Saturday, September 30, 2006

The CHEERS set


My favorite reader comment so far:

I've gotten familiar with Becker through the syndication. Not familiar with "Cheers".

Well, among those who are familiar with CHEERS I received a request to talk about the set.

We filmed CHEERS on Stage 25 at Paramount Studios in Hollywood (but the seedier section of Hollywood).

The set was designed by Richard Sylbert, an Academy Award winner whose credits include CHINATOWN, REDS, WHOSE AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF, ROSEMARY’S BABY, THE GRADUATE, and (ironically) LILITH.

It was patterned after the Bull & Finch bar in Boston. But the B&F is much smaller, and the bar itself is up against the back wall. The d├ęcor, Tiffany lamps, and stained glass is true to the B&F.

Director James Burrows had a lot of input into the design which is why it was so easy to shoot in it. You could bring cameras way up into the set, get many different and interesting angles, and even get shots all the way down the hall.

If you look closely you’ll notice a line that runs down the center of the bar. It’s on a hinge and actually the right half can swing around, allowing room for the right wall to swing back revealing Sam’s office.

There are lights underneath the bar pointing up. It was hard in the first few episodes to see Ted Danson’s eyes.

Nick Colasanto always had a tough time memorizing the script. There were dozens of his lines hidden underneath the bar.

The bar was functional. The CHEERS set was the best ever for show parties.

Whenever an outside set is needed the pool room set is struck.

There is a fourth wall section that was used a couple of times in the first season.

The audience bleachers sat 200. They were raised so even the front row could see over the cameras. To one side was a platform where a small band would play between scenes.

The beer served on tap was warm 3.2 beer. Do not envy George Wendt having to drink that swill every week.

The set was huge. If we wanted to pack the bar we needed 500 people. For our routine customers we used 30-40 extras. Anything else and the bar looked empty.

The guy who had the hardest job on the series was the prop master. Imagine keeping track of all the glasses, drinks, bowls, trays, pretzels, 5.457.432 lemons that Ted cut up every episode, etc.

The phone on the bar would move from end to end depending upon where we needed it.

The Wurlitzer jukebox was not functional. The piano was.

The set was lit differently after the first couple of episodes. Brighter, more inviting. If you have the DVD of the first season, notice the difference between the pilot and episodes later in the year.

In an effort to save money during our first season (when we were getting killed in the ratings not only by SIMON & SIMON but by TUCKER’S WITCH for Godsakes) the studio requested we start shooting the show on tape. A test scene was taped and the set looked ghastly. So much for that brilliant experiment.

The photo over the bar that is supposed to be Sam is really Boston Cy Young winning pitcher Jim Lonborg.

The wooden Indian at the front door was named Techumsa.

When the series finally wrapped I walked over to the stage to watch them strike the set. It was so upsetting I left after maybe two minutes. Of all the shows I worked on, CHEERS was my favorite. And no, I didn’t steal anything from the set. And yes, I’m an idiot. I should have. At least Techumsa.

23 comments:

Mike Barer said...

I remember that the Coach passed away shortly after one of the Hill Street Blues characters died and then Night Court lost Selma Diamond. It was one tragedy after another for the Peacock Network.

jazmac said...

Hey, Ken. I'm one of your new readers, coming over from LM a few days ago. Very much enjoy reading you. I was a huge Cheers fan. I remember the first episode (surprised that I actually laughed out loud at a sitcom) and the last. And so many in between. First time I've ever been able to say to anyone involved in that show - thanks for the memories!

Seymour said...

Fun, fascinating post. Thanks for the inside look. Though I could have done without that "Seedier parts of Hollywood" remark. During the first two years CHEERS was on the air, I was living less than 100 yards from stage 25 at Paramount. I saw the CHEERS sign over the audience entrance every day. And I found the neighborhood quite pleasant, and full of friendly families. I enjoyed living there, and on pleasant Sunday afternoons, I used to enjoy strolling through Hollywood Memorial Cemetary across the fence from Paramount, often sitting on Tyrone Power (His Memorial is a marble bench.) to have a cigarette. I don't live in Hollywood anymore, and I haven't had a cigarette in 16 years, but I remember those days fondly, and am glad that CHEERS is still around in reruns to take me back. More CHEERS stories always welcome.

Ken Levine said...

When I consulted on WINGS our writing room was on the second floor of a building on Gower. At night we would see an ice cream truck pull up and watch drug deals go down. We used to call the ice cream man Cracky the Clown.

C. T. Clown said...

Hey! It's like old home week! I was that guy selling the drugs!!

Ha ha! Small world, eh?

Tom Quigley said...

Ken,

Great info. Have already told my experience of my few moments on the CHEERS set in one of your previous posts, but I wonder if you noticed the pile of scripts that had been tossed away next to the bleachers after filming the last show. When Rudy Hornish was taking me on a tour of the nearly completed FRASIER set on Stage 25, we noticed this small mountain of paper as we got to the staircase. "You want a CHEERS script?" Rudy laughed as we passed by it. Never one to pass up freebies, I picked one up off the top and can now claim to be the proud owner of a copy of "Woody Gets an Election", an episode from the final season (and an episode in which, I believe, Peri Gilpin appears as a newspaper reporter).

