Last Updated on January 26, 2024
A local Boston sitcom from 1979 called Park Street Under portrayed a bar in Boston and a cast of characters similar to the show Cheers. The first show aired on Boston’s WCVB-TV television station (known colloquially as “Channel 5”) from 1979 to 1980. The latter show “Cheers” premiered on NBC in 1982 and ran for eleven seasons, becoming one of the most successful TV shows of all time. The head writer of Park Street Under wrote that he believed Cheers to be “teeth-gnashingly similar” to his local creation.
For decades, some Bostonians have known about Park Street Under, but records of the show’s existence are scarce. Park Street Under, filmed using local actors, starred comedian Steve Sweeney as the bartender. While Park Street Under became the stuff of obscure Beantown trivia, the Cheers universe is still going strong with a recent Paramount reboot of the show Frasier, which was spun off from Cheers.
“Each episode focused on the fables and foibles of the characters who frequented a tavern called Park Street Under, supposedly located in a cellar near the so-named MBTA station. The principals included the bartender-owner, an ex-athlete who once had a drinking problem, a sharp blonde waitress with a photographic memory, an absent-minded cook, a ditsy helper and an assortment of funny customers. Not to mention stories told with a Boston accent,” Arnie Resiman wrote in his revelatory essay “Where Everybody Borrows Your Name” for The Vineyard Gazette in 2016. Reisman, a regular guest on the NPR word quiz game show “Says You!,” passed away in 2021. Reisman described himself in his essay as “the head writer for all 36 episodes” of Park Street Under.
“Sound familiar? Two years after our show went off the air, Cheers reared its head. Ever see the pilot of NBC’s hit series? If you didn’t, but saw the pilot of Park Street Under, you didn’t miss much. They were teeth-gnashingly similar,” Reisman wrote.
“A fan of Park Street Under who also happened to be a friend at NBC saw the Cheers pilot and gagged. He smuggled out a video copy and sent it to me. I watched, gulped and called Robert Bennett, WCVB’s enterprising president at the time. As he watched the Cheers show with a few of us employees, I saw his complexion blend into his maroon tie. I saw many things dance through his mind. Doubt was not one of them,” Reisman wrote.
“After teeth gnashing usually comes saber rattling or lawsuit threatening. But in TV you can’t go very far with such antics. Not if you want to stay in TV. If your first step is hiring a lawyer, your second step is looking for another job. This is a business that really hates a troublemaker. Nobody will hear or read any great idea unless one agrees, for all practical purposes, to disown it. You have to sign a disclaimer saying you will not sue if something smacking of your idea ends up on TV without you. In other words, you must give them the right to rip you off. Where appropriation is appropriate, there are no lawsuits,” Reisman wrote.
“So much for one of my forays into TV — where everybody knows your name, and if you’re not looking someone may even borrow it for a while, just long enough to make a few bucks,” Reisman wrote.
Television history is littered with broken dreams.
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