Wednesday, March 15, 2006

For all you CHEERS fans...

A number of readers (viewers? blogniks? I dunno.) have asked me to talk more about CHEERS. Last year ESPN.COM asked me to write an article about the series. Since I’m traveling today from Florida to New York it seemed like the perfect time to share it.


Few comedy series incorporated sports more or better than Cheers. If it was devised today I’m sure Cheers would be set in an ESPNzone. I’m a comedy writer and sportscaster so working on Cheers was like dying and going to heaven. Page Three asked me to share some of my favorite sports related episodes and memories and I was happy to as long as I didn’t have to rate them in any order. I leave that up to you. (And I’m sure if you turn on TV Land one is airing right now.)

Everyone knows that Sam Malone was a former pitcher for the Boston Red Sox. But in the original draft of the pilot, written by Glen & Les Charles, Sam was a former New England Patriot. It was only when Ted Danson won the role that he was traded from the Pats to the Sox. Few linemen weigh 165 pounds.

And the switch to baseball also helped explain the Coach’s addled character. Too many fastballs to the head. Originally I think it was a Frank Gifford type accident. I don’t really recall.

Ted wasn’t much of a baseball fan. The first year of the show when the Red Sox came out to play the Angels we took Ted to Anaheim to get a picture with him and Yaz. Neither knew who the other was. I’m not sure if either does today. By the way, the framed picture hanging on the bar of Sam supposedly in action is really Jim Lonborg. Both wore #16. For Mayday Malone that’s his perpetual age.

Early on we knew we had to deal with the intense Boston-New York rivalry. In our third episode, “the Tortelli Torte” written by Tom Reeder, Carla encounters an obnoxious Yankee fan (you can imagine the nightmare of THAT casting session) and smashes his head into the bar. The audience went nuts. And that was before A-Rod. It got one of the biggest laughs in the show’s history. Screw sophisticated comedy! It was pretty funny. Trivia note: for the voice of the TV announcer we used ESPN’s Jon Miller, then a broadcaster for the Bosox. In later episodes I did the announcing. I’m sure it will be the last time anyone will be stupid enough to replace Jon Miller with me.

Later that season David Isaacs and I wrote “Now Pitching: Sam Malone” in which Sam gets hired to do beer commercials. We see one of the TV spots featuring Sam and Luis Tiant. El Tiante was a great pitcher but had a little trouble with English. And diction. And memorization. It must’ve taken fifty takes to complete the thirty second scene. Afterwards, David and I showed Luis around the set and he said (at least I think he said, it was hard to really decipher) “that was fun, I should give this acting thing a try”. Yeah, right. Maybe if they ever get around to “CSI: Cuba”.

Later that season we wrote an episode based on the Glen Burke situation. Glen was a former Dodger who became the first big leaguer to publicly announce he was gay. In “Boys in the Bar” Sam’s former roommate comes out of the closet and Sam’s standing by him causes the bar patrons to assume Cheers will go gay….complete with ferns even! We won a Gay Image Award for that show, thanks in large part I’m sure to removing the big “tug-of-war” scene we had originally written.

Former L.A. Ram, Fred Dryer, was used in several episodes as local sportscaster/buffoon, Dave Richards. (Patterned after practically every local sportscaster in every market). Fred was actually one of the three finalists for Sam Malone. William Devane was the other. Will anyone remember the runners up on “Dream Job”?

One of my favorite sports related episodes comes from the second season. “Manager Coach” written by Earl Pomerantz. The Coach manages a little league team and becomes a Nazi. Nick Colassanto, (Coach) was such a sweet guy he had a little trouble playing such a mean character. We said it’s just like the guy you played in Ragin’ Bull but only with little children.

Remember that old rummy that always used to sit at the bar? His name was Al Rosen and in the 50’s he was a TV wrestling champion. TV wrestling is still considered a sport, isn’t it?

David and I did a two-parter called “Never Love a Goalie” in which Carla hooks up with Boston Bruin goalie, Eddie LeBec. It was love at first save. What other couple would have “Oh Canada” as their “song”? Unfortunately, their romance was proving to be a huge jinx on his career. They resolved the issue by breaking up just before every game. Radio morning man Jay Thomas was cast as Eddie and was so popular we kept the relationship going, eventually even marrying them. I was thrilled. Having created an on-going character meant royalties every time he appeared. But then Jay took some unflattering shots at Rhea Perlman on his radio show. And she happened to be listening. In “Death Takes a Holdiay on Ice” David and I wrote the episode that killed him off.

