Raise Your Glasses To These Facts You Might Not Have Known About Cheers

Cheers holds a very special place in TV history. Not content with being the most-watched sitcom of the 80s, it was one of the most popular TV shows of the decade, period. Against all odds, it maintained that popularity and quality throughout; to this day, Cheers represents a gold standard for sitcoms. Here are some interesting facts about the show you might not have known.

20. It was the longest-running sitcom ever when it ended in 1993

Boston bar Cheers opened its doors for the first time in September 1982, and then closed them almost 11 years later in May 1993.

The show ended with 275 episodes made and aired – officially the most episodes of any live-action sitcom up to that point.

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While other sitcoms (including the similarly beloved M*A*S*H*) were in production for a similar length of time, none had clocked up so many episodes.

Cheers would hold this record for just over 26 years, until The Big Bang Theory ended in May 2019 with 279 episodes to its name.

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It should be noted, however, that Cheers only holds this record among sitcoms produced in live action.

Animated sitcom The Simpsons completely buries the records of both Cheers and The Big Bang Theory, with 706 episodes to date.

19. The show was almost cancelled after its first season

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Cheers proved to be one of the most popular TV shows of the 80s and 90s, in the US and ultimately worldwide.

This being the case, it’s strange to think that the plug was very nearly pulled on the show in its very first season.

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Nonetheless, NBC seriously considered this after the sitcom’s first episode came almost at the bottom of the ratings.

Happily, the network had a change of heart, and after reruns of the first season drew a larger audience, the ratings went up and stayed up.

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By the third season in 1984-1985, Cheers was one of the top 20 rated shows in the US with approximately 19.7 million households watching.

Viewership reached its peak in Cheers’ fifth season in 1986-1987, with an average audience of 27.2 million tuning in weekly.

18. Norm and Cliff were not originally intended to be recurring characters

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Two of Cheers’ best-loved characters are the perpetual barflies Norm and Cliff, played by George Wendt and John Ratzenberger.

Interestingly, neither of these characters actually existed in the original script for the show’s pilot episode.

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Both Wendt and Ratzenberger auditioned for the same part: a drinker named George, whose only line was “beer!”

Wendt landed this role, which was reworked with the actor’s input into the character of Norm.

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Meanwhile, Ratzenberger persuaded the producers that they needed a “know-it-all” guy at the bar constantly spewing useless information.

This became Cliff – and a lot of the obscure ‘facts’ the character comes out with were ad-libbed by Ratzenberger himself.

17. A fake ending was shot for season five to keep Shelley Long’s departure a secret

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After five seasons of playing Diane, barmaid and on-off love interest of Ted Danson’s Sam, Shelley Long decided to leave the show.

As Cheers was filmed before a live studio audience, the producers were nervous about Long’s departure becoming common knowledge.

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Because of this, they shot a fake ending for season five which showed Sam and Diane getting married.

Later, on a closed set, they shot the real ending, in which Diane tells Sam she’s leaving.

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As the relationship between Sam and Diane was so pivotal to the show, there were concerns that Cheers would fail without her.

Happily this wasn’t the case, and Kirstie Alley’s Rebecca proved a very popular replacement.

16. The character of Woody was already named Woody before Woody Harrelson was cast

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The first notable shake-up to Cheers’ cast came by necessity, with the death of Coach actor Nicholas Colasanto in 1985.

The show addressed the actor’s passing by announcing Coach’s death in the first episode of season four.

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In that very same episode they introduced Cheers’ new bartender (and de facto replacement of Coach), Woody.

Viewers couldn’t fail to note that Woody was played by an actor of the same name – Woody Harrelson.

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This left some viewers wondering whether the character had been named in the actor’s honour.

In fact, Woody was already the name the writers had picked out, and it suited Harrelson so well that they saw no reason to change it.

15. John Lithgow was the first choice to play Frasier Crane

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Highly-strung psychiatrist Frasier Crane became one of the best-loved recurring characters on Cheers.

As such, it’s easy to forget that Kelsey Grammer wasn’t introduced in the role until season three, and only became a full-time cast member in season five.

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What’s even more surprising is that Grammer wasn’t the original choice to play the part.

The role had been originally been written with another actor in mind – John Lithgow.

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However, Lithgow turned it down as he wanted to concentrate on his film career, and had no interest in being in a sitcom.

Lithgow would later have a change of heart, and would sign on to star in popular 90s sitcom Third Rock from the Sun.

14. George Wendt’s real-life wife provided the voice of Norm’s unseen wife Vera

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Credit: Alan Light via Wikimedia Commons

It’s interesting to note how many popular sitcoms feature a character often referred to and sometimes heard, but never actually seen.

Cheers arguably did this best with Norm’s wife Vera, frequently the subject of the barfly’s quips.

On occasion Vera’s voice is heard on the show, but her face is never seen on camera.

In a touching twist, the voice of Vera was provided by Bernadette Birkett, who has been Wendt’s real-life spouse since 1978.

