The characters in the Cheers opening: A critical analysis

One of the great TV memories of my childhood is the Cheers opening sequence. I’m a great lover of TV theme songs, and I remember Cheers being one of my favorites. I’ve been rewatching Cheers, and the show is still great, but I find the old-timey images used during the opening sequence to be much odder than I remember. A casual search suggests that no one has ever done a true analysis of these pictures. I humbly accept the responsibility myself.

I’ll start with the pictures of people who look like the kind of folks I wouldn’t mind hanging out with in a bar. The more irksome characters are at the end of the list.

Mustachioed Barkeep

Mustachioed Barkeep

Mustachioed Barkeep


Oddly, I find this guy’s mustache to be wholesome and comforting. Maybe it’s because I lived in Brooklyn for so long. I know he works for tips, but I’m also impressed by how he manages to have one of the only non-lecherous smiles in the entire sequence. Sadly, after the death of Nicholas Colasanto, who played Coach, they removed this likable chap from the opening sequence.


The Champion

The Champion

The Champion


Also known as the “We Win” guy. Bonus: The fair-haired dude hoisting a pint always makes me think of Matt Mullenweg.


Tom Joad

Tom Joad

Tom Joad


The dude with the Jed Clampett hat and the five-o-clock shadow is pure salt-of-the-earth. I feel like most Woody Guthrie songs are about this guy.


Norm

Norm

Norm


Even as a kid, I remember feeling bad that they chose an overweight guy to represent Norm. As if his weight is his only salient quality. Why not show an accountant? In any case, I respect a guy who can pull off a suit of that color. To me, one of the great mysteries has always been: what is he handing to the woman in the red skirt? The TV remote wouldn’t be invented for another 40 years.


The Madam

The Madam

The Madam


This woman seems like she’s the only drinker in the entire intro who is maintaining control over herself. I can respect that. The composition of this shot reminds me of that Renoir painting where everyone’s checking everyone else out.


Kid Gorgeous

Kid Gorgeous

Kid Gorgeous


The pale fellow in the jacket doesn’t look old enough to be drinking in this establishment, and his complexion makes me suspect that he’s nervous about being caught. I always imagine him as having been a 12-year-old drummer boy for the Confederate Army, returned to his local tavern as a 17-year-old amputee veteran. Notice that his legs are not visible in this picture.


The Cognac Brothers

The Cognac Brothers

The Cognac Brothers


Does he really need that cane? Or is he just trying to intimidate? Is he the bouncer, or just waiting for his carriageman to bring the team around? So many questions.


Rich Uncle Pennybags

Rich Uncle Pennybags

Rich Uncle Pennybags


You can’t afford what this guy is drinking.


Top Hat Asshole and Smarmy Newsboy

Top Hat Asshole and Smarmy Newsboy

Top Hat Asshole and Smarmy Newsboy


The two most insufferable people in the sequence are also the last two, and boy, do they leave a bad taste in your mouth. Both are clearly looking to start a fight. The guy on the left, apparently drinking a $20 Trappist ale, is barely managing to hide his disdain for everyone around him. The dude on the right appears to be bragging about hooking up with your sister. (The guy in the bottom right, who looks as if he may in fact be dead, has pretty much checked out of the party.) I hate them so much.

32 thoughts on “The characters in the Cheers opening: A critical analysis

    1. Johnny Hallmark

      What about the guy under the table (bottom left of the screen) in the “Madam” picture? What is his story?

      Reply
    2. Lisa

      Actually, this last photo (of which you are so disdainful) is a small part of a photograph
      of the employees of the Lemp Brewery in Leavenworth, KS, circa 1880. The photo was taken by Harrison Putney.

      Reply
    1. Todd Smitts

      I always assume that “WE WIN!” was in reference to WWII. A game seems kind of trivial in comparison.

      Reply
  1. Hammer of the Gods... Or something

    My ultimate ambition in life is to get into a backstreet fight with top hot asshole and smarmy newsboy.

    *trash cans flying everywhere, newsboy unconscious on the ground with broken jaw and nasty concussion, top hot asshole desperately limping away with twisted ankle, broken nose, fractured cheekbone, and tears in his eyes*

    Reply
    1. Bruce Lee

      Hammer, what you left of both of those irritating low-lifes—I would have to completely finish them off for good. Both are asking for a trip to the hospital. I once ran into one of those types of dimwits at a bar one night. Nearly came to blows before his friends jumped in to save him and I walked away. Clearly a certified idiot with a chip on his shoulder and a serious problem with holding his liquor in a mature fashion. Everytime I see their pics, I just want to jump into the pic and knock them both down on the ground and beat them senseless.

