Friday, November 23, 2007

The story behind the CHEERS theme

Got a request for the full-length version of the CHEERS theme. There’s a great story behind it.

1981. Songwriter Gary Portnoy had just been fired as a staff writer from a major music publisher. His friend Judy Hart Angelo happened to meet a Broadway producer at dinner one night who needed a score written for a new musical he was producing. They decided to team up. Gary had never written for the theater, Judy had never written a song.

Somehow a tape of one of their demo songs found its way to Hollywood and the Charles Brothers. They thought it would be perfect for the theme of the new show they were developing, CHEERS.

But that’s not the song you know.

When the Broadway producer found out one of his songs was to be a TV theme he had a fit and legally blocked Paramount from using it. Crushed, Gary and Judy wrote new songs for CHEERS. But none of them connected the way the old one did.

Finally, after four or five rejected tunes they submitted “Where Everybody Knows Your Name” and that one struck a chord.

But even that’s not the song you know.

The original opening lyrics were changed to give it a more universal appeal. These are those original opening lines:

Singing the blues when the Red Sox lose
It’s a crisis in your life

On the run ‘cause all your girlfriends

Want to be your wife

And the laundry ticket’s in the wash


Once the song was written and approved there came the issue of who was going to sing it? Gary had sung the demo. There were those who wanted a big name and others who liked Gary’s rendition. With less than a month to go before the premiere it was decided that Gary would sing it and the arrangement would be simple just like the demo. Surprisingly, the Charles Brothers did not attend the recording session. We were all in the room writing one day when Glen Charles casually mentioned that they were doing the theme on one of the scoring stages. But their faith in Gary was rewarded.

The Portnoy-Angelo theme for CHEERS is one of the most memorable in TV history. Several weeks after the premiere Gary went back into the studio to record a full-length version of the song that actually made the pop charts.

Here’s that expanded version. To my knowledge it only aired on the show once, during the 200th episode.

32 comments:

John said...

If I remember right, the full-length version of WKRP in Cincinnati's theme song and Gary's full-length version of the Cheers theme were on the pop charts at roughly the same time, which was at the end of the final season of WKRP's run and towards the middle of Cheers' first season.

Promoting the new song and new show that way makes more sense, since it was a little strange that they waited on 'KRP until the show had been cancelled before putting the song out for Top 40 stations (though I'm still waiting for a complete version of the closing theme from WKRP. Complete with printed lyrics).

Jake Hollywood said...

My one and only connection to Cheers is that "Norm" is my neighbor, his house is less than a block away from mine.

In all the years that we've been neighbors, he has yet to buy me a beer.

Anonymous said...

I always enjoyed the way they panned the old pictures in the opening of cheers,with the actors names and such under each picture. I don't think the picture was the actual person,but a facsimileing of them.
Joe

Ger Apeldoorn said...

Great little titbit. It's amazing there has never been a book about this show, covering stuff like this. There is a book that was published in the third season, but very little research was done for that one except for watching the episodes. There's a book by the former publicity department head at Paramount about Paramount's early years (mostly covering 'the other side' which centered around the Gary Marchell shows). And the Charles Brothers did parfticipated with James Burrows in a small book for kid, which was intended to be read as career advise on the career of working in Hollywood, I guess. But no behind the shows, let's talk to the creators and add a complete episode list book. Anyone out there who wants to employ me - I'm available.

Ger Apeldoorn said...

Actually the Cheers book was done in something like the eight season, but still it covers only a portion of the episodes.

Anonymous said...

Thank you Ken for the post. This was a great 'jingle' and was further propelled by the spirit of the show. Luckily we have these works in our cultural archives to help frame the general mood of the time, and provide some light for what to me is the loss of the easygoing friendliness which has seemed to do a magical disappearing act in todays world. Lets move forward with a step back, and continue to mine the best of yesterday when today cannot meet that standard. Long live humor and kindness! Best wishes... (and cheers, mate.) Gary Betcher

Anonymous said...

Wow, that made me misty-eyed. I remember that episode with the full-length theme song and the montage that went with it. I loved that show. It was, and is, easily my favorite show ever. Anyone who wrote for it is clearly a superstar in my eyes. Thank you, Ken, for sharing that inside info with us. Cheers!

Tom Hanks (not that one) said...

For some reason I watched Cheers from Episode 1, never missed an episode.(only show I ever watched that way) The expanded theme was played twice. The first time was during the opening credits of first episode.When the 200th was comming up I remember asking my wife "do you think they will play the whole opening song? the words crack me up".When the final episode aired I was dissapointed they didnt play it one last time.

Amanda said...

Didn't they also play it at or near the end of the Last Call show?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yeyJ1MIdLXc

The Minstrel Boy said...

i miss theme songs. the best of them were a like a pilot recap. the good ones set the tone and stage for the following story.

i'm not saying that just because the work was good.

