Cheers restored for a new generation of laughs
| Cheers has remained popular in worldwide syndication. Pictured is Ted Danson who played Sam Malone. (PHOTOS: ©PARAMOUNT PICTURES)|
It probably never occurred to Les Charles and James Burrows that they were creating a classic show for the ages when they produced the first episode of Cheers in 1982. The series was produced in multi-camera film format on a sound stage at Paramount Pictures. It ran on the NBC Television Network for 12 years with a large and loyal base of fans right up to the end. Cheers has subsequently remained popular in worldwide syndication.
In a 1985 interview, Burrows said Cheers was produced on 35mm film because the producers and studio wanted the series to look and feel like a movie every week. They gave cinematographer John Finger creative licence to create production values.
| Shelly Long who played Diane Chambers in Cheers. (PHOTOS: ©PARAMOUNT PICTURES)|
The series is one of more than 90 situation comedies in the Paramount Television library. It is among the first classic series the studio has tabbed for restoration and re-mastering in HD format.
Phil Murphy, senior vice president, Operations, Television Group, Paramount Pictures, reports that the first 90 episodes of Cheers were posted on film all the way through to cut negative. During the show's fifth season, it was edited in a video suite, and the original camera negative was archived.
"No one is a soothsayer," Murphy says. "When a series starts, nobody can predict its longevity."
Murphy says Paramount is digging into 2,600 cartons of negative that have been stored in an archival (40 degrees Fahrenheit, 25 percent relative humidity) vault in Pennsylvania. The shots from the camera negative that made the original edit are being identified, cut and conformed. RGB in Los Angeles, uses the cut negative to make color-timed interpositives that are used to make universal high-definition digital masters for distributing the series in all video formats, including HDTV, PAL and NTSC formats. "The one constant to this is the resolution that's captured on the original film," Murphy says. "We're depending on the resolution and archival stability of the Cheers negative."
Murphy is careful about using the word restoration, but he says it applies here. "Many people abuse that term," he says. "We're not just cutting the negative, timing and converting it to an HD master--we are also using digital technology to remove dirt and other artifacts. Because of advances in telecine and TV display technology, Cheers is going to look even better today than it did originally, and even then it was a top-rated program with very good production values."
Murphy says that the proliferation of cable and satellite TV channels, DVD and other home video systems is creating a demand for proven content. Paramount Television is also restoring and re-mastering The Love Boat, another popular series.
"Telecine and TV display technology have improved vastly during the past 15 years," he says. "We are seeing subtleties and details that never made it to the TV screen when the show originally aired. We are recapturing from the film many nuances that older TV systems couldn't deliver. That was what drove us to breathe new life into this classic television series. The storylines, characters and production values are as fresh today as they were when the show originally aired."
Murphy notes that the vast majority of the television series in the library were produced on 35mm film, and the original negative has been stored for posterity, ensuring that it is HD-compatible.
Murphy says that there is a technology cycle that helps guide these decisions. "When we transfer a TV series to HD format, we don't consider it an archival copy of the original film because chances are that in four or five years there will be other technological leaps forward. There will be higher expectations. Each time we think it couldn't possibly get any better, someone makes it better."