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A Last Round for ‘Cheers’ : THE CAST TOASTS THE END WITH FOND MEMORIES

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Fans across the country Thursday will be raising their glasses to toast farewell to one of the best-loved and most-honored series in TV history.

And television will be a lot less cheerful. Though “Cheers” will live on forever in syndication, it’s hard to believe those wacky Boston barflies--Sam, Rebecca, Carla, Norm, Cliff, Woody and Frasier--won’t be back in September with new episodes.

NBC is rolling out the red carpet for its most popular show. The farewells begin at 9 p.m. with a 30-minute retrospective hosted by Bob Costas. Following at 9:30 p.m. will be the 90-minute finale, marking the return after six years of Shelley Long as the intellectual waitress Diane Chambers.

The cast will then guest with Jay Leno on “The Tonight Show,” which will originate from Boston’s Bull & Finch Pub--the real-life model for “Cheers.”

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Created by executive producers-writers Les and Glen Charles, and director James Burrows, “Cheers” premiered Sept. 30, 1982, to critical acclaim but little audience response. As it does now, NBC languished in third place. Sitcoms appeared dead.

But “Cheers” endured, thanks to then-NBC President Grant Tinker and CEO Brandon Tartikoff, who insisted on giving quality shows a chance to develop. “Cheers” slowly built a loyal following, and by its third season cracked the Top 20. It survived the death in 1985 of Nicholas Colasanto, who played bartender Coach, and the departure of Long in 1987. Not only has it placed in the Top 10 every season since then, “Cheers” has received 111 Emmy nominations and won 26 Emmys, tying “Hill Street Blues,” second only to “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” which won 29 of the awards durings its run.

Cast members and the show’s creators reflect on what “Cheers” meant to them:

TED DANSON (Sam Malone)

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I feel very certain about the decision to move, to stop. All the feelings (about leaving) I am sure will come flooding in once I indeed stop. There will be sadness, regret, fear, exhilaration. There will be lots of stuff--lots of feeling.

I think they have done something nice (with Sam). The episode before the last episode, they took him to a sexual addiction group, where he sits and realizes that maybe he has a problem. The truth is he isn’t happy any more, which is a wonderful place to take Sam. I don’t think he is over the hump. I think the last show is a lot of desperation, his one last grab for happiness. Basically, he has gotten to the point that at least he realizes his old lifestyle doesn’t work any more and he isn’t happy. I kind of liked that the writers did that. I liked that they identified that he is alone, that he is sad. He has always had that alcoholic sadness which I really like.

I don’t think I really got Sam until about the third season. I didn’t have a clue about the arrogance of a relief pitcher. The amount of time I was on the air, you develop a kind of “What the hell. People are judging me, I might as well have fun” kind-of-attitude when you are highly visible. So I think that kind of gave me the arrogance Sam has. It took me that long to figure that out.

I must confess I haven’t seen a lot of the episodes. It is strange and a little sad because for us to get the perspective on the show that you have, we will have to leave it. We will have to not be part of it any more to turn around and look at it. Part of me looks forward to being able to do that, to turn around and see what this is.

The writing is really of a high level. We have never talked down to anyone. For some reason, the cast belongs together. It is really quite remarkable that they developed characters and hired actors where you can go to any character in the show to carry it. It is not always true about ensemble acting. I think that is why we are truly great. We are a great ensemble show. And we are funny. Plus, we have been around. I think there is an allegiance in any TV viewing world that just the fact that you count on someone being there at a certain time and count on them being funny. I think it makes you feel good.

RHEA PERLMAN (Carla Tortelli LeBec)

We have been so lucky. It has been the dream team. It has just worked out so perfect. You can’t imagine having a better group of people working together. It has been such a blessing.

I always liked Carla. I don’t think you can play the part of someone you don’t like. You have to find a way to like them. I think she is very likable. I don’t think she has changed over the years; she has had a lot more children (laughs). Sometimes I wish she would even be sharper with people. I think she is getting lazy (laughs).

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The most fun episode that we did was the Thanksgiving show where there was a food fight. That was absolutely a ball.

People come up to me and say just wonderful things. They are always thanking me for all the laughs they have had over the years.

