Monday, March 03, 2008

St. Elsewhere goes to Cheers: the inside story

In maybe the strangest cross-promotion in television history, there was an episode of ST. ELSEWHERE where three of their main characters went to the Cheers bar. Readers are always asking me about this scene so I thought I'd go to the source. John Masius is a multi-Emmy winning writer who co-wrote and produced the episode. He graciously has agreed to fill in the details. Many thanks, John.

how st.elsewhere came to cheers: a revisionist history

tom fontana, john tinker and i wrote the episode..bruce paltrow directed it..
the episode had three story arcs..westphal dealing with his autistic son,
craig coping with his mentor's alzheimer disease and auschlander coming to
grips with his own mortality..we thought it would be fun to write a scene
where the three friends met for a drink after work..something we had never
done...and obliquely share their concerns and we thought why not the cheers bar? tartkoff loved the idea, paltow called his old friend burrows
and they hashed the production day to shoot during a cheers hiatus week...perleman and ratzenberger graciously signed on..
i wanted the coach behind the bar but he was creatively we decided to go for it and wrote essentially a one-act play that was the entire third act of the episode..due to the constraints of the three-camera set
we shot pretty much in one direction..blew through 15 pages,twice our normal load in one day...i remember it being a great fun day..the show turned out was picked to be aired at our 20th anniversary event
held at the paley museum of t.v. and beer-drinking...the only negative feedback was from the charles bros who didn't like the dialogue we wrote
for carla and cliff...however their bastard step-brother ed charles, utility
infielder extroidinaire for the '69 mets, was a big fan of the episode..
john masius


Tim W. said...

Nice story, but please let John know where the shift keys on the keyboard are. He seems to have lost them.

Jason Sanders said...

That's a really cool story. It's neat to hear the other side of an episode.

Thanks John and Ken!

Nat G said...

Twas indeed a fine episode... although they did shoot a couple shots from angles they shouldn't have, getting blatant set lights in the picture.

By the way: if anyone's into TV show crossovers in general, they owe it to themselves to visit this site:

Bitter Animator said...

Was this the same episode with the crucified guy? It was so long ago those two episodes have merged in my memory and make for an odd combination.

Ger Apeldoorn said...

Nat, Thanks for thelink. That's a lot of fun. It also has this: "Almost Perfect was a sitcom about a woman named Kim Cooper who was on the writing staff of a Police Drama named Blue Justice. Cybill was a sitcom starring Cybill Shepherd as Cybill Sheridan, a struggling middle aged actress. Here's the cross: at the beginning of one episode of Almost Perfect, the pre-credits teaser joke featured Cybill Sheridan auditioning for a role on Blue Justice. No biggie. Just a fun, fast little crossover."

Maybe Ken can spill the beans on this one.

Anonymous said...

This guest post was soooooo cool! Ken, not only do you have all those credits, you know John Masius! I’m not sure either of you can ever fully grasp how revered both of your shows were to us in Massachusetts and especially having both on the air during the same years. The Route 128 area around Boston was essentially becoming Silicon Valley East. Unlike other parts of the northeast and rust belt the economy was also doing just fine thank you. The state was encouraging company startups and relocations by trumpeting the fact that it was doing so well through the new industries based on intellect, and innovation, having all those colleges, etc. There was even a new packaged popcorn manufactured in the 128 area that caught on called “Smart Food.” We were just as proud to be associated nationally with the two smartest shows on television. I still IMDB “St. Elsewhere” sometimes just to go down the list of accomplished names associated with it, including producers, writers, major stars like Denzel Washington who probably was first introduced to most of us there, and others who guested in multiple episodes.

Having mentioned that he wished Coach could have been behind the bar, I wonder if John Masius might have somehow known Nick Colasanto from Providence, a city he also treated with such a wonderful sense of place in another series of the same name he created? (Speaking of crossovers of a kind, a doctor of yours who became a veterinarian of his -- Capt. B.J. Hunnicut.

And I think I remember at least one crossover where an executive producer of one of the shows was seeing the UPM of the other. They were both really terrific people. Getting to meet the legendary Abby Singer wasn’t too shabby either – no rhyme intended, and no he wasn’t the aforementioned PM.

Incidentally, nat g, guess where your was also highly recommended today? It was the website selected for profile in, of all places, the Online Finds column of The Boston Globe! I stumbled upon it accidentally while trolling all the way back to their Sunday magazine looking for their excerpt from my friend's new book.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Ken, for doing this, and thank you to John Masius for writing this! I was a huge fan of both shows (still am) but found myself somewhat disappointed in this scene. They were both fictional, but it seemed to me that "St. Elsewhere" was in a different kind of reality than "Cheers". More naturalistic, closer to the real world. "Cheers" was a bright, happy (although conflict-filled) place that seemed more like fantasy. I didn't think the blend worked. The St.E characters looked out of place, like they'd stepped into a different universe. The Cheers regulars' lines sounded phony and false.

