A number of readers (viewers? blogniks? I dunno.) have asked me to talk more about CHEERS. Last year ESPN.COM asked me to write an article about the series. Since I’m traveling today from Florida to New York it seemed like the perfect time to share it.
Few comedy series incorporated sports more or better than Cheers. If it was devised today I’m sure Cheers would be set in an ESPNzone. I’m a comedy writer and sportscaster so working on Cheers was like dying and going to heaven. Page Three asked me to share some of my favorite sports related episodes and memories and I was happy to as long as I didn’t have to rate them in any order. I leave that up to you. (And I’m sure if you turn on TV Land one is airing right now.)
Everyone knows that Sam Malone was a former pitcher for the Boston Red Sox. But in the original draft of the pilot, written by Glen & Les Charles, Sam was a former New England Patriot. It was only when Ted Danson won the role that he was traded from the Pats to the Sox. Few linemen weigh 165 pounds.
And the switch to baseball also helped explain the Coach’s addled character. Too many fastballs to the head. Originally I think it was a Frank Gifford type accident. I don’t really recall.
Ted wasn’t much of a baseball fan. The first year of the show when the Red Sox came out to play the Angels we took Ted to Anaheim to get a picture with him and Yaz. Neither knew who the other was. I’m not sure if either does today. By the way, the framed picture hanging on the bar of Sam supposedly in action is really Jim Lonborg. Both wore #16. For Mayday Malone that’s his perpetual age.
Early on we knew we had to deal with the intense Boston-New York rivalry. In our third episode, “the Tortelli Torte” written by Tom Reeder, Carla encounters an obnoxious Yankee fan (you can imagine the nightmare of THAT casting session) and smashes his head into the bar. The audience went nuts. And that was before A-Rod. It got one of the biggest laughs in the show’s history. Screw sophisticated comedy! It was pretty funny. Trivia note: for the voice of the TV announcer we used ESPN’s Jon Miller, then a broadcaster for the Bosox. In later episodes I did the announcing. I’m sure it will be the last time anyone will be stupid enough to replace Jon Miller with me.
Later that season David Isaacs and I wrote “Now Pitching: Sam Malone” in which Sam gets hired to do beer commercials. We see one of the TV spots featuring Sam and Luis Tiant. El Tiante was a great pitcher but had a little trouble with English. And diction. And memorization. It must’ve taken fifty takes to complete the thirty second scene. Afterwards, David and I showed Luis around the set and he said (at least I think he said, it was hard to really decipher) “that was fun, I should give this acting thing a try”. Yeah, right. Maybe if they ever get around to “CSI: Cuba”.
Later that season we wrote an episode based on the Glen Burke situation. Glen was a former Dodger who became the first big leaguer to publicly announce he was gay. In “Boys in the Bar” Sam’s former roommate comes out of the closet and Sam’s standing by him causes the bar patrons to assume Cheers will go gay….complete with ferns even! We won a Gay Image Award for that show, thanks in large part I’m sure to removing the big “tug-of-war” scene we had originally written.
Former L.A. Ram, Fred Dryer, was used in several episodes as local sportscaster/buffoon, Dave Richards. (Patterned after practically every local sportscaster in every market). Fred was actually one of the three finalists for Sam Malone. William Devane was the other. Will anyone remember the runners up on “Dream Job”?
One of my favorite sports related episodes comes from the second season. “Manager Coach” written by Earl Pomerantz. The Coach manages a little league team and becomes a Nazi. Nick Colassanto, (Coach) was such a sweet guy he had a little trouble playing such a mean character. We said it’s just like the guy you played in Ragin’ Bull but only with little children.
Remember that old rummy that always used to sit at the bar? His name was Al Rosen and in the 50’s he was a TV wrestling champion. TV wrestling is still considered a sport, isn’t it?
David and I did a two-parter called “Never Love a Goalie” in which Carla hooks up with Boston Bruin goalie, Eddie LeBec. It was love at first save. What other couple would have “Oh Canada” as their “song”? Unfortunately, their romance was proving to be a huge jinx on his career. They resolved the issue by breaking up just before every game. Radio morning man Jay Thomas was cast as Eddie and was so popular we kept the relationship going, eventually even marrying them. I was thrilled. Having created an on-going character meant royalties every time he appeared. But then Jay took some unflattering shots at Rhea Perlman on his radio show. And she happened to be listening. In “Death Takes a Holdiay on Ice” David and I wrote the episode that killed him off.
In “Dark Imaginings” by David Angell, Sam winds up in the hospital after playing raquetball and realizes he’s not as young as he used to be. Watching that episode now he looks nine years old. Note: when you have a room full of Jewish comedy writers sooner or later you’re going to get around to the hernia episode.
PART TWO TOMORROW.