Cheers Representations of Reality

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Cheers is one of the most iconic television shows of all time.  What made this show so lovable is how believable each episode was.  This program stayed the course and never “jumped the shark” during its 11 season reign.  It was jam-packed with hilarious characters that became a part of the family.  Cheers was so realistic; from the characters to set, I often forget I am watching a television show.  Being from the Boston area I connected very well with the show, especially because I understand so many of the references.  Season four is where the show really took off, coming in fifth place in the Nielsen Ratings at 23.7.  This show terrific was its ability to replicate the average American life on television by its’ characters, dialogue, and setting.
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The episode I focused on was the twelfth episode of season four titled “Fools and Their Money” which aired on December 19th, 1985 on NBC.  The premise of this episode is: Woody is very good at betting on sports without much effort and usually wins a small pool of money from his friends.  However the guys convince him to make a big bet, but he surprises them when he wants to bet $1,000.  Sam agrees to take his bet to his bookie but instead does not to save Woody’s money.  This blows up in Sam’s face though as Woody would have won $10,000 had Sam submitted his picks.  Nonetheless, Woody is unaware of Sam’s misdeed and thinks he won the money.  It is an extremely awkward scene when Sam has to fess up and Woody understandably gets upset.  Woody is able to put this behind as he realizes his friendship with Sam is more important than the money.

The target audience is primarily white men and woman over the age of 21.  The shows main characters are all white, while the supporting cast usually follows that lead.  That was normal though for the 1980s as the population of America was around 80-83% white.  In addition, other than Norm they are all single and middle class.  They are supposed to be “average Joe’s.”  Several important events happened that year as well, although they may not be referenced in the show.  A few examples are, Ronald Reagan was sworn in for his second term, the 49ers won the Super Bowl, and the Live Aid Concerts were happening.

Cheers became more marketable after this season but they still snuck in a few products.  Beer obviously was avidly used, although no specific company was labeled.  Plus, Red Sox, Celtics, and Bruins logos were depicted all over the bar.  The last one I saw was a sign that said “American Express” in Sam’s office.  There were no scenes the happened outdoors in this episode, sound effects, nor could I find the ads that were played when it aired.  Also other than the iconic theme song at the beginning, music was not used much besides when Sam and Woody sings, “Home on the Range” to conclude in this episode.

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This was one of the most successful postmodern shows in television history.  It was the first to take place in a bar and showcased how smart women can be, while also having the ability to highlight 7 different characters in the same episode.  A few fads were showcased on the wardrobe.  For starters, Woody and Sam were wearing striped shirts, Carla had the jheri curl, Diane wore a sweater-skirt, Frasier donned a wool coat, and Cliff had on a sweater vest.

Some of the values of the show are a bit outdated, and for the most part reinforced the societal norms.  They had Woody who was your typical free of thinking farm boy who was awfully nice, but was a little slow in the head.  For example, a man (Sam) is in charge of the bar and often talks down his female employee Diane.  Sam is narrow-minded and old school, who thinks a man needs to prove his masculinity by doing various deeds (he suggests going to cathouse, urinating off a balcony, betting with a bookie, or mooning out of the back of a car).  However it should be noted in season six, Kirstie Alley’s character breaks off from the norm as she is put in charge of the bar to show the progress women were making in the workforce.  Another societal norm that was addressed in every episode is that bars are where people meet.  Many of the characters meet new girlfriends, friends, colleagues, and acquaintances there.  A bar really is one of the only places where a former professional athlete, accountant, mailman, and psychiatrist could become friends.  Furthermore, it showed that most bar patrons are middle-aged white men who try and escape from their real lives while usually discussing non-intellectual topics.  Rarely has a character ever been excited about their job or family, in fact one of Norm’s main gags is coming to the bar to avoid his wife Vera (whom he regularly talks poorly of.)  In this episode the whole bar is circled around a television watching football.  Frasier comes in looking to hang out with his friends to talk about interesting subjects only to find them glued to the television.  There were a few moments in this show that included some intertextuality.  For instance Joe Montana, a very successful quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers was mentioned when they were all watching the game.  In addition, several football team names were noted along with the type of car Sam drives which was a Corvette.  I enjoyed the show more because I understood these references.

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The reality of the show is what makes it so appealing.  Every episode has a realistic plot, problem, and solution that could mimic a day in real life for the average person.  The actors and actresses were attractive yet average looking in comparison with other big time stars.  They all looked like there characters acted.  Ted Danson played the lady’s man and former athlete so he obviously was the headliner, but he was not Rob Lowe.  Shelley Long played the sophisticated and beautiful Diane but by no means was she a supermodel.  Rhea Pearlman played the small yet terrifying waitress, which was comical due to her stature.  George Wendt, Kelsey Grammer and John Ratzenberger could all pass for the character’s professions based off of their looks.  The show would have felt disingenuous had the actors not looked like what the characters were suppose to be.

