Sunday, September 09, 2012

Everything you wanted to know about the CHEERS "Bar Wars"

I get a lot of questions about the “Bar Wars” episodes of CHEERS that my writing 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. I mentioned this last Thursday.  We had too many twists and turns. 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...

Calling Harry Anderson back was a nice way to end the Bar Wars saga, since -- like Chuck Jones' edict that the Coyote never catches the Road Runner -- it was clear from the previous shows that Sam (or anyone else at Cheers not part of the Diane Chambers' college blowing class) was never going to beat Gary on his or her own. Having Harry the Hat deliver the coup de grace after not being on the show for the previous eight years was a way to end the battles with Cheers winning out, but without destroying the narrative that no one who actually goes to or works at the bar could do it.

Paul Duca said...

I watched the first BAR WARS on Reelz this week. I found it interesting that you made Gary a magna cum laude Princeton graduate. Was that your reaction to the Ivy Leaguers horning in on your territory...sitcom writing?

"I heard that Pi Epsilon is Greek for "Hi, sailor!'"

Reduced Shakespeare Company said...

As an actor in LA, I'd often see Joel (with an L) Polis around town at auditions and say, "Look, there's Gary!" Never saw the other Gary -- never even KNEW about the other Gary.

And Diane was in a college blowing class?! Really sorry I missed those episodes!

Mike said...

So to summarise what you're saying, that's:
Bar Wars 1 - A New Hope.
Bar Wars 5 - The Empire Strikes Back.
Bar Wars Finale - The Return Of The Jedi, and
Bar Wars 6 - The Holiday Spectacular.

@Reduced Shakespeare Company: A killer show! Saw it many years ago in the UK.
The Complete Works of Shakespeare condensed into ninety minutes, with more jokes than a series of Cheers.

An (is my actual name) said...

@ Reduced Shakespeare Company The college blowing classes were part of the unaired Bar Whores series. Fingers crossed for a future DVD release.

Tv Food and Drink said...

"Part of the plan!"
"Part of the plan!"
"Part of the plan!"
"NOT part of the plan!"

Thanks for the post!


Greg said...

No "Cheers" line has ever made me laugh as hard as Frasier's solemn, "That would have made a better eulogy than 'Get out of there, Gary.'"

Brian said...

Ken - how much in residuals do you get when I watch an episode on Netflix streaming? I started at the beginning and I'm working my way through all seasons on Netflix. Just watched "Friends, Romans, Accountants" (Season 1, episode 7) I'm enjoying watching them them over again, especially those with Coach. There's some funny stuff back there.

Zappa the Unholy said...

I very much enjoyed Bar Wars VI. The guy who plays the mobster, not sure who he was but the laugh he gives after his lines nearly makes me shoot beer out of my nose. HILARIOUS!

Johnny Walker said...

Hey, the guys "won" in Bar Wars II!

I've said it before, but I did notice that the structure of the Michael Keaton Frasier episode was pretty darn close to Bar Wars V.

ScottyB said...

For me, one of the funniest damn things I ever saw related to any kind of bar wars with Gary's (and one of the funniest things I've seen on the whole show) was a St. Pat's-themed episode when Sam hires an Irish band ... and they turn out to be a REAL Irish band that, in the true spirit of the Irish, sings anti-British dirges full of death, death, death. I imagine that bit of humor would fly over the heads of a lot of people, but it kills me every time. That and Woody encased in cinderblock ... "Guys, I'm getting woozy ...." Total fucking smart, classic stuff that's sorely missed these days on network shows.

DyHrdMET said...

have you ever had (or heard of) an audience boo at a scene, an actor, or more likely, a joke? does the creative team simply re-write, or do they re-think whatever it was that went wrong?

Angela said...

Hi Ken,

Since you do your fair share of baseball announcing, I was just curious as to your take on this:

... especially since Hatteberg seems to be back this week. I've heard Fosse on all the A's games for quite a long time. It's quite jarring to hear suddenly hear someone else.