‘Cheers’ Norm Actor George Wendt Originally Only Said 1 Word in the Pilot
On the NBC comedy Cheers, Norm was the one word everybody said when he would enter the bar. George Wendt played Norm for all 11 seasons, but his original audition for Cheers wasn’t for a central character. In fact, it was only for one word himself.
Wendt was a guest on the Going Long with Bruce Murray podcast on March 4, 2021. Looking back at his time on Cheers, Wendt told the story of his one word audition.
George Wendt was doing television before ‘Cheers’
Wendt already had a connection with Cheers creators Glen and Les Charles and James Burrows. He’d appeared on an episode of their previous show, Taxi.
“My agent called and said, ‘They want to see you on this new pilot, Cheers. You remember those guys, you did a Taxi,’” Wendt said on Going Long. “I moved to LA in 1980 and I got lucky with some episodic work. I was on Soap and Taxi, MASH, that sort of thing, just little one off things. They said, ‘Remember you did Taxi and those guys Glen Charles, Les Charles and Jim Burrows. You like them, right?’ Yeah, they were great. ‘They want you to come in but it’s a really small role but I don’t know, I think you should do it.’ How small is it? ‘Well, it’s really just one line.’ Oh, okay. ‘Actually,’ she says, ‘It’s really one word. Well, one syllable.’ And I go, ‘Oh, what’s the syllable?’ Beer.”
George Wendt couldn’t audition for ‘Cheers’ with 1 word
The scene Wendt originally auditioned for still appears in the Cheers pilot.
“So I was meant to be Shelley Long’s first customer in the tag of the pilot,” Wendt said. “‘Hello, I’m Diane, I’ll be your waitress. Well, I’m not really a waitress. I’m an academic.’ Then she goes on for half a page describing your situation. ‘I’m sorry, I should take your order. What can I get you?’ I go, ‘Beer.’ And that was it.”
The casting directors asked Wendt to read a little more.
“I’m sitting there at Paramount and the casting director says, ‘Yeah, that’s just not enough to read. Here, read this other role,’” Wendt said. “It was this character named George. So I started reading it and it’s the Norm character. They wind up offering it to me.”
The creators wanted him to play Norm all along
Decades later, Wendt found out the one word scene was all a ruse. The Charleses and Burrows wanted Wendt for the role that became Norm all along. Wendt found out when he appeared at a Q&A with them.
“So I’m sitting in the wings, someone in the audience goes, ‘Now, when you were writing Cheers, did you have anyone in mind for the characters?,’” Wendt said. “They go, ‘Oh God no, we saw everybody in Hollywood.’ They’re talking about Sam and Diane. So they go, ‘New York, Hollywood, mixing and matching, the chemistry, we spent months. But Rhea [Perlman], we had Rhea in mind and George.’ I’m like what? Now I find this out? It was literally five years ago. I’m kind of glad I didn’t know that they were that interested because I would have f***ed it up somehow.”