In “Dark Imaginings” by David Angell, Sam winds up in the hospital after playing raquetball and realizes he’s not as young as he used to be. Watching that episode now he looks nine years old. Note: when you have a room full of Jewish comedy writers sooner or later you’re going to get around to the hernia episode.



Anonymous said...

So... that many CARE about something a decade old?


Me. I'm a bit more, uh, recent. I prefer my reruns - you know, those REAL interesting posts about times spent on vacation that are already a few years old - my reruns should at least, like, MEAN something.

So. Let's see. What does this particular inane post say to me?

(1) "Since I’m traveling today from Florida to New York it seemed like the perfect time to share it. "

And since you're too busy to actually write something that takes some time and thought... well, let's just the rest alone.

(2) "Few comedy series incorporated sports more or better than Cheers. If it was devised today I’m sure Cheers would be set in an ESPNzone."

Assuming yuou are excluding those comedies like "Sports Night" that always kept a better focus on sports. Careful, you might actually sound a bit arrogant.

(3) "Screw sophisticated comedy!"

Aha. I knew there was a moment when you figured your best best at the big ratings was to do that!

(4) "Remember that old rummy that always used to sit at the bar? His name was Al Rosen and in the 50’s he was a TV wrestling champion. TV wrestling is still considered a sport, isn’t it?"

I have no clue. But - since YOU are such a wealth of honest-to-goodness sports knowledge... as evidence by this insightful post... I'll have to grant you this one.

My point.

Look. You know writing. You know Hollywood. And by now any part-time reader of this blog even knows you have children you indulge in.

Just DO NOT make the mistake of saying:

"Few comedy series incorporated sports more or better than Cheers."

Instead, stick to something like:

"Multi-camera shows that film before live studio audiences generally shoot on Tuesday or Friday nights. That way two shows can share one camera crew."

You see, the latter actually says something I never knew! The former? It just makes you sound like a pompous ass.

branfordbob said...

I think it was real nice of Jim Rome to post, don't you?

Anonymous said...

One thing about these anonymous posts, they act as a reminder that even the funniest writers and most generous guys can attract the wrath of the odd prick.

Grubber said...

Eloquently put Steve C, myself being an inbred convict, I would just prefer to call him a wanker, but since this isn't my blog I wont.

Anonymous said...

He cared enough to put his name on it, which anon obviously had not the sack nor gumption to do, the tea-bagger.

you know you're a hit with anonymous nits take shots at you.

Ken, I thought Ed O'Neil (of Married With Children fame) was the finalist for Sam along with Ted?

and yes, I loved this stuff . . .

Alex Epstein said...

Fun post, Ken! I enjoyed it.

By the way, when I abolished anonymous posting, the bossy wankers stopped posting.

Anonymous said...

Do you think that he saw the great irony in ending a post like that with "It just makes you sound like a pompous ass." Or do you think that went over his ENORMOUS head?

with love,

your arrogant, self-indulgent daughter

Barefoot Billy Aloha said...

I guess Anonymous failed that performace review yesterday morning at Starbucks after all.

Ken, this is a wonderful blog.

"Let the breaking winds blow..."


Tom said...

I don’t know why people think their opinion is relevant when they can’t find the balls to put their name to it.

Good stuff. I always wondered why Eddie LeBec was killed off.

Anonymous said...

Great stuff about Cheers history, Ken... please, keep 'em coming... some of us out here DO have the brain capacity to care about stuff more than a decade old, unlike the anonymous anklebiter...

Anonymous said...

Weird... my name got dropped from the comment above after I previewd it...

Frank Strovel III said...


A guy who claims to know sports yet has no balls. Go figure.

Whaledawg said...

What did Jay Thomas say about Rhea? Why did he do that?

Did you guys ever talk to him about it, or did you just not invite him back?

Anonymous said...

ui love the inside stuff. it makes revisiting the shows much more fun. cheers was a true bright spot in a dreary world. if you want to gauge the impact of the show walk into any neighborhood bar and shout "Norm" or mention clayborne. i played at a bar in san francisco for a couple years that was owned by an ex-lineman for the rams. it had that feel, that, oh well, "everybody knows your name" thing going. you guys captured that brilliantly.

MaryAn Batchellor said...

Great post. Can't wait for part two.

Matter-Eater Lad said...

Thanks for sharing these! CHEERS remains the best comedy ever.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous will be glad to know that CHEERS still runs all over the place on free tv. If I'm up late at night or in a lobby with a tv and it is on, you're hard-pressed to get me not to watch it. And it sells really well on DVD.