The Minstrel Boy said...

i miss theme songs. the best of them were a like a pilot recap. the good ones set the tone and stage for the following story.

i'm not saying that just because the work was good.

Sherman said...

At the Breezeway bar at Memorial University here in Newfoundland, they used to play that as the first song of the night every night for a long time....

A. Buck Short said...

Thank you, thank you. Maybe it’s just being at the computer, but I can’t believe this was the first time I ever listened to that wonderful theme on headphones. Even better.

As I recall, you guys seemed to focus mostly on the chorus, rather than the verses in your script writing. Cheers as a place where you just liked to be – as opposed to whatever “sorrows” you were trying to drown by going there. Although admittedly even the song seems to take life’s ironic and whimsical disappointments with a certain self-shadenfreude. (Is there another Germanic form that means instantly “oxymoronic the minute a coined phrase leaves ones lips?”)

I think it was smart to leave even the annoyances just implied or assumed so much of the time – rather than going for the easy and obvious story line.

Also, for a show set in a bar, I wonder if most viewers noticed how little of it ever had plot elements dealing with alcoholism or Foster Brooksian inebriation --except for the occasional allusion to Sam’s being on the wagon. Even Norm’s sequential beers were treated more as gluttony of a sort. Was this around the time there was early pressure not to show either smoking or drinking, or just another good writing decision?

One other question. How much willpower did it take not to lapse into John Ratzenberger’s Cliffy” mode whenevery talking to him? Or constantly throw epistemological softballs just begging for a Cliffian explanation? God, that would have been annoying, not to mention continuous improv he wouldn't even have been paid for?

the_critic said...

I never liked Cheers after Shelly Long left - whoever cast Kirsty Alley did the single worst piece of casting in sitcom history. She had no likeability and always made me think of that drunk, loud, embarassing chick that no one ever wants to have to deal with at closing time. Yuck.

Plus, as with most sitcoms, everyone became a caricature of themselves in the later seasons. I know it morphed into an "emsemble" comedy but to me, it lost all the charm it had during those first 3-4 years.

Mary Stella said...

Ken, I was working as a copywriter at a medium-market New Jersey radio station when Cheers and the theme song hit big. I can't tell you how many local bar-restaurants wanted to use the song in their commercials. They couldn't believe it when we explained that they'd have to pay for the rights. One guy asked if that applied if he did the singing.

My favorite line is, "And your husband wants to be a girl." You know you're having a tough day when that happens. I'd Gorilla Glue my butt to the bar stool and never leave.

Jon Delfin said...

Gary Portnoy, the other (and much more than me) famous person who grew up on Brentwood Lane.

BigTed said...

I never noticed before how similar this song is to "I'll Be There for You," the theme song from "Friends." Each one gives a bunch of examples of why life sucks, then a chorus that says having friends around helps make up for it. (Of course, that's also the basic story line for half the sitcoms that have ever aired.)

Anonymous said...

Sorry to be a teensy bit negative, but I could never wait for the theme song to be over - that was when we opened the wine, got out the chips, or put the kettle on.

A. Buck Short said...

Mary Stella said...
I can't tell you how many local bar-restaurants wanted to use the song in their commercials. They couldn't believe it when we explained that they'd have to pay for the rights.

Were they kidding? My understanding was that Tom Kershaw, the owner of the Bull & Finch Pub, which is the actual Cheers exterior on Beacon St. in Boston, couldn’t get the rights from Paramount to rename his place Cheers after the series hit, and probably knew better than to try. So it became known as "The-bar-that-inspired-the-hit-TV Show-Cheers." Probably because "The artist that was formerly known as Prince" was already taken.

Then some other bar down near Park Sq. at the other end of Charles St. apparently decided that, since Tom wasn’t using the Cheers name, why should it go to waste? Honestly, what were they thinking???

But the Bull & Finch asked for and got something almost as good, exclusive rights to market all Cheers-related paraphernalia in the Greater Boston area. Even the first year, they sold a hundred times more in Cheers ties, keychains, bar accessories, napkins, and T-shirts than in beer and burgers. At Paramount they started calling the place “Cheers and Roebuck” and I’m guessing that was probably Levine's.

After a quarter century I’ve still got a couple of Cheers ashtrays, a package of brown-weathered cocktail napkins, and a pristine Cheers long sleeved baseball T-shirt -- but only because I had entirely forgotten I never really was a long sleeved baseball T-shirt kind of guy. (Of the somatotype that when I roll up the sleeves, they almost immediately roll back down again on their own –over and over again.)

BTW if you'd like to stock up on stocking stuffers for the holidays, feel free to visit: https://www.cheersboston.com/storeindex.htm

That said, you can blame this additional tangent on residual L-Tryptophane intolerance. Now that this blog hooked me on Family Guy, does anybody know, since they’re in the habit of saluting the Rhode Island greats, if the show ever featured a Coach Colasanto or Coach Pantuso at either James Woods High or Buddy Cianci Jr. High? Seems like a natural. Coach was my favorite.

