Monday, May 16, 2016

The day the CHEERS cast almost killed us

In the early days of CHEERS, when we were still feeling our way along, we experimented with different directions and avenues of comedy. One was “the bar run.”

The Charles Brothers introduced this in the pilot – a few minutes away from the story to feature the kind of silly discussion you would normally hear in a bar. “What was the sweatiest movie?” was the topic in the pilot.

So we tried one ourselves when David Isaacs and I wrote our first CHEERS script. “What is the smartest barnyard animal?” It was only about a page but had some good jokes and got solid laughs during the audience filming.

The only problem was that the show came out long. So the first thing that was cut was the Barnyard run. It was superfluous. (In comedy writing circles we call this type of run an “up and back.” It’s funny but leads you nowhere.)

However, since the bit worked we tacked it onto another script about two weeks later. Same story. The actors learned it, rehearsed it, performed it to big laughs, and it got cut for time.

Undaunted, we inserted it into a third script a few weeks after that. By this time the cast was ready to revolt. We couldn’t use the two previous versions because the wardrobe and extras wouldn’t match. I can’t blame the actors. For them it was like GROUNDHOG DAY. But only 400 people in two filmings had seen it. The ultimate goal was to entertain 30,000,000 viewers and it was still new to them.

The actors dutifully performed this bit yet again. This time it aired. It HAD to. If we had killed it again I think there would have been a mutiny.

From time to time you would continue to see these “Bar Talk” runs but way less frequently. We started an S.O.S. file (some other show), and although occasionally we would reprise a bit that was cut for time, most of them (no matter how hilarious) went to the S.O.S. file to die. You can thank the barnyard.

15 comments:

Howard Hoffman said...

Well, hell, Ken...now we MUST see this S.O.S. file! This is like the "lost" Honeymooners episodes...a holy grail...a big chunk of CHEERS we now need to see. Open it up.

Anonymous said...

While I can see it might be annoying, isn't doing exactly the same thing every night for months exactly what most actors do when they are in running plays?

Wally said...

Was reading up on Colasanto's death after S3. Did NBC really not allow anyone but John Ratzenberger to attend his funeral due to the show's schedule?

Mike Barer said...

I remember that when Cheers began, NBC was mired in last place. Cheers was a fairly unknown comedy. It was good that the corporate suits were smart enough to stick with it as it led the network out of the doldrums.

VP81955 said...

And with Bill Cosby's assorted problems, NBC now will be glad to give "Cheers" all the credit for the network's revival.

tavm said...

Does anyone know if "What is the smartest barnyard animal?" actually made the cut in syndication as I don't actually remember that one...

mmryan314 said...

I think the Carmichael Show is benefitting from the same lack of other programming coupled with low volume of viewers -along with critical praise. So happy it has been renewed. Only show holding my attention right now.

Igor said...

And these Cheers cuts aren't combined into an outtake reel for us mortals because...??? Inquiring minds want to know.

OK, we don't want to know why as much as we'd like to see the clips.

Maybe this isn't related, but in my mind it is: Last night's 60 Minutes was a wonderful send-off to Morley Safer w/ snippets of his stories. And it got me thinking CBS should monetize the full-length clips as a "Morley Safer Channel".

Stephen Robinson said...

The "up and back" style scenes would later become a calling card in Tarantino films -- although one could argue that they do advance plot and character (something a lot of "Tarantino copycats" in the late '90s failed to achieve).

Cheers always felt like an actual bar, especially in the first few seasons. Cafe Nervosa even had a feel that was appropriate for FRASIER and Seattle at the time. It bugged me that on FRIENDS, Central Perk never felt like a living, breathing coffee house. And once Rachel stopped working there, it basically no longer served a purpose. You could have shot most of the scenes in Monica's living room.

BA said...

The Onion AV Club site has a story tagged "NBC’s fall lineup no longer objects to comedy on Thursdays" with a photo of Ted Danson and Kristen Bell. Rather like the mock "We used to have Seinfeld, remember?" NBC is still a comedy goldmine, if only as a target.

fred said...

Seems to be talk on the internet about the "Potter Paintings" Including who actually painted them. Lots of rumors, but very thin on facts. Have you addressed this on your blog before?(link) Do you know where any of these are??

Cap'n Bob said...

Pigs are.

Diane D. said...

Tavm
I've seen the smartest barnyard animal joke on CHEERS on Netflix. I don't remember the episode but Cliff says the pig is the smartest. He says if pigs had thumbs they could do some manual labor that humans do, and then he says, "they could work for you for 20 years and then at their retirement dinner you could eat them." Hilarious!

If the rest of the SOS file is that funny, Ken really should make available somehow. It's a shame to think of those kinds of gems just sitting there unappreciated.

Old Business Professor HJR said...

Since there are so many scenes-never-broadcast listed on YouTube, why hasn't NBC monetized the SOS scenes from Cheers or other programs on some advertising-supported or pay-per-view distribution channel? Or why have't they hired you to put together collections for showing in the line-up where they otherwise are burning off purchased but hated programs?

Thomas said...

Friday question: Why noy use them as cold opens ( which you repeatedly said where hard to write)?