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When the TV show Cheers gets mentioned, either in passing or as one of the greatest small screen comedies of all time, it's hard not to picture Ted Danson's Sam Malone standing behind the bar and donning both a sparkling smile and a head of perfectly coifed hair. But when Cheers was first coming together at NBC back in the early 1980s, there was a moment when it was possible for Bill Cosby to have become the guy pouring beers for Cliff and Norm. Here's what co-creator Les Charles about the initial casting process.
In the early stages, Bill Cosby had a deal at NBC and was unattached to a project. So, he was offered to us as the bartender. But we had two rules. No known names and no characters' name as the title of the show.
Just think: if brothers Les and Glenn Charles had been excited about getting a major TV star front and center for Cheers, then nabbing Bill Cosby would have been pretty big. Cosby's career in the 1970s was probably more celebrated for his stand-up comedy than for films like The Devil and Max Devlin and the sketch comedy show Cos. Still, though, considering the writing and the ensemble cast had as much to do with Cheers becoming a mega-hit as Ted Danson's affable charisma, Cosby wouldn't have needed to stretch his own personality much to gain viewers.
Alas, Les and Glenn Charles had no interest in adding a well-known entertainer for the role of Sam Malone (or whatever the lead character's name would have otherwise been), and went with Ted Danson, who'd been working on TV movies and bit parts on comedies like Laverne & Shirley and Taxi. The part turned Danson into a superstar, and set him up for a career in which he's been able to pick and choose winning roles on shows such as Curb Your Enthusiasm and The Good Place, with the latter also on NBC.
And it's not like the network absolutely failed hardcore when Cheers' creators passed on adding Bill Cosby. Just two years after the bar-set sitcom made Sam and Diane the most dynamic romance around, The Cosby Show debuted on NBC and became a hard-to-stop juggernaut in both the ratings and the Emmys game. (Appreciation for the show has suffered due to Cosby's sex offender conviction, to be sure.) And as far as "What If" situations go, though, this scene below would be worlds different if Danson was replaced with Cosby.
Beyond the prospects of seeing Bill Cosby waxing sarcastic with Carla, the Charles brothers also revealed to THR that another one-time comedy icon, Sid Caesar, had specific interests in joining the show in its development period. According to Glen Charles:
We met with Sid Caesar too. He was interested in playing Coach, but that would have overweighed the show towards one character.
Since Sid Caesar lived until 2014, unlike late actor Nicholas Colasanto, his version of Coach would have presumably survived throughout the entire run of the show, Which means we never would have gotten to meet Woody Harrelson's Woody Boyd, which would have been a travesty. So let's all thank the TV gods for making Cheers a show that hasn't lost a step over the years.
Though Cheers is only around in streaming form these days, it's absolutely worth a rewatch every so often. But there are tons of other new shows coming to primetime soon, and you can find it all with our summer premiere schedule.