Now if only Mr. Masius could convince the studio to put the remaining seasons of "St. Elsewhere" out on DVD...

LouOCNY said...

The one fun part of that bit was finding out that Norm had been Auschlanders accountant at one time - and lost him big time money with the IRS!

Anonymous said...

This guest post clears up a lot of things, but did Ed Charles ever bat against Sam Malone?

Jaime J. Weinman said...

It's been pointed out elsewhere (no pun intended), but if Cheers exists in the St. Elsewhere universe then that means that Cheers did not exist.

Or as Dwayne McDuffie put it: "The last five minutes of St. Elsewhere is the only television show, ever. Everything else is a daydream."

Anonymous said...

Nice story but John.... you're no Fred Allen.

Anonymous said...

At first I was thinking, "How the heck did I miss the St. Elsewhere/Cheers crossover episode?" Then the repressed memory came roaring back...

I'm originally from a town called Henderson, Kentucky, which is served by network affiliates in nearby Evansville, Indiana. The NBC affiliate there drove me insane. They bumped Tom Snyder at the height of his show's fame for reruns of The Rockford Files. Then, when Letterman replaced Snyder to great fanfare -- they kept running Rockford (a great show, but jeez). Then they started bumping St. Elsewhere for local basketball games. Occasionally, they'd have a heart and run the bumped episode on a Sunday night after the news. But you couldn't count on it, so it became literally impossible to keep track of continuing storylines. After they pre-empted it for a syndicated Statler Brothers Christmas special, I gave up. Luckily, I was living "elsewhere" for the last two seasons and got to catch up.

St. Elswhere-related celebrity encounter: A few years ago, I went to a screening of Fellini's 8 1/2 at the Samuel Goldwyn theatre and noticed that the guy sitting next to me was Norman Lloyd. I intended to say something to him after the movie, but he zipped out of there before I could form a thought, weaving through the crowd like a spring chicken (he was about 88 at the time).

Anonymous said...


I know that is the stance taken over on Poobala. That if any TV reality intersects, directly or indirectly, with St. Elsewhere that it means those realities cease to exist and become part of the dream of the autistic child as revealed in the "Elsewhere" finale.

So that means that "Cheers" is gone, as is "Frasier", "Wings" and anything else that exists in a shared continuity thanks to spin-offs, guest shots and so forth (there were a couple Cheers/Wings cross-overs back in the day. Can't remember what other shows intersect that particular reality nor which other shows crossed with "Elsewhere."

However, I firmly reject this notion. In fact, it just stands to reason that, since all of "Elsewhere" is just a big dream (or is it daydream?) that the aforementioned autistic child would incorporate elements from popular culture that he was familiar with.

So, in the world of "Elsewhere", "Cheers" and its universe are, as ours, merely television shows which the boy blended into his long, elaborate "Elsewhere" dream.

No different than George discussing his dislike about "Mad About You" on Seinfeld. Doesn't invalidate "Mad About You" within its own universe (though, of course, "Mad About You" attempted to cross-over itself into the Seinfeld universe via a guest appearance by Kramer - but that's another kettle of fish entirely.)

Bottom line- the "Cheers" universe exists healthily and independently of the "Elsewhere" universe - which, of course, only exists in the mind of that kid.

Bitter Animator said...

Tiny Writer, there are shows that the St.Elsewhere doctors have made an appearance in. In those cases, the shows would have to be included as part of the daydream. Cheers isn't one of them though.

Anonymous said...

John, Way too much time on my hands, but...
only in a spring training game setting. Red Sox and Mets never faced each other in a game that counted until '86.

Ed Charles had one of the coolest nicknames: The Creeper. Imagine if they had spun off Tom Poston's BNS character and teamed him with Charles. The Peeper and the Creeper! Yea, that's the ticket!

Anonymous said...

Wait, you mean our universe is real??? Of course I can only speak for myself, but I personally think we are all bozos on this bus (of the circuitous electronic mode). Hey you guys started it, going all existential and all……

“I think, therefore I am.” –- Descartes
“So then, what are you sayin’?” -- Kellie Pickler

"The man of knowledge must not only love his enemies, he must also be able to hate his friends."
-- Nietzsche
“Nietzsche knew my agent?” -- Levine.

It's almost 5 here in Texas, and if you'll pardon the expression, I've got to mosie on out to caucus.

Anonymous said...

Sorry just one mo'.
OK Ken, I know you alerted there would be no Idol recap this week, but just when you think you’re out, Fox pulls you back in.

AP confirms: David Hernandez was gay stripper in Phoenix:

Show source says he will still perform Thursday night:

Personally, I hope he tries the Temptations again – but with tear-away pants. And dammit, I think he should also get 100 bonus votes just for the name of the cabaret.

Anonymous said...

Co-wrote the episode huh? Let me guess... Somebody else was in charge of puctuation?

By Ken Levine said...

I don't usually do this but...

I gotta say, some of you guys (primarily anonymous posters) are real dicks. A writer graciously shares inside information that is then provided to you free of charge and the thanks you give is to criticize punctuation and spelling.

