Sunday, June 05, 2011

ST. ELSEWHERE goes to CHEERS: the inside story










In maybe the strangest cross-promotion in television history, there was an episode of ST. ELSEWHERE where three of their main characters went to the Cheers bar. Readers are always asking me about this scene so I thought I'd go to the source. John Masius is a multi-Emmy winning writer who co-wrote and produced the episode. He graciously has agreed to fill in the details. Many thanks, John.  I'm very big about going to sources this week (while I'm in Seattle and don't have as much time to write.)  First Dave Hackel and now John Masius.

how st.elsewhere came to cheers: a revisionist history

tom fontana, john tinker and i wrote the episode..bruce paltrow directed it..

the episode had three story arcs..westphal dealing with his autistic son,
craig coping with his mentor's alzheimer disease and auschlander coming to
grips with his own mortality..

we thought it would be fun to write a scene where the three friends met for a drink after work..something we had never done...and obliquely share their concerns and fears...so we thought why not the cheers bar? tartkoff loved the idea, paltow called his old friend burrows and they hashed the production constraints...one day to shoot during a cheers hiatus week...perleman and ratzenberger graciously signed on..

i wanted the coach behind the bar but he was dead...so creatively we decided to go for it and wrote essentially a one-act play that was the entire third act of the episode..due to the constraints of the three-camera set we shot pretty much in one direction..blew through 15 pages,twice our normal load in one day...

i remember it being a great fun day..the show turned out well...it was picked to be aired at our 20th anniversary event held at the paley museum of t.v. and beer-drinking...

the only negative feedback was from the charles bros who didn't like the dialogue we wrote
for carla and cliff...however their bastard step-brother ed charles, utility infielder extroidinaire for the '69 mets, was a big fan of the episode..

john masius

38 comments:

Mary Stella said...

I was in Seattle a few weeks ago. My cousins toured me around. We went to one scenic overlook and, while admiring the view of the city they said it was the same shot shown from Frasier's place.

Matt said...

About St. Elsewhere and television...

St. Elsewhere lived most of its life on Wednesday night, 10:00pm, right during my high school years. I have a big family, four other brothers and we lived in a fairly large house. Therefore, ours was the home where most holidays took place, including Thanksgivings. Whenever I hear the opening theme to St. Elsewhere, it's instantly the night before Thanksgiving...the family has arrived...Mom is in the kitchen with her mother making all sorts of wonderful things...people gathered in the living room talking and laughing...and I'm in the TV room watching this wonderful show, our Springer Spaniel curled up on the floor. I'm so thankful to have such wonderful family memories built around this show.

...the power of television!

Sebastian said...

Hi Ken.

I have a friday question.

Why is it such a pain to listen to Tim McCarver?

I had the "furtune" of listening to him last night covering the Cardinals game and at a certain point I wanted to poke my eardrums out with a pencil. Among the things he did was confusing Fukudome with Matsusaka, mentioning how evolution was a theory or not, and confusing types of pitches about half a million times.

I mean I know all Asians look alike and when someone mentions Darwin the natural go-to line SHOULD be talking about whether it's a theory or not and I for once couldn't identify a pitch if you held a gun to my head.

But COME ON. Gawd.

Oh and if you want about something else tell me something about Buster Posey or if you want to go completely into cuddly fluffy territory tell me why Ichiro stays with the Mariners - is a 200 hit-a-season streak more important than a ring? Is it about the money? Do you think he could just go to a club that has a chance of winning the WS later on? What's the deal?

Have fun in Seattle.

Simon H. said...

John Masius apparently is scared to death of anything resembling capitalization.

DJ said...

So you'll be in Seattle all week calling the games...while the Mariners will be playing them in Chicago and Detroit. Good trick, that.

Ken Levine said...

Comment etiquette -- when a showrunner or writer is gracious enough to share his inside story on a particular topic it is not appropriate to write in and criticize his spelling or punctuation or question whether he's been truthful.

These people don't have to explain to you why they did certain things and the least you could do is show them some respect.

You want to criticize me for whatever reason -- fine. It's my blog. But not my guest bloggers. You're lucky I have them.

Ken

Breadbaker said...

I'm actually surprised that no one from Cheers had some approval of the lines that Cliff and Carla spoke on the St. Elsewhere episode.

