When NBC launched Frasier, they couldn’t have known the spinoff would run as long as Cheers. Both sitcoms aired for 11 seasons each, so obviously they made the right choice of which bar patron to give his own show. There were three other contenders before Frasier Crane though.
The creators of Cheers spoke with Variety in 2018 on the 25th anniversary of the series finale. Executive producer Rob Long, co-creator and director James Burrows, co-creators Glen and Les Charles and writer Ken Levine revealed three other Cheers spinoffs that never happened.
After ‘Cheers,’ NBC wanted spinoffs
The decision to end Cheers was not arrived at lightly. When Ted Danson announced season 11 would be his last, the creators even considered a 12th without him. With the Cheers series finale confirmed, NBC looked ahead to Cheers spinoffs.
“NBC constantly wanted spinoffs of everything,” Long told Variety. “They were in terrible shape at the time. They had nothing they felt confident about. The irony, of course, is that they did have the seed of their next big hit, Seinfeld, but they weren’t sure about it. I remember telling them how much we the writers loved that show, and they would always kind of roll their eyes and say, ‘We just didn’t get it.’ So they didn’t really know what they had.”
3 ‘Cheers’ characters discussed for spinoffs
Burrows recalled three Cheers spinoff ideas, including one that would have been a second try at a failed spinoff they already tried in 1987.
“There was always talk of a spinoff,” Burrows said. “One with Norm and Cliff, one with Carla… Well, we sort of did one with Carla when we did The Tortellis. There was also talk of spinning off Rebecca.”
Levine explained why a show about Cheers regulars Norm (George Wendt) and Cliff (John Ratzenberger) didn’t interest them.
“We got approached several times to write a Norm and Cliff show,” Levine said. “But we just didn’t want to do that. It’s a problem, especially with Norm, because you had a character who was blissfully happy just sitting in a bar doing nothing for 16 hours a day. Unless you have characters who have tremendous desires and goals and things they need to achieve, and you can throw hurdles to make it that much harder for them, it’s very difficult to come up with stories.”
The Charles brothers said it came down to Frasier Crane (Kelsey Grammer) and Woody Boyd (Woody Harrelson).
“I think Frasier and Woody were the two logical possibilities,” Les said. “Both good leading men, both funny, both terrific actors. I don’t know who else you could’ve based a series around who would’ve been an anchor to the series.”
Would those shows have worked?
Cheers had such a rich barstool of characters that all of those spinoffs sound like good ideas. The Tortellis may not have worked, but a show about Carla’s life after Cheers might have. Levine may have been right about Norm, but Cliff could have been the foil who dragged Norm into new adventures every week.
Harrelson was about to become a movie star so he might not have wanted to lock himself into a television series in the ‘90s. He’d starred in White Men Can’t Jump and Indecent Proposal before Cheers ended and was about to get taken seriously in Natural Born Killers and The People Vs. Larry Flynt.
The Rebecca (Kirstie Alley) spinoff begs the most questions. She’d have to do something else if Cheers was no longer in the picture. Alley would go on to do Veronica’s Closet so we’ll never know what Rebecca’s next step might have been.