Sunday, February 12, 2017

The CHEERS set

My favorite reader comment so far:

I've gotten familiar with Becker through the syndication. Not familiar with "Cheers".

Well, among those who are familiar with CHEERS I received a request to talk about the set.

We filmed CHEERS on Stage 25 at Paramount Studios in Hollywood (but the seedier section of Hollywood).

The set was designed by Richard Sylbert, an Academy Award winner whose credits include CHINATOWN, REDS, WHO'S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF, ROSEMARY’S BABY, THE GRADUATE, and (ironically) LILITH.

It was patterned after the Bull & Finch bar in Boston. But the B&F is much smaller, and the bar itself is up against the back wall. The d├ęcor, Tiffany lamps, and stained glass is true to the B&F.

Director James Burrows had a lot of input into the design which is why it was so easy to shoot in it. You could bring cameras way up into the set, get many different and interesting angles, and even get shots all the way down the hall.

If you look closely you’ll notice a line that runs down the center of the bar. It’s on a hinge and actually the right half can swing around, allowing room for the right wall to swing back revealing Sam’s office.

There are lights underneath the bar pointing up. It was hard in the first few episodes to see Ted Danson’s eyes.

Nick Colasanto always had a tough time memorizing the script. There were dozens of his lines hidden underneath the bar.

The bar was functional. The CHEERS set was the best ever for show parties.

Whenever an outside set is needed the pool room set is struck.

There is a fourth wall section that was used a couple of times in the first season.

The audience bleachers sat 200. They were raised so even the front row could see over the cameras. To one side was a platform where a small band would play between scenes.

The beer served on tap was warm 3.2 beer. Do not envy George Wendt having to drink that swill every week.

The set was huge. If we wanted to pack the bar we needed 500 people. For our routine customers we used 30-40 extras. Anything else and the bar looked empty.

The guy who had the hardest job on the series was the prop master. Imagine keeping track of all the glasses, drinks, bowls, trays, pretzels, 5.457.432 lemons that Ted cut up every episode, etc.

The phone on the bar would move from end to end depending upon where we needed it.

The Wurlitzer jukebox was not functional. The piano was.

The set was lit differently after the first couple of episodes. Brighter, more inviting. If you have the DVD of the first season, notice the difference between the pilot and episodes later in the year.

In an effort to save money during our first season (when we were getting killed in the ratings not only by SIMON & SIMON but by TUCKER’S WITCH for Godsakes) the studio requested we start shooting the show on tape. A test scene was taped and the set looked ghastly. So much for that brilliant experiment.

The photo over the bar that is supposed to be Sam is really Boston Cy Young winning pitcher Jim Lonborg.

The wooden Indian at the front door was named Techumsa.

When the series finally wrapped I walked over to the stage to watch them strike the set. It was so upsetting I left after maybe two minutes. Of all the shows I worked on, CHEERS was my favorite. And no, I didn’t steal anything from the set. And yes, I’m an idiot. I should have. At least Techumsa.


Bill Avena said...

Did anyone get Sam's jersey that kept landing on Mr Bobo's table?

Stoney said...

Which was the biggest challenge?

Diane stuck in ductwork under the floor

The office filled with sheep

Changing the set to show it had been burned

The front door exploding

The bar sealed in concrete block (I know...probably styrofoam)

ChipO said...

What a great bar, ok Ken, really? You took nothing? oh man.
Here's a difference between a non-entertainment person and Mr. Levine(rhymes with wine):
I had the great fortune to tour the set (friend of someone in the biz) while shooting. In enjoying the show on tv, I just knew, felt, understood, the bar was really long, probably could sit 15+ stools. Just like the pic in the blog, there were (in my non-professional, non-analytical mind) 5 stools at that end of the bar, then another five at the other end, and surely 5 more in the middle.
I believe this is because a non-biz person is watching for the fun, excellent jokes and stories, and the situations, not to critique and analyze -- entertain me please, I don't want to think.
When I visited, I was astounded to see this short bar which could have fit in my basement.
Thanks for the memories.

Richard Pride said...

Wasn't Frasier filmed on the same set? Can you describe that set in relation to the Cheers set? Where was Frasier's apartment, radio station booth etc?

Anonymous said...

I noticed sometimes when the camera was on George/Norm that down the hallway, instead of seeing the pool room in some episodes, it's just a brick wall behind through the corridor past the bathrooms. Also is there any pics of the bar being swung back to reveal Sam's office? That would be cool to see.

The Bumble Bee Pendant said...

Some sets are just iconic.
This is one.

Mike said...

Cheers has long been one of my all-time favorites, and I can't get enough trivia about it. Thanks for sharing these.

Also, I'd read about that videotaped scene before. I'd love to see it, just as a curiosity. It must be jarring. It was a little jarring to see the first season of Newhart (which was videotaped) after becoming familiar with the show in its later seasons, when it was filmed.

cd1515 said...

