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‘Cheers’ Cast: 11 Wild Behind-the-Scenes Secrets Revealed

Had the producers been able to follow their instincts, the cast of 'Cheers' could have been very different!

It may be the place everybody knows your name, but did you know these Cheers cast behind the scenes facts? Well, had the show’s creators been able to follow their impulse, the show would have looked very differently with people other than the likes of Sam Malone (Ted Danson), Diane Chambers (Shelley Long) or even Dr. Frasier Crane (Kelsey Grammer) standing behind or sitting around the counter at that Boston bar.

Related: Wanna Go Where Everybody Know Your Name? See the ‘Cheers’ Cast Then and Now

Cheers originally ran for 11 seasons from 1982 to 1993 and 275 episodes, which is particularly impressive when you consider that ratings were so low in its first season that it was nearly canceled. Instead, NBC and its head of programming, Brandon Tartikoff, decided to stick with with the show, much to the benefit of them and us. Nominated for 117 Primetime Emmy Awards, it took home 28 of them, all well-deserved.

‘Cheers’ cast behind the scenes secrets

Check out these Cheers cast behind the scenes facts, and see for yourself how different the show might have been and learn tidbits you might not have been aware of.

1. Sam Malone could have been very different

Fred Dryer and William Devane
Earlier possibilities for Sam Malone were Fred Dryer, later to star in Hunter; and William Devane, future Knots Landing actor.L-R: ©NBCUniversal and ©CBS/both courtesy

Early on there were definitely some interesting — though not necessarily preferable — names being bandied around for the roles of Sam Malone and Diane Chambers. Sam, who was originally envisioned as being a former football player, was earmarked for future Hunter actor Fred Dryer, who himself was a former NFL defensive end. Another distinct possibility was William Devane, who had portrayed President John F. Kennedy in The Missiles of October (1974), starred in the primetime soap opera Knots Landing and the drama 24, and took on the role of the President of the United States in Stargate SG-1. When Ted Danson was ultimately cast, the character became a former baseball player.

2. Diane Chambers was almost played by Julia Duffy

Julia Duffy
Photo session with actress Julia Duffy, October 18, 1985 in Los Angeles, California. Bob Riha, Jr./Getty Images

We’re the first ones to agree with the idea that no one else could have possibly played Diane Chambers in the way that Shelley Long did, but it’s nonetheless fun to consider an alternate possibility. Reportedly Julia Duffy was the first one under serious consideration, but Shelley won out. Don’t feel too bad for Julia that she didn’t get the part, as the year after Cheers made its debut, she was cast as Stephanie Vanderkellen in the Bob Newhart series Newhart, which aired from 1983 to 1990.

3. Sam and Diane were inspired by Tracy and Hepburn

Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn in Adam's Rib
Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn in 1949’s Adam’s Rib.©MGM/courtesy

When Glen and Les Charles along with director James Burrows originally developed Cheers, there were a number of inspirations for it, among them John Cleese‘s British series Fawlty Towers (about a hotel in an English town) and the bar setting of the 1940s radio comedy Duffy’s Tavern. And then there were Golden Age of Hollywood actors Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn and the alternating romance and bickering that made up such films as Woman of the Year (1942), Keeper of the Flame (1942), State of the Union (1948) Adam’s Rib (1949).

5. Norm and Cliff weren’t originally part of the show

George Wendt and John Ratzenegger
George Wendt as Norm and John Ratzenberger as Cliff. ©Paramount Pictures/courtesy

As it turns out, there really was no original plan for characters named Norm Peterson or Cliff Clavin. There was, however, a character named George — who was only going to appear once — that both George Wendt and John Ratzenberger were auditioning for.

The part, renamed Norm, would go to George, who was so good that he became a series regular. Undaunted, John asked the producers if Cheers was going to have a “know-it-all” patron, as all New England bars had. They apparently liked the idea and the world was given Cliff Clavin. What few may realize is that John actually came up with most of Cliff’s factoids on his own.

6. Kirstie Alley refused to appear on Frasier

Ted Danson and Kirstie Alley
Ted Danson and Kirstie Alley in Cheers.©Paramount Pictures/courtesy

Frasier turned out to be as big a hit as Cheers, running an equal 11 seasons and enjoying great critical and audience acclaim. While the show very nicely established its own identity away from the show that spawned it, fans were treated to guest appearances by pretty much all the regular cast members of Cheers. One very obvious exception was Kirstie Alley.

