Clifford C. Clavin, Jr. (born 1947 or 1949), is a fictional character on the American television show Cheers co-created (and played) by John Ratzenberger. A postal worker, he is the bar's know-it-all and was a contestant on the game show Jeopardy! Cliff was not originally scripted in the series' pilot episode, "Give Me a Ring Sometime", but the producers decided to add a know-it-all character and Ratzenberger helped flesh it out. The actor made guest appearances as Cliff on The Tortellis, St. Elsewhere, Wings and Frasier.
from "Please Mr. Postman" (episode 158, 1989)
|First appearance||Cheers: |
"Give Me a Ring Sometime"
(season 1, episode 1)
|Last appearance||Frasier: |
(season 9, episode 21)
|Portrayed by||John Ratzenberger|
|Family||Esther Clavin (mother)|
Cliff Clavin, Sr. (father)
The original script for the 1982 pilot, "Give Me a Ring Sometime", did not include Norm Peterson or Cliff Clavin. George Wendt and John Ratzenberger originally auditioned for a minor character, George, and George Wendt was hired for that role. George was Diane Chambers' first customer, had one line (consisting of the order, "Beer!") and was intended for only one episode.
Since Wendt was cast as George (who evolved into Norm Peterson), Ratzenberger suggested to the producers that a know-it-all character should be added; this led to the creation of Cliff Clavin. Ratzenberger based his role on a police officer in his hometown of Bridgeport, Connecticut. Cliff was originally a security guard, but two days before the pilot's filming he was changed to a postman; the producers thought a postman would be more knowledgeable than a guard. Ratzenberger agreed to seven episodes of the first season, but his role expanded.
Cliff is the kind of guy who wishes he'd been a combat Marine, but maybe he was nearsighted or had flat feet and became a mailman. He loves the respect he gets. [...] As for women, Cliff is like the construction workers who whistle at women but turn to a quivering mass when they're face-to-face with a woman. The greatest fear of men is that they won't live up to their expectations.— John Ratzenberger, Associated Press, June 1985
On the Cheers 200th-episode special, host John McLaughlin asked Ratzenberger about Cliff Clavin. The actor replied that Cliff would describe himself as the "wingnut that holds Western civilization together"; however, Ratzenberger said he would describe Cliff simply as "a winged nut". When McLaughlin asked Ratzenberger if there was any part of him in Cliff, the actor replied that although he was interested in fascinating facts the only part of Cliff in him was that they both wear white socks.
Cliff appeared in 273 episodes of Cheers between 1982 and 1993. He also made guest appearances as an animated character (voiced by Ratzenberger) in The Simpsons episode "Fear of Flying", in The Tortellis episode "Frankie Comes to Dinner, in the Wings episode "The Story of Joe" and the Frasier episode "Cheerful Goodbyes".
Cliff is a postal worker, and Norm Peterson's best friend. He lives with his mother, Esther Clavin (Frances Sternhagen)—first in his childhood two-story house (which was bulldozed in 1987's "The Last Angry Mailman" after Esther sold it to a convenience-store builder), and then in a condominium (which first appears in the season 6 episode "My Fair Clavin") with a sofabed. He is ridiculed by friends and enemies alike, including Carla (Rhea Perlman) and Norm, for his know-it-all attitude. He appears on Jeopardy! in the season-eight episode, "What Is... Cliff Clavin?" (1990). The postman wins $22,000, but loses it all with a wrong answer in Final Jeopardy (launching into a tirade which frightens host Alex Trebek). Cliff has a few relationships (mostly short-lived and hopeless) with women. Then he has a relationship with fellow postal worker Margaret O'Keefe (Annie Golden), which begins during Cheers' seventh season (1988–89). When Margaret becomes pregnant with another man's child in 1993's "Do Not Forsake Me O My Postman", Cliff stays by her side as the baby's stepfather before Margaret returns to the child's biological father.
In "The Barstoolie" (1985) Cliff meets his father, Cliff Clavin Sr. (Dick O'Neill), who left Cliff and his mother years earlier when Cliff was still a child. Cliff later realizes that his father is a fraudster and a fugitive from justice, and will run off again. Cliff does not want to turn his father in; Cliff Sr. disappears, leaving his son devastated.
In the 1993 series finale, Cliff finally receives a promotion. In "The Show Where Sam Shows Up" (1995), an episode of the Cheers spinoff Frasier, Sam (Ted Danson) tells Frasier that Cliff has not left home since he read an article about flesh-eating bacteria; however, Sam then discovers that Cliff is one of the other men with whom Sam's fiance Sheila (Téa Leoni) had had sex. In another Frasier episode, "The Show Where Woody Shows Up", Woody tells Frasier that Cliff almost got married to a mail order bride, but she decided to go back to Bosnia after spending a few days with him. In another Frasier episode, "Cheerful Goodbyes", Cliff has his retirement party at the airport bar; he had planned to move to Florida, but decides to stay in Boston (to Carla's dismay).
