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December 11, 2012

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Oz

I first saw this episode in 2011 and was shocked when Sam actually hit Diane in the face. Was the shock value less during the original airing? Have norms changed that much?

Robert David Sullivan

No, it was shocking in 1984. It certainly wasn't done on other sitcoms. But I think it was true to the characters and situation, and it's important that Diane sees the violence as a sign to leave Sam. It would have been uncomfortable, even offensive, to end the episode on a happy note after that.

I'm not sure that a broadcast network would allow this kind of scene today, but at the time NBC was desperate and giving a lot of leeway to prestige shows like "Cheers," which wasn't yet a big hit. I can see a show like "30 Rock" doing a more slapsticky and cartoonish version of the fight, but realistic comedies aren't very big now.

Guy Kipp

The A.V. Club's discussion of this episode mentions how Christopher Lloyd's line about "fondly remembering my bout with jaundice" didn't get one laugh from the audience, and Shelley Long saved it with a probable ad libbed chuckle.
I think the line didn't get a laugh because it came from an unfamiliar character. The same line, coming from a regular like Norm or Carla (which would be completely plausible) would be greeted with laughter.
As for the episode, there's no question it's powerful and unusually tense and dramatic for a series that rarely delved into pathos. But for me, "Cheers," which is, at worst, one of the three greatest sitcoms of all-time, would be better represented this high on the list by a funnier episode, like the Frasier/Sam Good Boy/Bad Boy episode, which might be the most uproarious half-hour the series ever produced.

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