Raise Your Glass – ‘Cheers’ writer Cheri Steinkelner helps celebrate the sitcom’s 30th anniversary

Cheri Steinkelner wrote for the television show "Cheers" for several seasons. Courtesy photo
Cheri Steinkelner wrote for the television show “Cheers” for several seasons.
Courtesy photo

Sometimes you wanna go to a 30th anniversary show where everybody knows your name. And on Saturday, Cheri Steinkelner will do that when she chats with brothers Glen and Les Charles and James Burrows, the creators of “Cheers,” the classic TV sitcom set in a Boston bar. Ms. Steinkelner, along with her husband Bill, wrote for the show from season four until its penultimate tenth season. She even became one of the executive producers.

The actual “Cheers” anniversary took place in September of last year, celebrating the broadcast of its first episode, but the celebrations continue in this Pollock Theater exclusive chat, which also includes a visit from actor George Wendt, who played bar regular Norm.

“It was a really happy, comfortable set,” she says, when asked about her first days on the team. The Steinkelners were already writing for “The Jeffersons” when they were asked to come and pitch an episode idea, and that became their entry into the “Cheers” family, with an episode where Diane convinced Sam to help her purchase a rare Hemingway book, which Sam then dropped in the bath, having been caught up in the novel.

“It was incredibly intimidating to join,” Ms. Steinkelner says. “And I was ten days pregnant with our first child. I had a hard time telling what was nerves, what was fear, and what was morning sickness.

“The show, in its fourth season, was a writer’s paradise,” she continues. “You’d come in sure that you’d never be as funny, never be as fast, never be as polished as the other people in the room. So you’d be very quiet for a long time. We watched and listened.”

On the other hand, it was a very relaxed atmosphere, designed for jokes to fly across the room, and for everybody to best each other. And making Glen and Les Charles laugh was an ego boost that could last a week.

Two of the team’s favorite characters to write were Frasier and Lilith (the latter of which the Steinkelners created). “We had to get smarter,” she says. “We had to increase our vocabulary. This was before Google. We had to do genuine research, like open books. And it was really fun. We got to say pomme de terre instead of potato. It was also fun writing Carla. Because you could let it all hang out, be as mean we wanted and call it ‘being honest.’ ”

But it was hard to write Norm, she says. Fans remember his fabled entrances, where somebody would ask him a question and he’d answer with a one-liner. These became harder and harder to write, she said. So much so, that as the seasons went on, Norm came in less and less.

The Steinkelners left before the final season because “we couldn’t think of more stories to tell,” she says. They were also getting offers to create their own series, one of which, many years later called “Teacher’s Pet” proved fruitful, but miles away from a Cheers-like legacy.

The couple moved to Santa Barbara in 1996 to raise their children, and gradually make the transition out of television into musical theater, where they’ve continued to do well: “Sister Act,” based on the movie, was a huge hit, “Mosaic,” and recently “Hello! My Baby,” which premiered at the Rubicon Theatre.

At the Pollock, Ms. Steinkelner will be sitting down with old friends, and it should prove to be an intimate, relaxing evening. Like … a friendly neighbor barroom chat. So, did the Cheers team ever have a favorite watering hole?

“We didn’t have time! We only had time to write,” she says. “We had to stay on our game, but there was always revelry at the wrap party.”

30th Anniversary of ‘Cheers’
When: 7:30 p.m., Sat.
Where: Pollock Theatre, UCSB
Cost: $20-$10
Information: 893-4637, www.carseywolf.ucsb.edu

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