I have a couple of things I might do. I know one thing: I am going to be packing up my house because we are going to move, and I am going to spend time with my kids. We are going to go on a family vacation for the first time in a while because Danny (DeVito) and I are both off at the same time.

KIRSTIE ALLEY (Rebecca Howe)

I am in a deep, dark, dismal depression. It’s a real bizarre, desperate feeling I haven’t experienced yet this lifetime. It’s probably like someone who worked for a company many years and then retired. There’s good news and bad news. You think, “Oh, good. Now I can do whatever I want and have all of this free time.” I like the freedom of being able to take off and make other kinds of plans. But it is so depressing. I miss everyone.

There is something very cocky knowing you are on the best-written television series on the air. We got to see each other every day and we liked being together, which was unique. I think it was, what would we call it, not a total eclipse of the sun, but it is close.

“Cheers " is a dictatorship. It is a boys’ club and they dictate what the girls do and that is the way you do it (laughs). There are no conferences about what your character is or should be. It makes people go unconscious. They just tell you what your character is doing in the script, period . But I sort of like that. It is sort of refreshing. There is a certain peacefulness in dictatorship because you know there are no other answers and no hashing it through. You don’t have to think about it and you can basically be mindless. There’s a nice inner peace in being mindless (laughs).

In all fairness, it’s rare to just get to be an actor. I like to walk on the set, say my lines and go home. It is the easiest job in the world. I don’t like to have these meetings of the mind, these powwows, about what your next move as your character is going to be. I would much rather have some brilliant writer write a brilliant script. That is what I would like to continue to do.

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My favorite episode that I wasn’t in was the Thanksgiving show where they all had a food fight. My favorite episode I was in, for myself personally, was the scene I won the Emmy for-- when I had gotten drunk and realized I was basically worthless as a human being. I came on to Ted and he refused me. For the character of Sam to refuse any woman was a landmark in itself. I guess you could say I hit the all-time bottom when even Sam Malone rejected me.

GEORGE WENDT (Norm Peterson)

I am definitely sad (laughs). But I am excited about other stuff. It is kind of exciting to face unknown stuff--it is really more of a natural state of actors. But I am a sentimental guy in general. If I was in prison for 11 years I would probably be saying. “Goodby, old cell; goodby, old sink.”

I always sort of hated Norman episodes. For me, my favorite sort of “Cheers” are the ones where everything is sort of clicking the way it is supposed to. I think my favorite ones would be in the romantic comedy years, the first two or three years where the stories were about Sam and Diane. Coach would have a nice little scene, Cliff had some wacky thing and Norm had a little entrance and a teaser. Everything sort of fit into the pegs they were supposed to. When the supporting cast had stories they would always end up having us do something way out of character. It was not quite as cool as the quintessential “Cheers” show.

Why was the show so popular? It is so hard to pinpoint. Les Charles one day was quoting J. Paul Getty, referring to our show. He said the secret to success was to get up early, work very hard and strike oil. There is really no other way to put it. We all sort of won the lottery. It was a combination: it was the writing, the direction, the casting, maybe the age groups we were in, the times and the network we were on. And the fact that Grant Tinker had just been put into power and his master plan was to put quality shows on the air and leave them there. It might not have happened under a different regime at that network or any other. There were just too many variables.

JOHN RATZENBERGER (Cliff Claven)

Cliff is the John Wayne of the postal workers because I am out there in the trenches. Like John Wayne, who never actually went to war but was a war hero, Cliff never delivered a letter. But he is a hero to all the letter carriers in America.

Cliff was totally unpredictable. He was just a silly goose. You didn’t know what he was going to say at any given moment. You were always waiting for some outlandish bits of information to roll out of his mouth. He had more freedom than the other characters because his job took him out into the world. He was also a loyal character, even though the other characters didn’t like being around him. Cliff was a loyal individual in that if you were in a hospital, he would visit you. If you had a flat tire, he would help you fix it. I admire that quality in anybody.

When I first heard about (“Cheers” ending), my initial thought quite frankly was that it was asinine. I told (the producers) that. But after the Christmas break, I had time to really think about it. I realized it was the best decision. It seemed like the wind had gone out of the producers’ sails. Just based on that, it seemed like a good idea because if they weren’t enthused about continuing, then it is a good thing we didn’t. It may not have been a 100% effort on their part.

