Saturday, March 07, 2009

No one ever bought a drink at CHEERS

Every show takes creative license. Even 24. On CHEERS we did our share of fudging.

First off, no one ever paid for a drink. We writers knew this was a little dicey but who wanted to see Carla make change for twenty-two minutes or Sam putting his flirting on hold while he ran a credit card for approval?

There were other things we did sheepishly knowing we were stretching credibility.

No one came into town and checked into a hotel. They would go from the airport straight to the CHEERS bar, not even bothering to call to check if the person they wanted to see was even there. And who just ASSUMES their friend will be in a bar at noon? It’s a stretch but it’s always better to see a character than just hear him on the phone. And we figured it wasn’t so bizarre that it would take the audience out of the show.

When those out of town visitors showed up at CHEERS they never had their luggage. We used to joke that there were taxi drivers in Boston with million dollar wardrobes.

The phone was wherever we wanted to place it for blocking purposes. At stage right one week, stage left the next. These were pre-cordless days.

The acoustics at CHEERS were very odd. Sometimes characters could hear all the way across the bar, other times they couldn’t. And the extras upstage at the bar could never hear anything, even though they were two seats away.

Sam cut more lemons than every other bartender in America combined.

Cliff wore his postal uniform even on Sunday. (We did a lot of things with that character but we did think it would stretch believability to ever have John Ratzenberger dance on a show. Sorry he didn't win DANCING WITH THE STARS.)

There were many times when no one was tending the bar. And after Diane left Carla was the only waitress. That must’ve made for some long 16 hour shifts.

As a noted psychiatrist and author of books and articles, Frasier spent as much time in the bar as Norm. When did he ever work we often asked ourselves in the room?

In one episode (that David and I wrote) Norm has to keep feeding a parking meter. That means a guy who drinks beer all day and night drives to and from the bar?

But I will say, to our credit, that we did not go through with the episode where Rebecca gets trapped in a giant Tupperware container. It was quite a discussion though. What clinched it was the argument that if the top were sealed tight Rebecca would get no air and die. There’s only so far you can with creative license and we felt death was just a little over that line. We’d get letters. I know we’d get letters.


Penh said...

What about the episode where Harry the Hat cons Cliffy with the old "I can drink that shot without touching the hat" trick? Of course, Cliff has to break the usual conventions because his having to pay for the two shots is the punchline to the whole bit. Nevertheless, someone paid for a drink, and my geeky gotcha still stands. Oddly enough, I just watched that episode, one of my favorites, tonight.

Anonymous said...

There is also the episode where Evan Drake goes to pay for a drink and Woody asks him for ID.

So, paying for a drink comes in comically handy every now and then.

Writers on Cheers also took license with timelines. There is one episode, I believe, where Cliff and Norm are at the bar, decide to go to a gladiator film festival, return to the bar afterward and still have time to go on a fishing outing with Woody. And then there is the episode in which Sam is going to his "uncle's funeral" and drives back and forth to Vermont at least three times in one afternoon/evening.

And trying to figure out when Cheers opens each day is a trick.

But all these small inconsistencies make it more fun to watch the show.

Grant said...

And of course in movie/tv land there is only one brand of beer, coincidentally called "Beer." You can always walk into a strange bar and ask for it by name. Which makes you wonder why the bar needs more than one tap.

Anonymous said...

It's so interesting how films and tv portray a "reality" that we just plain overlook the dicrepencies.

The only one I didn't think was a stretch was Cliffie wearing his uniform on Sundays as well. He was such a gung-ho postman, I assumed he wore the uniform all the time even when not in the bar.

In the 70's (tv and film) they often had two guys (usually cops or PIs) talking as they walk out of a building, having a conversation that spanned a whole trip but consisted only of like three or so questions and responses.

That used to drive me nuts even back then.

It is funny how we accept, I think the sneakiest was the acoustics thing...

Anonymous said...

And then there was the episode where Frasier tried to put drinks on his credit card, but Norm and Cliff had reported it as stolen so Sam cut up the card.

MrCarlson said...

For me the stretch happned when they had a preagnent Shelley Long talking through a hole in the floor. Not exactly a giant tupperwear, but in line with that concept. And although we very seldomly see money changing hands, the "idea" of paying is there. At times, Norm is searching for someone to buy him a beer. Frasier on the other hand seems to be constantly nursing the same beer throughout every show. It looks like one is his limit. I keep thinking of favourite cheers episodes, and I recently watched one which made me laugh all the way through, called "young Dr Weinstein" from season 5. In it, Sam pretends to be a cardiologist, in order to get reservations to the most expensive restaurant in town, while Diane desperately tries and fails to do so. Very funny indeed, written by Phoef Sutton, which I discovered recently to be a man. Not earth shattering, but still...

Anonymous said...

Hey, some of us check into hotels without luggage all the time. Ooops.