Do me a favor. Leave. This is a service I am providing. It's not something you're entitled to. Go elsewhere.

Tim W. said...

I was just trying to make light of something with a little humour. Didn't mean to offend anyone.

I do agree that a few of the comments seem to have gotten a little nasty, lately. It wasn't my intention to add to that.

Anonymous said...

yeah, I thought tim w.'s post was clearly just light-hearted ribbing, but what is it with some of these anonymous f'ers? They're like kids who ring your doorbell and then run off into the night giggling as if they really put one over on ya.

I have an English degree and pick up the occasional extra buck proofreading scripts and presentations for a prodco. It's important in those cases, but on a blog? Not so much. Most people understand that posts are often dashed off in spare moments. It's also fairly common knowledge (and common sense) that intelligence and grammatical aptitude don't necessarily correlate. Someone can be weak on grammar and spelling but a genius at dialogue, structure and plotting.

I think it's safe to assume that no one with an actual film or TV credit would come here to rag on a hugely successful writer's posting style, anonymously or not.

A Strange Boy said...

Thank you very much to Ken and John for that insight. I love St. Elsewhere...wish we were getting more than the first season on DVD. I'm kicking myself for not recording it from Prime in Canada 10 years ago.

PS- I usually use lowercase in blog posts and Facebook comments...more of an aesthetic thing.

Kevin said...

I remember the "Cheers" episode with a lot of fondness. Regardless of what the Charles brothers thought, I liked the touch that Carla's kids had been delivered at St. Eligius, and that she immediately went off on a rant about the place when it got mentioned.

But the real depth charge in that episode, which stays with me to this day, is the subplot regarding Dr. Craig and the Alzheimer's-ridden Dr. Domedian, as played by Dean Jagger. (I believe it's also mentioned that he had a stroke) Craig is initially unable to deal with him at all and leaves young Ehrlich in the room wondering what is going on. But at the end of the episode, when Craig goes back to sit with his old mentor, there is a single moment where Domedian recognizes him - a great piece of writing, directing and acting. And quite heartbreaking, for in the next moment, the character goes back into his fog.

And yes, that is the episode with Richard Lawson playing a man who believes he is Christ, only to be crucified by people on the street.

St. Elsewhere, along with M*A*S*H, was unquestionably one of the finest television series we have seen. Again, a terrific combination of writing, directing and acting. And if you look closely, almost all of it takes place on something like 3 sets.

(An AD who has had the pleasure of working not only with Mark Tinker, but also with several St. Elsewhere cast alumni.)

Anonymous said...

st. elsewhere and cheers...die hard fan of both. and also of the same era "hill street blues" - that first season was killer, and that first episode was groundbreaking and goddam laugh out loud funny for a "cop" show.

as for using correct grammar and/or punctuation in blogs or emails, can't do it. defeats the purpose, for me, of the immediacy, the informality, the conversational style of blogging or emailing. unless it's business-related, i'm just too old and too tired to hit the shift key and/or search through my old english comp books for the correct usage of a sentence.

next thing you know we'll have to be diagramming sentences with line-draw.

and yeah, i've got a couple of degrees myself, used to be published in a few newspapers as a features writer, won a couple of awards for writing p.r. (meh), and yet here i am the laziest blogger in the blogosphere.

last time i checked it wasn't a crime. yet. however bush still has 321 Days, 07 Hours, 42 Minutes, 58 Seconds left in office so who knows...

as i've said before here and at huffpost, love ya, ken, give 'em hell. it's your blog.

Anonymous said...

Yeh, like you're jonesin' for more mush from the wimp. Just calling in on the request line.

Pat, have any Fran Drescher musical stylings you'd be able to share, maybe a cover of Frankie Laine's Rawhide or somethin'?

Anonymous said...


seriously, this almost makes me miss Ken's "the french surrender" jokes.

Anonymous said...

anonymous: That's right, you don't have to pay for 'em. Don't have to read 'em. Don't have to comment on 'em. Hope this helps.

Roger Owen Green said...

I watched religiously both St. Elsewhere and Cheers, so even those of us in Boston west (Albany, NY) were proud. Even have the St. Elsewhere season one DVD, which I'll have to actually watch before my favorite shows repopulate the airwaves.

Anonymous said...

A much-belated humble thank you for this guest post, Mr. Masius, that I am just now finding and reading.

Wow, Ken! You know everybody! (Wait a minute, you ARE one of those Everybodies! :)

Thanks so much for taking the time to share these kinds of stories from behind-the-scenes making our favorite TV shows. Growing up in Massachusetts, shows like Cheers and St. Elsewhere were particularly pivotal, as another earlier poster here pointed out. It's amazing not to mention surreal to now actually be able to ask you and your esteemed peers questions about them.

The Finick said...

I agree with the Charles brothers' criticism; I just watched the scene and Carla was way off. On Cheers, she would never have hung around to guess someone's job, and her brand of malice was very different from its portrayal on St. Elsewhere.