Never mind where Jimmy Hoffa’s body is buried.
Forget who killed Kennedy.
The true mystery of our time is this: What the heck happened in the final episode of “Cheers”?
At least that’s the way it seemed after we ran a wire service story a few weeks ago about the most memorable finales in television history.
“One For the Road,” the closing “Cheers” on May 20, 1993, made the list, with this description: “Diane returns to have one last ill-fated fling with Sam. And then, after selling the bar, Sam, now all alone, closes up for good, but not before a moment of quiet reflection.”
Which led to this response from a reader we’ll call Blue-Eyed Bear (since that happens to be his e-mail address), the self-described “biggest ‘Cheers’ fan in the world”:
“Sam did not sell the bar, nor did he close it for good. At the end, Norm made Sam realize that his bar was his number one love in life. The episode ended leading the viewer to believe that the bar would continue just as it had been.”
Fair enough. Since the show was seen by, oh, 150 million people, we didn’t think we’d have too much trouble getting to the bottom of this one.
We started out – where else? – on the Internet. And like a lot of Internet searches, it yielded mixed results.
Proclaimed the All-Movie Guide: “Once again, Sam proposed; once again, Diane accepted; and once again, the marriage never came off, prompting Sam to close Cheers permanently.”
But according to TV.com, after their split, “Sam returns to the bar to discuss the future with the gang. He realizes he cannot leave his one true love – Cheers.”
The more we surfed the Web, the muddier the waters got. So we headed for a more traditional font of knowledge: the public library. There, inside its ink-and-paper realm, the truth surely would lie.
Guess again. After scouring “The Complete Directory to Prime Time Network TV Shows,” “Encyclopedia of American Television” and “The Dictionary of Teleliteracy” – each with its own contradictory take on the episode’s events – we were more confused than before.
There was only one thing left to do: go to the tape.
We took Blue-Eyed Bear up on his gracious offer of a copy. As we popped it into the VCR, we were a bit apprehensive. Like so many great works of art, would this one prove open to interpretation, its meaning left to the eye of the beholder?
Nah. As it turned out, there was no mention whatsoever of the bar being sold, or closing for good. Norm made his speech, and Sam accepted his fate, just like Blue-Eyed Bear had said.
We were a bit disappointed, though, that the tape didn’t include the “Tonight Show” broadcast that followed – featuring a cast celebration from the real-life Boston bar that inspired the show, in which they threw spitballs and joined in an off-key rendition of the theme song.
Why, they were drunk – drunk as skunks!
Or were they?
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