In a stunning turn of events, “Cheers”–the longest-running comedy series on prime time TV–will not be back for another season, representing an enormous blow to NBC’s fortunes for the 1993-94 campaign.

Paramount Network TV said yesterday the decision not to produce a 12th season of the barroom comedy was reached after consultation with production company Charles/Burrows/Charles and star Ted Danson, despite earlier reports indicating that the parties were leaning toward another round (Daily Variety, Nov. 10).

Sources indicated that the decision to conclude the show was made by the cast and crew and didn’t stem from wrangling over the license fee, since both NBC and Paramount had strong incentives to keep the show going and, in fact, reportedly had agreed in principle on terms for a 12th year.

For NBC, “Cheers” represents the web’s highest-rated show and the last vestige of better days; for Par, the show ensured companion sitcom “Wings”–reportedly locked into a post-“Cheers” slot in earlier renewal talks–a strong lead-in at a tenuous phase in its lifespan vis-a-vis syndication.

Creators/exec producers Glen and Les Charles and James Burrows said, “We are grateful to our loyal viewers over the years, but we feel it’s better to end the series too early rather than too late.”

Cast and crew have voted annually the last few years on whether to return for another season. Aside from Danson, who has an established feature career, it’s been assumed most other cast members would want to continue with the series–since, as one observer put it, they were drawing paychecks “they aren’t likely to see again.”

Earlier reports suggested that even Danson (who reportedly is paid more than $ 450,000 per episode, which amounts to almost $ 12 million for the year’s 26 episodes) was leaning toward continuing and that a renewal was a mere formality.

Still, there were also indications that the Charles’ and Burrows might be souring on TV, having disbanded a separate partnership, Triangle Entertainment, formed specifically to develop series fulfilling their NBC commitments stemming from past “Cheers” renewals.

“Cheers” has easily been the brightest spot on NBC’s schedule this season, averaging a 16.7 rating, 27 share in Nielsen to rank seventh among all network programs. NBC’s next best regular series, “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air,” is averaging a 14.6/23.

With “Cheers” gone, Thursday looks up for grabs next season and NBC faces the utter collapse of that franchise, having already watched Fox Broadcasting Co. take over the 8-9 p.m. hour and ABC make strong inroads vs. fading drama “L.A. Law.”

NBC anteed up to renew “Cheers” last year after letting series like “Golden Girls,””In the Heat of the Night” and “Matlock” go and watching “The Cosby Show” and “Night Court” end their runs.

NBC reportedly pays about $ 2.25 million per episode for “Cheers,” 10% less than during the 1990-91 season. That figure is said to slightly exceed the show’s production cost, which is so high because of star and producer salaries.

The latest loss figures to make matters more difficult for NBC Entertainment prez Warren Littlefield, who said in a statement, “While we regret that this will be their last season, we certainly respect their decision and are grateful to the talented producers, writers and cast for giving us an unparalleled 11 -year run.”

“Cheers” will have completed 271 episodes after this season, and Paramount says it has yet to determine how the show will conclude. There has been talk of spin-off series, but nothing has been decided.

Among its laurels, “Cheers” has garnered more Emmy nominations (109) than any other prime time show and is tied with “Hill Street Blues” as the second most-honored series, with 26 Emmys.

NBC executives have long clung to “Cheers” as almost a symbol of the network, since it bridged the web’s days from the ratings cellar through its ascension to six straight years atop the ratings.

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