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Norm Peterson

Hillary Norman "Norm" Peterson is a character on the American television show Cheers, portrayed by George Wendt. Norm's real first name was revealed to be Hillary, named after his grandfather.[1]

Norm appeared in all 275 episodes of Cheers between 1982 1993 (the only patron to do so), and was initially the only customer featured in the main cast (to be later joined by Cliff Clavin, Frasier Crane, and Lilith Sternin).

Norm also made one guest appearance each in the three other sitcoms known to be set in the Cheers universe: the Frasier episode "Cheerful Goodbyes" and the Wings episode "The Story of Joe". He also appeared on the spinoff The Tortellis.


Casting and Creation


In the original script of the 1982 pilot, "Give Me a Ring Sometime", there were no Norm Peterson (contrary to beliefs that Norm is an original character) and Cliff Clavin. George Wendt and John Ratzenberger originally auditioned for the same role, George, and Wendt was hired for that role.[2][3] George was Diane Chambers's first customer as a waitress, appeared at the end of this episode, could not bear Diane's long explanation of Diane's becoming a waitress, and had only one line consisting of only one word: "Beer!"[2] The writers revised the script, and Wendt's role, George, expanded and then evolved into Norm Peterson as the first onscreen customer to enter the bar and then "[badgering] Diane rather than the other way around".[4] Meanwhile, when the role with only one word ("Beer!") was already taken, Ratzenberger suggested to the producers that a know-it-all character must be added, and that suggestion led to the addition of the character Cliff Clavin.[3]

Norm's entrances

Norm's entrance into the bar is a running gag on Cheers, typically beginning with a welcome by the bar crowd yelling his name (which later included the filming audience), usually followed by a comment from Norm. There are two different examples of Norm's typical entrance: below text and the audio clip.

Norm enters
Norm: Afternoon, everybody!
Customers: NORM!
Woody: Hey, Mr. Peterson, what do you say to a cold one?
Norm: See you later, Vera. I'll be at Cheers.

Norm is also greeted by everyone at Gary's Olde Towne Tavern (Cheers' rival bar) with the customary "Norm!" shout in Bar Wars VI (season 10, episode 23). When Sam asks why the people at Gary's know him by name, Norm replies that he goes there on Christmas when Cheers is closed.

"Norm" is actually the first word of Frederick Sternin Crane (son of Frasier and Lilith). (This occurs as Lilith expresses concern over the effect of bringing baby Frederick to the bar, which Frasier disputes. When Norm enters and greets the bar, everyone is surprised to hear a little voice call out, "Norm!". Lilith, previously distraught that Frederick was not yet talking, joyously believes he said "Mom!". A beaming Frasier knows the truth but chooses not to destroy his wife's happiness.)

Fictional biography

Prior to the show, Norm was born in Chicago, and moved to Boston to become an accountant,[5] although he was a childhood friend of Cliff Clavin, and is a lifelong Boston Celtics fan who went to Boston Garden as a child.[6] Norm previously served in the United States Coast Guard. He loses his job in an accounting firm by defending Diane from his boss,[7] and after struggling for few years as an independent accountant, eventually becomes a housepainter. Norm was also revealed to be an accomplished interior decorator and beer taster, capable of spotting a bad vat in a factory by drinking a single bottle.

Ironically, even when unemployed, Norm is the bar's best customer. A running gag throughout the series are the numerous jokes made about the enormous size of Norm's tab at Cheers (e.g., several large binders are shown as being just a portion of it in the episode Home Malone (season 9, episode 25), when Woody's rich, naive girlfriend Kelly waitresses at Cheers to gain "real-life experience", Norm convinces her that the tab is a record of the beers for which he has already paid, and for each new beer a mark should be erased and in the finale Sam has to have his total tab for the series calculated by NASA). In the few instances when Norm drinks at another bar, he is immediately kicked out because the bartenders demand an immediate cash payment instead of a tab.

Norm's best friend is postman and fellow barfly Cliff Clavin, who calls him "Normy", which when pronounced in Cliff's Boston accent, sounds like "Nommy" (rhyming with "Mommy"). Norm has a tattoo on his rear of an American flag which reads "God Bless the U.S. Postal Service" which he got after a mix up at a tattoo parlor he and Cliff visited after a night drinking cocktails made by Carla at Cheers.