Jameson said...

I think it's a testament to the audience's identification with the show that the set continues to stand (most of it, anyway) at the Hollywood Entertainment Museum on Hollywood Blvd. The only part of that tour that's worth the measly admission price.

Great Big Radio Guy said...

I always marvelled at the reality of the Cheers bar with two glaring exceptions: Nobody smoked and nobody paid.

An 80s dream bar if there ever was one.

Tod Hunter said...

Any idea what happened to the "This is a SQUARE HOUSE/Please report any un-fairness to the Proprietor" sign? I used to love that.

Oddly, I knew Dick Sylbert peripherally near the end of his life. I should have asked HIM...

-t

Tom said...

Practicality is everything in set design. Bob Schiller once told me that the set used for Ricky and Lucy's house in Connecticut on the last episodes of "I Love Lucy" was gorgeous, and everyone initially loved it because it was huge compared to the small apartment sets they'd had, but it quickly became a pain. That big flight of stairs made quick entrances and exits on the things impossible. Likewise, the front door was so far from where the action was staged that it took forever for someone to enter or leave the house by it, so another door was added in the dining room area, and it actually got used more than the front door. Not to mention that all the furniture required to fill the set up tended to get in the way of staging action scenes. They learned to appreciate that little apartment set much more than they had.

Shawn said...

I served behind the Cheers bar at the Hollywood Entertainment Museum back in my bartending days. A group of doctors from out of town where given a private tour of the museum and spent an hour drinking at the exhibit. It was an awesome experience, except for the 'Norm' shouts every three seconds.

Seymour said...

Well, WINGS was after I'd moved away. Too bad. That truck would have been so convenient.

Barking Up Trees said...

back in '83-84, i worked as concierge at the boston park plaza, located on the opposite end of the public garden from the bull & finch... everybody new to the city had plenty of options to see any number of sites: the harbor, fanueil hall/quincy market; fenway pahk; the esplinade; the hancock observatory; hahvahd squaah...
and yet, everbody... EVERYbody asked about where could they find "the cheers bar"... none knew it was called the bull & finch pub... and half sought me out after seeing it to complain it didn't look anything like the t.v. bar...
i went back in '99 to find they were redesigning the bull & finch to look more like "cheers"...
don't know if they succeeded...
guess i'll have to check it out at some point... no expectations... i love beantown as it is...

Allan said...

The house filmed for the exterior of the Sugarbaker Design Firm on Designing Women is here in the town where I live. As part of our city's historic district, it was open for tours for many years, and after the series premiered, it was not uncommon for visitors to complain that they were disappointed that the interior bore not the least resemblance to the set seen on Women. Some actually believed the show was filmed there and expected to see the cast at work!

Paul Duca said...

Allan...you forgot to mention that while DESIGNING WOMEN is set in Atlanta, the "Sugarbaker house" is in Little Rock.

Michael S. Murphy said...

Where can I get a replica "This is a Square House" sign???

Michael S. Murphy said...

I'm still looking for a replica of "This is a square house" sign. Anyone???

J Ryan said...

Haha... me too. Was just searching online for the Square House sign when I came across this post.

I'm a long time Cheers fan and former Paramount employee. I've been to the Bull and Finch and the Hollywood Museum many times. The B&F most recently last week. A few months ago they constructed a Cheers "set" bar upstairs in what used to be the "Oak Room" in the Hampshire House. It's not perfect, but it's a lot better than the replica @ the Faneuil Hall location. I'd recommend it. Nothing like the actual bar @ the B&F though. One of America's perfect drinking rooms. :)

San Carmel said...

All seasons of Cheers are now available on Netflix and Amazon on-demand TV shows. Amazon's is even in HD (720). I was in high school and college when Cheers was on TV. I have great memories watching the show, so being able to see them on the net now is very cool.
Ken, do you know anything about the old photographs that were used in the opening credits (when the theme song plays). Do you know who the people are in the photographs are? It may seem like a remote question, but I have seen most of the Cheers episodes (if not nearly all of them) and I watch them on the net now, and it has been a question since the 80s. If not, do you know where I can begin to find out, perhaps who put the opening together? I appreciate your help.

chris oscarson said...

"I always marvelled at the reality of the Cheers bar with two glaring exceptions: Nobody smoked and nobody paid."

Actually, in season1 ep3 Freddy pays for a round and in ep10 someone is smoking.

Allan V said...

Does anyone know where the actual Cheers bar is now? I understand it was at the Hollywood Entertainment Museum, but it closed several years ago.

David J said...

Anyone know where the house is that they used for the exterior shots of the Gaines mansion? I'm assuming its in Hancock Park, Los Angeles since the Drake mansion is there on the corner of 4th and Hudson. Just curious.

Allison Curley said...

Great post - thanks! My mom was an extra on Cheers in 1992 (season 10, episode 21; "take me out of the ball game"). I'm looking for some kind of memorabilia (photo, script, etc) to give her. Any ideas where I could find something that?