“Cheers is filmed before a live studio audience…”

Episodes of the American sitcom Cheers typically begin with a voiceover informing viewers that the show has been recorded with a studio audience in attendance. The device was introduced during the first season to confound rumours that the producers were adding a laughter track.

The phrase first appeared on the 13th episode (Now Pitching, Sam Malone, which was broadcast on 6 January 1983) and was used on nearly every episode until the show came to an end with its 11th season in 1993. The regular cast shared the duties, on a seemingly random rotation, so I thought it would be edifying – or at least diverting – to see who did it the most often.

11. Nicholas Colasanto (Coach Ernie Pantusso) – 0

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Of the 10 actors credited in a Cheers opening title sequence, only one never said “Cheers is filmed before a live studio audience”: Nicholas Colasanto, who played dim-witted but eternally loveable barman Coach. The character was a regular from episode one, but Colasanto died from heart disease on 12 February 1985 during production of the show’s third season.

=9. Kirstie Alley (Rebecca Howe) – 1

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Despite neurotic bar manager Rebecca being in all 149 episodes made after she joined the cast in 1987, Kirstie Alley performed the introductory voiceover just once: on the episode Paint Your Office (5 November 1987).

=9. Bebe Neuwirth (Lilith Sternin-Crane) – 1

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Psychiatrist Lilith was initially a one-off character in season four – a love interest for Frasier Crane – then returned as a semi-regular from season five onwards. But despite all these appearances, Neuwirth only got to say “Cheers is filmed before a live studio audience” once. It was on Madame LaCarla (3 October 1991), which came during the 10th season when she’d been temporarily promoted to the regular cast.

8. George Wendt (Norm Peterson) – 12

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One of only three actors who appeared in all 270 episodes of Cheers, George Wendt – who played slovenly but good-natured barfly Norm – was conspicuously underused when it came to assuring viewers that the laughs were genuine. When the gimmick was introduced, he actually said it on the first three episodes. But he was then called on just three times in the next two seasons… and then not again until season 10. His final go at it was on the episode It’s Lonely On The Top (29 April 1993).

7. Kelsey Grammer (Frasier Crane) – 13

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Psychiatrist Frasier Crane was introduced in the first episode of the 1984/85 season, initially as a short-term character. But he proved so popular he was promoted to the regular cast and stayed until the end. He performed the voiceover 13 times, from season six’s My Fair Clavin (10 December 1987) to season 11’s Is There a Doctor in the Howe? (11 February 1993).

6. [No one] – 22

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There are 22 episodes of Cheers that don’t use the phrase. Most came before the device was introduced, but in occasional later episodes it was replaced by either a ‘Previously on Cheers’-type voiceover or simply the first line of the opening scene.

5. Shelley Long (Diane Chambers) – 27

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One of the co-leads when the series began, Shelley Long – who played aspirational waitress Diane – featured in every episode until leaving at the end of the fifth season. (She also returned as a guest star for the last ever episode in 1993.) Her first go at “Cheers is filmed…” was on the second-season episode Homicidal Ham (27 October 1983); her final instance was on I Do, Adieu (7 May 1987), her last episode as a regular.

4. Woody Harrelson (Woody Boyd) – 33

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Naïve, young barman Woody Boyd joined the show at the start of season four, as a replacement for Coach, and stayed until the end. But he had to wait for his first “Cheers is filmed…”. It finally came in season six on the episode Christmas Cheers (17 December 1987). His final voiceover was exactly five years later on Love Me, Love My Car (17 December 1992).

3. John Ratzenberger (Cliff Clavin) – 49

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Postman Cliff featured in the show’s opener, Give Me a Ring Sometime (30 September 1982), then was in nearly every episode until the finale in 1993. Ratzenberger said “Cheers is filmed…” regularly between No Contest (17 February 1983) and Look Before You Sleep (1 April 1993). He’s one of only two actors who got to do it in all 11 seasons. He’s also one of only two actors who were allowed to embellish the phrase. The first and fourth times he performed the function, it was amended to “Here’s a little-known fact: Cheers is filmed before a live studio audience.”

2. Rhea Perlman (Carla Tortelli/LeBec) – 53

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Caustic waitress Carla was in every episode of Cheers and performed the voiceover in every season, from Show Down Part 1 (24 March 1983) until penultimate episode The Guy Can’t Help It (13 May 1993). She also got her own character-centric embellishment. In most of her instances during the first five seasons, she said “Hey” before the usual wording. This addition was then dropped.

