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Where Everybody Knows Your Name

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Kevin M. Cherry writes on the coming demise of Frasier, ending a 22-year tradition that began with Cheers:

When Cheers premiered all those years ago, it came in last in the weekly ratings. Yet what is most impressive about the early shows is their quality: Many of the highlights of the series come from these two seasons, as evidenced by the best-of 200th episode (hosted by John McLaughlin). The performances are already spot-on, and the writers had a firm grasp of the different personalities. The series’ creators–Glen and Les Charles and James Burrows, who had honed their skills on Taxi–originally contemplated an American version of the John Cleese-Connie Booth classic, Fawlty Towers. However, they came to realize that the best scenes took place in the bar, and set the entire series in a Boston pub based on the Bull and Finch Tavern.

Over the years, Cheers had its growing pains. The second season is weaker than the first, as too much attention is paid to the blooming relationship between Sam (Ted Danson) and Diane (Shelley Long). As Norm puts it in one episode, “I kinda miss the good old days when they threw up at the sight of each other.” The series would reach its high points over the next two seasons, with the introduction of Frasier (Kelsey Grammer) as Diane’s new (and soon to be jilted) fiance, which causes the Diane-Sam relationship to mature. The sudden death of Nick Colasanto (Coach) forced the writers to introduce Indiana farm-boy Woody (Woody Harrelson), as the bar’s resident simpleton, but he never was able to equal what Danson refers to as Colasanto’s “heart and soul, the sweetness of Cheers.” Even so, this replacement worked far better than did the introduction of Rebecca (Kirstie Alley) after Diane left. Apart from the staff, the other characters throughout the years–Frasier’s wife Lilith (Bebe Neuwirth), Harry the Hat (Harry Anderson), Carla’s (Rhea Perlman, the first person cast) various ex-husbands–came and drank, but it was really Norm (George Wendt) and Cliff (John Ratzenberger) who came, drank, and stayed in our comedic memories.

The notion that Cheers did its best work in its earliest seasons is certainly understandable–every TV show does its best work in its earliest seasons. I remember seeing Jim Carrey being interviewed shortly after his first hit movies came out, and he said that when he worked on In Living Color, after the first couple of seasons, everybody on the show was strictly on auto-pilot. (The same could be said for Miami Vice.) M*A*S*H’s best episodes were its first three seasons, and then it gradually began to decay.

The original Star Trek’s best season was its first, but oddly enough, The Next Generation did its best work in its third and fourth seasons, ironically because Gene Roddenberry was less involved with the show, as his health declined. (That’s a whole other subject.)

I actually haven’t watched a new episode of Frasier in quite a while, but that’s OK: between syndicated reruns and DVDs, like Cheers, the show will be floating around the pop culture ether for quite some time to come.

(Originally posted on EdDriscoll.com)

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About Ed Driscoll

  • http://www.foliage.com/~marks Mark Saleski

    man, i remember when the frazier character was introduced….i fricken’ hated him.

    after a while i couldn’t imagine the cheers group without him.

  • Eric Olsen

    Never, ever got either Cheers or Frazier – just washed over me. People sitting around in a bar blabbing? Then the hijinx of self-important pretentious twits? 22 years is astonishing. Of course I never got Gunsmoke either and that lasted almost as long.

  • http://www.filteringcraig.com Craig Lyndall

    Cheers had some of the most classic lines ever. Norm had some real beauties. I remember a couple years ago someone compiled them into an email.

    The best one was something like…

    Sam to Norm: “So, Norm, how is the world treating you?”

    Norm: “Ah man, like a baby treats a diaper.”

    Anyway, I was never onboard for Frazier, but I grew up watching Cheers reruns. It’s funny for me to watch it now because I was too young to get the jokes the first time around. It’s almost like watching a whole new show.

  • http://www.foliage.com/~marks Mark Saleski

    my favorite:

    “Whatcha up to Norm ?”

    “My ideal weight if I were eleven feet tall.”

  • jan Deman

    rebecca was the perfect follow up for diane, and so was woody, what are you talking about
    cheers

  • gjp

    Hello from England.

    Any idea when Cheers Season 7 will be released in the UK (Region 2)???

    Thanks

  • Eddie C

    “man, i remember when the frazier character was introduced….i fricken’ hated him.

    after a while i couldn’t imagine the cheers group without him.”

    Yeah, i have to agree, Frasier was really annoying and kind of a stiff character at first, but Grammer really found Frasier’s voice when he gave him the sarcastic wit which would become his trademark. He was also pretty naive and dumb at first.

  • jfk1980

    we had a sports bar built in the same style as the cheers bar here in liverpool. i virtually lived there during weekends! sadly they closed it down due to the new beatles hotel being built on the same site. gutted! the spirit of cheers will forever live on. good folks enjoying a beer and banter! timeless

  • andy

    anyone remember what image Cliff saw in the potato?

  • Phillip

    5 years later…..Cliff thought the potato looked like Richard Nixon