Friday, May 20, 2016

On The Road Again

Broadcast TV has changed in the last couple decades.  With so many choices, numbers that used to get a show canceled--say, 10 million viewers--now make it a hit.  One of the last shows that was a mass hit of the old kind is Cheers, which said goodbye to the airwaves (as far as new episodes) 23 years ago today, May 20, 1993.  It was the second-most watched series finale after M*A*S*H (not to be confused with AfterMASH), with a mind-boggling 84 million viewers.

When Cheers started in 1982, I thought it was the best comedy on television.  It took a couple years and Bill Cosby on the NBC schedule for it to become a hit, but right off the bat critics loved it and the TV Academy showered it with Emmys.  The epic romantic struggle of Sam and Diane was different from what had been seen on sitcoms.  When Shelley Long left after five years, and Kirstie Alley came aboard, the show was still entertaining, but never quite so groundbreaking.

Cheers eventually got a bit tired, but the audience never did--it was a top ten hit in its eleventh and final season.  It was lead actor Ted Danson who decided to call it quits.  He felt his character, Sam Malone--an ex-pitcher and ex-alcoholic who's always chasing after women--would become pathetic if he got too old.

Good call.  But it also meant the show knew it would be ending.  So its creators, Glen and Les Charles, wrote the finale "One For The Road" with that in mind.  Diane returns for a while and all the regulars get to move on.

It's not a great episode.  Finales where you try to say too much--and where you stretch the format (it was over 90 minutes long)--tend not to work as well as solidly-written regular episodes. Yet it was a memorable night, though more due to its aftermath (once again, not to be confused with AfterMASH).

There was a ton of promotion, and to play it up even more, a live broadcast with Jay Leno interviewing the cast immediately following.  However, the actors had been drinking throughout the broadcast--perhaps before as well--and were barely coherent. In many ways, it provided the entertainment that had been missing.

The finale has been repeated many times, but I don't think NBC has ever shown what happened next. I wish they would, just so I could compare it with my memories.


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