Saturday, August 29, 2009

Everything you wanted to know about the CHEERS' Bar Wars

Heading home from Cincinnati. Happy birthday, Annie. Save me a piece of cake.

I get a lot of questions about the “Bar Wars” episodes of CHEERS that my partner, David Isaacs and I wrote. So here are the FAQ’s.

Did we purposely plan for the Cheers gang to lose every time?

Yes. Except for the last one. Frustration is much funnier than victory. The trick however, was to find different ways for them to lose – or screw themselves. Guess I grew up watching too many Road Runner cartoons.

What about the last Bar Wars in the final season?

Ultimately, we decided to not only let Cheers win but to demolish Gary’s Olde Towne Tavern once and for all. We’re nothing if not vengeful. Trivia note: That is the only episode of CHEERS that I appear in. I’m sitting at the bar in an early scene.

Who played Gary?

The answer is: which time? We had two actors who played Gary, in no particular order. The first time the character appeared, Joe Polis played him in a 1985 episode called “From Beer to Eternity”. When we wrote the first Bar Wars episode Joe wasn’t available. It was the very end of the season. We had no other scripts so we just had to recast. Robert Desiderio became Gary. For Bar Wars II we went back to Joe Polis and used him one other time. Otherwise, it was Robert Desiderio. Confusing? I don’t understand why we did it either. Hopefully this mystery will be tackled in the sequel to the DA VINCI CODE.

What is your favorite Bar Wars episode?

Bar Wars V. My partner came up with this idea. Sam’s prank kills Gary. Or at least that’s what Sam thinks. If you can’t get laughs with a man digging up a grave you’re not a comedy writer.

What is your least favorite Bar Wars episode?

Bar Wars VI. The gang thinks a wise guy buys Gary’s bar so a prank unleashes the Mafia after them. We were reaching. And sometimes too clever for our own good. In Bar Wars II, there’s a Bloody Mary contest. We had a number of twists and turns, and after turning in the script, the staff added a few more. By the end I think there were maybe six too many. It was the BIG SLEEP of Bar Wars episodes – no one alive can tell you exactly what happened.

Was it hard to plot these episodes?

Yes. Very. These episodes were a bitch to conceive and then hard to write because there was always so much story. By nature, exposition and set ups are not inherently funny and entertaining. We had to pull a lot of jokes out of nowhere.

What was your favorite gag?

Filling Rebecca’s office with sheep. That’s the power of being a writer. You come up with a goofy idea. And voila, there are fifty sheep being herded onto the set. I’m sure the guy who came up with snakes on the plane had the same heady feeling.

There are some Bar Wars type episodes not called Bar Wars. How come?

Those were episodes not originally designed to be bar wars but evolved into them. Or they were competitions not practical joke wars, per se. In other words, I dunno. I’m still trying to figure out BAR WARS II.

And finally, are you that diabolical?

Let’s just say I hope you’re not allergic to sheep.


John said...

Ken, on the last Bar Wars, since the final season on "Cheers" included bringing back some past favorites like Nick and Loretta Torteilli, was the concept thought up as a way to fit a return of Harry Anderson's character into the show, or did you start working on the story concept first, and then come up with the idea of bringing back 'Harry The Hat' so you'd have a way to allow Sam come out on top without Sam actually doing anything to make it happen?

Max Clarke said...

I liked the Bar Wars episode when Sam hired that Irish band, and they played Cheers after the concrete wall was built around the bar. Those songs the Irish band sang were so sad, so funny, "...we toss a bomb and still they come...."

D. McEwan said...

Barry Humphries did a TV show about 18 years ago called DAME EDNA'S NEIGHBORHOOD WATCH, available on DVD, which Entertainment Weekly rightly called "A fraternity prank disguised as a game show."

On it, housewives, set up by their husbands, thought they were going to be contestants on a game show hosted by Dame Edna, only to find that while they were at the studio with Edna, a camera crew had invaded their home, and they watched helplessly as their homes were invaded and their secret corners pried into, while Edna asked them rude questions about their decor and possessions as they watched on a monitor at the studio. And woe unto anyone who had a porn stash. Edna's cameras ALWAYS found it.