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This episode dealt with two contextual and social issues and the characters reflected how real people would react.  The first of these ordinary and personal issues was a bad breakup: I feel like most adults have dealt with this before and it can be very tough and sometimes it is hard to let go.  Frasier and Diane had a messy conclusion to their relationship as she left him at the alter.  He approaches Diane and essentially says, “Diane I am over you and I’m going to travel for a bit to clear my head.”  Which pleases Diane until he asks her if she would like to accompany him on the trip, showing how little he has gotten over her.  I have seen relationships like this where one party cannot get over their former partner.  Another social issue was the issues with illegal sports gambling and Sam is shown to make a mistake.  Sam thought he was helping Woody by not putting down his bet, which he should not have done.  That is a real scenario where a friend makes a gaffe, which negatively impacts Woody.  I have made decisions that I thought would benefit my friend, but the exact opposite happens.  Luckily for Sam, Woody handled the situation with grace and forgiveness.  These episodes allowed viewers to see that relationships are difficult, friendship is more important than money, and that mistakes happen.

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The writers played a pivotal role in the success of Cheers, as they were credited with the terrific dialogue.  Once you add the unique acting techniques of the actors, it was bound to prosper.  Every character had their niche to make the show seem natural.  Frasier and Diane were there to appeal to the intellectual crowd but turning their wit into humor.  Sam and the rest of the gang allured the average citizen.  It was highbrow comedy in a lowbrow setting.  The dialogue was authentic bar talk which has a range of topics from sports, betting, alcohol, relationships, money, hard times, good times, funny quips/anecdotes, all the way to Diane and Frasier’s smart banter.  It almost seemed all the jokes and lines were custom made for each character.  The dialogue had such depth throughout each episode.  At the beginning of this episode Diane says (and uses intertextuality):

“I think Schopenhauer put it aptly when he said ‘Noise’ is the most contemptuous of all forms of interruption”

And Frasier corrects her by explaining,

“You mean impertinent!”

woody.jpgThis could be very humorous to those familiar with Schopenhauer’s work or those who noticed the irony of Frasier blurting out at Diane while she is talking about interruptions.  Right after this discussion, the scene turns to Sam and his buddies talking to Woody about winning another bet on a football.  Paul comes in second and explains to Woody and Norm,

“You did good kid, but I still think I got a more reliable system.”

Norm (Who just lost) asks what his system was and Paul replies,

“I just bet opposite of whatever you pick.”

It is one of the only shows that can go from Schopenhauer to sports/betting in a blink of an eye.  The writers refused to be condescending to their viewers by dumbing down any interesting topics or words.  The shows set is so realistic that the Faneuil Hall Marketplace in Boston made an exact replica and it is now a real bar.  The set is so simple, just a square bar counter top with barstools, several tables, decorations on the walls, bar lights, plants, pool table.  The set is consistent with the time period and location (Boston, Massachusetts) as the furniture was made with wood, the TV was in style, and the pictures (most of them being black and white which were much easier and cheaper than color at the time) of Boston athletes were all well known.  Also, there were several pennants with the Red Sox, Bruins, Celtics, and Patriots that had the correct logo for that time period.  There were several props like the cigar store Native American near the door, the bottles of alcohol, the beer glasses, the taps, and notepads for waitresses, newspapers, and money.  Also the lighting was exceptional for the 1980s, it was more subdued with contrasting features.  A plethora of older shows do not translate well over to new media platforms because the taped, but Cheers was filmed.  It was brighter than most bars to promote more energy/clarity and to make sure viewers knew it was suppose to be a sports bar rather than a dive bar.  Lastly the multi camera approach worked out for the show, as they were able to get better reaction shots, like when Frasier corrects Diane on her grammar mistakes and it shows her visible disdain for him.  This show really had it all.

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This show was groundbreaking and lead to many fruitful careers when it ended.  It was a total group effort from the producers to the actors to ensure this was not just another 1 season sitcom.  It was the beginning or the highlight for so many of them and they would definitely be first ballot Television hall of famers.  I am so thankful Netflix and web streaming was around or else I might have missed this gem of a show altogether.  It teaches you to never be a stranger and that you can have the best times of your life in the same place.  Cheers is synonymous with the 1980s and influenced sitcoms and television forever.

 

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