Boys in the Bar
27 January 1983
Writers: David Isaacs and Ken Levine
When Sam publicly supports an old teammate who has come out of the closet, Norm and the gang are afraid that "Cheers" will become a "gay bar”.
This particular episode was nominated for a 1983 Writers Emmy Award, continuing the trend of the last three years of unsuccessful nominations for gay-themed sitcom episodes. It did win a Writers Guild Award for Best Comic Episode. The episode was also recognised by the gay community, winning won a Media Award from AGLA (Alliance for Gay and Lesbian Artists), but not GLAAD, as many websites report, since GLAAD Media Awards didn’t exist until 1990, taking over from AGLA.
Here’s a memoir about writing this episode by Ken Levine
This episode certainly offers a variety of homosexuals. First off there’s Tom, who is actually a minimal and inoffensive character, but as a professional baseball player he embodies the ideal of all-American manliness. You’ll remember the homosexual in “All in the Family” was a former professional sportsman as well, for the same reason of overturning common prejudice. As in “All in the Family”, there’re also some faux-gays, straight characters whose appearance and behaviour leads others to think they’re gay. In this case we get assorted chaps with moustaches, leather vests, and a penchant for hugging – rather early 80s, unlike the flouncy aesthete of the early 70s. Finally, you get the two hidden gays, mingling with and indistinguishable from the regulars until the episode’s final gag.
So the regulars in the bar have the same function as Archie, humorously spouting common prejudices and bigoted opinions and making themselves look slightly daft. A few mild sissy impressions and ludicrous obsessing about ferns get laughs from the audience. Unlike “All in the Family”, this episode has something of a journey, putting principal character Sam under the moral microscope. Sam learns to accept his friend, realising that homosexuality is nothing to be ashamed and subsequently finds the strength to stand up for these principles. The rest of the bar are buffoons, embodying the worst impulses, who do become a rampaging mob, at one point. It is commercial rather than social fears that threaten to sway Sam.
Underlying the regular’s behaviour is the assumption that gays are a separate community, who are not a part of their world. A gay bar is implicitly not the same as their bar. Of course this a progression in acceptance since an episode of “Maude” in 1977 about a community’s attempt to close down a gay bar. For all of the horror of the regulars, there’s little actual mockery of homosexuals, only comic exaggeration of what it means to be a typical manly guy in a bar with other normal guys.
Carla’s line is a reference to a famous incident when disgraced baseball player Shoeless Joe Jackson was leaving the courthouse during his trial and a young boy begged of him, "Say it ain't so, Joe,"
“Cheers would have other gay-themed episodes. Harvey Fierstein would later appear in as "Mark Newberger", Rebecca's old high school sweetheart who is gay. In one episode Norm would pretend to be a gay decorator to get work. Ehe final episode included a gay man who gets into trouble with his boyfriend after agreeing to pose as Diane's husband.
Ted Danson: Sam Malone
Shelley Long: Diane Chambers
Rhea Perlman: Carla
George Wendt: Norm
John Ratzenberger: Cliff
Nicholas Colasanto: Coach
Alan Autry: Tom Kenderson
Shannon Sullivan: Reporter 1
John Bluto: Reporter 2
Wesley Thompson: Photographer
Jack Knight: Jack
(Sam’s old baseball teammate Tom Kenderson has written his autobiography, “Catcher’s Mask” which Sam is promoting in his bar. Sam hasn’t read the book, but is sure it will be a warm, exciting reminder of the days of baseball and womanising they shared. Dianne starts to speed-read the book. Coach reminisces over all the pranks Tom played on him. There are a small number of journalists sat in a semi-circle. Tom enters the bar. Carla throws herself at him and swoons. Sam draws Carla away then shakes hands. )
D: Sam! Did you get a chance to read my book last night?
S: Ah, no, no, I didn’t Tommy, I’m sorry
D: (concerned) I really wish you had.
S: Did you put in that flight to Kansas City, when we jumped in the garment bag with those two stewardesses?
T: Yeah, that’s there.. But…
S: Well, I’ll die happy. I’m fine. (pointing towards display) Let’s get you famous here, alright!
T: I don’t think you…
(Tom goes to display. The bar regulars come over to watch.)
T: Before we start here, (waves hand) Sam Malone, come up here! I’m sure you all remember Sam Malone. And if you don’t - chapters seven through nine.
(Sam comes up to Tom. Stands next to him and they put their arms across each other’s shoulders in manly-pally way)
S: No, no. I’m a business man now. I keep my clothes on. Mostly.
(They both laugh)
Reporter: So, you two were real close?