She/he also prepared practical jokes of various types in the homes. Madge Alsop always answered the door, usually in some of the victim's clothes. ("Madge is a cross-dresser. She wears other women's clothing, and it makes them cross.") One woman was a HUGE Jason Donovan fan, so she saw on the remote feed that, while she was in the studio, Jason Donovan was in her bedroom, going through her undies drawer, and trying some of them on. Donovan of course, would be long gone before the woman got home, so she'd seen her idol bouncing on her bed wearing her panties on his head, but she never met him.

In another, the cameras found Madge in bed with the victim's elderly father.

In one memorable bit (here comes the reason for this comment), when Madge opened the door into the family room, it was FILLED wall-to-wall with a flock of live sheep! There was not an inch of room that wasn't sheep-filled, while Edna complimented the woman on her extremely deep pile wool rug, and warned her about the smell she'd find lingering, given that sheep can't be - ah - housebroken.

It was a memorable image, done to a real woman's home with real sheep, on national television.

All the people whose homes were invaded won all-expense paid trips to lovely foreign cities: Paris, Rome, Venice, etc.

Yup, inappropriate roomfuls of sheep are damned funny.

blogward said...

I never liked Harry the Hat. Did I identify too strongly with Sam?

That’s why lamb chops have handles said...

They were among my favorites too; and thanks for the additional insight into exposition and setups. Also for the additional comment on Dame Edna’s version. I’m guessing having Cheers lose also helps keep the gang from coming off as mean spirited.

And speaking of that, am I the only one who cringes rather than laughs at whatever few Ashton Kutcher hidden camera Punk’d shows I’ve seen – only because the only other choices at 2am. are those Bowflex and ProActive series where I’d swear I’d seen each episode before? Oh wait. Guy also executive produced Real Wedding Crashers and Game Show in My Head – which also could have been equally cringeworthy, had they also somehow involved Howie Mandel. I’m assuming the fact that so many find this stuff funny has something to do with the generational aspects of humor or at least is connected to the fact that many of the viewers actually know who some of these celebrities are?

I’m assuming some of the celebrities agree to sign consent forms because at some point it became hip or a status thing to be punk’d, or for the honor or having been selected, or just because there is -- which softens the blow. I’d also imagine there’s a lot of stuff that didn’t work edited out. But I’m also wondering how many of these celebs have the consent form sent over to their agents first, or at least demand some say in what can or can’t be left in?

A. Buck Short

D. McEwan said...

"A. Buck Short said...
am I the only one who cringes rather than laughs at whatever few Ashton Kutcher hidden camera Punk’d shows I’ve seen – only because the only other choices at 2am. are those Bowflex and ProActive series"

You don't have a DVD player, or a DVR, or an "OFF" button? I have shelves full of better choices, and lots of good movies stacked up in the DVR, so I never have to settle for just whatever's on.

I don't doubt I would indeed cringe at any episode of PUNK'D, which is why I have carefully never watched it. The clips I saw on THE SOUP back when they were making these shows were more than enough to warn me off.

And victims of candid camera stunts, whether in Allan Funt's day, or in Ashton's, sign the releases AFTER the prank is played, not before. The ones who got pissed off don't sign, and those aren't shown.

From what I could tell by the SOUP clips, Ashton's pranks lacked the wit of even Allen Funt's, let alone the supreme wit of Dame Edna's brilliant version. Hell, even the Dick Clark/Ed McMahon practical jokes were wittier.

AlaskaRay said...

So that's were the sheep in my dorm room came from. I always thought my roommate was just getting weird.

Thanks very much. They ate my psych 101 homework.


Tom Quigley said...

One of my all-time favorite lines from CHEERS (thanks to you, Ken -- or David -- whichever one of you -- or whoever on the staff -- came up with it) occurs in "Bar Wars V" when the gang is back at Cheers following the funeral and Sam proposes a toast to Gary, callng him a good adversary and a good friend, and that he will miss him, and ends by saying "Kinda wish I'd said those things at the service." -- To which Frasier replies "It certainly would have been more appropriate than 'You can come out of there now, Gary.'"

dicentra63 said...

I just saw Bar Wars II on DVD and thought the plot made sense, except I can't figure out how Woody got back to Cheers fast enough to get into his disguise.

I also don't know how Gary knew it was a setup.

On the other hand, I noticed that for some of the Cheers interior scenes, one of the cameras showed much more saturated color (and was a bit fuzzier) than the other cameras. It even looked to have a different type of lens.

What was the situ?