      Reply
      1. Spoke Customer

        Yeah I’ve been there. Once had to straighten out some drunk dude bro who kept harassing customers at a bar near UMass Amherst and telling a girl I knew there that she was definitely going home with him later. I followed him out the back door and found him pissing on the dumpster, and when he turned around to come back in, I grabbed his head and shook it violently and told him to get out or he would be sorry. When I went back inside I heard people saying that he called the cops on me like a little bitch. At this point I decided to get out before they arrived to avoid the drama, but he followed me out yelling some shit. I started running across the street, not wanting to deal with cops pulling me off him if we started fighting. He chased me, screaming drunkenly like a dumbass and trying to look like a tough guy. I was much faster and outran him, hiding in somebody’s backyard as I heard him cursing me and crashing into shit desperately searching for me until he gave up and left. After a few minutes, I went back to the bar to see what had happened. The bartender told me the cops had come, and seeing that idiot yelling in front of the place, they made him leave or else go to the drunk tank. He poured me a beer on the house and said he wished he could have done what I did. He was just glad I got the guy out of there. The night only got better when the girl I knew still happened to be there, and she invited me Back to her place for the night. Good times.

        Reply
  2. James M. Tate

    This is one of the funniest things I’ve ever read. I have the flu and am watching, or, binging on CHEERS and the opening images are great but after a while become haunting, so this was perfect medicine.

    I wondered what you think of the big guy in the middle of the two snarky guys at the very end. He looks like the silent alpha male of the group. He and the two guys you detest are supposed to be the producers of the show I guess, and have those expressions of ownership of everything.

    I agree with the Tom Joad thing. To me he looks like Jack Kerouac in his latter heavy, heavy drinking years. He’s my favorite guy. Doesn’t look like a Know-It-All like Cliff but he represents Cliff by being an everyman I guess.

    The fat guy looks like Norm but wimpy. Kind of like… Norm Capote. I kinda wish you had the guy who was supposed to be Frasier in the later episodes; looks like Stacy Keach in HEMINGWAY. And the young Woody bartender.

    Anyhow this was great.

    Reply
  3. NENE

    The guy in the last frame to the right, looking half-soused, always reminded me of the artful dodger from oliver twist. Looks like circa 191O!

    Reply
  4. Sarcasmo

    Some say the last pic is from 1948? It looks earlier like 1890-1918.

    Who knows, it could be Whitey Bulger and his gang in the early days.

    Most of them in that pic, look like troublemaking assholes, and the guy on the left looks like a younger Whitey.

    Reply
  5. Mike

    Really…….lol……..at the end is jyst a few younger men having a good time thinking that they are on top of the world and there’s nothing wrong with that they’re not a holes they’re not stuck up there not gang members or maybe they are but in that picture what I see is just people drinking feeling good and having fun. And with the guy in the jacket is showing his legs sitting on a stool will one one-leg….go back to the pic and take a look.

    Reply
  6. Ted

    I’m looking for a print of f ‘rich unlcle pennybags’ from the cheers open No, can you help me find where to buy it?

    Reply
  7. May Ling Gallow

    The gentleman in the top hat with the somewhat large ears is a cousin of mine. His name was Johnny. He had a sister named Ruth who was known for giving great hugs. My grandma had pics of him through the years. I believe the most recent picture of him was from the 1960’s. He did eventually go blind for some reason.

    Reply
  8. The wiggs

    What about the guy in the top right corner with a hat pulled down over his face looking like a true gangster

    Reply
  9. Anna sloan

    I read on the trivia from watching this on amazon prime that the woody harelson picture is of a butcher. I also read a coment here about the guy under the table ob the kirsty alley picture of the man under the table…just wanted to say i noticed him aldo and he creeped me out.
    Coach was my favorite character. I grew up watching cheers with my grandpa on thursday nights in oregon. I was a child then and woody was the bartender i knew and he was a young guy so as a kid i related more to him because he looked childish and acted silly. I had no idea there was ever a diane or a coach or how frazier came to be on the show i only knew of rebecca. My grandpa told me that there had once been a character named coach and told me about diane. I didnt see diane till the last few episodes.
    Anyway as an adult i started watching from the begining and it was hard for me at first to accept the first characters…eho was this diane and eho was coach and where was woody…as i watched more i grew fondest of the coach character and appreciated woody harelsons portrayel of woody boyd..they made him innocent and sweet like coach instead of going in a different direstion. The love affair between diane and sam was more significant then the one he had with rebecca…diane was clearly the love of sams life.

    Reply
  10. Andrae Coleman

    Most of pics of the opening credits to Cheers were bars or speakeasies from the late 19th early 20th century. Woody’s pic is actually a group of lumberjacks. John’s pic is called Saturday Night At A Saloon, taken by Russell Lee in Craigsville, MN in 1930. The mustachioed man is Rudy Sohn’s Barbershop in Junction City, KS. Ted’s pic from the 6th-11th seasons is Toll Gate Saloon in Black Hawk, CO, taken in 1897.

    Reply
  11. Donna

    My burning question is: who is the woman in white walking past the entrance to Cheers in the very beginning of the opening? Was it one of the actors, like Rhea Pearlman or her sister/writer?

    Reply
  12. Clint

    The guy in the upper left-hand corner of The Madam picture is Gastly. He looks like evil incarnate. He has murder in his eyes and is lit up like a Halloween picture. You expect his face to melt and turn into a skull. As I watched as a kid in the 80s all the old timey pictures gave me the creeps. I’m binge-watching them here in 2020 and it still gives me goosebumps. Seriously check the guy out.

    Reply

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