How the Creators of “Cheers” Made One of Television’s Most Iconic Settings

Insights from one of the show's creators

Ted Danson as Sam Malone on a 1987 episode of "Cheers."
NBCUniversal via Getty Images

It’s been nearly 30 years since the last episode of Cheers aired on NBC, bringing the beloved comedy’s long run to an end. But its impact on the medium can still be felt in countless ways — including the narrative templates it established that subsequent shows picked up on. Cheers had self-deprecating celebrity cameos before they were ubiquitous; it also established a reputation for a high level of quality throughout its time on the air.

A lot of that had to do with a great cast and solid writing. But it’s also worth considering how far a memorable setting can go. Cheers — the fictional bar at the heart of the show — feels like the platonic ideal of a place to get a drink after work, where the regulars are friendly and the room is spacious.

Not surprisingly, that was all by design. In his new memoir, Cheers co-creator James Burrows — who also directed the bulk of the show’s episodes — reflected on the development of the series. An excerpt published at Literary Hub has a few revealing passages about what made Cheers — and Cheers — so great.

Burrows cites the show Fawlty Towers as one of the things that inspired him and Glen and Les Charles. “We loved the outrageousness of it,” Burrows wrote. “I was not that big a fan of Monty Python, but I adored Fawlty Towers, because that character was so brazen.”

Once the show’s creators had settled on Boston as the setting, Burrows writes, they spent months researching bars there to find the perfect space. Burrows discussed the challenges of making “Cheers look like a British pub where people from all strata of society came and had a good time together.” That, too, played a huge role in the show’s success — it’s hard to imagine Cheers without the wide range of characters featured there.

As Burrows explained, the Bull & Finch Pub became the inspiration for the bar within the show. The show’s creators hired Richard Sylbert — the Academy Award-winning art director for the likes of Chinatown and Reds — to create the set.

“Our goal was to make it a place that was welcome and safe, where people could feel comfortable and be excited to go to every Thursday night,” Burrows wrote. In creating the platonic ideal of a great bar, he and his collaborators did exactly that.


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