Friday, January 28, 2011

My favorite CHEERS teaser

More of your Friday questions and my attempt at answers.

Phillip B asks:

I noticed that the opening on CHEERS was often entirely unrelated to the rest of the episode. Was it just a chance for a good joke, was it made detachable knowing it was going to get cut in syndication, or was this a chance to give a chance for an actor to more fully develop their role?

Doing a self-contained bit as a teaser was an artistic decision the Charles Brothers made at the outset of the series. Personally, I thought it was a pain in the ass. It’s so much easier to do jokes that tie into the story.

We were always scrambling for teasers. Usually the lowest ranked staff writers would be sent off to come up with them. This was the CHEERS equivalent to being assigned to KP.

The only advantage to this practice was that sometimes we would film a show and it would end up too long.  We could lift a goofy bar discussion and use it some later week as the teaser.  

What is your favorite teaser? This is mine. Director Jim Burrows deserved an Emmy just for this.

From Michael:

If MASH had never existed and AfterMASH was pitched as an original series, do you think it would have gotten on the air?

A period comedy set in a Veteran’s Hospital with no real star, and a patient population made up exclusively of elderly men? Not a chance in hell. Chuck Lorre couldn’t sell that series.

People always wonder why I wrote for AfterMASH. Because it was a chance to work with Larry Gelbart. I established a life-long friendship, and got to learn at the feet of the absolute master. Tell me you wouldn’t jump at that chance, too.

Michael in Singapore has a question in several parts:

Why are the Golden Globes held in such high esteem in Hollywood when everyone knows what a crock they are? Who IS the "foreign press" (movie critics from Belgium and Lithuania?), and why are their accolades so much more important in Hollywood than awards given by the LOCAL or AMERICAN press? The Golden Globes, by all accounts, should be insignificant. How did it become the second-most important award next to the Oscars? Why does anybody care?

First of all, they’re not held in high esteem. But the Foreign Press did something very smart. They didn’t just stage an awards ceremony, they put together a giant bash. It’s a really fun night. Lots of good food, LOTS of booze, and by the time the ceremony starts, everyone is pretty looped.

So to paraphrase the famous line in FIELD OF DREAMS, “If you throw it, they will come”.

And because a lot of feature and television stars attend, they’re able to televise it nationally. And that exposure is what gives the Golden Globes whatever stature it may have. Remember during the Writers Strike when actors refused to cross the picket lines at the Golden Globes? The show was canceled. No one cared who won.

The common industry belief is that the Foreign Press can be bought, so the awards have a certain lack of credibility.

Feature studios hope winning Golden Globes builds momentum for the Oscars. This is award season. The Golden Globes, WGA, DGA, PGA, various critics associations, SAG. But don’t kid yourself. The only one that really counts to Hollywood is the Academy Awards.

The Foreign Press is an organization that does have members who are freelance and part-time, and many do have other jobs. People joke that they’re waiters but in some cases they really are.

What’s your question? And favorite CHEERS teaser?


Dan Serafini said...

Coach is asked to check on a reservation at Melville's, from One for the Book, the episode which features, Lafayette We Are Here!

unkystan said...

Heard someone say: The Hollywood Foreign Press, it's like getting an award from the critic of The Milan Pennysaver. Well, it made me laugh.

Rays profile said...

My personal favorite was the one where the keg ran dry, and the regulars lined up at the door and hummed "Hail to the Chief" as Sam rolled the new one in.

Ger Apeldoorn said...

I remember a similar and also very good musical moment from Wings...

Scot Boyd said...

My favorite is when Harry Anderson comes in and runs the bar-change short con. Was that a teaser or am I remembering it wrong?

Raymond said...

Maybe this is one of those "comedy tests" but the "We Will Rock You" teaser was one of my least favorites. The singing felt gratuitous. We already got the joke, now you're just being obvious. (It also had no big finish, like everybody suddenly stopping once Rebecca comes out of the office. Instead the teaser sort of faded out, like a badly-written rock song...)

Robert Skill said...

This post, with its reference to teasers being made from bits cut out of other episodes, stirs me to ask a question:

When you are writing a script for a TV show, how closely do you try to match the show's running time? If the show is going to run 22 minutes without commercials, do you try to produce something that will take exactly 22 minutes? Or is it better to leave a little cushioning, in case the actors run through the lines more quickly than you expect, or a bit bombs so badly it has to be cut? And if you do overwrite in that sense, do you make a point of including material that can be cut without affecting the story--say, a couple of minutes of Cliff and Norm chatting at the bar, or Frasier taking calls on his radio show--or do you just leave it to the editor to make everything fit?

My apologies if you have covered this before.

J Lee said...