As it turns out, the late Alley was a member of Scientology, a religion that stands strongly against psychiatry and, as a result, she viewed a guest appearance as nothing less than a betrayal of her beliefs.

7. Why Eddie LeBec was killed by a zamboni

Bebe Neuwirth and Jay Thomas
Bebe Neuwirth and Jay Thomas Bruce Glikas/FilmMagic

There can be any number of reasons for an actor being removed from a hit series, and in the case of Jay Thomas it was because he had the proverbial big mouth. At one point during the series’ run, Rhea Perlman‘s Carla Tortelli was dating Thomas’ hockey player character Eddie LeBec, and things were steadily moving forward between them. At least until the actor went on his popular Los Angeles radio show one day and was asked what it was like working on Cheers, to which he responded, “Brutal, because I have to kiss Rhea Perlman.” The result? Death by Zamboni!

8. Hair today, gone tomorrow

Ted Danson Cheers Cast Behind the Scenes
Ted Danson as Sam Malone in Cheers, Cheers Cast Behind the Scenes©Paramount Pictures/courtesy

Looking at the image above, there’s no question that Sam Malone had great hair, and it served as the punchline of a great many jokes during the run of Cheers. Buuuuuut, it was actually a hair piece. Like many other stars — Sean Connery, Burt Reynolds and William Shatner are three that come to mind — Ted Danson was follicly challenged.

9. There was more to Nicholas Colasanto than you’d think

Rhea Perlman, Nicholas Colasanto and Ted Danson Cheers Cast Behind the Scenes
Part of the core of the show’s early days were Carla (Rhea Perlman), Coach (Nicholas Colasanto) and Sam (Ted Danson).©Paramount Pictures/courtesy

Playing dopey or empty-headed is never as easy as it looks; just ask Betty White who had to do it on a weekly basis for Golden Girls, people claiming they could actually see the intelligence drain from her eyes when she acted. On Cheers it was a similar situation with actor Nicholas Colasanto, who played Ernie “Coach” Pantusso.

Prior to this show, he served in the United States Navy during World War II and was a prolific actor and television director. Unfortunately, he was plagued by health issues, with alcoholism affecting his heart. Things were so bad that he was ready to retire, but changed his mind when Cheers came calling. He was with the show for its first three seasons, though his health seriously deteriorated. He died of a heart attack on February 12, 1985 at the age of 61.

10. “John Lithgow, I’m Listening”

Kelsey Grammer and John Lithgow Cheers Cast Behind the Scenes
Kelsey Grammer in Frasier, John Lithgow in Dexter ©Paramount Pictures/courtesy

John Lithgow, whose acting range goes from serial killer “Trinity” on the Showtime series Dexter to the goofiness of “Dr. Dick Solomon” on the sitcom 3rd Rock from the Sun, was originally approached to play the role of Dr. Frasier Crane, Diane Chambers’ psychiatrist turned lover.

Well, at the time Lithgow was having an extremely good run on the big screen and it would take more than a decade for him to turn his focus to the small. Instead, producers brought on Kelsey Grammer, and thankfully they did. There’s no telling if the audience would have connected with Lithgow in the same way they did Grammer, whose character would marry and divorce Bebe Neuwirth‘s Lilith Sternin, and would go off to star in no less than two spin-off series under the name Frasier. Our classic TV landscape could have been a very different one.

Related: ‘Frasier’ Reboot: What To Know About Dr. Crane’s Much-Anticipated Comeback

11. Woody as owner of Cheers?

Woody Harrelson Cheers Cast Behind the Scenes
Woody Harrelson as Cheers employee Woody Boyd, Cheers Cast Behind the Scenes©Paramount Pictures/courtesy

NBC was willing to bring Cheers back for a twelfth season, but when Ted Danson announced that the 11th would be his last, that pretty much scuttled hopes. Although it seems that the producers did give one alternate take a thought: having Woody Boyd take over the running of the bar. But the kibosh would be put on that as well when Woody Harrelson made it clear that he wasn’t interested in returning without Danson.

Keep reading for more behind-the-scenes trivia…

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