‘Cheers’ Creators Explained Why They Turned Down Bill Cosby for Lead Role in Show

by Joe Rutland
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Can you imagine Bill Cosby playing bartender Sam Malone on “Cheers” on NBC? The show’s creators decided against the idea.

One might think a new show would want a big-name star leading its cast. Cosby, whose name was synonymous with shows like “I Spy” and “Fat Albert and the “Cosby Kids,” was available. This was before Cosby was sentenced to prison for drugging and sexually assaulting a former Temple University employee at his home in 2004.

“Cheers” co-creators Glen and Les Charles, in a 2018 interview with The Hollywood Reporter, explain why he never made their list.

“In the early stages, Bill Cosby had a deal at NBC and was unattached to a project,” Les Charles said. “So, he was offered to us as the bartender. But we had two rules. No known names and no characters’ name as the title of the show.”

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That meant no Cosby. It, though, left the door open for Ted Danson to earn the role of his lifetime. Cosby eventually would go on to have “The Cosby Show” run for eight seasons on NBC. “Cheers” was on NBC for 11 seasons.

Yet there was another television veteran on their radar, too. One who also had a background with NBC, yet from an earlier time.

“We met with Sid Caesar, too,” Glen Charles said. “He was interested in playing Coach, but that would have overweighed the show towards one character.”

Caesar was the main star of “Your Show of Shows,” which ran on NBC from 1950-54. Its cast and writers included Imogene Coca, Carl Reiner, Howard Morris, Mel Brooks, Larry Gelbart, and Neil Simon.

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The role of Coach Ernie Pantusso ultimately went to actor Nick Colasanto, who sadly died of a heart attack in 1985. Woody Harrelson was hired to play Woody, filling the spot left open by Colasanto’s death.

Through the first three seasons of “Cheers,” the show slowly grew in the Neilsen ratings. Its first season finished 74th, while its second season finished 34th. But “Cheers” started gaining traction in the third season, finishing 13th overall.

Starting with its fourth season until its last one in 1992-93, “Cheers” never finished out of the Top 10 programs. The show finished No. 1 overall in the 1990-91 season as 32.7 million viewers tuned in each week.

A show where its creators weren’t looking for a name star found itself making name stars throughout its run. “Cheers” became must-see TV, for sure, while it was on NBC.

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