Welcome to Cheers Year, where we’ll be writing about Cheers throughout this television season to commemorate the 30th anniversary of its premiere.
To continue our commemoration of Cheers’s 30th anniversary, we’re going to draft our dream lineups of NBC’s Thursday night Must See TV era, which began with the debut of Cheers in 1982. We’ll each pick 4 half-hour shows and 1 one-hour show and slot them into appropriate time slots.
Which means…which of us will get our grimy hands on Celebrity Apprentice? I can’t wait to find out.
The Dilemma: I think there are two equally strong options for the first pick and that those are really the only two reasonable choices at #1. After much deliberation, I’m going with Seinfeld for my 9 p.m. slot. I don’t think it ages as well as Cheers does — it plain reeks of the ’90s. But I think it was more consistent over the years. While Seinfeld fell apart after Larry David left, that only damaged its final two seasons. Cheers began to show its age earlier — pretty soon into the Rebecca Howe era — and dragged its feet before cancellation for longer. Plus, while Cheers probably had more very good episodes than Seinfeld, I think Seinfeld pretty clearly had more episodes. And while both shows obviously held a lot of influence for what came after, Seinfeld’s influence has been longer lasting and more pervasive.
David Simon Cowell: Wow, wow, wow… you could knock me over with a feather. I didn’t mind going second in this draft, because I was certain you’d make the wrong but defensible choice of Cheers first, leaving me with the great Seinfeld. You just teabagged Norm’s beer, my friend.
I’ll obviously take Cheers, the only other choice to anchor the night in the 9 P.M. (ET) slot. I would also put it as the second-best show overall.
For my second choice, I’ll set up the 8 P.M. hour with Friends. It’s not my personal favorite of what’s left, but it’s clearly the most popular show of Must See TV history. And as an uber-popular, family-friendly, relationship-based show, it’s amazingly solid. Yes, it descends into cliché often and mediocrity sometimes, but holds up well. This is mostly because the characters are so well drawn and performed, with the exception of Joey, who makes your punching bags Kramer and Cliff Clavin look like something out of Noel Coward. The shows are consistently funny, and the characters have good chemistry, making the sappiness bearable. Yeah, it held on too long, but so did Seinfeld and Cheers and most other shows we’ll talk about.
And, yes, it caused all manner of abortions from Coupling to Happy Endings, but that just shows that it’s one of the most influential comedies ever.
The Dilemma: Friends is a very good, solid show but I don’t consider it to be among the top 5 sitcoms left on the board after Seinfeld and Cheers. (Also, I disagree about the weak link(s) in the cast. Phoebe was a much more irritating “dumb guy” than Joey, and Ross became unwatchably shrill after about the fourth season.)
With my second pick, I take Parks & Recreation for the 8:30 slot, a show that will probably end after five seasons, but which will have given us four incredibly consistent years of those five. Michael Schur took what he learned on The Office and applied it without some of that show’s sillier tropes. Also, the show’s quicker (assumed) cancellation will allow it to avoid The Office’s long tail of diminishing returns.
This next pick is a very difficult one, as the remaining slate of shows is filled with sentimental favorites and flat-out great series, and I know that you’re going to snatch up a couple great ones I’d love to have on my schedule. But I’m taking Community for my 9:30 slot. Its postmodern sensibility is a perfect follow-up to Seinfeld, and even if this upcoming non-Dan Harmon season is a disaster, Community’s first three seasons were ground-breaking in their genre bending and ability to get obscure pop culture references on network television. It also boasts one of the most likable casts in TV history, Chevy excluded.
David Simon Cowell: I like both of your choices, but I have some concerns about their durability. Parks had a bad first season and has really dropped off lately, giving it a short prime. And while I love Community, so much of it is pop culture based that it may feel super dated super quickly.
That criticism may seem odd when you consider my top pick from this era, 30 Rock, because of its barrage of pop culture jokes. The reason I think it’s more likely to hold up, like with Friends, is the strength of the characterization. Liz Lemon and Jack Donaghy are all-time classics whose relationship will always be understandable even if all the jokes aren’t. And while some of the supporting characters can be tiresome (I’m looking at you, Jenna), Tracy Jordan is a great iteration of the Barney Fife (or Kramer or Cliff or Joey) buffoon. Plus, it’s got a solid seven seasons that don’t feel nearly that long.
My last comedy is tough. I already went with relationships with Friends, so The Office might be overkill. It’s tempting to follow Cheers with Frasier, but that’s awfully meta. Cosby Show was great at the start, but fell apart quickly.
The right spot for 30 Rock is after Cheers at 9:30 (in the same spot as Night Court, with which it shares so much DNA), so I need something more family friendly. I’m going to move Friends to 8:30 and break your heart by kicking off the night with Family Ties at 8:00. Yes, you will have neither Sam Malone or Alex P. Keaton. May God have mercy on your soul.
I have some concerns about Family Ties holding up, feeling stuck in the ’80s. But since my number one concern has been character, I’m going to hope that Alex can hold his own. The beauty of Family Ties was that it was one of the first shows to put the concerns of both the parents and the kids on the same level. And while I’m guessing that Skippy and Nick will prove cringe-worthy, the affection between the family will carry us through. Plus, I will dictate that Drunk Uncle Ned be shown during every sweeps.
