Cheers finished a lowly 77th in the ratings after its first season in 1982 to 1983, 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. Here are a few behind-the-scenes secrets from the set.
1. SAM MALONE WAS ORIGINALLY A FOOTBALL PLAYER.
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 backstory was changed to make the character a former relief pitcher to better match Danson's physique.
Danson later revealed that he 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.
2. THERE WAS A CRACK IN THE BAR FOR A REASON.
The Cheers set, which was designed by Richard Sylbert, was loosely based on Boston's Bull & Finch pub. 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 Nicholas Colasanto, who played Coach, could read the script pages taped to the counter, as he had difficulty memorizing his lines. It took 30 to 40 extras to fill up the pub set as "customers;" any less, and the bar looked too empty.
3. JOHN RATZENBERGER SUGGESTED THAT THE BAR HAVE A "RESIDENT KNOW-IT-ALL."
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 three 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 dialogue funny. The audience loved him, so it wasn't long before Frasier became a regular on the show.
4. NORM DRANK "NEAR BEER."
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 Wendt had to periodically sip that ghastly concoction in order to keep his character "real."
5. THERE WERE A LOT OF BABIES IN THE BAR.
Both Shelley Long and Rhea Perlman were pregnant at different times during the filming of Cheers. Long was with child near the end of the third season, and the producers opted to hide her under aprons and behind the bar. 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.
6. LOOSE LIPS LED TO THE DEATH OF ONE RECURRING CHARACTER.
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 Perlman and having to kiss her ... and Perlman happened to be listening to his show. Not surprisingly, a few weeks later Eddie LeBec was killed in a bizarre Zamboni accident.