12 frothy facts about Cheers

Learn how Lucille Ball, Prince, pregnancy and "Hilary" relate to the beloved bar sitcom.

"You want to go where everybody knows your name." This is certainly true of actors. For 11 seasons, the cast of Cheers certainly became household names. The sitcom spent eight of those seasons in the Nielsen top ten. Millions tuned in to follow the romance of Sam and Diane, or the insults from sharp-tongued Carla. We all shouted "Norm!" when George Wendt entered the scene. Beloved characters came and went. Woody replaced Coach, Frasier received a spin-off, and a staggering 111 Emmy nominations were earned.

Here are a dozen little known facts — as Cliff would say — on which to nibble.

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1. The creators considered setting the bar in a small town or a desert.

Co-creator Les Charles, who had previous produced Taxi, recalled in an oral history with GQ: "We talked about putting this bar out in the desert somewhere, or in a small town, but once we were looking at a city, we immediately went to Boston." Image how different the series would have been in a desert oasis? Actually, it might have been closer to M*A*S*H.

2. It was one of the earliest sitcoms to feature serialized storytelling.

The narrative practice is so commonplace today that we almost forget, but sitcoms were once one-and-done stories. Sure, there might have been a two-parter here and there, but Cheers popularized the notion of a sitcom with long story arcs, season-long plots and cliffhangers. Les Charles noted, "[We] may have been partly responsible for what's going on now, where if you miss the first episode or two, you are lost. … I feel kind of badly about it."

3. Nicholas Colasanto scribbled his lines into the set.

Colasanto wrote down some of his dialogue around the bar so as not to forget his lines. For the episode "Coach Buries a Grudge," he wrote one of his lines — "It's as if he's still with us now" — on the wood to the right of the front door. After Colasanto's death, actors would ritually slap the spot when entering the set, like football players entering a hallowed stadium.

4. The show performed horribly in the ratings at first.

The sitcom almost failed to make it past the first season. The benevolence and faith of NBC exec Brandon Tartikoff kept it going. Cheers finished near the bottom of the list of 77 network series that season. To help boost ratings, NBC produced a Cheers skit to air with the Super Bowl. Reruns in the summer of 1983 performed much better, perhaps bolstering the hope in both the boardroom and the writers' room.

5. Shelley Long and Rhea Perlman were pregnant at the same time — though only one showed it on screen.

Both performers gave birth to children in March of 1985. Perlman's pregnancy was written into season three of the show, as you can see in the image. On the other hand, writers kept Long's pregnancy out of the plot, which is why you will find her sitting behind desks and standing behind the bar quite often that season.

6. Norm's real first name was Hilary.

Hilary R. Peterson was named after his grandfather, who "once killed a man for laughing at him," or so we learn in season nine. Supposedly, the R. stands for Resourceful. 

7. George Wendt's actual wife played Norm's wife.

Norm's wife, Vera, is heard, not seen, in a handful of episodes. Wendt's real-life spouse, Bernadette Birkett, provided the voice of Vera. Birkett did get to show her face on screen in one episode, however — under a mask. She played Tinkerbell in season three's "Fairy Tales Can Come True."

8. John Ratzenberger originally auditioned for the role of Norm.

How different might that have been? After missing out on the part, Ratzenberger reportedly came up with the character of Cliff himself, successfully suggesting that the bar needed a know-it-all. Speaking of casting What Ifs…

9. John Lithgow, Janis Ian, Fred Dryer and Ed O’Neill also auditioned for big roles.

Can you picture Hunter as Sam? Or how about folk singer Janis Ian as the cantankerous Carla Tortelli? Or, say, John Lithgow as Frasier? Actually, that last one would have worked. Former football star Dryer was close to landing the role of jock bartender Sam. He did end up on screen as sportscaster Dave Richards in a handful of episodes. Future Married with Children star O'Neill also tried out for Ted Danson's role. David Alan Grier was also near to nabbing a spot in the cast as a never-seen character, but, alas, that never materialized.

10. Lucille Ball almost played Diane's mom.

Writer-producer Ken Levine told of how the comedy icon almost became part of the cast. "We heard the first year that Lucille Ball loved Cheers, and we all thought she should play Diane's mom. We thought that would really boost the show," Levine explained. Ball met with co-creators Les and Glen Charles. However, the television legend eventually backed out of the role, sensing that I Love Lucy lovers would find the new character too drastic a leap from her established onscreen persona.

11. Kirstie Alley brought Prince to the set.

The Purple One was a fan of the show. "One time, I brought Prince to the set. He's a friend of mine, and he asked to come," Alley said.

12. The theme song lyrics originally began with a line about the Red Sox.

As a songwriter, you want to write a song where everybody knows your lyrics. Songwriter Gary Portnoy certainly achieved that with his immortal opening theme to Cheers. "Making your way in the world today takes everything you got," the tune began. In demo form, however, the ditty opened with a line about Boston sports. "Singing the blues when the Red Sox lose, it's a crisis in your life," Portnoy crooned. Perhaps it was changed so as not to offend Yankees fans.

