Because it's light you can drink in alot of 'Cheers

MIKE LITTWIN

May 17, 1993|By Mike LITTWIN

Is it just me, or is there anyone else out there who isn't sufficiently choked up about the last episode of "Cheers"?

If there's time before this Thursday, maybe we can form a support group. Obviously, we need help.

Part of my problem is a built-in, anti-hype reflex. Here you've got NBC, a basically comatose network, pumping this final show like it's "Gone With the Wind" in a desperate bid to get some attention that doesn't involve either David Letterman's desertion or a news-division scandal.

But the real reason I'm able to stay relatively calm is that the official end of "Cheers" is not the actual end of anything.

Why? Because, in the peculiar age in which we live, there is no last episode of any hit TV show. "Cheers" will live on for as long as there is syndication, meaning, give or take a few weeks, approximately forever.

Check your TV listings. Try to find a time when "Cheers" isn't on. You can't go two hours in the day without hearing someone shout, "Norm."

That's the lesson of TV: Nothing disappears. Think about it for a minute. That means there will always be a Regis Philbin. Scary, huh?

Someday, there are going to be 500 channels -- meaning you grazers out there finally reach Nirvana -- and they'll need programming. You know "Cheers" will be on somewhere. So let's fast-forward 50 years and see what the new-age folks might learn about life in the '80s from watching "Cheers."

There are some obvious lessons:

* You could drink all night and not get drunk.

* Postmen of the era, when not armed, were essentially harmless loudmouths.

* You could get pregnant countless times and never need time off from work to have a kid or, even as a single parent, ever worry about child care.

* Neighborhood bars were where most Americans congregated and where psychiatrists routinely bonded with postmen, bartenders and unemployed accountants. Also, everybody knew your name.

That's the other problem I have. Although "Cheers" is a very funny show, wonderfully acted and well written, it was never an important show. It never tried to be.

But now that we've reached the end of an 11-year sitcom run, we are asked to figure out what it meant. Watch, academics will write papers on the show. You can see it coming: "Cliff Claven, Son or Lover?"

There is precedent here, given the run of successful sitcoms that did try to do more. In the Cliff Notes version, "All in the Family" was about generational divide and "M*A*S*H" was anti-war and "Mary Tyler Moore" was about emerging women and "Cosby" made the case for middle-class blacks.

If "Cheers" had been meant to evoke the '80s, it would have been a singles bar, there would have been story lines about AIDS and we'd have seen a lot more yuppies.

"Cheers" wasn't even really about a bar. Aside from the funny bar banter and Norm's beer drinking, the set could have been anywhere. There was no bouncer. There weren't fights. It's a bar where nobody gets drunk. It's the perfect beer commercial.

"Dallas" and "L.A. Law" were about the '80s. "Cheers" was just of the '80s.

Then what made the show work?

It's the old formula -- romance. The chase between Sam and Diane, the mismatched and ill-fated lovers, brought heat to the show. They were great together, and, together, they made the show a hit.

What made it endure, even after Diane left, was, I think, that the characters seemed like real-life people and were allowed to act in real-life ways. And we liked them. We were glad to spend an evening, or at least a half hour, with them.

Cliff is the shy boaster. Norm is the loser who has made peace with himself. Woody is the naif. Sam is what every man wants to be and fears being at the same time. Carla is, well, pregnant and wonderfully, unrelentingly vicious. We know these people or someone like them.

And they were funny.

Rebecca was the character most of her time and least well drawn. She was a cartoon version of the '80s. Do you climb the corporate ladder by running a bar? Or by chasing rich men?

I liked the show, especially in the early years. I'll be watching Thursday and hope that the 90-minute episode is better than the maudlin, now-unwatchable ending of "M*A*S*H." And at 11:30, I can turn the channel and watch a "Cheers" rerun.

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