Y'know how you only think you remember things? I keep thinking of a scene in that Dr. Weinstein episode where another patron in the restaurant has some kind of a seizure, and the call goes out, "Is anybody here a world-reknowned cardiologist?" Then I realize I've conflated that with the Seinfeld, "Is anybody here a marine biologist?"

Another thing I can't remember, was that an episode where you used the exterior of Maison Robert in the old Boston City Hall as the "most expensive restaurant in Boston?"
Or do I have that confused with another series too?

Anonymous said...

Speaking of when Frasier worked... I vaguely remember an episode in which Woody responded to one of Frasier's meltdowns by saying, "No wonder Dr. Crane never cured anybody." (Or something close to that quote anyway.)

Cap'n Bob said...

My response to Rebecca suffocating in a large Tupperware container would have been: Thank you for removing that useless, unfunny, Scientolgist pig. Yeah, I know, I'm a mean fucker.

One very minor thing that always bothered me about M*A*S*H was the way they started the jeeps. They just turned a switch or pressed a button on the dash and off they went. I drove a jeep in the Army and they had starters on the floorboard that you activated by pushing in the clutch, after turning on the battery via a dashboard switch. I'm sure the ones in Korea worked the same way. In fact, some of the ones I drove might have been left over from the Korean War.

Tallulah Morehead said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Tallulah Morehead said...

That no one ever paid for a drink was what made CHEERS such a great show that I never sued for it appropriating my catch-phrase sign-off for its title.

The bar where you never have to pay for a drink, and where endless alcohol consumption has no consequences, health-wise or relationship-wise, where there was never a buttinski "Intervention:" it was my Paradise, my Valahalla, my Disney World. And like The Island on LOST, I've found it damn hard to find my way back there again. Locke was right. I never should have left.

BTW, I ALWAYS go direct from the airport to a bar. My staff takes my luggage to the hotel. That's what they are for.

Cheers darlings.

Harold X said...

Very funny indeed, written by Phoef Sutton, which I discovered recently to be a man. Not earth shattering, but still...

Surprised me, too; all the "Phoef"s I know are women!

"letspec"= invitation to make out with a parakeet

Anonymous said...

If you will indulge me, I'd like to take a shot at why nobody ever brought luggage to Cheers, and I haven’t got time to wait for an even more awkward segue.

Around 1980, Westinghouse Broadcasting was easing itself out of the venerable eponymous afternoon talk show with singer/host Mike Douglas, into something infinitely hipper, the eponymous afternoon talk show with singer/host John Davidson. Well that was the thinking anyway, and he was a good guy with talent.

As I recall, I was coordinating the New England press tour when the entourage touched down at Boston's Logan Airport. The idea was that this was something REALLY IMPORTANT. We’d lined up people who’d claimed to know him from Bridgewater, where his Dad had been a minister there, various interviews and presentations of one sort or another. Outside the Ritz Carlton, across Boston Common from the “Cheers” bar, where we had the party registered, we had a fairly well rehearsed posse of admirers, and a couple of photographers, who were encouraged to keep flashing as much as possible to signify the momentousness of the occasion – whether there was actually any film in the cameras or not. To this day I am still unsure whether this was all to impress John Davidson or to impress everybody else with John Davidson.

The motorcade was somewhat less than presidential, but involved a couple of limos, which for Boston was considered extravagant. The idea to be put across, for some reason, was the visit was so important and time was so of the essence that there was simply no time for the folks from the show and Group W to lose. Forget the niceties of waiting for luggage in the terminal. We would meet John with one of the limos right out there on the Logan Airport tarmac and whisk him off to the Ritz with a police motorcycle escort, while the other limo waited and collected everybody’s luggage out front -- like the peasants do.
Now you have to understand that Logan is not one of those old DC-3 Airports where folks deplane down a set of stairs and then walk their way to the terminal. It has gangways.

So we had to escort the party down the gangway, into the waiting room, down a stairway, back outside onto the tarmac, and then walk back to the limo which had been parked photogenically with the motorcycle escort proximate to the plane. Conservatively, I’d say this took approximately 20 minutes. Then of course, while the front of the terminals are relatively convenient to ground transportation, there isn’t exactly an easy direct route for a motor vehicle from an airport taxiway into Boston through the Sumner Tunnel – escort or no. But we did arrive at the Ritz behind the flashing lights of the motorcycles to the arranged flashing cameras – approximately 20 minutes behind luggage limo, which had been patiently waiting for us out in front of the hotel.

Anonymous said...

which I discovered recently to be a man

I usually pay extra for that.

Anonymous said...

When I was a kid, I used to think that somehow all drinks at a bar were free, because I never saw anyone paying for them on television.

Anonymous said...

Also: Didn't anyone, even Cheers employees, ever get their mail at home?

Also also: Why were so many non-Cheers employees capable of being reached at the bar by phone by non-family members? Vera calling, sure, but a colleague of Frasier's?