Alex P. Keaton to Ross & Rachel to Sam Malone to Liz Lemon. I like it.
The Dilemma: Damn you! I was really hoping Family Ties would fall to me, and almost took it instead of Community last round. Oh well. Enjoy Jennifer’s band.
I don’t agree at all with the notion that Parks & Rec has fallen off recently — as you’ll see when we issue our year-end top 10 lists. To the contrary, it seems like a show that can’t miss right now, and one that manages to make brilliance look effortless. And I wildly disagree that 30 Rock’s strength is in its characterization of Liz and Jack. I like 30 Rock a lot, and I’m glad it’s having a strong final season after some up and down years, but the show is a cartoon. And its characters are utterly malleable to the whims of whatever gag is up next. Jack Donaghy has managed to stay reasonably consistent over the years, but everyone else — including Liz — is just a paper doll for Tina Fey and the writers to hang jokes on. That cartoonish factor is part of what makes the show great, and Community shares it to a certain extent, so I don’t want to sound like I’m trashing 30 Rock.
For my final sitcom, I’ll take Frasier over The Office, a show whose flaws have been well documented on this site. A few other shows, like Night Court, the underappreciated Wings, and The Cosby Show lag a little further behind. I was devastated when we began this draft to learn that NewsRadio never aired on Thursday night.
Frasier tends to be forgotten, perhaps because it was caught in a weird place between Cheers and Seinfeld — a spinoff of the former and never as great as the latter, but for a time Frasier was thought of as one of the very best shows on television. And it absolutely was. Like most of the shows we’re discussing, it stagnated and eventually fell apart, but it managed the truly impressive trick of creating a Cheers spinoff that didn’t have to live in Cheers’s shadow. Moving Frasier to Seattle, and populating his world with unique and multi-faceted characters like Niles and Marty, created the necessary distance viewers needed so that we weren’t constantly waiting for Norm to drop in. (Though he, and pretty much every other Cheers regular, did eventually make awkward, unnecessary appearances.)
That leaves us both with our drama, and I’m pretty sure that whichever of the two shows I’m deciding between won’t steal your pick. This time, I’m going to let sentimentality get the better of me and go with L.A. Law over Hill Street Blues. If you want to argue that L.A. Law is the least important and least impressive of the big three must-see TV dramas, I won’t have much of a defense. Hill Street Blues was vital to creating the modern cop show, and ER, while never to my taste, managed to hit the reset button on medical dramas — that most staid of all TV genres.
But goddamn did I love L.A. Law. Created by Steven Bochco while he still gave a damn, and featuring David E. Kelley before he ventured into Sorkinian self-parody, L.A. Law was almost as much of an ’80s avatar as Miami Vice. At its best, the series managed to mix the dramatic and the ridiculous. It gave us great characters and made us feel like something was actually at stake, even in the insane universe it created.
Plus, I’m so in the bag for that theme song.
Alas, who shall weep for Caroline in the City?
David Simon Cowell: I can’t argue with Frasier, but, even though we didn’t put any parameters on it, not having anything from the classic ’80s lineup seems incomplete to me.
LA Law is also probably my personal favorite, but I would go for ER even if it were still on the board. The reason we waited on drama was that all three were great, until they held on too long. ER gets the nod because Clooney killed it, assisted by great relationships with Juliana Margolis and Anthony Edwards.
8:00 pm – Frasier
8:30 pm – Parks & Recreation
9:00 pm – Seinfeld
9:30 pm – Community
10:00 pm – L.A. Law
David Simon Cowell:
8:00 pm – Family Ties
8:30 pm – Friends
9:00 pm – Cheers
9:30 pm – 30 Rock
10:00 pm – ER
Bonus picks! The bottom three shows of the Must See TV era…
David Simon Cowell:
3. Will & Grace – Amos n Andy for homosexuals
2. Veronica’s Closet – Dan Cortese
1. Good Morning Miami – The Jeff Zucker Story
3. The Single Guy — Ernest Borgnine
2. Whitney — well documented here
1. Mad About You — fuck everything about this piece of garbage, which wrapped a hateful cynicism in revolting sappiness.
Must See TV Fun Facts…
Best Comedy Emmys:
- Cosby Show – 1
- Seinfeld – 1
- Will & Grace – 1
- Friends – 1
- The Office – 1
- 30 Rock – 3
- Cheers – 4
- Frasier – 5
17 in 27 – ’83-’09
- Hill Street Blues – 4
- L.A. Law – 4
- ER – 1
9 of 16 – ’81 to ’96
Top Rated Shows Of The Year:
- Cosby Show – 4
- ER – 3
- Seinfeld – 2
- Cheers – 1
10 of 14 – ’86 to ’99
Most Watched Finales Ever:
- Cheers – 2nd
- Seinfeld – 3rd
- Friends – 4th
- Cosby Show – 7th
- Family Ties – 9th
- Frasier – 11th