“What was it about shows 20 or 30 years ago that seemed so funny then, but don’t hold up now? I watched an episode of “Cheers” the other day, it was awful.”
This bold statement from a reader helped kick off TV critic Hank Stuever’s live chat on Thursday. And yes, “Cheers” aired its first episode more than 30 years ago and its last more than 20 years ago. (More than 84 million people tuned into that series finale, making it the second most-watched finale ever, behind only “M*A*S*H.”)
“Humor is like anything else,” responded Stuever. “It’s just where we were at that moment.”
And yet, readers jumped to the defense of other classic shows — many even older.
“I’ve been watching “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” wrote one, “and am astonished (and pleased) at how wry and nuanced the writing and acting were.”
“‘Cheers’ might not be funny today,” countered another, “but I defy anybody to watch ‘I Love Lucy’ or ‘The Honeymooners’ or ‘The Carol Burnett Show’ and not enjoy them.”
Also receiving write-in support: “Frasier,” which, lest we forget, was a “Cheers” spin-off, “M*A*S*H” and “Northern Exposure.”
One reader even responded to profess an undying love for “Everybody Loves Raymond.” “ELR has my vote for the best TV show ever,” they wrote.
But no one went to bat for the longevity of “Cheers,” despite a challenge from Stuever: “I predict someone will respond with a defense of the timeless hilarity of ‘Cheers.’ Let’s time it.”
The defense never came.
Is it possible the smash-hit show that earned a record number of Emmy nominations simply doesn’t hold up?
Not according to the Writers Guild of America, which in 2013 named “Cheers” the eighth best-written show of all time.
And not according to GQ, which dubbed “Cheers,” “The Best TV Show That’s Ever Been.”
One reason “Cheers” may not age well for some viewers is that the idea of a series arc, which was at the time an innovation in how sitcoms were written, is now commonplace.
GQ’s oral history quotes writer-producer Sam Simon as explaining, “It was a sweeping narrative. [Nowadays], producers sit down with the network at the beginning of the year and talk about the arc of the show. That’s because of Glen and Les and Jimmy.”
(Glen and Les are writer-producers Glen and Les Charles. Jimmy is director James Burrows.)
In a satirical takedown of modern TV, “Cheers” writer Ken Levine also argues that the show would be a difficult sell in today’s television market. Imagining the reaction of a modern network executive, he notes the show’s low concept (“I dunno. It’s hard to picture an audience just listening to people talk for a half hour.”), ensemble cast (“Ensemble pieces are great as long as they are centered around a star.”) and older demographics (“It’s kind of sad to think of a romance between people in their 30s.”).
So, is “Cheers” a classic sitcom that stands the test of time or a victim of the big hair era in which it was made? You decide.