On the NBC News website, Wendall Wittler called Cliff a "classic" character; however, Wittler found his friendship with Norm Peterson "superficial" and unworthy of comparison with the relationship between Ralph Kramden (Jackie Gleason) and Ed Norton (Art Carney) on The Honeymooners.
According to an April 1–4, 1993 telephone survey of 1,011 people by the Times Mirror Center for the People and the Press (now the Pew Research Center),[N 1] Sam Malone was voted a "favorite character" by twenty-six percent of respondents and Cliff Clavin by two percent. Choosing a character for a spinoff, 15 percent voted for Sam Malone, 29 percent opposed a character spinoff, and less than 10 percent voted for Cliff.
Cliff's appearance on Jeopardy! in "What Is... Cliff Clavin?" received several reviews. In his book Hope, Andrew Razeghi described Cliff as a poster child for psychologist J. P. Guilford for a response to the Final Jeopardy! clue which Razeghi considered neither right nor wrong. Jeffrey Robinson of DVD Talk found the Jeopardy! category topics during Cliff's appearance (including "post office" and "beer") a "riot". In the Jeopardy! fan community Cliff's losing $22,000 (won in two rounds) in Final Jeopardy! inspired "Clavin's rule", discouraging future contestants from attempting the same.
In 1993, Ratzenberger and Wendt sued Host International for copyright infringement, trademark infringement and violating the actors' personality rights. The company had manufactured two robotic toys (one heavyset and the other a postal worker) who, the actors argued, resembled Cliff Clavin and Norm Peterson. The case was twice rejected by "a federal judge in California". At one hearing, the judge ruled that the defendant did not violate copyright because Paramount Pictures had already granted it a license to produce Cheers-based themes and decor for (primarily) airport bars. At another, the judge ruled that the toys did not resemble the characters.
In 1997, however, "the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals twice reinstated" the case (Wendt v. Host International, Inc.). At one hearing, it ruled that "federal copyright law" did not necessarily override the California Celebrities Rights Act. At another, the 9th Circuit ordered a jury trial on the basis of publicity rights. The case resulted in an undisclosed 2001 settlement by the company.
- The margin of error in the survey was ±3%, according to the polls.
- Inline citations
- Reinhold, Robert (April 2, 1993). "One Last Round as 'Cheers' Finale Is Taped". The New York Times. Retrieved August 16, 2010.
- Bjorklund, Dennis A. "Cliff Clavin". Cheers TV Show: A Comprehensive Reference. p. 241. Retrieved July 8, 2014.
- "A Kiss Is Still a Kiss". Cheers. Season 6. Episode 10.
- Steinberg, Jacques (May 21, 1993). "Hoisting a Few to Say Goodbye to Themselves; At Tavern in Larchmont, the Appeal of 'Cheers' Can Be Seen in the Barroom Mirror". The New York Times. Retrieved August 16, 2010.
- Wendt, p. 112.
- Wendt, pp. 113–114. John Ratzenberger auditioned for the role George, as well.
- Buck, Jerry (June 28, 1985). "Actor created character from hometown friends". The Day. New London, Connecticut. p. 49. Retrieved November 1, 2012.
- Tobolowsky, Stephen (December 13, 2012). "The Lost Roles Interview with Stephen Tobolowsky". SplitSider.com (Interview). Interviewed by Bradford Evans.
- Martyn, Warren; Wood, Adrian (2000). "Fear of Flying". BBC. Retrieved August 19, 2010.
- Jones, Nate (February 2, 2014). "Celebrating Every '80s Reference in That RadioShack Super Bowl Commercial". People. Retrieved May 25, 2017.
- Wittler, Wendall (May 5, 2004). "TV friendship before Friends". MSNBC. Retrieved July 16, 2012.
- Mills, Kim I. "TV viewers glad Sam stayed single." The Sunday Gazette [Schenectady, NY] May 2, 1993: A3. Google News. Web. Jan 21, 2012. . In this web source, scroll down to see its headline.
- Leefler, Pete. "Show Piles Up Viewer Cheers." The Morning Call [Allentown, NY] May 2, 1993: A01. Web. Jan 17, 2012. . (subscription required) Norm Peterson was voted 10 percent for a spinoff. The source mentions only Sam Malone, Woody Boyd (Woody Harrelson), and Norm.
- "Mixed Reaction to Post-Seinfeld Era." Pew Research Center for the People & the Press. Pew Research Center May 10, 1998. Web. Feb 10, 2012 
- Razeghi 2006, p. 34.
- Robinson, Jeffrey. "Cheers – The Complete Eighth Season." DVD Talk June 18, 2006. Web. May 11, 2012.
- "J! Archive Help: Clavin's Rule." J! Archive, 2012. Web. May 11, 2012.
- "Justices Reject Cheers Appeal". Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The Associated Press. October 3, 2000. p. 6B. Retrieved July 23, 2012.
- Wendt v. Host International, Inc. (9th Cir. 1997). Text No. 96-55243.
- "Cheers Lawsuit Happily Settled". Sunday Star-News. The Associated Press. June 24, 2001. p. 4D. Retrieved July 23, 2012.