TV Reviews

Where Everybody Knows Your Name: A Celebration of Cheers

“Cheers Oral History” from GQ

Around 7 years ago, I picked up my first non-academic oral history of ______ book.  It was Legs McNeil’s The Other Hollywood: The Uncensored Oral History of the Porn Film Industry (2005).  McNeil and his writing partner Jennifer Osborne conducted countless interviews with as many adult industry figures as possible and edited the resulting transcripts together in such a fashion as to form a coherent narrative.  The resulting document is a highly engaging read (e.g., the differing viewpoints on the Traci Lords underage scandal, the sad, rueful fate of the Mitchell brothers, etc.) that is essentially the history of the adult film industry as told by the people who were actually there.  Of course, this was actually Mr. McNeil’s second foray into this form of composition, having previously published Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History of Punk Rock (1996).  This format has become especially popular over the past 2-3 years, with oral histories of grunge music, Saturday Night Live, MTV, and NBC from the 80s to the 90s making their way to book shelves and e-readers.  Primary source accounts such as these are highly captivating reads and valuable resources when there are good stories to be told; when no such stories exist, they basically devolve into gossip fests.  In all honesty, some of these books probably contain a bit of both (e.g., was Nico really just a big ole slut?  See: Please Kill Me; who slept with who among the original MTV VJs?  See: I Want My MTV).

Of course, not all oral histories necessary warrant novel-length treatments.  Last year, Details ran a fantastic oral history of the little show that couldn’t, Party Down.  Now, GQ has put out a great oral history of everyone’s favorite ode to unchecked alcoholism, Cheers.  For those counting, this is actually the second oral history of Cheers to be published this year.  Former NBC President’s Warren Littlefield’s book Top of the Rock, linked to earlier, contains an entire chapter devoted to Cheers, as it was just as seminal a show in his career as it was for many of the principle players.  However, his book, although an oral history, is mostly from his point of view, which is that of an NBC Executive.  As such, if you actually want to learn more about the behind the scenes stuff and not just what the higher-ups at NBC thought of the show this GQ piece is actually a far more insightful read.

Revisit the episode in which Lilith (Bebe Neuwirth) seduces Frasier (Kelsey Grammar) to comedic effect in her first episode as a recurring and eventual regular member of the cast.  From season 5:

Cheers Factoid From GQ: As illustrated in the above video, Bebe Neuwirth circa-1986/1987 was wow-zuh hot.  As such, she recounts to GQ her surprise when she first received the offer for the role of Lilith, as it went it completely against type for the then-Broadway star known for playing seductresses.  Neuwirth’s actual attractiveness was a tool the writers would use from time to time to comedic effect, almost always in tandem with having her wear her hair down and eliciting a surprised response from other characters.

She first appeared in one scene in season 4 as a date Frasier brings to the bar.  Her initial appearance is short but memorable, as although the writers may have initially meant for her to serve as an example of an over-intellectual type, ala, Diane, with whom Frasier was uneasy they instead struck instant gold.  They had the good sense to bring her back a season later as Frasier’s girlfriend, a move which apparently pleased Shelley Long who feared Frasier’s presence only served to impede the romantic progress for her character, Diane, and Ted Danson’s Sam.

Finally, for those susceptible to this get ready for a wave of nostalgia.  After all, don’t you want to go where everybody knows your name?  Actually, I don’t.  That sounds awful.  Walking into a room and having all eyes on you, whispering about your (i.e., Norm’s) endless unemployment, ballooning waist, and uncanny ability to drink without ever getting drunk until one day the liver goes out and to pay medical bills you talk sweet-natured Woody into a get-rich-quick scheme involving tricking Sam into signing things and then auctioning them off as Sam “Mayday” Malone artifacts on eBay only to realize nobody wants signed bar napkins from a crappy ex-Boston Red Sox reliever.  Oh, the horror.  What will you do?  Wait.  Where was I?  Oh, yeah.  Here’s the Cheers theme song.  Please excuse my brief wandering into the mind of Norm Peterson above and enjoy the nostalgia.

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