1. Ted Danson (Sam Malone) – 59

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Unsurprisingly, the actor who introduced episodes of Cheers the most often was the top-billed Ted Danson, who played bar owner and ladies’ man Sam Malone in every episode. What is surprising, perhaps, is that he didn’t do it until the third season. Ted’s first voiceover was on Rebound (Part 1) (27 September 1984), then he performed the role regularly until series finale One for the Road (20 May 1993).

Cheers has the same scene twice…

Rewatching superior sitcom Cheers recently I noticed that two episodes contain the same scene. This isn’t a case of footage being repeated in a later episode. The same minute or so of dialogue and action has been restaged and refilmed.

The first instance is in an early episode called Coach’s Daughter (broadcast on NBC on 28 October 1982). After approximately 10 minutes comes a moment where Cheers owner Sam (Ted Danson) asks a barfly called Chuck (Tim Cunningham) about his job search…

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Chuck tells him that he’s now working as a janitor at a biology lab where they experiment with DNA and mutant viruses. He’s nervous about being so close to ‘weird stuff’…

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Sam, barmaid Carla (Rhea Perlman) and customers Cliff (John Ratzenberger) and Norm (George Wendt) react with mild interest and tell him not to worry about the dangers.

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Chuck then downs his drink, says he feels better after the encouragement, and leaves…

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…and as soon as he’s out of the bar, everyone snaps into action and cleans the entire area. Sam sprays the counter, Carla scrubs the floor, Norm and Cliff polish the telephone, then Sam disposes of Chuck’s glass and gingerly picks up his tip.

It’s a self-contained gag that doesn’t have anything to do with the rest of the episode (which is a really terrific and very moving story about barman Coach not liking his daughter’s boorish fiancé).

Then in the final episode of the same season – Show Down (Part 2), broadcast 31 March 1983 – the exact same scene happens again. Only, it’s not *exactly* the same. The section of script has been restaged. Again, the joke has no connection to the rest of the episode, which sees Sam and barmaid Diane (Shelley Long) confront their feelings for one another.

This time it’s the episode’s opening scene. Sam asks Chuck about his job search…

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Chuck tells him about the clinic…

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The others – now including Coach (Nicholas Colasanto), who was absent from the earlier version – tell him not to worry…

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Feeling more positive about the job, Chuck leaves…

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And everyone frantically cleans the bar.

The dialogue and actions are almost identical, though in the second version Sam no longer picks up Chuck’s glass with a cloth or his cash with his fingertips. Another difference is that Carla is pregnant in the redo. The character was expecting a baby because the actress was: Rhea Perlman gave birth on 11 March to Lucy DeVito, who’s now a 34-year-old actress.

Incidentally, Tim Cunningham returned to Cheers many times. He played a customer called Greg for two episodes, then was in a further 33 as a barfly named Tim. To all intents and purposes, Chuck, Greg and Tim are all the same character.

But does anyone know why this bit of comedy business was performed twice, just a few months apart?

UPDATE: In January 2019, the answer was revealed thanks to some research by Time Out New York’s Adam Feldman and others.

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My 10 favourite TV performances

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A while ago, my mate Robert Dick mooted assembling a list of his 10 favourite TV performances. It got me thinking, so here’s mine. What are your favourites?

* Peter Falk (Columbo in Columbo)

* Martin Freeman (Tim Canterbury in The Office)

* Tamsin Greig (Alice Chenery in Love Soup)

* Allison Janney (CJ Cregg in The West Wing)

* David Jason (Del Boy Trotter in Only Fools and Horses)

* Shelley Long (Diane Chambers in Cheers)

* James Marsters (Spike in Buffy the Vampire Slayer)

* Bob Peck (Ronald Craven in Edge of Darkness)

* Matthew Perry (Chandler Bing in Friends)

* David Suchet (Hercule Poirot in Agatha Christie’s Poirot)

Narrowing it down to 10 was tough. I didn’t have room for Patrick Stewart (Jean-Luc Picard in Star Trek: The Next Generation), Bradley Whitford (Danny Tripp in Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip), John Cleese (Basil Fawlty in Fawlty Towers), Terry O’Quinn (John Locke in Lost), Kirstie Alley (Rebecca Howe in Cheers), John Thaw (Morse in Inspector Morse), Hugh Fraser (Captain Hastings in Agatha Christie’s Poirot), Jason Alexander (George Costanza in Seinfeld), Dexter Fletcher (Spike Thompson in Press Gang) and others that have slipped my mind.