Simon H. said...

My apologies for my faux pas then. I was just making a little joke. I did enjoy the inside look from one of the producers of one of my favorite dramatic shows of all time. Sorry again.

Simon H. said...

Is it still ok to call you a sexist pig though? :-)

Gary said...

loved st. elsewhere, still watch it on hulu now and then, but i just can't recall the st. elsecheers episode. great cast, great stories, way ahead of its time. i thought john also did northern exposure but, apparently not!

back to the mariners...ken, they're going to need more than 4 hits to win another game. can ya work on that? go m's!!

briddie said...

Which season was that? I worked Wednesday nights during the first three seasons, so I saw only a few episodes.

Jim, Cheers Fan said...

What did Mark Craig drink? Certainly not beer. Some old school Mad Men type cocktail, that Woody would've had to look up, very precise about the brands and the blend, probably with one ingredient either added or left out, and he'd send it back at least once. Dangerous practice at Carla's table.

I also remember that as Carla was being dragged out of the bar to give birth, I think it was little Lud, she screamed out that her last sympathy-for-the-pregnant-cocktail-waitress tips could be sent to her at St Eligius.

Max Clarke said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Simon H. said...

Briddie: Last episode of Season 3

Max Clarke said...

Thanks for the guest blogging and the story behind the episode.

What impressed me about the episode-in-an-episode was the risk it took. A fourth wall kind of moment, when the viewers of a show realize the guests making an appearance are fictitious.

When Cheers had guests such as Dick Cavett or Wade Boggs, they made the show seem more real. Somebody we all knew from real life was in a bar called Cheers. Had Dick Cavett portrayed a fictitious character, that would have been less real.

With St. Elsewhere, the risk was that viewers would see their characters enter a fictitious world, Cheers, and they would realize it was a fiction within a fiction. Like the movie in which somebody mentions another movie, or somebody on Cheers calling a 555-xxxx phone number.

Glad you guys took a chance with the Cheers visit. The writers and performers made the episode work, good job.

John said...

Now the question is did Sam Malone get to the major leagues with the Sox in time to pitch to Ed Charles while he was playing for the Athletics?

briddie said...

Thanks, Simon! Alas, not on Hulu, I see....

thevidiot said...

I'm guessing that this was motivated by a "cross-promotion" dream from NBC - similar to the "Two & a Half Men" and "CSI" characters doing a cross between shows a few seasons back. We did something similar between three ABC sitcoms and Ragu spaghetti sauce... find the bottle in one of the three shows. It was an attempt at rather subtle product placement. Not sure it worked though.

Boomer said...

Ichiro stays in Seattle for several reasons. My bet is that Ichiro is loyal to the M's, as the M's are to him. He's comfortable here. His family is comfortable here. He gets a whole lot of respect from the media that he surely would not get in NY/Phila/Chicago/Boston/LA. He has his privacy here that would probably be hard to maintain in the larger media centers. And in the grand scheme of things, it's just a whole lot nicer in Seattle than it is in any other MLB city(except maybe San Diego).

And it was terrific when Norman Lloyd showed up on Modern Family, this season.

Zach said...

He either wrote that on his iphone or has never used a computer before.

Corey said...

Hey Simon...
Call my brother anything you want...except "asshat". That's reserved for me & Rosanne!

Wendy M. Grossman said...

briddie: If by any chance you're in the UK, Channel 4 has the entire run of St. Elsewhere available on its online streaming video-on-demand service: http://www.channel4.com/programmes/st-elsewhere/4od#2924263

Great show, and the best theme tune ever.

wg

404 said...

I've heard the question posed somewhere before, but: if St. Elsewhere was all a vision in that boy's head, does this make Cheers all a dream as well?

Kendall said...

Here's a Friday question related to this post:

Would this type of cross-over be appropriate in a spec script, or would it be seen as a gimmick and instantly discarded? For example, if I killed Carrie Bradshaw in my SVU spec, or had Benson & Stabler investigate HIMYM's Barney for date rape?

Breadbaker said...

@404: Haven't you ever had that dream where some character in a TV show was "real" in your dream?

And, Ken, that was one joyous series against the Rays. I hope it was as fun to announce as it was to watch.

Sebastian said...

Oh I didn't notice this was a guest post before I left my comment.

