Woody Harrelson Almost Chose Another Gig Before Auditioning for ‘Cheers’

Cheers ran for 11 seasons and spanned almost 300 episodes. By the time the last episode of the show was airing, Cheers had embedded the NBC network into pop culture and managed to garner 117 Emmy nominations.

The show was so popular that it spanned two crossovers, The Tortellis and Frasier, and led to some NBC crossovers with sitcoms like Wings and St Elsewhere. The show’s main cast received a shakeup when one of the cast members passed away, which led to the hiring of his replacement, Woody Harrelson.

Interestingly enough, Harrelson was on his way to another audition when he landed his iconic role on Cheers.

‘Cheers’ followed the staff of a fictional bar

Woody Harrelson
Woody Harrelson | Frazer Harrison/Getty Images

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Cheers revolved around the lives of the patrons and staff of a fictitious bar set in Boston. The show followed the individuals as they tried navigating their personal and professional lives. Before the show’s pilot aired, the show’s first script consisted of four employees.

Upon further revisions of the script, two characters Cliff Calvin and Norm Peterson got added as regular characters. The show’s main characters were Ted Danson, the owner and the bartender of the fictional bar called Cheers.

He had staff that included Ted’s bartender Ernie Pantusso fondly referred to as Coach, the academic intellectual Diane Chambers, and the cocktail waitress Carla Tortelli. Norm and Cliff were frequent customers at the bar who worked as an accountant and mail carrier, respectively.

The show also features occasional characters like Frasier Crane, a frequenter at the bar and works as a psychiatrist. At the start of the show, Frasier is a recurring character but is promoted to a regular cast member when the show progresses.

It also features Frasier’s uptight partner Lilith Sternin and Rebecca Howe, who worked as the bar’s manager at first and later convinced Sam to let her work as a cocktail waitress. Another subsequent character is the dimwitted Woody Boyd, who arrives from his hometown in Indiana to see his pen pal, Coach.

Harrelson joined the show as Coach’s replacement

In the show’s fourth season, Nicholas Colasanto who played Ernie Pantusso, passed away. Colasanto was an ex-US Navy member who had appeared in various shows such as Starsky & Hutch and Hawaii Five-0.

Before his death, Colasanto was planning to retire from his career when the Cheers showrunners asked him to join the cast as the fan-favorite character Coach. Colasanto had been battling numerous health issues, and during the show’s third year, he missed about five tapings.

After having been in the hospital for two weeks, the actor visited the show’s set and told his castmates that he hoped to return in time for the season’s finale. Four days later, Colasanto succumbed to a heart attack in his home in Los Angeles.

The star’s passing was unexpected, and the show’s producers didn’t know how to address the actor’s death. They, however, worked it into the script the following fall. The producers also began looking for his replacement.

Harrelson nailed the audition to play Woody

Cheers aired on NBC at around the same time that Family Ties aired. To match the youthfulness that Michael J Fox’s character Alex gave, the showrunners of Cheers decided to cast a youthful character. The team settled for a new hire after an extended casting call.

They, however, kept the slot open in the hope of catching a “lightning in a bottle.” Harrelson auditioned with a no-holds-barred audition that caught the show’s producers off-guard. What most people don’t know, however, is that Harrelson was well on his way to New York for another audition.

According to Biography, Harrelson was scheduled to audition for a role in Biloxi Blue but chose to audition for Cheers instead. Harrelson landed the role of Woody and stayed with the show until its finale.