Friday, June 05, 2009

CHEERS: Boys in the Bar

I'd put the first year of CHEERS up against the best year of any sitcom. Here's one David and I wrote for that year called BOYS IN THE BAR. We won a WGA award, a GLAAD award, and were nominated for an Emmy for it. Taken from the headlines when former Dodger player Glenn Burke announced that he was gay, it concerns small minded thinking and stereotypes. When Sam publicly supports his ex-roommate who comes out of the closet the Cheers patrons worry that the bar will go gay. Here's the full behind-the-scenes story of that episode. And here's the episode.


Keith said...

lol - "Say it ain't so, Tom"

It's great when the story pitches in and helps you write the jokes.

Vermonter17032 said...


One of my all time favorite episodes! And I agree on your assessment of the first year of Cheers being the all time best season of any sitcom. I liked that every scene took place in the bar, and the fact that sometimes the story lines were driven by guests to the bar.

Thank you for helping give us such great television.

ajm said...

I third your claim about the quality of CHEERS' first season. Wonderful in every way, and it's remarkable how long it was able to remain at that level.

And 27 years later, Billy Bean is only the second ex-big leaguer to come out. This episode is still ahead of its time.

rob! said...

One of the best Cheers, ever.

Jub Jub The Frumious Bandersnatch said...

It would have been an interesting creative direction to have had Cheers (the bar) "go gay."

If nothing else, to see Norm & Cliff on "leather night."

Anonymous said...

Vito's Place became VITO'S PLACE.

K said...

There was another gay-themed bit that first season, though it was a secondary storyline, rather than the main one. A customer comes in looking for a bartender that he used to tell his troubles to. The bartender no longer works there, but Coach agrees to hear the man's problems instead. The man tells Coach that he just found out his son is gay. Befuddled, Coach suggests he throw his son out of the house. The man replies, "I can't do that! I love my son." The man, thinking, incorrectly, that Coach tricked him into realizing that he loved his son, then heaps praise upon Coach for helping him solve his problem.

What makes it so funny is that Coach doesn't seem mean-spirited or even particularly homophobic when he suggests the man throw his son out. He was just kind of grasping at straws, and is in fact pleased that he did, inadvertently, help the man out.

emily said...

My favorite Cheers moment: The Buffalo Theory, by Cliff Claven

"Well you see, Norm, it’s like this … a herd of buffalo can only move as fast as the slowest buffalo. And when the herd is hunted, it is the lowest and weakest ones at the back that are killed first. This natural selection is good for the herd as a whole, because the general speed and health of the whole group keeps improving by the regular killing of the weakest members.

In much the same way, the human brain can only operate as fast as the slowest brain cells. Now, as we know, excessive intake of alcohol kills brain cells. But naturally, it attacks the slowest and weakest brain cells first. In this way, regular consumption of beer eliminates the weaker brain cells, making the brain a faster and more efficient machine.

And that, Norm, is why you always feel smarter after a few beers."

John said...

Ken, looking back at how the characters developed over the ensuing years, do you think it would have been better to have Cliff as the one agitated about Cheers turning into a gay bar instead of Norm?

The episode was so early in the run that John Ratzenberger's character really hadn't been fleshed out in the way it would later, as the know-it-all who pulls his knowledge out of thin air. Watching the series now in its entirety, Norm basically is a laid-back slacker who doesn't get worked up about anything as long as there's beer available. So his reaction here comes across as too active/angry compared to other episodes (i.e. -- A Norm response to the same situation if the show had run in Season 3 or 4 would have been more on the lines of not caring all that much, if they'd cut their beer prices and as long as he could run a tab).

Rock Golf said...

Three years after this episode was filmed, I attended my first and so far only sitcom taping. (Hey, I'm in Toronto. It's a helluva commute.) It was the pilot episode of "Sara". Great cast: Geena Davis in the title role, Bill Maher, Bronson Pinchot, Alfre Woodard. Brandon Tarkitoff had big hopes for the show and sat in the front row of the taping.
Being a pilot, everyone has to get the basis of their character out in within the first 3 lines.

Brandon's character was gay and an early line was both meant to make that obvious and be funny. I could be wrong or confused but I think the line was "You see I'm G-A-Y" with the last word spelled out. But it sounded like "U-I-M-G-A-Y", and most of the audience, myself included, thought he was spelling out a single word. Belatedly there were a few titters.

Maher's character was a right-wing bigot. (Yes, I guess this makes Maher the original Stephen Colbert.) One of his first lines was a putdown of Pinchot's sexuality. It not only got a big laugh but scattered applause.

I've since found that the director was Will McKenzie. That reaction must have ate at him.

But the point is that I got the tickets as a tourist. So probably did most of the people who attended, Brandon Tartikoff excluded. Homosexuality was still a punch line to most Americans, not a life style.

Alyson said...

Hi Ken,
I recently rewatched the full series, and agree with you about the first season. I hadn't seen most of the episodes in years, and was surprised at how well I remembered the plots. I still think the chemistry between Sam and Diane has yet to be matched.

It was also interesting seeing Kelsey Grammer slowly working his way into the show in season 3, with the knowledge now that he would get his own spin-off.

I started watching "Frasier" again last night, and am looking forward to reliving that show, too.

GabbyD said...

oh, norm! :) cheers is still funny!

hi! i grew up watching your show. thanks so much for the good memories.

lucifervandross said...

"it's not going to turn into the kind of bar I have to kick people out of."

Great line.

Cheers is on Netflix, watching them all.