Norm has a wife named Vera who is often mentioned but her face is never seen. When she is finally shown, her face is covered in pie thrown by Diane (season 5, episode 9 Thanksgiving Orphans), and the actress is uncredited. The only other times she is seen, viewers can see only her legs and at one time her waving from a car which drives past cheers on her and Norm's 15th wedding anniversary. Vera is the brunt of many of Norm's jokes, but on many occasions, Norm has professed secretly an undying love for his wife, or defended her honor. Norm and Vera separated during the second season of Cheers but reconciled in the last episode of the season, ironically contrasting the romance between Sam and Diane, who enjoyed a romance then bitterly broke up in that last episode. When Vera got a job at Melville's however, he was deeply disturbed by her proximity to him during his bar time. Vera was played by George Wendt's real-life wife, Bernadette Birkett.

In the Cheers episode It's a Wonderful Wife (season 9, episode 20) Vera tells Rebecca off-camera that Norm's real first name is Hillary. He explains that he was named after his grandfather who "once killed a man for laughing at him". Cliff asks if his grandfather really killed a man for laughing at his first name, and Norm replies, "Not exactly he was a surgeon and he sort of botched an operation."

When not sipping beer at Cheers, Norm satisfies his hunger at an eatery called The Hungry Heifer, whose emblem is a young cow smacking her chops. The customers there greet him just the same as the Cheers patrons do. He knows the waitresses by name, and usually orders a meal called a Feeding Frenzy, a monstrous supply of corn and beef. He denigrated the eatery when he first visited it in season 2, but when the place was being shut down in season 9, he insinuates it was an important place to him throughout his life and knew the owner since at latest his college years. Corrine (played by Doris Grau), who worked at Cheers occasionally as a temp waitress, was a server at The Hungry Heifer, and said the waitstaff knew Norm as "the guy who comes back".

Other appearances

George Wendt guest starred as Norm Peterson on St. Elsewhere, Cheers first spinoff The Tortellis, Wings, and The Simpsons episode "Fear of Flying", which also guest starred Ted Danson, Rhea Perlman, Woody Harrelson, and John Ratzenberger as their respective characters. Years after Cheers ended, Wendt played Norm in a 2002 episode of its spinoff Frasier, where he got along famously with Martin Crane. (Martin: "Wow, that's some mug callus you've got there." Norm: "Judging from your grip, I'd say you were a can man.")[8] Also, in the first part of a two-part episode on Frasier entitled "Three Dates and a Breakup," Frasier calls Norm to brag that he has three dates for the weekend. Frasier specifically says "Norm Peterson," though Norm is not actually seen or heard. Norm was most recently seen in animated form, voiced by Wendt, on Family Guy in the 2009 episode "Three Kings".

Cultural references

In The Simpsons episode "Flaming Moe's", Barney Gumble walks into the newly successful and popular Moe's Tavern to be greeted with the friendly cry of "Barney!", which satirizes Norm's entrance[9][10] When a bartender similar to Woody Boyd asks him how he is doing, Barney burps in response.


In 1993, plaintiffs George Wendt and John Ratzenberger filed lawsuit on defendant Host International, Inc., on account of infringing copyrights and trademarks and of violating actors' personality rights. In this court case, the company produced two robotic toys (one a "heavyset" and other a postal worker) that the actors claimed may resemble Norm Peterson and Cliff Clavin. The case was twice rejected by "a federal judge in California". In one hearing, before the case, the judge ruled that the defendant did not violate copyrights because Paramount Pictures already granted it license to produce Cheers-based themes and decors for mostly airport bars. In another, the judge ruled that these toys do not resemble these characters.[11]

In 1997, however, "the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals twice reinstated" the case, titled Wendt v. Host International, Inc.[12] In one hearing, it ruled that the "federal copyright law" does not triumph the California Celebrities Rights Act. In another, the 9th Circuit ordered a jury trial on the basis of publicity rights.[11] The case resulted an undisclosed settlement in 2001 given to the actors.[13]


  1. a b Wendt, p. 112.
  2. a b Wendt, pp. 113 114. John Ratzenberger auditioned for the role George, as well.
  3. Wendt, p. 113.
  4. "Knights of the Scimitar"
  5. "Where Have All The Floorboards Gone?"
  6. "Friends, Romans and Accountants"
  7. a b
  8. No. 96-55243.

  • Wendt, George. Drinking with George. New York: Simon Spotlight Entertainment, 2009. Print. ISBN 978-1-4391-4958-4.

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