cast and audience, died after season three, to be replaced by a young Woody Harrelson as Woody Boyd, a character that filled the same role in the repertory company as Coach, but in a much different manner.


The big change, of course, came when Shelley Long (Diane Chambers) left the show. Kirstie Alley came in and picked right up. The writers changed the premise mid-stream and never missed a beat. There has never been a better comedic crier then Mary Tyler Moore, but Kirstie Alley is in her league.


What makes all this work? The writing, of course. No actor can be better than the material, and Cheers is as well-written a show as has ever been on television. It could have fallen into the trap of being a typical workplace sitcom, but the bar setting allowed the writers to leverage one of the core strengths of Barney Miller by providing opportunity for truly eccentric characters to pass through. I can’t remember any examples in the 272 episodes where I thought, “Well, that was wasted.”


Cheers debuted forty years ago. It holds up well despite society’s changing attitudes about such core parts of the show as Sam’s womanizing and Norm’s drinking because, like all classic sitcoms, at its core it’s about people, and these are people for whom the writers have genuine affection. If you’ve never seen Cheers, do yourself a favor and check it out. If you saw it during its original run, stop by again and remember what it’s like to spend time where everyone knows your name.


Les Edgerton said...

I love Cheers, too Dana! BTW, years ago during an interview, the Charles brothers stated that the secret to the show's success was that in every single episode, they used at least one example of each of the seven forms of humor; therefore, there was something for everybody in each episode. Blue skies, Les

pattinase (abbott) said...

I just rewatched it too and was amazed at how well it held up. I was sorry when I finished.