S: For three years we did everything together. I mean, no one ever saw us apart. (slight hug by Sam)
Reporter: Well, Sam! It must have been quite a Shock for you when Tom wrote about coming out of the closet.
(brief look of shock, and Sam casually shuffles out from their shared arm contact)
S: (laughing to stay in control) Oh, oh. You mean, ha, you mean in Detroit? When I was with the waitress, and he came out of the closet and was wearing . . . a… (serious) That’s not what you’re talking about, is it?
(Bar regulars get up as one, not making eye contact with Sam, and walk to far end of bar in single file. Diane, sat at bar, looks on at Tom and Sam in concern, shakes head slightly).
(T and S suddenly in conversation ignoring everything, unaware photos being taken)
S: Is this some kind of joke, Tom?
T: I wanted you to read the book, Sam. It’s still hard for me to tell people from the old days.
Reporter: Sam? You said you two used to do Everything together?
S: (imperceptibly edging away from T) No, no. You misunderstood that. No! (laughing) As a matter of fact, people used to come up to me and say, Hey you know you two are best friends, yet you’re completely different!
(T is slightly upset, and has been looking away from S. D suddenly stands up and calls)
D: Sam! Sam, there’s an emergency in the back room! (pointing for him to come away)
D: Erm, I…found holes in the pool table.
S: Oh, yeah, yeah. (flustered) Will you excuse me. Some Chick wants to see me, can’t get rid of them (!) You guys know how that is! (slaps back of male reporter) (walking to other end of bar, says loudly so all can hear) So honey, you can’t go in the back room without me?
D: (out of side of mouth) Shut up!
Carla: (standing looking up at T) Say it aint so, Tom? Say it aint so?
S: (walking into pool room) Thank you for getting me out of there before I made a complete ass out of myself.
D: I was fast, but you were faster.
S: It wasn’t my fault. Imean, He shouldda told me.
D: Sam! He told you to read the book!
S: Yeah, but…
D: He should have known you would have been spending the evening with a woman who thinks ‘Candide’ is a toenail polish.
S: I just can’t believe it! I mean, the guy was a Hound, Diane! He had women everywhere. We’d be on the road, we’d go into hotel lobbies, there’d be three, four women holding up kids!
D: (flicking through book) He covers that, he covers that.
D: Here, here, in this paragraph right here. (hands book to S) You want me to read it?
S: No, no, I’ll read it. Right there?
S: “From the outside, my days in baseball seemed glorious. But the greater my fear became of my true sexuality, the more I compensated with typical Don Juan promiscuity”
D: Does that explain it?
S: I don’t know. I’ve only read it once.
D: He was denying who he was. He’s no longer doing that.
S: (Walks into corner, shaking head) I shouldda known. I remember sitting in a piano bar with him, and he requested a Show tune.
(D looks at bemusement at this comment. S sits down pondering. D comes over to him to comfort him)
D: Sam, I do understand why you’re upset. You’re afraid that now people will think you’re
(S suddenly leaps up)
S: No, I’m not upset! I’m not upset. It’s just that – Guys should be Guys! Diane. That’s all.
(Walks away. D follows)
D: Sam, look. Your friend Tom’s out there. He needs your support now more than ever before. He really hasn’t changed. He’s still the same gay you used to tinkle off balconies with.
S: (nostalgically) Boy, the world was a lot simpler then.
(T walks into doorway of poolroom. Knocks to announce himself, coughs)
T: Sam, sorry about all this. See, I thought you’d read the book, and everything was cool. Look, I don’t want to cause you any more problem so I’m just gonna take off, okay.
(turns around, makes thumbs-up at Sam, and walks out. Beat. S and D glance. Beat)
S: (Mutters) Damn it! (chases after him and D follows)
T: (On stairway to leave) Thanks a lot everybody. Nice talking to y’all again.
Coach: (Sadly) So long, Tommy.
S: (from far end of bar)Tom! You still a gin and tonic man?
D: Way to go, Mayday.
S: (walking over) I make ’em the way you like ‘em. On the house. Coach.
T: (shaking hands again)Thanks a lot, Sam.
Photographer: Hey listen. Can we get a couple more shots of you guys?
S: Yeah, sure. You bet.
T: I appreciate this, Sam.
S: Well, you didn’t dump me when I had a drinking problem.
T: Ah sure I did. You were just passed out at the time.
(two laugh and wrap arm across each others shoulders for photograph)
N: Pardon me pal. Where are these photos gonna run?
Photographer: I dunno. Mostly local papers.
Regular: What’s the matter?
