When “Cheers” premiered on September 30, 1982, at 9:00 PM, it was positioned as the lead-in to “Taxi,” making its debut on NBC after four seasons on ABC, for NBC’s Thursday night “Must See TV” programming block. Considering ABC canceled “Taxi” due to dwindling ratings, being the show to air before that season premiere was not the ideal spot for “Cheers” to be in. It didn’t help that, at the time, NBC was firmly in last place amongst the three networks. The week of both shows’ airings, there were 63 programs played in primetime. The fifth season premiere of “Taxi” ranked 56 that week, and “Cheers” entered the world at 60 with a 9.6 rating, estimating it at a bit below 8 million households. While people in today’s TV landscape would kill for that number, that was abysmal in 1982.
The ratings never got much better, and identifying “Taxi” as a major issue in its “Must See TV” program, NBC punted the show to Saturdays at 9:30 PM, signaling an imminent death. “Cheers” was moved into the vacated spot, and the ratings improved, if ever so slightly. Instead of consistently ranking in the 50s and 60s like the first half of the season, it started appearing in the 40s regularly, earning its best placement at 36 with a 14.7 rating for the tremendous season finale. Ordinarily, if that is as high as your show is going to get in the ratings, your show is going to end. For context, the show that one spot ahead in the ratings that week was “Ace Crawford, Private Eye,” a Tim Conway-led detective parody show on CBS. They only aired five episodes.
So, how was “Cheers” able to escape the chopping block? It was too good.