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Interestingly, Birkett did once appear on camera in a different role in the show’s third season.

The actress made a one-off appearance in 1984 episode Fairy Tales Come True as a love interest for Cliff, dressed up as Tinker Bell.

13. When Ted Danson quit, the producers wanted to keep the show going with Woody running the bar

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When the cast and crew were filming the 11th season of Cheers, lead actor Ted Danson decided he was ready to move on.

However, even though this was the end for Sam Malone, it wasn’t always going to be the end for Cheers.

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The show’s producers proposed that the show could continue without Sam by promoting Woody to head bartender.

However, when this was proposed to Harrelson himself, the actor insisted he didn’t want to do it.

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Ultimately, it was agreed that Danson was the real heart of the show, and that it wouldn’t work without him.

Subsequently it was decided the network should instead conclude Cheers with the end of the 1993 season.

12. Every surviving main cast member went on to appear on Frasier – except Kirstie Alley

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In September 1993, only four months after Cheers ended, NBC premiered spin-off show Frasier.

The show saw Kelsey Grammer reprise his role as the droll psychiatrist, now relocated from Boston to Seattle.

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Joining Grammer in the central cast were John Mahoney, David Hyde Pierce, Peri Gilpin and Jane Leeves.

To the surprise of many, Frasier proved massively successful in its own right, and would also enjoy an 11-year run.

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During this time, all but one of the surviving main cast members from Cheers would make a guest appearance on Frasier.

The only hold-out was Kirstie Alley, who – as a Scientologist – refused to appear on a show which promoted psychiatry.

11. Sam Malone was almost played by Hunter actor Fred Dryer

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Cheers stars Ted Danson as Sam Malone, former baseball player turned bartender – but this wasn’t always the plan.

In the original script for Cheers’ pilot episode, Sam was going to be a retired football player.

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The producers even had a bona fide former NFL player in mind for the part: Fred Dryer.

However, it was later decided that Danson, as the more experienced actor, was a better choice for the role.

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Dryer would instead go on to play the lead role in long-running 80s cop show Hunter, but had a recurring guest role on Cheers as sportscaster Dave Richards.

When Danson was cast, it was felt his tall but slender frame was wrong for football, so Sam instead became a retired baseball player.

10. One of the show’s writers and producers was Rhea Perlman’s sister

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Along with Ted Danson and George Wendt, the other longest-serving main actor on Cheers was Rhea Perlman (Carla).

Perlman had made several movies and had appeared in five episodes of Taxi (alongside husband Danny DeVito) when she was cast as the Cheers waitress.

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Nor was she the only member of her family to get a big professional break on Cheers.

The actress’ sister, Heide Perlman, was a member of the show’s writing staff, penning 17 episodes.

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Heide Perlman also served as one of the show’s producers, and went on to work on The Tracey Ullman Show, Frasier and Kirstie.

On top of which, a third member of the Perlman family – Rhea and Heide’s father Phillip – appeared in 36 episodes of Cheers as an extra.

9. Woody Harrelson nailed his audition by blowing his nose

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Today, Woody Harrelson is one of the most prolific and versatile actors around, with over 100 credits across a wide variety of material.

However, back in the early 80s he was just another aspiring young actor looking for his breakthrough role.

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Harrelson recalls that when the Cheers audition came up, “I kind of had an idea that I didn’t want to do television because I generally didn’t like the quality.”

Nonetheless, Harrelson’s agent twisted his arm and got him to go in for the audition, but Harrelson had no expectation: “I was really carefree because I knew I was going back to New York, and they’d pretty much decided on this one guy.”

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However, as soon as Harrelson arrived the casting director saw his potential, and (unbeknownst to the actor) took him in to read in front of the Cheers writers. Harrelson was so casual about this, he blew his nose as he walked in.

Harrelson recalls that, as he was blowing his nose, “everybody laughed before I said a word. And as [director] Jimmy Burrows said, ‘You had the part right then.'”

8. Ted Danson was “very uncomfortable” playing a womaniser and recovering alcoholic

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Cheers may be primarily a light-hearted sitcom, but there are some darker, more serious undertones to the show and its characters.

For one thing, Ted Danson’s bartender Sam Malone is himself a recovering alcoholic, as well as a relentless womaniser.

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Apparently, Danson felt seriously out of his element trying to portray such a character in the early days.

Writer and producer Ken Levine recalls, “Ted felt very uncomfortable at first playing Sam because he wasn’t a lothario in real life.”

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“But he brought a quality to Sam that he himself possesses: kindness and humanity. That went a long way toward the audience embracing Sam.”

Cheers co-creator says that Danson’s great strength was that “he looks like a leading man, but he’s [really] a character actor. He could play a lot of colours… it made the writing more challenging and fun.”

7. George Wendt drank a watered-down ‘near-beer’

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One possible downside to Cheers is that the show could sometimes leave you a little concerned about the alcohol intake of much of its cast.

