Getting Reitman And Mueller On An Episode Of 'Cheers' Was Actually Pretty Easy
The popular, 1980s sitcom Cheers was an homage to the bonds formed in neighborhood bars. Led by an all-star cast, including Ted Danson, Rhea Perlman and Woody Harrelson, the show was such a hit that dozens of celebrities would appear as guest stars — cast either in a fictional role or as themselves.
On May 4, 1989, two Milwaukee celebrities — Bob Reitman and Gene Mueller, hosts of the popular WKTI morning show Reitman and Mueller — were featured as barflies on Cheers.
For this week’s Bubbler Talk, listener Julie Roubik wants to know how this came about.
“Well, I had religiously listened to WKTI and Reitman and Mueller all the way through middle and high school, and Cheers was part of my Thursday night lineup,” Julie recalls. “I remember hearing a story about how they got invited to be barflies. So a friend of mine and I actually went downtown to a hotel to a watch party, when that episode aired.”
The watch party was at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in downtown Milwaukee. And while thousands of people showed up there to see Reitman and Mueller on screen for a few gleeful moments, over 30 million viewers were watching the show at home.
“We were all gathered around a bar watching TVs, and when they showed Reitman and Miller sitting at the bar, everybody cheered and got really excited. It was a lot of fun; it was like hometown celebrities,” Julie says.
So how did these two hometown celebrities make it onto one of the biggest shows of the decade?
Well, we turned to Gino Salomone, who was a WKTI producer and remembers being inspired by the actor Al Rosen — one of the show’s most iconic barflies.
“You know, I didn’t intend to get them on Cheers, it was strange how it happened. It was the end of 1988, and I would notice this character actor, Al Rosen, who was in a lot of the scenes. He was always sitting in the background at the bar, and once in a while he’d have a great line,” Gino explains.
“I wrote the producers of Cheers and I said, ‘I’d love to honor Al and make it Al Rosen Day in Milwaukee, and bring him into Milwaukee for an appearance,’” he continues.
Gino actually made Al Rosen Day happen in Milwaukee, and it was a hit.
Here’s how Bob Reitman remembers “Al’s Night”: “He became sort of a lovable character. So we set that up and Al came to town. We had a big party, and he had never had anything like that before. He was a really interesting man.”
After this warm welcome for one of the show’s beloved characters, Gino thought he’d try something else… just on a whim.
“They called me back, and I was speaking with them on the phone and I said, ‘To really make it work, I would love it if I could get my morning show as background, or maybe even sitting at the bar.' Without even blinking, they said, ‘That’s no problem.’ So I thought to myself, it was that easy? But yes, it was that easy,” Gino explains.
And just like that, Reitman and Mueller were heading to Cheers. After flying to Hollywood and settling in at Paramount Studios, the pair of Milwaukee disc jockeys found their seats at the bar.
Here’s Reitman: “They were running over the script, and when the director realized who we were — that we were the guys who brought Al to Milwaukee, he said, ‘I want the camera to linger on them for just a little longer.’ So when you see the show, you’ll see the camera pan right across us. I knew the camera was coming over, so Mueller and I had glasses of beer, and we went, ‘Cheers!’ and we toasted each other. That’s how it happened. We got our little moment there, and, basically, we’ll be that young forever.”
And even though we know the story behind that moment of immortality, Bubbler Talk question asker Julie Roubik still can’t believe it was that easy.
“It’s fascinating, I had no idea it was just a simple phone call,” she says. “I guess I kind of remember a little bit how Reitman and Mueller would talk about the non-major character barflies. Just goes to show you that there’s no such thing as a small part.”
When I asked Reitman if appearing on Cheers was a sign that he had truly made it in radio, he had this to say: “Oh, it was always about music and poetry. But the chance to be on a show of that quality? Now that’s luck. So we’ve been lucky, we’ve been lucky.”
And so with a little ambition, and a lot of luck, Reitman and Mueller could return to Milwaukee, the town where everyone knows their names.
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