(Not to drop names or anything, but shortly before Buddy C. was sent up to the old greybar hotel, I had the honor of attending an event where we were all presented with jars of the mayor’s eponymous tomato sauce. Other recipients that night included the Farelly Bros., Marion Reese and her husband. Just a reminder, everyone -- Buddy was released about 6 months ago and will be eligible to run for mayor of Providence again in 2012. Save the date.)

This concludes your holiday A-D-D report.

Cap'n Bob Napier said...

I couldn't agree with The Critic more. Alley was awful. I wqas never convinced that a chick magnet like Sam would waste his time with that puffy-faced, runny-eyed, bad hair twit. She's even worse in real life, being a member of the Scientology Organized Crime Family. Yuck!

annabel said...

Wow. That songs brings back memories. When I was a young girl I knew when the Cheers song played it was my cue for bedtime. I knew I had arrived when I was finally old enough to stay up and watch the show. It really is one of the best televisions show ever!

The Crutnacker said...

I'm one of those weird people who never got into Cheers (and it ain't a Ken thing, because I was a huge fan of almost everything else he did a lot of writing for). I never missed a week of Frasier though.

One of the discussions we had during Thansgiving was the phenomenon of living some place and never getting around to visiting the places that every tourist visits. I lived in Boston for four years as a student at Boston University and never once made the trip to Bull and Finch until the very last day I was there (which just happened to be in May of 1993). And only then to get a souvenir for someone else.

I did love another Boston based show, though. St. Elsewhere is, was, and remains one of my favorite hour shows. I never missed a rerun on channel 38.

Anonymous said...

funny. i thought posting copyrighted material was illegal without written permission.

something about the creators/producers receiving due payment...

David said...

Almost a year and a half since season eight of CHEERS came out. *Sigh* Another TV series I was collecting apparently abandoned before being completed on DVD.

Anonymous said...

The original song the Charles Bros originally wanted was called "People like Us" and it was WAY WAY WAY better than "Where Everybody Knows Your Name"

Anonymous said...

This song always makes me cry. Think of the old days and how uncomplicated and fun life used to be.

cameron said...

I have always thought that the theme song changed up a bit as the first season went along. It's been a long time since I've seen it though, but I remember the early theme song being much more instrumental and a with a little lower tempo? Can I tell my wife that I'm right or will she continue to think I'm crazy?

Anonymous said...

I had to play this song in high school band back in the 80's. It wasn't as obvious as than you might think; it has a weird time structure and key changes. I remember thinking that the guy singing the theme song on TV wasn't hitting the notes and the timing quite right. Funny to discover on this post that the singer was also the composer. :) I do love the song, and it brings back lots of great, bittersweet memories.

Christiana Schweitzer said...

Hello -
I stumbled onto your website today, so I am hoping someone might help me solve a mystery.

I work in a bar/restaurant in Helena, Montana. We have lots of various old photos in our bar - we only just in the last few days realized that one of the photos is also in the opening credit reel to Cheers. It is the photo at 37 seconds with the bartender and the 3 men standing in front of it, and the name Nicholas Colasanto on it.

Apparently we got this photo as a copy from the Montana Historical Society, and no one knows where the original is taken from.

I don't suppose anyone has any idea who put the string of photos together and could suggest what bar that photo was originally taken in? We are pretty confident that since the original came from the Montana Historical Society, that it was taken in a Montana bar, but we don't know.

i have become slightly obsessed with this twofold mystery, wondering a) which bar it was taken in, and b) how on earth did it end up on the Cheers credit reel, also.

Many thanks,
Christiana

Christiana Schweitzer said...

Hello -

I work in a bar/restaurant in Helena, Montana. We have lots of various old photos in our bar - we only just in the last few days realized that one of the photos is also in the opening credit reel to Cheers. It is the photo at 37 seconds with the bartender and the 3 men standing in front of it, and the name Nicholas Colasanto on it.

Apparently we got this photo as a copy from the Montana Historical Society, and no one knows where the original is taken from.

I don't suppose you have any idea who put the string of photos together and could suggest what bar that photo was originally taken in? We are pretty confident that since the original came from the Montana Historical Society, that it was taken in a Montana bar, but we don't know.

i have become slightly obsessed with this twofold mystery, wondering a) which bar it was taken in, and b) how on earth did it end up on the Cheers credit reel, also.

I hope someone might help me figure out the origination of this photo.
Many thanks,
Christiana

Anonymous said...

The images were taken from old archives of photographs, and then treated to look older. The entire sequence was created by Castle/Bryant/Johnsen, Inc. An original, untreated photograph can be seen here: http://www.shorpy.com/node/7798 The newspaper headline "We win!" refers to the ending of prohibition.

Quote IMDB

Richard said...

Thanks for the story ( I realize this was written about six years ago, but you know..). Cheers was my all time favorite show. That's funny, I always loved watching the 200th ep. so I could see the full version.