Apparently Paramount worked out some sort of deal with major league and minor league baseball, since I've seen that teaser show up several times on the outfield video screen during the game at a couple of different ballparks (usually during a visiting team's pitching change or mound discussion). You might try seeing if the Mariners have bought that sound/video cut package for one of the slower games during the upcoming season.

Carla dancing to the Isely Brothers' version of "Shout" is probably my No. 1 opening teaser.

And, since you brought Chuck Lorre up in this thread, here's a hypothetical -- you're a show runner and your star is Charlie Sheen. Do you cut back on any planned high-dollar payments in the near future out of fear everyone on your show is about to be out of a job? Or do you think to yourself "Well, they replaced Michael J. Fox with Charlie. Why can't we..." or other similar Dick York-Dick Sargent thoughts?

benson said...

I don't remember if it was a teaser, but when The Coach answers the phone, puts the caller "on hold", then sings background music into the phone. Freaking brilliant.

Phillip B said...

Found my favorite on YouTube, and it is an ultimate Cliff moment -

For CHEERS, the randomness of some the humor around the bar did give it a sense of reality. I've actually met guys like Cliff and Norm, and been places where everyone suddenly decided to sing the same song.

Made me feel part of the group, even if everyone didn't know my name...

Michael Rafferty said...

Hey Dan that the one where two couple have the same name and Coach checks back and says" the Bubblebutts..." or something close to that?

Steve Zeoli said...

The Blubberbutts teaser and the one where patrons and staff pass along a song -- some old chestnut, which I don't recall at the moment -- and coach ends up singing "I've got spurs that jingle, jangle, jingle."

Anonymous said...

Too late to be first, but I heartily recommend Coach's "Table for the Blubberbutts!" It was early on in the run, and it crystallized the lovability as well as the cognitive deficiencies of the character.

leor said...

@Ger Apeldoorn i remember that Wings teaser too, and was actually about to ask Ken if he was involved in that one!

Anonymous said...

J Lee, i agree with you. Rhea Perlman deserved an emmy just for this.

Jon88 said...

Thanks for the "We Will Rock You" clip. Watching it, it occurred to me to wonder if I should be looking closely at the many extras in the room. Did anybody we now know get their start populating the bar?

Edward Copeland said...

Hallelujah! People think I'm being unusually harsh when I refer to the HFPA as the waiters and the florists so I'm glad that someone actually in the industry says it out loud. (The only other time I heard that reference was by Robin Williams when he was accepting an award from them.) When I used to go on junkets and saw some of them the ones working, they could be real embarrassments. At the Casino news conference, all of their questions were for Sharon Stone and were variations of "What's it like to be a beautiful, hot and sexy Hollywood movie star?"

Mike said...

A period comedy set in a Hospital with no real star, and a patient population made up almost exclusively of elderly men? Not a chance in hell.

That would be British sitcom Only When I Laugh, ran for 4 series. Mind, it was written by the former Gas Board clerk that is Eric Chappell.

Here's the pilot (and all the other episodes).

Jose said...

if justin is really just tweeting shit his dad says, why didn't cbs sign up the dad instead or in addition to justin?

Ed said...

Either when Harry the Hat comes in for change or, and I think it was the same season, when Sam comes in late to work due to some extraordinary events and Rebecca doesn;t believe him and then in comes thru the door everything Sam had just mentioned.

Got a question, when you're developing a series how many scripts do you have ready to go when you begin putting together the cast? Watched some auditions on DVDs and it seemed like quite a bit of the dialogue was from deep into the first season.

l.a.guy said...

Follow-up Friday Question: When you were working on AfterMash was there some point where you started thinking "This isn't going to work" or did you think it was executed as intended but just couldn't find an audience? Was Larry Gelbart happy with the final product or frustrated that he couldn't "fix it"?

Bill White said...


Do you think there is any way that AfterM*A*S*H could have worked? Not just been a success, but worked as a show.

What if it had featured Hawkeye or B.J.?

Cap'n Bob said...

I posted a question last week, but I realize you can't get them all in on a given Friday. It was about the Crane Boys Adventures and whether anyone ever got the idea of having real books written about them.

Here's a more personal one--how do you plan to call games in Seattle and continue your post-game show in L.A.? It doesn't seem possible, or at least practical.

scottmc said...

One of my daughter's favorite show's is 'Drake and Josh' and they did an variation of the 'We Will Rock You' cast bit. This prompts a question; have you ever seen a joke of yours used in another show?

Zack Bennett said...

They use this clip on the Jumbotron at Nashville Predators hockey games when they play We Will Rock You in the arena.

Anonymous said...

I like the teaser, I believe it is the first one, where a clearly underage kid walks into Cheers and orders a beer and Sam asks for his ID, and the kid laughs and says "Wait'll I tell the missus." But really, lots of those teasers are gems. I have watched Cheers since its first run, and don't know how many times I've seen each episode, but I still watch. I love that show. Julie

Rob said...

