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Last on

Thu 26 Jul 2012 11:30 BBC Radio 4

30 minutes
First broadcast:
Thursday 26 July 2012

Stephen Merchant tells the story of one of America's best-loved and most influential sitcoms. Over the course of 11 years and over 270 episodes it told the story of the bar 'where everybody knows your name.' In the process the audience were introduced to characters like Cliff, the bar know-it-all, Carla, the Boston firecracker, and Norm, who was as regular a fixture as the wooden Indian by the door.

Where the show was innovative was in its introduction of the soap opera to the sitcom format. While the characters were well-observed and the jokes consistently excellent, what kept the viewers tuning in was the on-again-off-again romance between Sam and Diane. As producer Rob long says: 'Until that point characters had been single or in a couple, but there had never been that sense of two people trying to work it out.'

Cheers was not an overnight success though. In its first season it constantly bumped along the bottom of the ratings: as John Ratzenberger put it, 'if there were 95 shows on, we'd have been 97'. But with the goodwill of Grant Tinker, the network executive, and a big win at the Emmys, Cheers eventually rose the number one slot by the third series. They stayed in the top three until for the next 8 years.

In Raising A Glass To Cheers, Stephen Merchant hears from the show's producers, writers and stars and listens to some of the backstage stories. He hears about John Ratzenberger's pre-Cheers career in London, which saw him appear in The Empire Strikes Back, Gandhi, two Superman films and A Bridge Too Far. Rob Long talks about the hive mind of the writer's room and the perils of suggesting a 'sweet-out'. And George Wendt explains why he never tires of people shouting 'Norm!' at him.

Produced By: James Crawford
A Unique Production for BBC Radio 4.


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