CHEERS IS FILMED IN FRONT OF A LIVE STUDIO AUDIENCE
You hear that at the top of every show. But most people don’t know
that after six or seven episodes that almost changed. That disclaimer
CHEERS IS TAPED IN FRONT OF A LIVE STUDIO AUDIENCE
As has been chronicled almost to death, CHEERS got off to a slow start
(if you believe “dead last” is considered slow). And it was an
expensive show to produce. All those lemons that Teddy cut each week
alone! But one of the big ticket items was that the show was filmed
rather than videotaped (like ALL IN THE FAMILY or the more highly
regarded SILVER SPOONS). Tape is cheaper than film, it requires one
operator per camera not three, is edited primarily during the show not
after, easier to light, post production is less complicated, and the
turnaround time is less.
Paramount and NBC were losing tons of money on CHEERS and it was on the
brink of cancellation. So the studio felt if it could be produced
cheaper NBC might have more incentive to pick CHEERS up for a back
They went to Glen & Les Charles and Jimmy Burrows and asked if
they’d consider flipping from film to tape. They agreed to at least
make a test scene.
A first rate tape crew was enlisted to light the set. Video cameras
were wheeled in, and Jimmy directed a scene. It featured everyone from
the cast, and there was a lot of movement so we could view every angle
of the set. It went through post-production, was color-corrected,
and made broadcast-ready.
The Charles Brothers, Jimmy, my partner and I, and our line producer Tim Berry sat down and watched the test.
It was horrifying. All the warmth and depth of the set was completely
obliterated. The rich colors became day-glo. And this dark, rich
bar setting suddenly looked like a police station.
It was like those photos of Britney Spears without make up.
To Charles-Burrows-Charles’ credit the experiment ended right there. I
don’t know if a copy of that test still exists. My guess is Glen
Charles backed over the tape with his car in much the same way Tony
Soprano had Phil Leotardo whacked in the SOPRANOS finale.
Ironically, if they had agreed to switch to the tape format I think it
would have caused the show’s cancellation, not prevented it.
Ah, the little decisions producers have to make every day.
This is a re-post from four years ago.