Sunday, January 29, 2012

The night the last CHEERS aired

Hello from an ocean (I think).  I've been tweeting about the trip should you care.   Speaking on our cruise ship about my ersatz career I was 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.

Second memory:

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.

25 comments:

Bob Gassel said...

I was there in the Common watching the finale. There were lots of laughs and tears in that crowd and I'll never forget the squeal of delight and surprise when Diane first appeared. I also recall the one-hour Seinfeld season-finale "The Pilot" was aired immediately preceding Cheers, and many people in the park were turned onto that series for the first time that night.

Bob Gassel said...

Here's some local news coverage...
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dj3iz1Q-Zds

Paul Duca said...

I wouldn't WANT to be in a room with 30 people of the type that would name their walkie-talkies Dave.

Phillip B said...

For connoisseurs of train-wreck TV this was a must see, ranking up there with the 1977 Saturday Night Live done live from the Mardi Gras in New Orleans. What could possibly go wrong?

It takes true peak of success to create a moment like this – and the last Cheers was a truly special night. Seinfeld rose to the occasion, and it seemed that Thursday nights on NBC would be funny forever.

Hard to blame Leno, even though I want too. Cannot cite anyone who ever did a better job hosting a live talk show in a crowded bar. Letterman – or Johnny – most likely would have stayed behind their desks throwing to remotes, which somehow would have become shorter as the night went on….

Dave the Walkie-Talkie said...

There are others like me??

John Trumbull said...

Phillip, you're absolutely right, it was one-of-a-kind train wreck TV. I still remember a Cheers trivia quiz that Leno attempted to run during his show. On the question "What was Frasier Crane's occupation?" a half-in-the-bag Rhea Perlman answered "Shrink Shit!" On LIVE TV.

Man, I wonder if that Tonight Show is on YouTube somewhere...

John Trumbull said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
John Trumbull said...

Found some footage:
http://www.dailymotion.com/video/x4i9d_cheers-cast-drunk_news

Ken, feel free to delete the link if you don't feel it's appropriate.

BigTed said...

Was anyone surprised that the actor with arguably the biggest post-"Cheers" career turned out to be Kelsy Grammar? (Of course, the fact that he was given a well-written spin-off had a little bit to do with it.)

BigTed said...

...er, Kelsey Grammer...

Harold X said...

Any memories of (RIP) John Rich you'd care to share?

Johnny Walker said...

Thanks, John! That was priceless! I don't think there's anything to be ashamed of there. Who hasn't been in a similar situation themselves (without Jay Leno and cameras present).

Frank said...

They should get more Tonight Show guests drunk!

Corinne said...

They used to. Go back and watch Dean Martin and Friends during the Johnny days. Drink in hand....

Jim, Cheers Fan said...

a half-in-the-bag Rhea Perlman

I remember an interview a very unhappy Jay Leno gave after this, complaining that the whole cast was smashed, except Rhea Perlman. Ted Danson was on TTS a bit later and apologized but said he had to make one correction, Rhea was as hammered as anybody on that stage, which I figured out when she ran out and jumped into Leno's arms. Also Rhea mocking a tearful Kirstie Alley, who was off filming a movie and appeared by remote, "Krusty, Krusty, Krusty...."

I can't think of a show since that had a send-off quite like Cheers. Seinfeld, maybe? But then, I'm biased.

Dave Walkie-Talkie Company said...

Thanks for the plug. Check's in the mail.

scottmc said...

A clip from THE PRACTICE(Steve Gordon) was shown the other day as part of the PBS series AT THE PALEY CENTER. Marlo Thomas was the guest and they showed a clip from the series featuring Thomas and her father. The Center, or Thomas, could be helpful if you want to track down episodes from the series.

scottmc said...

...the Paley Center is the new name of what was once the Museum of Television and Radio.

RICHARD W SANDS said...

Down under the last Cheers aired sometime in October 1993 on the Nine Network. I taped it on the night to watch and I kept it. It's still in good condition and watchable, complete with 1993 commercials ! " Cheers" took a while to catch on here.

Jonah Davenport said...

Hi Ken,

I really love your blog and appreciate how often you update it.

I have two Friday questions about Frasier.

1) On the final episode of Frasier when he is in his booth repeating the last lines of the Tennyson poem, behind him, standing in the hallway are numerous people looking in. Many are regular cast members but there's also a lot of unrecognized faces. Who were these other people? Were they the directors and writers?

2) On the Moon Dance episode, why are there nine (yes, that's right NINE) credited writers?

Thanks!

Bab said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jim said...

Ken recycled from 2008! I'll forgive since you're on vacation...

Steve's Stuff said...

Paul Duka beat me to the 'the walkie-talkies named Dave' comment. Ken, it is so apparent that you are the success that you are, because you are hilarious without even trying to be.

Jen said...

Hi Ken -

I'm a long-time reader and am checking into your blog for the first time in a while. Please forgive that I'm about to be a grammarian, but because you write frequently about your past experiences, I wanted to offer a correction that I think might be helpful. You have used the word "ersatz" where I think what you mean to write is "erstwhile."
"Ersatz" = fake or artificial, as in, Sweet and Low is ersatz sugar. "Erstwhile" = from the past. Since I assume you're not calling your career a fake one, I'm assuming you mean to use "erstwhile." :)

Thanks as always for your enlightening and hilarious posts, and looking forward to catching up and being current with your entries!

Grant said...

I just watched the video clip and have to confess that I had a really hard time discerning whether the jabs at Kirstie Alley were good matured teasing or whether there was some tension and some serious sentiment against her. Any thoughts?