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TosMeTV 21 hours ago
Thanks! I did love the show. Some actual facts that weren't already put out there a zillion times.
Sorella 4 days ago
Would love to see Cheers come to MeTV. No more dumb fish puppet/muppet shows! I miss when MeTV used to air shows like Mary Tyler Moore, Bob Newhart, Colombo, McCloud, etc. I hope they can come back someday.
hummingbirds 4 days ago
I learned a lot of these interesting facts. Didn’t know any of them. Thanks!
Hilary 4 days ago
10/12 not too bad! I love Ted Danson!probably we graduated from CMU together!
327053 4 days ago
We’re going to need another channel to fit all of these great shows in!😜
Pacificsun 5 days ago
LoveMETV22 Pacificsun 4 days ago
I Like your Long Version Clip. Thank You for the share.
Pacificsun LoveMETV22 4 days ago
(Only IMO) am real fussy about YT arrangements, volume's gotta be there (and this one's low), gotta start with that initial punch. Even remastered doesn't always do it. So, couldn't figure out why *this* was the only longest version offered. While ChristmasOnJupiter explains " Portnoy went back into the studio to record a longer version." It seems he did it by extending the instrumental in the middle rather than adding lyrics! But I haven't compared them side by side either.

I love You Tube!!
Rick 5 days ago
So MeTV is about to start running Cheers, I guess?
LoveMETV22 Rick 4 days ago
Your guess is as good as anyone's. However there are a few other programs on the
" Sunday Block Party" promo they're running, I Love Lucy, Gidget, The Flying Nun, The Monkees, Laverne & Shirley, that don't run in the regular program schedule. So is it a teaser for programs that will be broadcast after the Summer? I think the stories and quizzes at the moment are just promoting what's being broadcast each Sunday. It will be interesting to see though.
Pacificsun LoveMETV22 4 days ago
Pesky little me, still thinks they're trying to figure out the best way to populate MeTV Plus. Especially if their platform goes to streaming. Just sayin' ... it's not a rumor. So nobody panic!!
LoveMETV22 Pacificsun 2 days ago
No, I wouldn't say pesky, anything is possible. An article from last year which Neil Sabin comments makes me think differently, in the last two paragraphs he seems in favor of OTA. JMO


A side tidbit: from July 23 at least till the end of the summer, viewers will get a breather from Sventoonie and gain a Batman episode, (MeTV updated their PDF Schedule with the change)

Jeffrey 6 days ago
Well, That's good to know. I never knew all those tidbits before. Thank you.
JHP 6 days ago
show is ok in my book

better than a few on Me-Tv

just couldn't stand Ted Danson - I think him and Ted McGinley were separated at birth
BrianMoore 7 days ago
Is Cheers coming back to MeTV? IS CHEERS COMING BACK TO METV? And not just for the Summer Block Party?
nana2two 7 days ago
Wow, what a show this was. There will never be another like it. The writers did a great job and the cast was exemplary.
Runeshaper 7 days ago
I love Cheers! The characters and stories are FANTASTIC + the theme song is EXCELLENT!
LoveMETV22 7 days ago
An old promo Clip from when Cheers was on the Schedule.

MeTv add this great series back to your schedule.
Pacificsun LoveMETV22 5 days ago
What a great Promo!

We are going to make you our Official Scout for everything clever!

Thank you!!
LoveMETV22 Pacificsun 4 days ago
Well thank you, but just a video clip. Compliments your way as well for the links you provide in various stories and quizzes, always fun and informative reading.
15inchBlackandWhite 7 days ago
Here's another one. James Burrows, co-creator of Cheers, is the son of Abe Burrows, co-creator of Duffy's Tavern, a popular 1940's radio comedy SET IN A BAR!
listening to Duffys Tavern right now :)
Peter_Falk_Fan 7 days ago
Here's an interesting tidbit: There's a replica of the "Cheers" bar in my video game "Fallout 4". The bar is called Prost. The game takes place in the Boston area (200 years after a nuclear war). The place has no people in it, but there are skeletons. Two skeletons are behind the bar holding hands, two skeletons are next to each other at the bar (one in a mailman's uniform), and a lone skeleton in formal wear is in the corner. They represent Sam and Diane, Norm and Cliff, and Frazier, respectively. There are baseball posters on the wall.
Sway 8 days ago
Interesting. #3 is really sweet.
jaelinsmith40652 8 days ago
Very Fascinating! I would've not known about that Lucille Ball would've been in the set with Cheers, Anyone including myself like her as she shows her comedic talent to make me laugh and had a good blessing day watching and seeing her perform on tv to make this show sitcom Cheers a better way to succeed NBC Network. "oh i can't wait for me to watch and enjoy that show this Sunday, i better grab my own evening dinner and sit down on the floor.
Michael 8 days ago
I can't imagine Janis Ian wantig to do the show. A searchsays they asked her, but she declined. But apparently she took acting lessons, it doesn't say when, and had a role or two. She did go to the performing arts school that Fame is based on.

I'm sure I first saw Shelley Long in "A Small Circle of Friends" from 1980. She plays Karen Allen's friend.
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