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On Sept. 30, 1982, NBC debuted what would become an enduring network staple, Cheers. The Hollywood Reporter’s original take, published in a TeleVisions column on Oct. 19 of that year, is below:
Passing in Review: Cheers (NBC, 9-9:30 pm, Thursday) Sam “May Day” Malone used to be a top relief pitcher with the Boston Red Sox. That is, until he developed this drinking problem. Now he’s licked the habit and opened a bar — just to prove it. It’s one of the congenial sort of neighborhood watering holes that attracts the like of Norm (“Just one more for the road”). Norm and his buddies are served their sauce by Carla Tortelli (a street-wise toughie with a heart of gold), and Diane Chambers (young, naive, and an expert on English literature). Then there’s Coach Pantusso, who lends a hand behind the bar in his own punchy style. And, together, they all have one thing in common — they all love Sam. At least most of the time. Every day, during happy hour, they sit and drink and solve problems — their own, the world’s — it doesn’t matter much. And while they’re at it, they come up with some of the funniest lines to hit the small screen this season.
The pilot episode, which aired several weeks ago, introduced the characters in brilliant style. And the romp has continued right through the episode that aired last Thursday called “The Tortelli Tort” — an awful title for an amazing character study. What begins as a typical afternoon turns suddenly sour with the arrival in Cheers of a fat-slob-of-a-Yankee fan named “Big Ed” (Ron Karabatsos) who runs off at the mouth against the Red Sox in general and Sam Malone in particular. It’s Carla who hits the boiling point first, doing a half-leap-frog onto his back and using his head to tenderize the bar. All of which leads to a lawsuit (unless, of course, Carla is fired). She isn’t; but getting to that moment of truth is nevertheless a joy.
And the reason is simple. Cheers has a top ensemble cast with impeccable timing whose constant thirst of humor is being fed by fine comedy writers — in this case Tom Reeder. Ted Danson is remarkably good as Malone, countered at every turn by the equally brilliant Shelley Long as Diane. Rhea Perlman is Carla, Nick Colasanto is the Coach, and George Wendt plays Norm, and each, in their own way, adds an intricate piece to this picture perfect puzzle.
And we can’t really say we’re surprised. The producers behind Cheers are the trio of Les Charles, Glen Charles and James Burrows (who directed this episode as well), who were previously involved with Taxi and a tally of other comedies. Ken Levine and Davis Isaacs are co-producers. And the entire Charles/Burrows/Charles production is handled in association with Paramount TV, so the look is top-notch.
All of which brings us to the one single thorn in this otherwise fragrant bouquet of rosebuds. The series, to date, has been confined to the Cheers bar set — a single room that is being asked to play host to every activity on the show. From a story standpoint, it’s confining to the point that it could quickly become the Achilles heel of the series. It means we must hear about life outside the walls of Cheers, but never really see it. It also means that audiences across the country must use their imaginations — a talent most seem to have left in the womb.
On the other hand, perhaps Cheers is just the show to change all that. We hope so. It’s that well done — with nary a hangover in sight. – Richard Hack
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