With ‘Cheers’ reaching its 30th anniversary since the series finale – and with a revival of its popular spin-off, ‘Frasier’ expected later this year – it was time for the ATX Television Festival to do what he does best: host a meeting. Stars Ted Danson, George Wendt and John Ratzenberger sat down with co-creators James Burrows, Len and Glen Charles for an hour-long discussion on the impact of the landmark NBC series.
Danson, just as thoughtful and endearing as his “Cheers” character Sam Malone was purposeful and unpolished, made sure to honor those not in attendance, as well as those who made the trip to Austin, TX for Friday night’s panel . Initially, he credited co-star Shelley Long with getting him the career role in the first place.
“I don’t think we’ve seen a character like that since Lucille Ball,” he said of Long’s feisty lead Diane Chambers. “She really nailed it. And I think I got “Cheers” because I worked well with Shelley. Shelley was just a knockout.
Danson said that during his audition, the producers told him, “‘Don’t take another job without talking to us first.’ And I said, ‘So you’re saying I got the part?’ “Ninth. Check with us first.’ So I walked out the door and looked down the hall and there were all the other actors from Los Angeles coming to audition, so thank you, Shelley.
Soon after, Danson was asked about his second co-star, Kirstie Alley, who passed away in December 2022 at the age of 71. Visibly choked, he took a moment to recover and said, “I’m sorry. She’s not here. It’s so strange.
“She came in like a ball of fire,” she continued. “We were reading the table and some of us had met her but some hadn’t, and she was a little late, but that was because she wore a Shelley Long blonde wig. So I thought, ‘OK, you’re going to do great.’”
Wendt said on Alley’s first night shooting “Cheers,” the cast realized they forgot to give her a housewarming gift. So Wendt and Ratzenberger arrived in Los Angeles looking for a last-minute idea.
“John and I were tasked with getting Kirstie a present,” Wendt said. “We are literally walking down Melrose in Hollywood (…) and we pass Big 5 Sporting Goods. And John says, ‘George, do you want to buy her a shotgun?’”
The crowd started laughing and Wendt said, “Like you, I laughed for about five minutes. Then I immediately pulled into the Big 5 parking lot and we bought her a damn shotgun. (…) It goes without saying that John and I never again had the task of receiving a gift.”
“I think I wrote on the paper, ‘You’ll have to shoot your way out,'” Ratzenberger said.
“She could play a woman on the verge of a nervous breakdown better than anyone I’ve ever seen,” said Danson.
Not everyone absent from the cast and creator reunion was treated with the same reverence. While those in attendance had nothing but kind words for Rhea Perlman, Nicholas Colasanto, and Bebe Neuwirth, Danson was quick to tell stories about his fellow mixologist, Woody Harrelson.
“Woody isn’t here, so we can make fun of him,” Danson said. “Woody was a vegetarian, which meant he had horrible gas. He would sometimes come up to me during rehearsals and say, “Hey, I need your advice.” I respect you so much.’ And he was looking straight into my eyes, waiting for his fart to hit my nose. He was like a murderer: he wanted to see my eyes go out.
“Come on, jump on Woody,” Danson said.
And they did.
“(One night) we had Chinese food cooked and Woody found out after about 20 minutes that he was eating pork,” Wendt said. “And he decided to go and purify himself. So I told him, ‘Out of solidarity, I will cleanse with you.’ And Ted said, ‘I’ll delete too.’ There were only three stalls in the Stage 25 men’s room, and I’ll tell you this: You don’t want to laugh while puking.
Previously, everyone discussed how Harrelson was cast in “Cheers,” following the tragic death of Nicholas “Coach” Colasanto.
“We were looking for a strong American guy with a Midwestern background to come to the big city and work the bar,” Glen Charles said of casting Woody Boyd. “We almost cast this gentleman, and our casting director comes in and says, ‘I know you like this guy, but I want you to see someone.’ And Woody (Harrelson) enters. (…) He wasn’t right about the money, but it was so interesting. Ted, after (Harrelson) left, said, ‘I know you think you took your boyfriend, but there’s something I really like about this guy.’”
Wendt said he met Harrelson the night before the audition. At the time, all she knew was that they were looking for an actor to play a bartender named Woody.
“I saw it at Gelson’s, my neighborhood supermarket,” Wendt said. “I was in the product department or something, and these two young men were pointing at me and pushing each other and laughing. I was kind of used to it, since it was my third year (in which ‘Cheers’ was on the air). Finally, one of them came up and said, “My friend said I should say hello because I’m going to audition for the role of the bartender tomorrow.” And I’m like, ‘Oh, that’s great. Good luck. What is your name?’ And he says, “Woody.” And I’m like, ‘No, not the character name. What is your name?’ And he says, “Woody.” (…) All I said was, ‘I think I might see you tomorrow.’”
“We were all, like, 37 when Woody, at age 25, joined us, and he was like, ‘OK, let’s kick his ass,'” said Danson. “So we took him to the basketball court, because we figured we were pretty good basketball players – he killed us. “Okay, let’s arm wrestle.” But – seriously – I still have bad elbow. (…) Then we clearly decided that we don’t have the physical advantage. We’ll play chess… and he killed us!”
Before the panel, held in a nearly capacity ACL Live auditorium, the event kicked off with a live reading of the “Cheers” pilot. with new actors in each part. David Walton (“NBC’s About a Boy”) played the role of Sam, while Cassidy Freeman (“The Righteous Gemstones”) played Diane and Harold Perrineau (“Lost”) played Norm. Local musician Robert Ellis then took over the piano and struck up a conversation with a lively rendition of the theme song.
“Cheers” is available to stream on Paramount+.