GQ: Growing up, how much time did you spend on the Cheers set?
Christopher Lloyd: I was in college by the time the show was on, so I never went to a filming. But I would drop by the set every once in a while. Watching Ted Danson and George Wendt and John Ratzenberger throw footballs and shoot bottle-rockets in the little courtyard made me think, "You guys get to [crack] jokes for a living, and in your downtime, act like ridiculous frat characters? This sounds like the greatest thing ever."
GQ: Did you and your dad talk about his Cheers experience?
Christopher Lloyd: We talked shop, as one does at any dinner table. He tended to like the bigger, broader episodes. He wrote Woody's wedding episode, which was one long, continuous, farcical scene. They had to build this giant kitchen and wedding set on a separate soundstage, then have the entire audience get on buses and move from one soundstage to another, so that they could see the second half of the show. Given the choice between a heartfelt Sam-and-Diane episode, or an episode that was big and bouncy and ridiculous and dazzling in its complexity, he would always choose the second kind.
GQ: What did you learn when you studied Cheers episodes?
Christopher Lloyd: From a craft standpoint, I marvel that they never left the bar in the entire first season. The writers had to tell stories that didn't make the audience ask, "How do these people have so much time to be in a bar all the time?" I think that was the genius of that show—that you loved being in their company, and you never asked those questions. You never asked why nobody ever paid for a beer. You went with it, because the spirit of the show was so great. And the characters weren't mean. So, personally, I think I took that forward in my career: Rather than write something where everybody's sarcastic and snarky and mean-spirited, it's better to write something where the audience can be amused by the characters, but also just genuinely enjoy their company.
GQ: Despite infamously low ratings in its first season, NBC kept Cheers on the air, allowing it to grow into a hit. Is there any chance that could happen in today?
Christopher Lloyd: There's just too much competition. In the old days, there were such enormous audiences for the big hits that you could get away with shows trickling along, because the other shows were making enough money. But now that the audiences are down so low, for something that's really tanking, they give you four weeks, maybe six. Then they're going to pop in something they have waiting in the wings. Even [with] a show like Arrested Development, everyone felt, "Oh, it's going to be Cheers again. It just needs to find its audience." And it never did. I think it's very unlikely you'd find yourself in that situation [now]. That era's gone.