Ken, I don't know if you've ever read the book GOOD OMENS by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman, but one of the characters, a demon named Crowley, loves CHEERS. If he's listening to the radio or watching TV, Hell is able to interrupt and take over the program, and he's especially pissed when this happens during Cheers. (This is in the British publication of the book- for some reason they changed CHEERS to THE GOLDEN GIRLS for the U.S. version.)

I went to college with the guy who won the second year of Dream Job. I just saw him at a concert a few weeks ago. a)He was dating a girl who looked like a teenager and b) I don't think he's at ESPN anymore.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for all these posts about beloved shows from when I was a kid.

Anonymous said...

Thank you thank you thank you.

Anonymous said...

I love "Cheers" (especially the first five or six seasons) and I enjoy reading these behind-the-scenes stories.

I'd also like to hear about what happened with "Mary", although I've read that was a less-than-pleasant experience. That was supposed to be Mary Tyler Moore's 80s comeback sitcom. It was quite a good show, with potential to be a great one. But from what I've heard, Mary didn't like doing it and didn't want to continue past the first season.

Anonymous said...

The "pompous ass" shot made me laugh. You just took a real "crack" shot.

with love,

your better-looking in sweaters, younger brother

Anonymous said...

Hi Ken

I was just wondering if you could tell me roughly how you guys went about breaking an episode of Cheers. Were there ever times when you were stuck for a story? Do you always work out an idea completely right up to the last scene and then go write the script?

By Ken Levine said...


Later in the upcoming week I will discuss how we break stories for CHEERS and then talk about what should go into an outline. Thanks for the question.

Anonymous said...

Hi Ken

I look forward to your upcoming article on the writing process of an episode of Cheers.

By the way, who wrote the LAST episode of cheers? It would be interesting to know how you guys worked out what should go into that last episode.

Another question i would like to ask, is how did JAMES BURROWS contribute to the writing of Cheers? Any examples?

I know he contributed an important moment in the Frasiers pilot when he suggested that Niles whip out his hanky to wipe off the chair. That was a funny moment and it also defined Niles's character to be an even greater pompous ass than Frasier. The amazing thing about Frasier was how the writers made two brothers who were total snobs and yet somehow made them funny and not irritating. The usual way, i guess, would be to be make one brother the snob, and the other brother the more country and down to earth type but Frasier writers went the other way.

Keep the Cheers spirit alive, Ken.
I am sure keeping it alive here in warm Singapore.

Anonymous said...

Hi Ken

Thanks for your reply.

By the way, I am curious to know what happened to the other writers from Cheers? One of my favorite cheers writer was Heide Perlman. What did she do after that? Is she still writing?

Also, Tom Reeder, what happened to him?

Anonymous said...

Oh screw that jealous idiot. Let him start his own blog about unemployment and mediocre specs, I'm sure we'll all tune in.

More stories, more stories!


Anonymous said...

Ken, you've told me something I never knew...a writer gets a royalty for creating a character added to an ongoing TV show. I just assumed that was for the original creator.

That factoid flitted around in my subconscious until I woke up yesterday and realized what that can mean:

Take an episode of M*A*S*H...specifically from the seventh season.

You have a sum X of creator royalties (seperate from actor residuals, I presume).
First you have a chunk for Hawkeye, Margaret/Hot Lips, Radar, and Fr. Mulcahy (and that I don't know how is divided among the author of the original book, the screenwriter of the film, and the developers of the series).

Then you take another sum for Klinger, then for B.J., for Col. Potter, Major Winchester, and finally for a recurring character like Nurse Kelly or Sgt. Zale.

Hence another thing you informed me about...the royalty check for one cent.

AnnaMartin said...

Anonymous is just jealous.

This wasn't a post revealing odd facts we may not have known about multi-camera, live-audience shows.

Perhaps SportsNight was cancelled because it was neither a sports show or a comedy, but a hybrid of both.

Cheers clearly was, especially at the beginning of its run, a very sports-centric show. Two of the early main characters (Sam and Coach) were former athletes. The patrons were Sox fans. It was set in Boston.

Anonymous: your post makes you sound really, really jealous.

Anonymous said...

Cheers was a good show for its time, however it really aged quickly, and now looks absolutely dated. What's funny is Seinfeld has been off the air ten years and yet has a timeless aspect. Even though the portable phones are big and bulky, and cell phones rarely made an appearance on the show, although the technology existed at the time. The Cheers set adds to its stagey, old look. Dark & depressing.