‘Cheers’ Cast and Creators Walk Down Memory Lane, Pay Tribute to Late Kirstie Alley at ATX TV Festival Reunion

Thirty years after “Cheers” came to an end, the cast and creatives got back together on Friday night, courtesy of the ATX TV Festival in Austin, Texas. The reunion panel, hosted by Variety‘s Michael Schneider, included co-creators James Burrows, Les Charles and Glen Charles and actors Ted Danson, George Wendt and John Ratzenberger.

During the conversation, the iconic creators reflected on the making of the show and the cast opened up about how they joined the series and how it’s affected their lives over the years.

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“Teddy and Shelly auditioned together and they had chemistry that only makes writing better,” Burrows said of casting Danson and Shelley Long, who portrayed Diane Chambers, Sam’s love interest for five seasons.

For Danson, he praised Long, who wasn’t in attendance: “I don’t think we’d seen a character like that since Lucille Ball. I do believe I was on ‘Cheers’ because of Shelley, because Shelley was a knockout.”

The group also spoke about the difference in today’s sitcoms — and the lack of the multi-cam. “I’ve attended the funeral for a sitcom many times,” Burrows said. “Somehow it springs out of the coffin, but I’m not sure now. I don’t know what’s going on.”

The creators also explained that after losing Nick Colasanto, who portrayed Coach in the series, the network wanted to bring in someone new and younger. They were casting a character named Woody and had already found who they thought they would cast. When they met Woody Harrelson, that all changed.

They also spoke about bringing in Kirstie Alley as Rebecca Howe in Season 6 after Long decided to leave.

“She’s not here. It’s very strange,” Danson said, getting emotional remembering Alley, who died in December of cancer. “She came in like a ball of fire… She was making her entrance into the table read and she put on a Shelly Long, blonde wig. We’re like, ‘OK, you’ll do great.'”

Meanwhile, for her first day, Wendt and Ratzenberger felt they should buy her something as the new woman on set — and settled on buying a shotgun. “We wrote on the card, ‘You’re gonna have to shoot your way out,'” Ratzenberger remembered.

When talking about the show ending, Danson admitted it was his call. “My life was a hot mess. I think I needed time to get my life together,” he said. “If I had kept going, I wouldn’t have met my wife Mary Steenburgen.”

“Of all the shows I’ve done — and I’ve done a lot — this will always be my fifth child,” Burrows said at the end of the panel.

“Cheers” aired on NBC for 11 seasons, from 1982 to 1993. It also led to the spinoff, “Frasier,” following psychiatrist Frasier Crane (Kelsey Grammer), returning home to Seattle. (A “Fraiser” revival, with Burrows directing, is set to return later this year on Paramount+.)

Before the cast and creatives took the stage, ATX TV Festival hosted a pilot script reading with celebrities taking on the parts of the main cast. David Walton read for Sam, Cassidy Freeman read for Diane, David Lascher read for Coach, Christina Vidal read for Carla, Chris Estrada read for Cliff, James Lafferty read for Sumner, Harold Perrineau read for Norm, Ronald Gladden read for Ron and Ashley Fink read stage directions.

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