MARCH 30 ― I remember when TV3 first came onto our screens in 1984. I was barely aware of good comedy then but I remember TV3 had a few of them.
Three’s Company was one and had then just ended in the US. But of course, the best one on TV3 then was Cheers. It was about two years old in the States.
During its first season, it was nearly cancelled and it would be a few years before people would come to realise what a cultural phenomenon it was. Of course, in Malaysia, we were still in the first season.
Thirty-four years later, we are now celebrating the end of the series which happened in 1993. My memory of the final episode is still vivid.
I was in my SPM year then and was watching late night TV when I should have been studying. It was a two-part final episode which was preceded by a documentary. It was through the documentary that it dawned on me just how big Cheers was.
Cheers would probably be playing on the reruns circuit forever but for those who have never watched, it was about a bar called Cheers in Boston.
The location of the bar ― this only recently occurred to me ― is the basement of a building which added to its warmth and cosiness. The owner of Cheers was Sam Malone, a former star relief pitcher (a baseball term I am happy to repeat but still cannot be bothered to look up!) and a Lothario just past his prime.
He was assisted by his former coach Ernie Pantusso at the bar and Carla Tortelli as the waitress. His regulars included the barflies Norm Peterson the usually unemployed accountant and Cliff Clavin the postman who took his job very seriously indeed.
Coach Pantusso died at the end of season three and was replaced by Woody, played by Woody Harrelson who had his breakthrough role in Cheers.
In the very first episode, the story arc which was to become the backbone of Cheers was introduced. That came in the form of Diane Chambers.
She was a teaching assistant cum graduate student who, in that first episode, was about to marry her professor, Sumner Sloane.
She was unceremoniously dumped and Sam took pity on her and, much to Carla’s chagrin, hired her as a waitress. For the next five years (of Cheers’ 11-year run), Sam and Diane continued their repartee.
They actually had a relationship in the second season but the writers knew how to keep us on the edge and broke them up by Season Three. When at last the time came for them to marry (and probably kill off the show), Diane left Sam at the altar in what was surely one of the most heart-breaking moments on television. That scene by itself was a fantastic combination of scriptwriting and acting.
Many people thought that with Shelley Long’s (who played Diane) departure, the series would effectively end but as with the departure of the coach, the series came back even stronger than before.
Kirsty Alley was hired to play Rebecca Howe who resisted Sam’s charms for the next six seasons (one season more than Long’s own). That and the development of other characters in the show including the legendary Frasier Crane (who would have his own 11-season, 127 times nominated series!) kept the show going.
Now when I look back at Cheers, I realise that it was more than a simple comedy centred around a bar.
It focused on the experience the bar brings – relief after a day’s toil. People can finally socialise in a comfortable environment and be themselves... “where everybody knows your name”, as its theme song goes.
Apart from the writing and immaculate acting, it was the setting of the place which I believe the audience connected to. Now, 25 years after its end, it remains as fresh as ever.
* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.