Cheers is one of the longest running and most awarded series in television history. In the US, at least, the Cheers logo and opening titles are virtually universal. Almost anyone who grew up with a TV in the 1980s would be familiar with the 60-second sequence, making it one of the most recognizable examples of 20th century typography.
The logo and sequence were created by Castle/Bryant/Johnsen, Inc., a 3-person LA studio (Jim Castle, Bruce Bryant and Carol Johnsen) who went on to design titles for dozens of other TV series. Their Cheers logo, which doubled as the identity for both the series and the fictional bar where the sitcom takes place, became part of the commercial juggernaut, branding countless souvenirs and other merchandise. Later, the Bull & Finch Pub, a real-life Boston bar that inspired the set, even took on the Cheers name and logo.
The logo is derived from two typefaces, Candice and Flamenco Inline, two Letraset designs that reflect the 1970s’ obsession with ornate Victorian and Art Nouveau styles. The designers married the flamboyant capital ‘C’ from Candice with Flamenco’s lively lowercase, completing the painterly look with an arched baseline and “sports swash”. These showy underline strokes were common in baseball team logos (lead character Sam is a former player) but they were also standard elements in early commercial emblems of all sorts. Of course, nearly all these vintage marks were hand lettered, not made from fonts. But the modifications and finish of the Cheers logo successfully emulates the kind of hand lettered sign that would grace an old-timey bar.
For the Emmy award-winning title sequence, Castle/Bryant/Johnsen departed from the standard sitcom formula of introducing the cast by showing them in corny poses or scenes from the series. Instead, they collected archival illustrations and photographs of bar life, culled from books, private collections, and historical societies. They hand-tinted the images and paired them with typography inspired by a turn-of-the-century aesthetic. The look is old tavern — but think Tiffany lamps and Chesterfield sofas, not spurs and six-shooters. The vintage imagery is a tribute to the long history of the fictional bar where the series is set. The sign outside Cheers says the bar was established in 1895 (though at least two episodes indicate that this date was made up by the bar’s ownership).
The opening titles are set in Cabaret. Like Candice, Cabaret was designed by Alan Meeks, a designer who is mostly unknown outside the deepest type circles, but who is responsible for over 30 Letraset font families, many of which are updated takes on vintage display styles. Castle/Bryant/Johnsen borrowed the lined gradient fill of Cabernet to complete the Cheers logo.
According to Bryant, “The network hated it. They wanted to see the cast, not something that represented the cast.” But the show creators’ won out, and the style of the opening titles never changed throughout the series’ 11 year run from 1982 to 1993. The only alterations made were to accommodate cast member changes. For years I was under the impression (and I’m certainly not the only one) that each image was meant to represent specific characters from the show, as the people pictured sometimes seemed to correspond to the names in the titles. But now I’m sure the association is looser than that, at least for the series’ first season.
The arrangement of the names in the frame, though, is quite intentional. Paraphrasing Chris W. on The Straight Dope:
“Face time” was actually very important in the early days of the series. The story goes that Ted Danson and Shelley Long both considered themselves the star of the series and neither wanted to receive second billing. The unique placement of their names (lower left corner, upper right corner) allows both to be considered top billing. If you read from left to right, Ted Danson is the star. However, if you read from top to bottom, Shelley Long is the star.
The final credit, listing the show’s creators, has always stuck with me. It features a group of jolly/drunken young men in formal wear, raising their glasses in a toast. One particularly self-satisified fellow presents his bowler and beer glass at a jaunty angle.
Fast forward to 2013. This weekend, at a costume contest in Philadephia, a guy named Brett A. Bumgarner wore what could be safely deemed the year’s best Halloween getup. That’s not only this biased typographer’s view, but also that of the judge at the party who awarded Bumgarner “Most Clever Costume”. Wearing the same garb and grin as the afore-mentioned fellow from the Cheers titles, Bumgarner holds a beer glass that is attached to a piece of scrap plastic with the strongest epoxy he could find at a hardware store.
Bumgarner, a PhD candidate at the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg School for Communication, tells me he is not a designer and hasn’t done much painting or lettering. In fact, he had to buy a paintbrush to do the title card because he didn’t own one. That’s some impressive ingenuity and execution for a novice. So much so, that we’re willing to overlook the fact that, in the costume’s first showing, his position, beer hand, and hat tilt were reversed from the source. He has since corrected the error. →
Postscript: Cheers’ additional opening credits and end titles are set in Cooper Black, a favorite TV title fallback in the 1970s–80s. It vaguely matches the flavor of Cabaret without the decorative fill. If the titles were made today, the designers might pick Kabarett, URW’s solid version of Cabaret.