By David Flynn
A comedy series, set in a Boston bar, captured the imagination of tv viewers in the 1980s, many of whom had seen members of their family emigrate to the USA during that decade’s recession.
RTE viewers had been familiar with the lives of blue collar taxi drivers workers in the comedy series, ‘Taxi’ starring Danny De Vito. In 1982, the makers of ‘Taxi’ came up with a similar idea, named ‘Cheers’, except this series was set in a bar, with a humorous team made up of bartenders, a couple of regulars, but unlike ‘Taxi’, it had a couple who kept audiences guessing about ‘would they, or would they not.’
In Ireland in 1982, there was little reporting of popular entertainment from the USA in the few newspapers that were here, and obviously there was no internet. However in Autumn, tv columnist, Kevin Marron raved in the Sunday World about this new television comedy series called ‘Cheers’. It didn’t hit shores here until early 1983, when Britain’s brand new Channel 4 station screened the sitcom. At the time though, there still wasn’t full multi-channel viewing available throughout Ireland, but at the end of the year, ‘Cheers’ came to RTE.
The series revolved around the sometimes owner of the bar, Sam Malone, played by Ted Danson, and his crew, made up of barmaids, Diane (Shelley Long) and Carla (Rhea Perlman, who is married in real-life to ‘Taxi’s Danny De Vito) and bar regulars, Norm (George Wendt), Cliff (John Ratzenberger) and Frasier (Kelsey Grammer). The main barman was Coach, played by Nicolas Colasanto, who sadly died in 1985. He was replaced by the barman, Woody, played by Woody Harrelson.
A ‘will they, won’t they’ love interest took place between Sam and Diane, and the love lives of the other characters was also featured in no small way. The chemistry between the immediate cast members was electric, and they became firm favourites with audiences for more than a decade.
But things changed throughout the years, particularly Sam’s character. He was a recovering alcoholic, and former footballer, who owned the Boston bar, ‘Cheers’, and sold it, and returned as a barman, and ended up as the owner again.
‘Cheers’ was immediately loved by the critics, but was a ratings failure in its first season. However in its first year, it was nominated for a Best Comedy Series Golden Globe, and Shelley Long won the award for Best Actress.
It also won five Emmy awards in its first season, including Best Comedy and Shelley won Best Actress. It won numerous other awards throughout the years, including a Best Comedy Series Golden Globe award in 1991 and four Best Comedy series Emmy awards.
It gradually built up popularity among viewers, to become the No. 1 show in America in 1991, which was its ninth year, and it also remained in the top 10 for eight of its eleven years on the air.
After Woody Harrelson joined the series, following the tragic death of the beloved character, Coach – Woody became a big hit with viewers, and subsequently became a major movie star before ‘Cheers’ ended its run in 1993.
The set rarely changed throughout its time on the air, and the action was usually built around the bar, with some scenes in the office, or in the pool room at the back. Rarely did characters appear outside this habitat.
There was great interaction with the bar regulars, Norm and Cliff and both became firm favourites, as did Carla the barmaid. All of the regular cast were nominated for awards over the series history.
After five years on the air, Shelley Long decided to quit, and this put the producers in a tailspin, because the chemistry of the characters Diane and Sam was pivotal to the series.
The new storyline for the sixth season had Sam selling up ‘Cheers’ following Diane leaving him. The new owners appointed a bar manager, Rebecca, played by Kirstie Alley. Rebecca went on to re-hire Sam as a bartender, and they too went on to have a ‘will they, won’t they’ relationship for the next six years.
Kirstie proved to have a great talent for comedy and won both a Golden Globe and Emmy award for her performance as Rebecca.
‘Cheers’ was one of the most popular comedy series in television history, and became a cult favourite. The bar doors closed in May 1993, in a one hour episode, which included a guest appearance from Shelley Long.
The MTM producers successfully managed to keep the ‘Cheers’ magic running, by having a spin-off series, ‘Frasier’ featuring Kelsey Grammer. ‘Frasier’ too became a big hit, and like ‘Cheers’ it lasted eleven years, finishing its run in 2004.
Read David Flynn’s Classic TV Series every week in Ireland’s Own