Cheery Carla alone in the bar dancing and singing "I Got the Sun in the Morning" changes back to sour Carla when everybody else comes in.

The song that kept going to person to person until it got to Coach who sings a different song.

Carla in the maternity ward showing off her newborns to the guys, who like the other babies better.

M's Fan Brian said...

Hope its not too late for a question... I've wanted to know for years why characters on TV and in the movies almost never say 'goodbye' when they hang up the phone. They just hang up. In real life, people who did that all the time would be continually irritating their family and friends. What gives?

Brian G.

Bellingham, WA

Anonymous said...

Kinda late, but my favorite teaser was the end of the first season, when Diane tries to get everyone to watch the Wagner opera on TV. Why she thought the guys would ever go for it, I'll never know.

Anonymous said...

I agree with the Golden Globes being a joke, but I think it's ridiculous to think that the american press would give better awards just because they're american and not foreign (unless you're Ken and you hate the French). Foreign people are capable of intelligent critique you know (just not the guys who give out the Golden Globes)

chuckcd said...

I always wanted to see Cliff expound on the tensile strength of the lip of a glass of beer. And how you could actually fit more than 12 oz of beer into a 12 oz glass because of that surface tension.
When he tries to demonstrate, the glass predictably overflows.
Which prompts Cliff to say
"Must be a defective glass".

Adam F. said...

Here I am, watching Cheers, remembering my favorite teasers, and I come across this thread. Fascinating.

Well, I think my favorite is one I haven't seen in forever: the older guy comes into the bar and talks about how he hasn't been there in over 20 years and how everything's changed--the bar is all new, that paneled wall used to be wallpaper, and there used to be a second staircase over there. Woody asks, "Where?" "Back there, behind Norm." If that was written by the interns, I hope you hired them on the spot.

And then there's this one: "When the, uh, British ruled the Punjab..." If that doesn't have you laughing out loud right now, you weren't paying attention.

You could sell a DVD of nothing but the teasers, and it'd sell incredibly well.

Matt said...

Hey Ken,

In the "We Will Rock You" teaser, at :18 in, sitting on the backside of the bar .. Is Glenn Beck. No kidding.

ludlow said...

Mr. Levine,

I'm 32 years old and though I remember Cheers from my childhood, have only just started watching it from the beginning via Netflix.

I have recently gotten into a bit of an argument with someone on Wikipedia because of a 'fact' that was stated on the Cheers Wiki page -- the citation being this blog. The Wiki author has conceded to me slightly, but I still think he is incorrect.

In this post you made a claim that the cold-opens weren't connected to the show (or at least that's how the Wiki audience interpreted what you said).

But having started at the beginning of the show just recently, there have already been dozens of episodes where the intro is directly connected to the remainder of the show. In fact, the cold-open for the first episode of Season 4 explains what was supposed to have happened between the 3rd and 4th seasons. When the show finally opens (after the credits), it reads "..months later".

So, I was hoping you could clarify a bit more about what you meant. Clearly not all of the episodes are tied to the cold-opens, but neither are none of them.

I'd love to settle this one and I figured directly from the source was the way to go =]

ludlow said...

Hi! I left a comment some time ago and it was never answered.

Basically I'm just trying to figure out why the claim was made that cold opens were not connected to the rest of the show (or if that was just misinterpreted by the Wikipedia organization).

I ask because after watching the entire series from start to finish on Netflix, I noticed that an overwhelming number of cold opens are not only connected to the plot, but essential to the overall story of the show.

Thanks in advance!

Anonymous said...

I found your blog while doing a little research on Cheers - the teasers specifically. They might have been a pain in the ass for you writers, but I think "a self-contained bit as a teaser" was artistic genius on the part of the brothers. I'm only on Season 8, but I'd have to say the episode where Sam returns from Italy and instructs the bar patrons to never mention Diane Chambers' name again is the best one I've seen yet. And what happens after one of the patron's asks "who's this Diane Chambers anyway?" is pure gold. I was in tears.

I remember Cheers as a kid. Very dull looking and boring. The Cosby Show, Who's the Boss, Grown Pains, Family Ties. Those were the shows that made sense. Then in my late teens I moved on to what I thought to be the most sophisticated show of all time: Seinfield. I never really got into Friends. Loved Frasier, Will & Grace, King of Queens (seriously underrated show), 3rd Rock from the Sun, and That '70s Show.

But get this. When Seinfield went into re-runs, I found it unbearable to watch. Everything else, I loved - especially Frasier. And until very recently, I came to believe that no sitcom ever made matched Frasier's writing. The jokes Niles alone delivered was enough to reach this conclusion. Then, of course, I discovered Cheers. Wow. Talk about a timeless show. My hats off to you all!!