TWoP: It seems like a lot of today's showrunners, for example you and the Parks and Recreaction guys, are very conscious and aware of sitcom mechanics and often comment on them within the shows themselves. Is that unique to this generation? Or do you think the Cheers writers were equally self-aware?
Harmon: I'm not at all qualified to make this statement, but I imagine the guys that were writing Cheers were from a generation that didn't watch quite as much TV on average. When you watch the sitcoms that were the big hits when I was growing up, TV was still just TV. It was allowed to just be TV. There were three channels that were competing for the whole family and you couldn't take your business elsewhere. And so those hits are still timeless classics. Like, there are no Rubik's Cube jokes in Taxi; it didn't matter that was a sensation happening outside the TV screen, they didn't jump on that and go, "We gotta do a Rubik's Cube joke because we're Taxi!" Back in that day, that was called craftsmanship. The idea was to create something where if you buried it in sand and dug it up a million years later, you would still get it. That's when you knew you were doing a good job with your sitcom. So Cheers and Taxi and All in the Family and WKRP in Cincinnati and M*A*S*H, these are timeless classics because they're based on characters and the conflicts are based on relationships between each other.
Then as the '90s started rolling in, you had these young filmmakers that started to reflect the fact that they were basically raised on TV and the only place they went when they left their house was to go see movies. So I think it probably is a generational thing. Certainly it's a generational thing to be absolutely saturated with media. Even when I was in my 20s, it had already changed so fundamentally by virtue of a Blockbuster being on every corner and DVDs being available. All of a sudden you could watch things more than once and that wasn't the case when Cheers was on TV. There was no box set you could buy and study. So we are a Xerox of a Xerox of a Xerox now. We are kind of becoming, for better or for worse, kind of Orwellian-jumpsuit clad drones that pull levers at work and then come home and watch this comforting thing. I don't think it's going to be possible for the next generation of writers to tell stories without telling stories about telling stories. And the way I defend it is, that was true of ancient Greek mythology as well. There was always a character in your favorite Greek myth who was saying to somebody, "You know this is what's going to happen, this is always what happens. There's always a consciousness of the other myths in each Greek myth. Anyway, I think I've moved off of your question into a really strange world.