N: Same things gonna happen to Cheers that happened to Vito’s Pub.
Regulars (in chorus) Uh-oh!
(Sam overhears and slight expression of concern on face as last photo is taken)
END OF PART ONE
(discussion about Sam feeling proud about what he did)
S: Hey Norm? What was that you said yesterday when they were taking pictures, about Vito’s Pub?
N: It’s nothing. Don’t worry about it.
S: Talk to me, Norm.
(Norm sighs. Cliff comes over)
Cliff: Norm, I think it’s best he hears it from us. Go ahead, tell him the story.
N: Alright, you heard of Vito’s Pub.
S: Yeah. It’s a gay bar.
N: It didn’t used to be. It used to be a Great bar. I hung out there myself.
Coach: Wow, what a story Norm! (Sam pulls coach back)
N: I’m not finished.
Coach: There’s more!
N: One night Vito lets a gay group hold a meeting in the back room, right? Gays for…the Metric System or something? Story gets in the newspaper. Gets a lot of attention. Next thing you know Vito’s Pub turns into
(effeminate pronunciation) Vito’s Pub! All the regulars left, Sammy! Out went the oars and the moose-heads, in came plants and ferns. (shudders) Ferns! I just don’t want that to happen to Cheers, is all.
S: I don’t believe that stuff. Bars don’t turn gay overnight.
N: You don’t have to believe me. I have scientific proof. Cliff?
Cliff: It happened.
(Sam mouths “What?” in exasperation)
D: You’re talking about them like they’re were ogres. The fact of the matter is, there are gay people in this bar all the time.
N: Whaaat? No way. I haven’t seen a gay guy in here in ages.
D: I see, so you can spot a gay person?
N: A mile away
D: And there are none in here right now?
N: (Gets up and looks around) Oooh. Noop! Looks like a straight crowd to me. (sits back down) Too ugly to be gay. Too ugly to be out.
D: Well, I wasn’t going to say anything, but you’ve gone so far in proving you’re open-minded, Norman. There are two homosexual gentlemen in this bar at the moment
Regular: C’mon. get outta here!
D: They told me they were gay. They told me they appreciated what Sam had done. That’s right guys. They’re here right now. And you don’t even know who they are.
(Regulars start turning about, looking around slowly)
Regular: Hah-ha! Nah! She’s kidding. Everybody here checks out alright
N: I dunno. It occurs to me that….CLIFF! hasn’t had a date in quite some time.
Regular: Ah-huh! (points accusing finger) That’s right.
Cliff: Oh. Oh yeah, Norm? well how come we’ve never seen this Vera you’re allegedly married to? Huh?
(Two men come to opposite end of bar)
Guy: Could we have a couple of beers please?
S: You bet.
(Regulars look askance
Cliff: (muttering alarmed) Patty-cake alert!
Guy: Hey, you’re Sam Malone?
Guy: Yeah, yeah, I saw your picture in the paper this morning. Can’t wait to read that book
(Regulars all huddled in suspicious group looking on)
Guy: I’m not much of a baseball fan but that sounds interesting
S: Yeah, should be pretty good.
Guy: Listen, could we have light beers please.
N: (raising hands above shoulders as though to say any further argument) Light beer.
(Regulars, shuffle and mumbles, case closed)
Guy: Thanks (take beers away)
Coach: (whispering)Sam, those guys look okay to me.
S: (directed down bar) They Are okay, Coach
Cliff: Yeah, well, maybe we are a little off base here, Norm
Regular: Hey look, let’s test ‘em out.
Regular: I got an idea – (shouts) Look at the Bagonzas on that babe!
(Two men very involved in each other’s conversation at table pay no interest)
D: Oh this is medieval (!)
Cliff: Hey, Jack, change the channel. Should be about time for the Benito-Vennito bout!
Regular: Yeah should be a bloodbath!
(two guys not listening)
D: (puts on dopey voice) Uh, they’re not watching! Let’s string ‘em up!
Carlo: So, what we gonna do about these guys, huhn?
D: Carla! You’re not prejudiced against gay are you?
Carla: I'm not exactly crazy about them. I mean I get enough competition from women. I'm telling you, if guys keep coming out of the closet, there isn't going to be anybody left to date and I'm going to have to start going out with girls. (looks at Diane) Ewww.
D: Carla, you don’t have to worry about me. I like my dates a little more masculine than you. Not much. But a little.
S: I can’t believe you guys are making such a fuss over two guys walking into a bar.
(Another man enters the bar, and the two men each give him a welcoming hug.)
Regular: (aghast) It’s an orgy!
