Say Goodbye to the Next Hour of Your Life with This Amazing ‘Cheers’ Oral History
“I hope and assume that every good comedy writer, no matter the age, has a moment where they discover how great Cheers is…And I would encourage any young person getting into comedy to sit down and watch it,” says Amy Poehler, in the introduction to an amazing new oral history of Cheers that was just published today in GQ. Writer Brian Raftery interviewed nearly 40 cast members, writers, and producers from the classic sitcom, and also Cheers fans from the next generation of TV like Poehler, Modern Family co-creator Christopher Lloyd, and The Shield creator Shawn Ryan. It’s a long, fun, and occasionally heartbreaking read at eight pages, well worth it for fans of one of the greatest sitcoms of all-time and youngsters who are unfamiliar with Cheers but want to know more about the show and its legacy.
If you don’t have time to read the entire 8-page piece, we’ve collected some of its best moments after the jump:
Here are some highlights from GQ‘s Cheers oral history:
Kurt Vonnegut (from a 1991 interview): I would rather have written Cheers than anything I’ve written.
This is easily the saddest, most heartbreaking moment from the piece:
Ted Danson: When [actor] Nick [Colasanto] had heart disease, he was getting less and less oxygen. There wasn’t a surface on that set that didn’t have his lines written down. There was one episode where a friend of Coach dies, and he says, “Its as if hes still with us now.” Nick had written the line on the wood slats by the stairs the actors would use to enter the studio. Nicky dies, and the next year, we’re all devastated, and the first night we come down the stairs, right there was his line: “It’s as if he were with us now.” And so every episode, we’d go by it and pat it as we’d come down to be introduced to the audience.
And then, one year, they repainted the sets and they painted over the line. People almost quit. Seriously. They were so emotionally infuriated that that had been taken away from them.
Kelsey Grammer and Woody Harrelson recount their auditions:
Woody Harrelson: At the audition, I didn’t know I was going into a room with [all the producers], so I was blowing my nose when I walked in. The room erupted in laughter, and somebody said, “This is Woody.” And of course, the part was named Woody. So that put me in a good position.
Kelsey Grammer: When I auditioned for the twenty people that were in the room, I didn’t get a single laugh. I thought, “Holy shit. I’m done. I blew this completely.” I put the script down, thanked everybody, and said, “I’m going to go and see if I can get some laughs out on the street.” But then they sent me a bottle of champagne and said, “Welcome to Cheers.”
Ted Danson and Woody Harrelson relive getting caught in a hurricane while ditching work to trip on mushrooms:
Danson: I’ll tell you about the worst day of my life. Shelley and Rhea were carrying that week’s episode, and the guys were just, “Let’s play hooky.” We’d never done anything wrong before. John had a boat, so we met at Marina del Rey at 8 a.m. We all called in sick, and Jimmy [Burrows] caught on and was so pissed. Woody and I were already stoned, and Woody said, “You want to try some mushrooms?” I’d never had them, so I’m handed this bag and I took a fistful. On our way to Catalina, we hit the tail end of a hurricane, and even people who were sober were getting sick. Woody and I thought we were going to die for three hours. I sat next to George, and every sixty seconds or so he’d poke me and go, “Breathe.” [gasp] And I’d come back to life.
Harrelson: I was a little worried about him. It looked like his face was melting. I think I may have been freaking a little myself, but I had to be cool about it.
One writer discusses the intimidating writers’ room environment:
Phoef Sutton (writer-producer): It was a very tough room. If you pitched bad stuff, they’d lacerate you. There were long silences. I didn’t speak for the first three months on staff, because I was so in awe of everybody.
Writers reflect on Cheers‘ legacy:
Les Charles (co-creator): Back in the old days, there was a rule that every TV episode had to be complete in itself, so you could tune into a television show for the first time and be able to enjoy that show and know where you were. And we started doing continuing stories and cliffhangers and evolving relationships and so on, and we may have been partly responsible for what’s going on now, where if you miss the first episode or two, you are lost. You have to wait until you can get the whole thing on DVD and catch up with it. If that blood is on our hands, I feel kind of badly about it. It can be very frustrating.
Sutton: I believe we wrote two endings to her finale, and there were dummy scripts handed out that had the ending where they stayed together. It was probably the first time a show did what they now on shows like Lost, where they try to keep it secret, because we wanted to surprise people. [And] it was a possibility that maybe, at the last minute, Shelley would decide to stay.
Kelsey Grammer’s drug problem didn’t really impact his performance:
Dan O’Shannon (writer/producer; executive producer on Modern Family): He would ooze into the studio, his life all out of sorts. Jimmy would say “Action,” and he would snap into Frasier and expound in this very erudite dialogue and be pitch-perfect. And Jimmy would yell “Cut!” and he would ooze back into Kelsey—glazed-over eyes, half asleep, going through whatever he was going through. It was the most amazing transformation I’d ever seen.
Kelsey Grammer whines about how no one wanted to play foosball with him anymore after the show ended:
Harrelson: The thing I remember most was, after taping, we’d all head upstairs, and me, Kelsey, Teddy and George would play foosball. We got into tournaments. It was mind-blowing how aggressive and loud it was—it was foosball, you know? But God, it was fun.
Grammer: That all ended as soon as Frasier began. No one from that crowd was really interested. I finally moved the table out to my house, and it ended up being sold with the house. So it’s now in the hands of somebody who may not know its intrinsic value.
After Ted Danson announced his departure, an NBC executive tried to retool the show with Woody as the lead/bar owner:
Harrelson: After it became clear Teddy wasn’t going to do the show anymore, [a network exec] took me to dinner and said, “We can keep the show going, and you’ll be the guy who owns the bar.” We hadn’t even had our appetizers yet! I said, “Ted Danson’s the star, and I can promise people will not want to see it without him.” I didn’t want to do it without him. Dinner was awkward after that.