Cheers Debuted 40 Years Ago Today

On September 30, 1982, Cheers debuted its pilot episode, "Give Me A Ring Sometime." The episode was barely noticed, and the show's first season had mediocre ratings at best, but against all odds, the series would go on to become one of the most beloved sitcoms of all time, and would kick off a TV legacy that would last for more than 20 years and cross over into other shows, as well. Starring Ted Danson, Shelley Long, George Wendt, and Rhea Perlman, the first season of Cheers centered on Sam Malone (Danson), a retired baseball player whose alcoholism ruined his career and marriage, and who now runs a bar in Boston.

A recovering alcoholic and not-at-all-recovering ladies' man, Sam falls head over heels for Diane Chambers (Long), a snooty academic who found herself trapped in the bar, waiting for her fiance to return from an errand. Instead, the love of her life ran off with his ex-wife and, unable to continue working with him, Diane accepted a job at the bar (called Cheers).

Much of the first few seasons rested on the will-they-or-won't-they dynamic between Sam and Diane -- so much so that they were referenced as the benchmark for a TV romance by Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) in the Guardians of the Galaxy movies. Yet, after Diane left the series at the end of season 5, the creative team behind Cheers figured out how to make another six highly-rated and acclaimed seasons out of it.

In addition to crafting a TV legacy that's still looked back on favorably today, Cheers is widely regarded to have made one of the best pilot episodes of all time. In a piece looking back on the episode today, Ultimate Classic Rock's Dennis Perkins headlined the story, "40 Years Ago: Cheers Debuts With a Perfect Pilot Episode." In 2019, the blog No Film School called Cheers's the best TV pilot of all time.

Along the way, Cheers also made household names out of some actors who came to the show late. After the death of Ernie Colasanto (who played Sam's old chief, now a scatterbrained bartender), the show replaced "Coach" with a young country bumpkin that he had been pen pals with, Woody Boyd -- played by future superstar Woody Harrelson.

(For clarity, Coach and Woody both misunderstood the meaning of "pen pals," and traded actual pens in the mail, not letters.)

One year before Woody's debut, a brief stay in a mental hospital for Diane introduced the character of her boyfriend (and former psychiatrist), Dr. Frasier Crane. Played by Kelsey Grammer, Frasier would take over as the resident snob when Diane left the show -- but more than that, he would get his own series, which also ran for 11 years. The series also had explicit or implied crossovers with St. Elsewhere, Wings, and Boston Legal.

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James Burrows, who was Cheers's in-house director, recently wrote a memoir. Titled Directed by James Burrows: Five Decades of Stories from the Legendary Director of Taxi, Cheers, Frasier, Friends, Will & Grace, and More, the book is available to buy now.