My brother and I rarely saw eye-to-eye about TV viewing choices in our teens and twenties, but we were both among the handful of people who imbibed the hilarity of a sitcom that NBC unleashed upon an unresponsive world on Sept. 30, 1982.
You may remember Cheers as the hit show (set in a Boston pub) that ran for 11 seasons, won 28 Emmy Awards, drew 93 million viewers for its finale and spawned the equally long-running spin-off Frasier.
But “last call” almost came early, as the show ranked No. 74 out of 77 programs in the Nielsen ratings its first season. Belly up to the bar? More like go belly-up!
NBC executives stuck with the underappreciated freshman show because they lacked a viable replacement and because they had faith that the adult, sophisticated humor would eventually catch on with audiences more accustomed to CHiPs and Diff’rent Strokes.
They were quite the optimists. Some folks in my neighborhood took several months to decide that Cheers wasn’t an infomercial for a furniture store. (“We ain’t spendin’ no more money on tables an’ cheers! Just pull up a box if you need it.”)
I don’t drink, but that didn’t matter, because as the theme song pointed out, “people are all the same.” Of course, that line became a little awkward in later years when Ted Danson was pulling in $250,000 per episode and the others … weren’t.
I must confess that when my wife and I were newlyweds, we missed the penultimate season of Cheers in favor of the short-lived ABC soap opera Homefront; but that was my only straying. My viewing was as reliable as “the little pop thing” on Norm’s Thanksgiving turkey.
I keep hearing about a Frasier reboot; but so far, the existing 275 episodes of Cheers have been allowed to speak for themselves (perhaps with slurred speech, but still for themselves).
In the Reagan-Bush era, Americans longed to congregate “where everybody knows your name.” I’m not so sure that citizens today want everyone knowing their name, especially if by “everyone” you mean the 87,000 new IRS agents in the “Inflation Reduction Act.”
We used to be able to enjoy our catchphrases such as “NORM!” But in an era of supply-chain issues, rising interest rates and lingering pandemic protocols, I just don’t think “NEW norm!” has the same appeal.
Earlier comedies had kept viewers wondering about romance, but the creative minds behind Cheers brought near-perfection to the Sam and Diane “will they or won’t they?” paradigm during the show’s first five seasons.
Today’s artsy streaming shows would never be able to pull it off. (“Will they or won’t they? Maybe they already did! It’s so &^%$# dark! Wait … we’ve been seeing the events in backward chronological order? Here come the subtitles about the vampire ex-beau with the heroin addiction …”)
If know-it-all mail carrier Cliff Clavin were around today spewing trivia, a new cottage industry would spring up. We already have oodles of fact-checkers, but newspapers and networks would begin relying on certified “who-gives-a-crap-ers.”
Most viewers today raise a glass to live sporting events instead of sitcoms; but Cheers spoke to the Human Condition, and reruns featuring its lovable losers will spread a message of common humanity no matter where humankind goes.
“Making your way on Mars soil today / Takes everything you’ve got / Taking a break from death-ray punctures / Sure would help a lot …”
— Satirical columnist Danny Tyree welcomes email responses at firstname.lastname@example.org and visits to his Facebook fan page Tyree’s Tyrades. He is syndicated by Cagle Cartoons and the author of Yes, Your Butt Still Belongs in Church. Click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.