Saturday, August 10, 2013

Everything you wanted to know about CHEERS Bar Wars

I get a lot of questions about the “Bar Wars” episodes of CHEERS that my partner, David Isaacs and I wrote. So here are the FAQ’s.

Did we purposely plan for the Cheers gang to lose every time?

Yes. Except for the last one. Frustration is much funnier than victory. The trick however, was to find different ways for them to lose – or screw themselves. Guess I grew up watching too many Road Runner cartoons.

What about the last Bar Wars in the final season?

Ultimately, we decided to not only let Cheers win but to demolish Gary’s Olde Towne Tavern once and for all. We’re nothing if not vengeful. Trivia note: That is the only episode of CHEERS that I appear in. I’m sitting at the bar in an early scene.

Who played Gary?

The answer is: which time? We had two actors who played Gary, in no particular order. The first time the character appeared, Joe Polis played him in a 1985 episode called “From Beer to Eternity”. When we wrote the first Bar Wars episode Joe wasn’t available. It was the very end of the season. We had no other scripts so we just had to recast. Robert Desiderio became Gary. For Bar Wars II we went back to Joe Polis and used him one other time. Otherwise, it was Robert Desiderio. Confusing? I don’t understand why we did it either. Hopefully this mystery will be tackled in the sequel to the DA VINCI CODE.

What is your favorite Bar Wars episode?

Bar Wars V. My partner, David Isaacs came up with this idea. Sam’s prank kills Gary. Or at least that’s what Sam thinks. If you can’t get laughs with a man digging up a grave you’re not a comedy writer.

What is your least favorite Bar Wars episode?

Bar Wars VI. The gang thinks a wise guy buys Gary’s bar so a prank unleashes the Mafia after them. We were reaching. And sometimes too clever for our own good. In Bar Wars II, there’s a Bloody Mary contest. We had a number of twists and turns, and after turning in the script, the staff added a few more. By the end I think there were maybe six too many. It was the BIG SLEEP of Bar Wars episodes – no one alive can tell you exactly what happened.

Was it hard to plot these episodes?

Yes. Very. These episodes were a bitch to conceive and then hard to write because there was always so much story. By nature, exposition and set ups are not inherently funny and entertaining. We had to pull a lot of jokes out of nowhere.

What was your favorite gag?

Filling Rebecca’s office with sheep. That’s the power of being a writer. You come up with a goofy idea. And voila, there are fifty sheep being herded onto the set. I’m sure the guy who came up with snakes on the plane had the same heady feeling.

There are some Bar Wars type episodes not called Bar Wars. How come?

Those were episodes not originally designed to be bar wars but evolved into them. Or they were competitions not practical joke wars, per se. In other words, I dunno. I’m still trying to figure out BAR WARS II.

And finally, are you that diabolical?

Let’s just say I hope you’re not allergic to sheep.


Johnny Walker said...

The gang actually won in Bar Wars II, as well.

The complete saga is as follows:

Bar Wars (Season 6, Episode 23)
Bar Wars II: The Woodman Strikes Back (Season 7, Episode 10)
Bar Wars III: The Return of Tecumseh (Season 8, Episode 21)
Cheers Fouls Out (Season 9, Episode 2) (an unofficial sequel written by Larry Balmagia)
Bar Wars V: The Final Judgement (Season 10, Episode 7)
Bar Wars VI: This Time It's for Real (Season 10, Episode 23)
Bar Wars VII: The Naked Prey (Season 11, Episode 19)

I think George Lucas is making a Special Edition boxset as we speak.

Tom Quigley said...

Ken said...

"Bar Wars V. My partner, David Isaacs came up with this idea. Sam’s prank kills Gary. Or at least that’s what Sam thinks. If you can’t get laughs with a man digging up a grave you’re not a comedy writer."

Probably my favorite also. I love the scene where everyone has gathered back at Cheers following the memorial service and Sam offers a toast to Gary, calling him a good friend and competitor and adds "I wish I'd said that at the funeral" -- whereupon Frasier responds with "It certainly would have been more appropriate than 'You can come out of there now, Gary.'"

Anonymous said...

sheep in the office (also Woody hanging upside down in the doorway behind Norm) was when I knew the show was about over.

when all the attempts at comedy come from ridiculous sight gags (which would never happen in real life), the show is heading downhill fast.

scottmc said...

49I like the story from when you were announcing in the minors. A hotel manager pulled a practical joke and your response was that you were the writer of the 'Bar Wars' episodes and did he really want to challenge you.

Andy Ihnatko said...

I didn't like the fact that the Cheers gang always lost. I thought it was part of an overall trend I disliked: it seemed as though over time, the portrayal of the characters morphed from "Each has their own reasons for spending a lot of time hanging out in a bar" to "they're all a bunch of losers."

I do get the idea that "failure is funnier than success" but when a character just fails, fails, fails and never seems to learn from the experience, it's hard not to lose respect for him or her.

Ane said...

For many many years the Bar Wars ep with the fake death was the only Cheers episode I'd ever seen. In my defense I was born in 88. Now that I've been reading this blog I've seen others, on Netflix and YouTube. But for a very long time that was my only relationship with the show. Glad to hear it's considered a good episode.

DBenson said...

Obviously Cheers wasn't pitched as "The Iceman Cometh" with more jokes -- what began as two characters with Greek chorus became ensemble comedy as the writers needed more stories and began to exploit what the cast could do.

Anyway, the question: Did the Cheers writers ever spot the resemblance that evolved?

If so, was there ever a temptation explicitly reference the play? I could imagine Diane trying to describe the intensely tragic and depressing show she saw the night before, then looking around and deciding to let it go.

Rob said...

I loved when Cliff zinged Carla in Bar Wars:

"I'd like to do something to Gary to make him really miserable."
"Why don't you marry him?"

Johnny Walker said...

More trivia: The "Wheels of Fortune" episode of FRASIER (starring Michael Keaton) bears more than a passing resemblance to the "Gary dies" Bar Wars episode... But it was also penned by Levine/Isaacs, so it's not theft!

mikev said...

Friday Question: Speaking of Bar Wars pranks; were there ever any real life pranks played on or by the cast or crew of Cheers that were especially memorable? Was anyone known for being a "prankster"?

Jon88 said...

Joel Polis, not Joe.

Hamid said...

My favorite Bar Wars episode and one of my favourite Cheers moments ever was the one where the gang return to find Gary's had the entire length of the bar bricked up. I love that scene purely for Sam's reaction, beautifully delivered by Ted Danson. He looks at what Gary's done and says in a calm tone "That's not right. That's just evil".