A little over eight years ago, some of you made your first visit to that place where everybody knows your name - "Cheers."
Oh, not a lot of you were there. Most of you were watching "Too Close for Comfort" or "Simon & Simon." As a matter of fact, that first episode back in September 1982 finished dead last in the ratings.But over the years, most of you have stopped in to see the gang - Sam, Diane, Rebecca, Carla, Coach, Woody, Norm, Cliff, Frasier, Lilith and Robin. So many of you that "Cheers" finished No. 1 in the ratings for the yearlong 1989-90 season and has been at the top of the Nielsen heap for five of the seven weeks this season.
And America's favorite show celebrates its 200th episode tonight (8 p.m., Ch. 2) with an hourlong look at the last eight years.
Just reaching 200 episodes is a major milestone - "Cheers" is only the fifth prime-time show in television history to accomplish the feat. It's now the third-longest-running sitcom ever, behind "M.A.S.H." (255 episodes) and "All in the Family" (207).
At first, we tuned in to see the on-again-off-again romance between bar owner and former Red Sox pitcher Sam Malone (Ted Danson) and pseudo-intellectual barmaid Diane Chambers (Shelley Long).
But we ended up staying around to see nasty but fertile barmaid Carla (Rhea Perlman), confused Coach (Nicholas Colasanto), beer-guzzling Norm (George Wendt), annoying know-it-all Cliff (John Ratzenberger), insecure psychiatrist Frasier (Kelsey Grammar) and ice-queen Lilith (Beebe Neuwirth)
Tonight's retrospective, hosted by John McLaughlin, highlights all of them. And the entire cast - including Long - is on hand for a light-hearted discussion.
Not that keeping "Cheers" going has always been easy. Colasanto died in 1985. And Long decided to leave the show after the 1986-87 season.
But Woody Harrelson filled Colasanto's void as the younger but equally dim Woody Boyd, and Kirstie Alley's Rebecca allowed the show to move in new directions after the end of the five-year saga of Sam and Diane.
And that's a big reason the show has remained not only on the air but at the top of the ratings - while we're comfortable with the cast, there have been some changes over the years. Minor characters grew into major ones.
Cliff was only supposed to be around for five episodes. Frasier wasn't originally scheduled to last beyond part of one season. Lilith began as a one-shot appearance. And Robin Colcord was supposed to have departed long ago.
Tonight's episode is also a fascinating look at how things have changed over the years. And it's also perhaps the funniest retrospective ever - except for a few intentionally poignant scenes, every clip is a hoot.
Best of all, there's no end in sight - the show will be back next season for its 10th year.
- ELSEWHERE ON THE TUBE: Homer's a hit as a team mascot on The Simpsons (7 p.m., Ch. 13); CBS Entertainment President Jeff Sagansky appears on Doctor, Doctor (8:30 p.m., Ch. 5); "Mother Love" concludes on Mystery! (8 p.m., Ch. 7); Amanda Donahoe joins the cast of L.A. Law (9 p.m., Ch. 2); and PrimeTime Live (9 p.m., Ch. 4) visits Detroit.
- LOOKING TOWARD FRIDAY: Drug Store Cowboy (7 p.m., Showtime) makes its TV debut; Sam leaps into the life of a black man in 1965 Watts on Quantum Leap (7 p.m., Ch. 5); Larry and Balki are pursued by gangsters in the first of a two-part Perfect Strangers (8 p.m., Ch. 4); and Patrick Duffy's son, Padraic, joins the cast of Dallas (9 p.m., Ch. 5). - SDP