N: (agitated) Ferns! Sammy, we’re talking ferns!
D: You! Come on! I’ve seen you guys hug.
N: Yeah but we hate it.
Regular: (pointedly) Say Cliff. I haven’t been to Clancy’s in a while. That still as nice a place as it used to be?
Cliff: I don’t know Jack, I haven’t been there in a while myself.
Regular: C’mon let’s go on over there.
S: Give me a break! You guys are kidding right?
N: Sammy, we’ll just come back in a couple of weeks. And see if Cheers is the still the kind of bar where a single woman can be assured of being harassed and hit on.
S: Hey. Get back here! All of you, right now!
(Regulars come back sheepishly)
S: You mean to tell me, that you guys are baling out on me?
Regular: Sam, I’m telling you, within a month there’s gonna be wild music and guys dancing and exchanging phone numbers.
D: You know, Sam, you’ve got some really great friends here. You’ve gone out of your way to make a bar where customers can feel like they belong, part of a family. And now they’re walking out on you.
(Regulars cries of protest, amidst which can be heard: We don’t want them on our patch. Three men at table aware of hub-bub)
D: Quiet! Perhaps we should step into the back room. Anyone having something Intelligent to say, can follow me.
(D walks toward pool room. No-one moves. D turns around)
D: Fine! Anyone with a two-bit opinion.
(Regulars, Coach, Sam and Carla all trail into pool room with much noise)
Cliff: Sammy, Sammy, look I’ve got a simple solution to this whole problem. You just go up the guys and politely ask them to leave. I mean, everything is back to normal.
(general agreement from Regulars)
D: Sam! Would never do that. Would you, Sam?
(S on the spot, is deliberating. D comes over)
D: Oh no!
S: I’m not sure. These guys are my regulars. If I lose my regulars I lose my bar. Now if single women stop coming in here I have no reason to live.
(general agreement from Regulars. Carla steps up)
Carla: No emotional appeal here, Sam. This is a purely intellectual argument. You let this bar go gay, you’re going to have to hire male waitresses. (muttered disapproval from Regulars) That means I’m out on the street. And I’m not going to be able to feed little Sammy Tortelli (cradles pregnancy bump)
(Norm gets up)
N: Alright, we’re all agreed then. Sammy tells these guys to leave. We don’t go to Clancy’s? Am I right Sam?
S: (mumbles in defeat) Alright. Alright (begins to walk back to bar)
S: Just leave me alone. I’m running a business here. (come back to D) What do you think I should say to them?
D: Oh well, it’s very simple. You just walk up and say, Hello, we’re a group of snivelling bigots, and, er, we don’t care for your kind.
Cliff: That’s good.
Regular: I like that
(all follow Sam behind back to bar. Sam walks over to three men on his own, as all the regulars hover on other side)
S: Hi fellas.
Guy: Hi Sam. What’s going on?
S: I got a little bit of a problem, maybe you can help me out? Ah. You see I’m the owner of this bar, and
Guy: Yeah, we know, we read the article in the newspaper.
S: Oh yeah, right.
Guy: That took a lot of guts.
It really did
Guy: So what’s your problem.
S: As a matter of fact I don’t have a problem. Coach, get these guys a beer on the house.
(S walks back behind the bar, through the Regulars who are disapproving)
N: What’s the matter, Sammy, chickening out on us?
Cliff: Yeah, Sammy, Sammy, Sammy, I thought you had more character than that.
S: Hey listen. Those guys are staying. Anyone else wants to leave that’s fine.
N: Okay, Sam, you know what kind of bar this could turn into.
S: It’s not going to turn into the kind of bar that I have to throw people out of.
D: That was the noblest preposition you’ve ever dangled.
(Sam goes into office. Diane goes into pool room. Regulars suddenly hatch scheme and pretend the bar is closing early, ushering the three guys out. Sam and Diane come back in surprised. The regulars come back in whooping.)
N: We just got rid of your friends, Diane.
Cliff: It was all Normy’s idea
D: Norman, I think there’s something you should know about those guys. They’re not gay. In fact one of them tried to hit on me tonight.
Regular: Whut? But you said they were.
D: I said there were two gay men in the bar. I didn’t say who they were. They, along with myself, have had a wonderful time watching you make complete Idiots of yourselves. Yeah, the guys I was talking about are still here. (D walks off.) Right guys?
Two guys who’ve been in the background of the Regulars all evening: Right!
Both lean in and kiss a shocked Norm on his cheeks, then rest their faces on his shoulder and look doefully up at him
N: (points to guy on left) Better than Vera.