For George Wendt's recent Walt Disney World appearance, the theme park and studio constructed a mini-"Cheers" set.
All this saloon scenery was set up to make the roly-poly actor, who plays beer-guzzling Norm Peterson on NBC's eight-season hit, feel right at home. On a bar stool, of course.But the pretzels and beer were fake - plastic props actually. And when Wendt come out on stage he blew up his portly face like a balloon as he picked up the stein for a toast.
"Hey, everything's glued!" he said of the solid beer inside the mug and dish of pretend pretzels.
Welcome to Disney, where all is fake, Norm.
Later, meeting with fans outdoors at the Hollywood Theater of the Stars, Wendt told onlookers he has been to the Boston bar, the Bull & Finch Pub, that "Cheers" is based on. He added the "Cheers" cast will even spend a few on-location days there this fall.
"But I don't like to think of it as the real `Cheers' bar," said Wendt. "I think of it as the bar where the owner made a billion dollars off of our show."
Then, talking about his plum Norm role, Wendt said, "The writers do all the work. We (the cast) just goof around."
But Wendt, relaxing during a half-hour interview, hardly gave the impression that he's a goof-off. In fact, he said he's quite concerned about playing a TV character who sets a bad example.
Wendt doesn't endorse Norm's behavior. Sitting in a pub all day, he said, is "not a pretty picture."
"Groups such as MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving) tell us we're promoting drinking," he said. "But I think `Cheers' shows responsible drinking. If anything, Norm is an indictment of what hanging out in a bar can do for you. He has a miserable relationship with his wife, he can't hold a job and he's overweight."
It was rather startling to hear Wendt so reflective about his barfly Norm character, who cracks jokes with a gifted ensemble cast led by Ted Danson (as bartender Sam Malone) and Kirstie Alley (as the manager, Rebecca Howe).
Not that Wendt was serious all the time he played at Disney. The man who has earned six Emmy nominations for his role on "Cheers" quipped, for instance, that his performance on the sitcom takes "research, research, research. But then I'm a consummate actor that way."
"Cheers," which started its new season last month, ended last season as television's No. 3-rated program, and captured an Emmy in 1989 as outstanding comedy series, a rare feat for such a vintage program.
As for "Cheers" parallels with his real life, Wendt, 40, said he doesn't go to a neighborhood hangout to down a few brews. Besides, he thinks the tavern shown on Cheers is "too brightly lit" for a neighborhood bar. And he also finds it odd that Cheers customers appear to be there all day long.
One thing Wendt has in common with Norm is a love of sports. The actor grew up on the south side of Chicago, so his favorite teams are the White Sox, the Bears and the Blackhawks. Plus, he's an avid fan of Notre Dame teams, where he dropped out as a student. (He did, however, earn a degree in economics from Rockhurst College in Kansas City.)
So what's up for Norm in '90? His curly hair wet with perspiration from appearing in a Disney parade, Wendt revealed that the character loses his financial interest in a restaurant, the Hungry Heifer, this season.
The Cheers crew is also dealing with the arrest and sentencing on cocaine charges of Kelsey Grammer, who plays the deadpan psychiatrist Dr. Frasier Crane. Wendt said that Grammer has been on the Paramount set for the first four episodes of the new season, but adds: "He's under house arrest now, allowed to only go out to work. He (Grammer) has a great attitude about it, though. If our rehearsing runs over, he kids the writers that he has to be home by midnight."
When he's not downing a few on Cheers, Wendt is pursuing fairly literate projects, such as a satiric musical revue he produced with his wife, Bernadette Birkett, who played Jackie Schumaker on the canceled "It's The Garry Shandling's Show."
Wendt's work recently involved the role of Oblomov, a character in 19th century Russian literature, for which he traveled to Moscow for a BBC TV drama.
He's also been in his share of silly movies, including "Fletch," and the bomb horror film "House," but his latest movie, which will be released this Christmas, is about the relevant issue of censorship. Starring Robert DeNiro, the film is tentatively titled "Guilty By Suspicion."
But Wendt's meat-and-potatoes job is Norm. On the set, he doesn't have to worry about swilling suds because the brew used is of the non-alcoholic variety.
"I used to drink it like a real trouper the first year," he said of the beverage that flows on tap at "Cheers."
Now, he says, he sips the pretend stuff, which is given its lasting foam by adding salt. "It tastes disgusting."