Of paramount concern there would be George Wendt’s Norm, such a mainstay at the bar that his seat is always saved for him, and everyone shouts his name when he arrives.

Raise Your Glasses To These Facts You Might Not Have Known About Cheers

On the other hand, many viewers might think Wendt had the most enviable job in the world, sitting there sipping beer for 275 episodes.

But of course, the liquid that Wendt was sipping on for all those years wasn’t beer in the strictest sense.

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Dubbed ‘near beer,’ the stage liquid was indeed alcoholic (3.2% ABV), but it was also heavily salted. The addition of salt was necessary for it to remain foamy under the hot lights.

Happily, Wendt didn’t literally drink this unpleasant-sounding brew by the mug, but he was obliged to take the occasional sip for the sake of realism.

6. Jay Thomas was fired as Carla’s husband after he badmouthed Rhea Perlman in public

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In 1987, Jay Thomas was introduced as Eddie LeBec, love interest and eventually husband of Rhea Perlman’s Carla.

As well as being an actor, Thomas was also the host of a morning radio show in Los Angeles.

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After being on Cheers for several episodes, a caller to the radio show asked Thomas what it was like making the show.

Thomas was less than flattering about working on the show, in particular because it involved having to kiss Rhea Perlman.

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Thomas’ remarks were heard by tens of thousands of listeners – among them people who worked on Cheers.

As might be expected, Thomas was immediately fired from the show. They even went so far as to kill off Eddie.

5. The writers helped popularise the concept of the ‘designated driver’

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Given that Cheers dwells so heavily on alcohol consumption, there were obviously fears that it might send out bad messages.

For this reason (plus the show’s popularity), the producers of Cheers were approached by the Harvard Alcohol Project to help introduce the concept of the designated driver.

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Writers on Cheers, as well as other shows including Dallas and LA Law, agreed to promote messages against drunk driving in their scripts.

With this in mind, Cheers scripts from 1988 onwards would make a point of emphasising responsible drinking practices.

The dialogue would often highlight how the drinkers were getting home, stressing that they would not be driving themselves.

There would often be references to ‘designated drivers’, helping to bring this term into the popular vernacular.

4. A writers’ strike forced the show to abandon a planned HIV story

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Cheers wasn’t afraid to tackle sensitive subjects now and then, not limited to Sam’s history as an alcoholic.

The series won a GLAAD award for one episode, which saw a former team mate of Sam come out as gay.

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Cheers came close to tackling another subject which was particularly prominent at the time: the HIV and AIDS crisis.

There had been plans for this to be directly addressed in the show, with lothario Sam learning that one of his many exes is HIV positive.

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However, before the writers were able to get to work on this episode, production was halted by a Writers Guild of America strike.

Because of this strike, the HIV storyline – which had been intended as a cliffhanger for the end of season six – was abandoned.

3. A real Boston bar was used for the exterior shots

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Credit: Wikimedia Commons

While the vast majority of Cheers was filmed on a studio set, a real location was used for the exterior shots.

The venue in question was a genuine basement bar, which at the time was known as the Bull and Finch Pub.

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Credit: Wikimedia Commons

As might be expected, it didn’t take long for word to get around that the Bull and Finch was the location used for the popular show.

As a result, the Bull and Finch soon found itself hosting a great many more visitors.

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Credit: Cheersboston.com

Eventually, the owners decided to fully embrace the fandom and officially renamed the pub Cheers.

Sadly, Cheers closed its doors for good in September 2020, failing to remain in business in the wake of the Covid-19 lockdown.

2. Bill Cosby was suggested early on for the part of Sam Malone

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As hard as it is to imagine now, the star of another of the most popular 80s sitcoms came close to playing Sam Malone.

Early on in the show’s development process, the now-disgraced stand-up comedian Bill Cosby was touted for the male lead in Cheers.

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However, series co-creator Les Charles says they “had two rules. No known names and no characters’ name as the title of the show.”

As Cosby was already a household name, he was out – but sure enough, he was soon headlining a sitcom with his name in the title.

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The Cosby Show ran from September 1984 to April 1992, and for the bulk of that time it was the single highest rated show on television, comfortably beating Cheers.

Of course, reruns of The Cosby Show are now almost non-existent, due to the horrendous crimes of Cosby’s which have since come to light.

1. There was a short-lived Spanish remake of the show

While a number of high profile sitcoms have enjoyed revivals in recent years, Cheers has not been among them.

However, a new version of the show was produced in 2011 in the form of a Spanish television remake.

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This Spanish show, also entitled Cheers (and, as you can see above, featuring a re-recording of the theme song), lasted for a single season.

There were also reports that an Irish-language remake of Cheers was in the works in 2012, but this did not come to fruition.

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2016 also saw the premiere of stage play Cheers: Live on Stage, which appropriately opened in Boston – but plans for a nationwide tour fell through.