“Norm” and “Cliff” of NBC’s “Cheers,” known in real life as George Wendt and John D. Ratzenberger, have been animated, much to their dismay.Actors Wendt and Ratzenberger filed suit late last week in the Central District Court in Los Angeles against Host Intl., a Delaware corporation that has built several facsimiles of the “Cheers” bar in airports around the country. Host, which received a license from Paramount to build and operate bars that resemble “Cheers,” has taken the concept a step further: They have installed life-sized animatronic robots in these bars that are supposed to look like Norm and Cliff. These robots move and even banter back and forth, much in the same manner as Norm and Cliff. “It’s our contention that the license from Paramount does not address bringing in robots that take on these characters,” noted lawyer T. Patrick Freydl of the law firm Freydl & Associates, with offices in Detroit and Los Angeles. “We’ve had ongoing discussions with them about this, and now this is the next step.” To date, the company has built the bars in airports in Kansas City, St. Louis , Cleveland, Detroit, Minneapolis, Anchorage and Christchurch, New Zealand. Wendt and Ratzenberger contend, in part, that Host’s use of the Norm and Cliff characters will mislead the public into thinking that the two men–not their robot counterparts–are endorsing the products being sold and/or are affiliated with Host. The successful comedy is currently in its last season for NBC. The suit charges unfair competition, infringement of right of publicity, invasion of privacy by appropriation of name and likeness and unfair business practices, among other things. It seeks an unspecified amount in damages. “As far as we’re concerned, you can’t refer to Norm or Cliff without referring to Wendt and Ratzenberger,” Freydl said. A spokesman for Host could not be reached for comment.
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