Cheers, the series where everyone knew your name, survived several key names leaving the show. It even thrived after key departures.
But cast members said if this one person departed, one of the most popular shows in TV history should just end right then.
Rhea Pearlman, who played acerbic waitress Carla, discussed this topic during an interview in 2014.
Maybe you can guess the character Pearlman said was too valuable for Cheers to lose. It’s kind of obvious.
When Ted Danson, who played Sam, the ex-pro pitcher turned bar owner, announced he was leaving Cheers, the cast said don’t try it without him.
The show already absorbed several losses.
Nicholas Colasanto, who played Coach, the bartender, died in 1985. The writers of Cheers had Coach die, too. Woody Harrelson replaced him as the dim-witted Woody Boyd.
Then, the show lost Shelley Long, who played snooty grad student/waitress Diane Chambers, an on-again/off-again Sam love interest. Long left the show in 1987. So producers created a new character — Rebecca Howe. Rebecca, played by Kirstie Alley, managed the bar after Sam sold it to a corporate chain.
Pearlman said: “Everybody was a little worried after Shelley left, but I just knew it would go on. I think where we all drew the line was when Ted [Danson] wanted to leave. That seemed like, ‘No, this is the end.’ And we were all ready at that time. It was 11 years. But yeah, it just seemed like if Ted leaves, that’s the heart of the show. That’s not possible. You can’t go on from there.”
Cheers ran from September 1982 to May 1993. The series finale drew an audience of more than 90 million viewers. The series received a whopping 111 Emmy nominations, winning 28 trophies. Seven different actors earned Emmys. With four, Perlman led the show’s cast in Emmy wins.
Cheers was so well received because the characters were so multi-dimensional. When Shelley Long left, the show kept Kelsey Grammer, who played Frasier Crane, her one-time boyfriend. Grammer played Frasier for 20 years on two different shows. Plus, the show brought on Bebe Neuwirth, who played Lillith, Frasier’s super smart and super uptight wife.
And, Woody Harrelson was perfect in the show. When the show ended, Harrelson became a terrific character actor in the movies. He has three Academy Award nominations to his credit.
When Ted Danson announced he was leaving the show, Cheers producers initially wanted Harrelson to be the lead character at Cheers. But Harrelson declined.
The show’s casting was terrific. But a show without the best bartender was a no-go. Who would know everyone’s name?