I hope I wasn't rude. I just popped in and started typing and came back now to read the posts from today and yesterday.

It's additionally frustrating that we didn't have the show in Germany until 1991 and then it wasn't aired when I was home. So now I can't even comment ON topic if I wanted to :-/

404 said...

Breadbaker: Yeah, but I'm a lot more aware of the world around me then that kid was made out to be.

I remember seeing once a sort of family tree of shows that would in some way be affected by the end of St. Elsewhere's, due to all the cross overs, cameos, and references. It was kind of amazing how many shows threaded to that one show at some point during or after its run.

sephim said...

404 -

http://home.vicnet.net.au/~kwgow/crossovers.html

That one.

404 said...

That's the one!

Anonymous said...

Simon H.: your little "jokes" are about as funny as rectal cancer. Don't quit your day job.

Johnny Walker said...

Wow, that cross-over PDF is crazy! It's like a whole world in itself. Alan Moore could have lots of fun playing in that universe.

daveed said...

Does anyone know where in the series this episode occurred? I wonder whether Masius and the writing staff was already thinking about the series finale. That would kind of explain the mash-up: the autistic boy Tommy would have presumably "seen" Cheers on television an thus projected the three imagined doctor characters there.

Anonymous said...

Third Season, Episode 24 (titled "Cheers" according to the IMDB).

Mike said...

That Ed Charles part at the end made me laugh out loud.

Interesting post. And I too found an interesting the Cheers writers didn't have input on Carla and Cliff's lines. But I'm not too familiar with the behind-the-scenes workings of cross-over episodes. Did the Happy Days writers write for Richie and Fonzie when they guested on Laverne and Shirley? Or the Golden Girls writers when Dorothy, Blanche, et. al guested on Empty Nest? I'm guessing not, but I'm really not sure.

jbryant said...

I thought ST. ELSEWHERE turned out to be a journal written by Roseanne or something. :)

I loved ST. ELSEWHERE. Unfortunately, I lived in the market served by Evansville, Indiana's NBC affiliate. They routinely preempted the show for local high school basketball games and things like The Statler Brothers Christmas special. Infuriating. Occasionally, they'd run the preempted episode Sunday night after the local news, but never with any warning. I'm sure I missed some great episodes.

How great is it that decades after questioning his mortality as Auschlander, Norman Lloyd is still with us. I sat next to him at a screening once when he was well into his 80s, and when the lights came up he was just about the first out the door, weaving spryly through the crowd like a man 1/3 his age.

Dave from Brooklyn said...

Norman Lloyd is the real deal. It's always striking to see his Hitchcock work in SABOTEUR as the sneaky bomb maker rat who was cornered atop the Statue of Liberty ... seen by me many year after ST. ELSEWHERE finished its initial run and VHS movies were more common.

credit where credit is due said...

Re:
"I've heard the question posed somewhere before, but: if St. Elsewhere was all a vision in that boy's head, does this make Cheers all a dream as well?"

Re:
"http://home.vicnet.net.au/~kwgow/crossovers.html"

And re:
"Wow, that cross-over PDF is crazy! It's like a whole world in itself. Alan Moore could have lots of fun playing in that universe."

FYI, the chart at that link was just drawn up by some interested person on the internet derived from the uncredited Grand Unification Theory of Television conceived by the brilliant creative and scientific mind of the late great Mr. Dwayne McDuffie detailed in his old Slush Factory column, reposted here:

http://www.toonzone.net/forums/showthread.php?t=26431

And funny one of you should mention Alan Moore:

http://dwaynemcduffie.com.lamphost.net/forums/viewtopic.php?p=3189&sid=96f6b5a3ce84f5ef7e166cc39a968541

"St. Elsewhere" Theory Namechecked.‬
by ‪Dwayne McDuffie‬ on Tue Apr 28, 2009 3:56 pm
My TV Grand Unification Theory was just mentioned in a Newsarama interview with comics great Alan Moore. If he really manages to reference Homicide's Detective Pembleton in the next volume of League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, I'll take back everything I ever said about excessive crossovers.


http://www.newsarama.com/comics/040928-Moore3.html

Daniel said...

To Jim, Cheers Fan, from 6/05/2011 9:22 AM: Mark Craig ordered an amaretto, earning a snide mocking from Carla.