Where everybody knows your name: Updike on Cheers?

John Updike never made a personal appearance on the long-running CBS-TV series Cheers, but the two-time Pulitzer Prizewinner was referenced several times in a Season One episode.

Cheers: The Complete Series Blu-ray was released on April 25, 2023, and as fans re-watched one of TV’s smartest sitcoms they heard Updike’s name mentioned several times in Episode 12: “The Spy Who Came in for a Cold One,” which aired Dec. 16, 1982. Earlier that year, in April, Updike had been announced as winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, honored for Rabbit Is Rich. In this episode, an eccentric (guest star Ellis Rabb, pictured below) visiting Cheers first pretends to be a spy, and then a writer. Thinking the man a literary prodigy, intellectual (read: snobbish) waitress Diane rushes to the phone to call someone in the publishing industry that she knows, and we get the following one-sided phone conversation:

“Yes. May I speak to him?

This is Diane Chambers.

He’s chatting with John Updike?

Well, interrupt.

No, I’m not kidding. I have something that makes Updike seem like small pommes de terre.”

Cheers was set in a bar near Boston Common that was run by former Red Sox pitcher Sam Malone (Ted Danson), whose baseball career had been derailed by alcoholism. With a great ensemble first-season cast that featured Shelley Long, Nicholas Colasanto, George Wendt, and John Ratzenberger, Cheers quickly grew on fans.

Cheers was created by James Burrows, Glen Charles, and Les Charles. Directed by Burrows, it was written mostly by the trio—though this particular episode was penned by David Lloyd.

Even with turnover in key roles, Cheers won 28 Primetime Emmys over its 11-year run and finished as a Top-10 TV show for eight of those years.

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