I’m frequently asked about the last CHEERS. The night is best remembered for the cast being smashed on the TONIGHT SHOW that followed the finale’s airing. May 20, 1993. Here are my recollections of that night in Boston.
The CHEERS bar you see on television (now called CHEERS but originally named THE BULL & FINCH) is owned by Tom Kershaw. He owns the entire building. Upstairs are lounges and libraries.
The final airing was a national event. Far different from the premiere on September 30, 1982 when the cast and writers had a modest viewing party in the small back room at Chasen’s. We ate chicken pies, watched the show, and left. But for the finale, wow! Honored to say I was present for both.
The festivities began around 7. Thousands of people gathered outside the building and watched the show on two giant Jumbotron TV screens specially set up for the event. My guess is one or both of them are now in Simon Cowell’s living room. It had rained earlier in the day and even the threat of more did not deter the crowds. At most there were drizzles that night. No one was seriously electrocuted.
We were not allowed downstairs in the actual bar. Technicians were setting up for the TONIGHT SHOW. And to be honest, there wasn’t much to see. Unlike the TV show, the real CHEERS bar is tiny. The bar itself is up against the back wall. That night it was filled with thirty guys in T-shirts toting walkie-talkies named Dave.
The party was on the second floor. It was packed with invited guests, VIPS, NBC execs…oh yeah, and a few people who worked on CHEERS. Governor Dukakis was behind me in line at the buffet. Wade Boggs cut in front of me at the bar. I spent some time with Bob Costas who I knew from my sportscasting life. There were so few people he knew in that throng that he was actually happy to hang with me. Large monitors were scattered around the room and this is where most guests watched the show.
On the third floor there were two smaller lounges. That is where the cast, CHEERS people, studio and network honchos watched the program. I was sitting next to NBC Chairman, Bob Wright. Tried to talk him into letting me anchor the Olympics but he didn’t seem to go for it.
Every time there would be a big joke you could hear thousands of people laugh outside the window. Where were they for the AfterMASH premiere?
As the show unfolded the realization that CHEERS was really coming to an end began to hit us. Eleven years of dedicated talented people pouring their hearts into one project. 275 episodes. All the re-takes and rewrites and now all that will be left are reruns.
The show ended at 11. The next half hour was an emotional tsunami. Everyone was hugging and crying and doing a lot of drinking. We were all completely wrecked.
And at the very height of that, a rep from the TONIGHT SHOW popped her head in and said, “Okay, we’re ready.” The cast, in no condition to face anybody much less 40,000,000 dutifully trooped downstairs to do the live show. Us non-celeb types stayed back and watched on TV…in horror. But in fairness, they should not be held accountable for anything they said or did. And I do believe, that Jay’s inexperience with running the show then contributed to the whole thing falling apart. I’ve always maintained that Letterman would have kept things more in control.
When the actors returned they were so blitzed they still didn’t realize what a trainwreck the show was.
Two final memories:
During that emotional half hour from 11-11:30 the thousands of fans in the park remained and cheered. At one point Ted Danson leaned out the window and waved. As a goof I joined him. I said, “I have a feeling you’re the one they’re waving at.” And he said, “Yeah, but a year from now you’ll be working.” Obviously Ted scraped together one or two jobs since that night.
My partner David Isaacs and I have what we call the “Prince of the City” theory. Simply put it means the moment you think you’re hot shit is the moment you will be cut back down to size. It never fails.
So it’s about 2 a.m., I’m walking back to the hotel. It’s a bit chilly, I’m wearing a trench coat to protect against any more rain. And I’m reflecting on the night and how this little show I’ve been involved with had become a national phenomenon. And I allowed myself to think I must be a pretty damn good writer to be a part of it. Just at that moment a passing truck roared through a big puddle and I got completely drenched. I mean, sopping wet, soaked to the bone. And I had to laugh. Hail to thee, Prince of the City.