Anonymous said...

I seem to remember Ma Clavin showing up with luggage in the episode when she got man at Cliffie and adopted Woody by teaching him bird trivia and teaching him to buy shelf paper.
There were a couple of references to a never-seen relief bartender.
As much as I loved the character, it was Lilith's presence in the bar, sans Frasier, that never made sense. Always sipping coffee and writing in a tiny little notebook

Susan said...

I always figured that the bar phone had a *really* long cord going from the phone to the jack...

Anonymous said...

>>> The phone was wherever we
>>> wanted to place it for
>>> blocking purposes. At stage
>>> right one week, stage left the
>>> next. These were pre-cordless
>>> days.

>> Susan said...

> I always figured that the bar
> phone had a *really* long cord
> going from the phone to the
> jack...

So did I, having seen them in bars and restaurants in real life in the same period.

Anonymous said...

> Cliff wore his postal uniform even
> on Sunday. (We did a lot of things
> with that character but we did
> think it would stretch
> believability to ever have John
> Ratzenberger dance on a show.
> Sorry he didn't win DANCING WITH

It always struck me that Cliff would likely have some sort of secret talent, something that he was really, seriously good at but never let anyone at the bar know about, and that a story could be built on that.

I read somewhere years ago -- TV Guide, maybe, always a font of reliability, I'm sure -- that Mr. Ratzenberger substituted for James Burrows as director once or twice, and when giving direction wore a coat over his postal service uniform so that the other members of the cast would see him, John Ratzenberger the Director, rather than see Cliffie and subconsciously not take him seriously. Any truth to that?

> As a noted psychiatrist and
> author of books and articles,
> Frasier spent as much time in
> the bar as Norm. When did he
> ever work we often asked
> ourselves in the room?

I always figured that as a psychiatrist Frazier on some days took daytime off while seeing patients by appointment in the early evenings, and the days our fourth-wall window into the bar was open just frequently coincided with those days.

Anonymous said...

Did you see this article in the Boston Globe today?

For Boston institution, closing credits roll:
Cheers bar lays off fabled bartender

which includes

In 1982, [Eddie] Doyle's life, and the bar's atmosphere, changed almost overnight. After "Cheers" premiered on NBC, Doyle went from barely being able to pay his rent to serving 5,000 people a day. Each day, he poured hundreds of beers and cocktails for mostly tourists, who asked for his autograph and wanted to know everything about the TV show. "Some expected to see Ted Danson behind the bar," said Doyle, referring to the actor who played the Cheers bartender on TV.

"As the real-life bartender of a pub that was the focus of a mega-hit TV show, Doyle was a regular viewer. "It could have been any bar in the US," said Doyle. "But in the end, they did capture the whole thing - with their crew of misfits and eclectic collection of customers that fit but didn't fit."

Anonymous said...

If I am not mistaken, I remember the episode "pick a con..any con", in season 1, when cliff is cheated by Harry the Hat, the coach asks him for 5 bucks and cliff hands out the money.

Jobe said...

I just saw na episode where cliff came in the bar, in the begining before the music, and said " buy my friend norm a beer." and norm fell off the bar stool...FUNIEST thing I ever saw! I don't know what episode it was , but I was rollin!!

Unknown said...

There's an episode starring a young and then unknown Michael Richards who came in to Cheers to remind Sam that if he didn't marry [some woman] in the next 24 hours, Sam would owe him the bar. Anyway, in the beginning of the episode, Richards' character gets a manhattan and as he leaves, he drops cash on the bar to party for it.

Neil Loehr said...

I always assumed that the regulars just had running tabs, so you never usually see them pay. You will see multiple times when Sam mentions an outstanding bar tab. It is also easy to assume that most transactions occur off screen. The thing I always had a problem with was the inconsistency on which they poured their beer. A pair of beers poured back to back would have drastically different amounts of head on them. It was also common for the mugs to be half foam. The fact no one ever complained about the amount of head on their beer seemed far fetched. It was also common to see Norm abandon half beers for a new one or ask for a refill with quite a bit left in his mug. This is not like a barfly to do.

Unknown said...

I just noticed the same thing on an episode of Frasier, and realized how annoying I find it. What counts to some people is realism and nobody ever sits down to drink at a bar for free. They might just as well be drinking (pretending to be drinking) from empty glasses. Why not just send them into the bar completely naked and we can all just try to ignore the obvious?

Unknown said...

I know this is an old post, but I can't seem to find the answer to this:
Did the extras around the bar, recieving drinks, actually get real alcoholic drinks, like a gin and tonic or a Manhattan or a Guinness or a dewars or a martini and so on and so forth. Maybe they were all fakes and if so did you actually make bottles to look like real bottles of liquor.
James said...

Why does everyone leave half of their beer still in the glass when they leave the bar?