The last night of the actual filming was sad. The party the following night was fun. I had to leave early because I had a job the next day. Everybody was looking at me as if I was nuts, but I said, “I have to get up at 7 a.m.” But I am here at Warner Brothers starting my other show (“Locals,” a Fox sitcom), so the busier I keep, the less I think about it. It was an extraordinary event, those 11 years of my life.

BEBE NEUWIRTH (Lilith Crane)

It has been a really, really great time for me. I like to feel like I have learned an awful lot about the construction of comedy and the continuing skills of playing comedy. I have had some really wonderful acting partners and learning some more tricks on how to keep a straight face on stage, although the outtakes would belie that.

The show has covered a lot of very important moments in Lilith’s life, but I think she has stayed the same person, although this is the same person who has now fallen in love, gotten married, had a baby, has come to a crisis point in her marriage and she has now come back to her husband. Those are enriching, albeit painful, moments in a person’s life. But they expand a person’s consciousness. In that sense, she has evolved, but I like to think she is the same person.

I really don’t (have a favorite episode). I have liked so many of the episodes I have been in, even ones where I just have an entrance and I am done and never seen again. There have been a lot of things I really have had fun doing. Kelsey Grammer has been a fantastic partner on the show. I really couldn’t ask for anything or anyone better than that. I lucked out.

The one thing I appreciated about “Cheers” is they aimed high at the audience. They didn’t aim low. I saw them keep digging for the best joke, not the easiest joke, but the cleverest and most imaginative and most gleeful joke.

SHELLEY LONG (Diane Chambers, 1982-87)

It was like going back to the old neighborhood, there are always changes. People have moved, buildings have moved. There were many people there who were from the days when I was there, and then there were others who were new. It felt familiar, but it felt new at the same time. I didn’t have a whole lot of time to figure out how I was feeling. I was pretty much paying attention to how Diane was feeling. I had to find where she had been when she left, which I did by looking at some episodes from my last year, and reminding myself of different events. Then I had to be creative on my own to fill in the blanks to what she had been doing.

They announced (my return) before I actually was coming back. My agreement was that I would sit down with Glen and Les Charles, the two executive producers who are writers, and we would discuss the story. But we hadn’t had that meeting yet. There was a natural assumption that it all would be fine. I wanted to do it for them and I wanted to do it for all the zillions of people who had come up to me and said, “Are you ever going to be on ‘Cheers’ again?” But that meeting had not happened yet. Fortunately, it all worked out.

I was surprised that Glen called. He was surprised that I was surprised. I said it has been six years, and when I chose to leave the show, I had offered to come back at whatever different points they thought would be fun, which obviously hadn’t happened.

I was also concerned about how they were going to explain why Diane had never called Sam. Diane with her many faults, still--and is in the final episode--a responsible person. They understood completely. I said, “I just don’t know why she didn’t call.” So we talked a lot about that, about what she would say and address the fact she had never seen Sam or explained to him why she didn’t come back. I felt good about the speeches they gave me to address that.

Fred Dryer was one of the original candidates for Sam. I read with all of (the candidates). When the producers called me I said, “I could play with any of them. They are very different.” Then I jumped in and said, “But I do think Ted Danson and I make a very interesting combination.”

We felt from the very first episode that there was a kind of harmony in these characters that was very special. We brought out interesting sides of each other.

KELSEY GRAMMER (Dr. Frasier Crane)

(Ending “Cheers”) actually feels good in many ways. It’s exciting to be moving into a new phase in life, a new chapter. But of course, it was sad and sort of a sentimental last evening together. I am certainly sorry to say goodby to all of those people, but excited about a new life. It is one of those bittersweet experiences.

We have been talking about this for years. You knew it was a matter of time. We thought there would be one more year. I thought the 12th year would by all means be the last year. So it was a year earlier. It was OK.

Everyone was really impeccable at their jobs. The style of the writing was excellent and the actors were truly gifted. It turned out to be one of those marvelous kismets.

WOODY HARRELSON (Woody Boyd)

Everything has its season.

We had 11 of them. After a while, there is just no reason to keep on. But I cried when we all got together for the final scene. I just bawled my eyes out. I never mind crying. An adult is nothing but a child with layers on.


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