Friday question: Stoney's post about the sheep in the bar reminded me, that kind of "this-would-never-happen" physical reach for a laugh (same with Woody hanging upside down outside the door window) is usually a sign (to me anyway) that a show is out of ideas.
Nothing wrong with that: a lot of years, a lot of shows, it has to be tough.
Does it get harder for you to come up with new ideas when a show is deep in its run and the characters have been around a long time?

Klee said...

The wooden-indian (Techumsah) wasn't the same used in Creepshow 2, was it?

Anonymous said...

Just as a point of information:
the accepted spelling of the Native American name is Tecumseh

Dennis said...

Shows other than CHEERS filmed on stage 25: FRASIER, BOSOM BUDDIES, THE LUCY SHOW, and HERE'S LUCY.

Kelsey Grammer once joked that the reason neither of his later sitcoms (HANK and BACK TO YOU) succeeded was that they weren't filmed on stage 25 at Paramount.

Greg Thompson said...

Great recollections, Ken. The whole set belongs in the Smithsonian.

Didn't they rebuild it, or reassemble it, for a FRASIER or two?

Steve Lanzi (formerly known as qdpsteve) said...

Ken, is the test videotape footage of Cheers available for viewing anywhere? On YouTube or one of the series DVDs, by any chance?

Would be interesting in seeing how different/bad everything looked on videotape.

MikeN said...

Are you involved in the NBC 90th Anniversary special next week?

norm said...

Ken its " Tecumseh " I did the research.

Paul said...

I was lucky enough to attend a Cheers filming and have always had a question about the set design -- the episode I attended had several scenes in Sam's office and each time the action shifted in there, they stopped filming, unfolded the set (yes, very cool to watch), shot the scene in the office, then stopped and folded it back up. The question: why not have Sam's office designed back in the pool room, which would have eliminated the need for that time-consuming folding and unfolding? Was there a thought that the office would be rarely used and the pool room would see more action? Or did they need to leave room in the studio for those occasional swing sets? Or is there no reason?

Greg Thompson said...

Watching an episode last night, after reading this post, I saw that the bar set was much, much deeper than I remembered. It goes on forever back there. No wonder you needed 30-40 extras to make it look not empty.

By the way, according to this Hollywood Reporter article from 2014, the bar has been donated to the Museum of TV & Radio.

Michael Cowgill said...

I've been rewatching a lot of episodes recently and really admiring the set and the style of filming in it--the wider view on things, all the activity in the background, the quick camera moves to little reactions from Frasier and Norm in particular, things like a character (Frasier in the instance I remember) walking relocating from one side of the bar to another because after 8 or 9 hours at the bar, you might need a change of scenery. It all feels very natural and lived in. What about some of those extra sets used only once or twice--people's houses and apartments for instance? They seem just as detailed and elaborate.

Mike said...

I can only imagine how awful the show would have looked on videotape. Part of the appeal of Cheers was the warmth of the bar. That would have been lost with the show done on video.

Jon said...

On a trip to Southern Cal in Sept. 2000 I got a tour of Paramount as a bonus for attending a filming of BECKER the day before.
The BECKER episode that I saw filmed was called "One Wong Move", and it had a cameo appearance by the first SURVIVOR winner, Richard Hatch. This was the only sitcom that I've seen filmed, out of about 5, where every scene was filmed in front of the audience instead of scenes either being pre-filmed and/or filmed later.
On my tour of Paramount the next day (I understand Paramount stopped its tours a year later post-9/11.), we saw the FRASIER stage. I remember we were told that CHEERS had been filmed there before FRASIER, and what I noticed most was how small it was. I only remember seeing the apartment set and a tiny set off to the side for the radio booth for Frasier's show. I also remember that all the furniture was covered to keep dust off of it.

Joe Beats said...

In Yiddish it's Techumsah. In British it's spelled Tecumseh, but pronounced "luxury yacht."

Brian Stanley said...

When I worked at Kings Island in Cincinnati during the summer of 1995, there was a live show based on "Cheers" episodes and Paramount/Viacom claimed the bar on that set was the bar from the show. Security actually did watch over it, but I was able to sit at Norm's stool one morning for a few seconds.

Kevin Garcia said...

Can you explain this picture of what looks like a recent picture of the bar with 3 of the actors from the series? Please and thanks.

Abby Tutororow said...

I worked the cheers show at Kings Island, too. It was a cool experience to have been able to work on a show with that bar. Great piece of history!

Eddie Sprouse said...

I've watched Cheers from end to end more times than I'd like to admit. In season 11 around episode 4 I noticed that when they filmed a scene in Sam's office that when the office door opened you were not seeing the bar but a white sheetrock wall. I've always wondered why that changed. It kind of takes me out of the fantasy for a moment when I notice it.