The creators of “Cheers” spoke to The Hollywood Reporter for the series’ 25th anniversary in 2018, and revealed that the star of NBC’s top-rated show for most of the 1980s was almost their lead bartender. According to Les Charles:
“In the early stages, Bill Cosby had a deal at NBC and was unattached to a project. So, he was offered to us as the bartender. But we had two rules. No known names and no [character’s] name as the title of the show.”
Thank god for those rules, but what if NBC had made a series order contingent on Cosby’s involvement? The comedian was one of the most popular stand-ups in America, but his film career had stalled after the box-office disappointment of “The Devil and Max Devlin.” As for television, he was a fixture of Saturday morning television via “Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids,” and popped up on Nickelodeon’s “Pinwheel” with his “Picture Pages” segment, but primetime success had eluded him since the cancellation of “I Spy” in 1968.
People loved Cosby, so it was just a matter of finding the right project to exploit his affable persona. But Sam Malone? A retired baseball player and recovering alcoholic who caddishly pursues one of his barmaids? He was wrong for the role then in terms of acting type, but years later, we’d discover that he would’ve been disastrous casting for truly heinous reasons.