Where everybody knows your name

by Steve

Cheers bar sign

Over here in the UK the TV channel ITV4 are working their way through the many series of Cheers. It has become required viewing in my household and I’m coming to the conclusion that it could easily be the best sitcom ever produced. I certainly can’t think of any other sitcom that managed to maintain its quality for so long.

I remember watching later series as a kid, but it has been great to watch the Coach years and Diane years – there have been plenty of episodes that have been new to me. What is really striking is how good Cheers was right from the first episodes of the first series. The characters and the relationships between them were in place from day one. There was no real need for ‘bedding in’ or tweaking, the writers and actors got it spot-on, right away, which I’m sure is rare for a TV show.

Sure, there are some standard archetypes in there, but the writers manage to avoid making them caricatures. The characters aren’t even completely loveable all the time, they don’t always play to the audience’s sympathies, and that makes them all the more real and easy to relate to. Like any real bar, Cheers is not occupied by faultless people, and is all the better for it.

It was also clearly a resilient show, and I guess it had to be to last as long as it did. Coach was such a lovely character, and perhaps the heart, the innocent, moral centre, of the show. So when actor Nicholas Colasanto died it must have been hard to work out how to carry on.

Bringing in the character of Woody was a masterstroke. He has the same qualities as Coach, being seemly naive, a foil for the more savvy and wise-cracking characters to bounce off of, a confidant for Sam. But rather than being a direct replacement, Woody is his own character. It would have been easy, I imagine, to bring in another older guy, but creating a character with Coach-esque qualities, just 40-odd years younger, I’m sure helped the show survive, and move on from the sad death of Colasanto.

A show like Cheers needs some degree of grit and irony to make it believable, but it also needs a Coach/Woody-type character to stop it becoming a completely cynical exercise.

Of course, Shelley Long and the Diane character would eventually depart too, but as ITV4 hasn’t got that far yet, I haven’t been able to see how well that transition worked. I’m sure I’ll find out soon enough.

Anyway, this was more an excuse to post this video of Norm-isms than anything else. Enjoy.

Image from Nina^, via Flickr

Apologies for the obvious blog post title, but I’m sure it is some sort of internet law that if you write about Cheers you have to use that particular title.