THE FACT THAT "CHEERS" has made 200 episodes is undoubtedly more important to those that sell it in syndication than to viewers, but it seems as good a time as any to look back at one of the most successful comedies in the history of television.
And that's what NBC will do tonight at 9 on WMAR-Channel 2 with a special one-hour "Cheers" that, in fact, should be two hours.
It's really a greatest hits compilation of memorable, hilarious moments from the previous 199 episodes interspersed with too-brief snippets of the actors, creators and writers sitting on a stage talking about the show. John McLaughlin, host of the syndicated "McLaughlin Group," moderates the discussion.
Other than a new tease at the beginning to introduce McLaughlin, and a couple of new verses to the theme song at the end, the show will be familiar territory for "Cheers" fans, a reminder that this show really has been good over the years.
The scenes bring to mind many others that could have been used. For instance, the program starts out with some of Norm's entrance lines, but they didn't use a personal favorite exchange with Coach: "How's the world treating you, Norm?" "Like I just ran over its dog." There are enough such gems that could have easily supported another hour.
Maybe there will be a chance for that in the 300th episode as "Cheers" seems to be able to support yet many more seasons. Two hundred episodes mark already puts "Cheers" up there in some sort of sitcom Valhalla with shows like "All in the Family," "The Lucy Show" and "My Three Sons."
But, unlike most shows that have lasted nearly a decade or more -- "The Jeffersons," "Alice," "One Day at a Time," "Happy Days," "Archie Bunker's Place" -- "Cheers" isn't just hanging on, trying to squeeze one more season out of a fruit that long since gave up its best juice and is now creatively dry.
No, in its ninth season, "Cheers" is stronger than ever. If this hasn't been the best year for the show's writers, the program remains one of the best five comedies on television. Moreover, it was ranked the No. 1 show for the calendar year that ended last summer and has been the top-rated show almost every week of this season.
The last venerable program to achieve such lofty numbers was "The Andy Griffith Show," which lasted eight seasons, from 1960 to 1968. That was good for 249 episodes -- back then, more show were produced.
Unlike "Cheers," "The Andy Griffith Show" ranked in the top ten from its inception. As McLaughlin notes tonight, the first episode of "Cheers," broadcast Sept. 30, 1982, was 77th out of 77 shows that week. "Lou Grant" is the only other show that ever went from last to first in the ratings.
Though they seem to have been cut from wholly different cloth, the success of "The Andy Griffith Show" and "Cheers" might be (( because they share an essential appeal. Both unconsciously touch a nostalgic chord in the audience, elevating a classic American institution to an idealized, mythological status.
In the case of "The Andy Griffith Show," that place was the small town. Depicted as a safe harbor of simple concerns and sensible values, Mayberry was a wonderful village for an increasingly urban America to visit once a week.
In the case of "Cheers," that place is the corner bar. Depicted as a place where, as the song says, everybody knows your name, Cheers is the antidote for an America grown increasingly suburban, where the only thing on the corner is a stop sign.
Just as small towns much like Mayberry existed during the '60s, so bars much like Cheers still dot urban neighborhoods today. But for much of the country's population, at the time these shows came on the air and found their popularity, small towns and corner bars were seen as part of a past when life seemed somehow more manageable.
Indeed, for the most part, the outside world stayed away from Mayberry and rarely interferes with life inside Cheers. The action might be madcap, but Cheers, like Mayberry, is a haven from the chaos.
Cheers, like Mayberry, is an example of a supportive community, an appealing image at a time when the larger community is increasingly seen, at best, as anonymous and impersonal, and, at worst, dangerous and forbidding, full of drugs, child-snatchers, spiked Halloween candy and senseless violence.
And, in the 1980s, as divorce tore through one of the country's fundamental institutions, the denizens of Cheers also offered the possibility of an alternative family that could provide the comfort of day-to-day familiarity and, occasionally, the nuturing and affection increasingly missing from so many traditional families.
What is ironic is that the medium that brought "The Andy Griffith Show," and brings "Cheers," is in some way responsible for the demise of the institutions these shows so nicely exploit.
Television pierced the isolation of small towns creating the odd interface between sophistication and simplicity now seen weekly "Evening Shade."
And TV, in part because it broadcasts so many images of a dangerous world outside, keeps people inside their tract homes on nights when they otherwise might have gone down to the neighborhood pub.
So the population of countless real Cheers sits in front of the TV, laughing heartily at the comedic brilliance of this show, the remote control in one hand, a can of beer in the other, wishing that Norm would walk through the door.
Where is your Cheers?
Do you have favorite watering hole, "someplace where they're always glad you came, where everyone knows your name"? Well tell us about your Cheers. Write to:
Cheers The Evening Sun Accent Plus 501 N. Calvert St. Baltimore, Md. 21278