Thursday, March 27, 2008

The Norm and Cliff Robots

Here is an odd little bit of history.

Back in the 1990's, around the time the Cheers left the airways the producers of the show entered into a deal that created about 50 "Cheers" bars located at Marriott hotels near major airports.

I never got to go to one of these bars, but I am not sure that they have all gone away. A Google search of "Cheers Bar" and "Marriott" does indicate that there may still be one in Sacramento, Kentucky and a few other places.

But as we have seen in the past just because a place is CALLED "Cheers" doesn't make it a Cheers Bar.

These franchises were originally designed to be a reasonable facsimile of the TV show set. A similar dark wood, a bar in the center, some Sam Malone baseball "memorabilia" on display and a couple robots.

Yup, robots. Of course, you were probably expecting such things when you read the title of this post.

It is "The Norm and Cliff Robots" if you are too lazy to scroll up.

Anyway, I have never seen these robots... but I do have a vague memory of a clip of them in the E! True Hollywood Story. I think they were choking each other.

Online, I was only able to find this tiny, little photo:

I also found out that the robots were actually named 'Bob' and 'Hank.' Some people described them as 'big stuffed mannequins' that moved very little and would act out clips from the show.

John Ratzenberger and George Wendt played Cliff and Norm. I always thought 'Wendt' should have at least one apostrophe in it.


I like that better.

John Ratzenberger and George Wend't played Cliff and Norm.

Hmmm. Now I think Ratzenberger needs... something.

How about this:

John "The Pixar Kid" Ratzenberger and George Wend't played Cliff and Norm.

No. That didn't work.

Peter Coyote and George Wend't played Cliff and Norm.

Sweet! Now, I just need George Lucas to go in and digital replace John with Peter.

Speaking of which, I gotta hurry this up, I need to hit the men's room.

So, moving along, Wend't and Coyote sued and settled out of court for 437 BILLION dollars and a truck load of mustache cream.

Or something like that.

I found some legal stuff to share with you:

197 F.3d 1284 (9th Cir. 1999)

GEORGE WENDT, an individual; JOHN RATZENBERGER, an individual, PlaintiffsAppellants,
HOST INTERNATIONAL, INC., a Delaware corporation, Defendant-Appellee, and PARAMOUNT PICTURES, CORPORATION, a Delaware corporation, Defendant-Intervenor.

No. 96-55243

U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

December 28, 1999

Before: Betty B. Fletcher and Stephen S. Trott, Circuit Judges, and Bruce S. Jenkins,1 District Judge.

Order; Dissent by Judge KOZINSKI.

Prior Report: 125 F.3d 806


Betty B. Fletcher? Stephen S. Trott? Bruce S. Jenkins? Are these real people? Or pickle companies?

I don't get that one either.

Honorable Bruce S. Jenkins, Senior United States District Judge for the District of Utah, sitting by designation.

KOZINSKI, Circuit Judge, with whom Judges KLEINFELD and TASHIMA join, dissenting from the order rejecting the suggestion for rehearing en banc:

Robots again. In White v. Samsung Elecs. Am., Inc., 971 F.2d 1395, 1399 (9th Cir. 1992), we held that the right of publicity extends not just to the name, likeness, voice and signature of a famous person, but to anything at all that evokes that person's identity. The plaintiff there was Vanna White, Wheel of Fortune letter-turner extraordinaire; the offending robot stood next to a letter board, decked out in a blonde wig, Vanna-style gown and garish jewelry. Dissenting from our failure to take the case en banc, I argued that our broad application of the right of publicity put state law on a collision course with the federal rights of the copyright holder. See 989 F.2d 1512, 1517-18 (9th Cir. 1993).

The conflict in White was hypothetical, since the defendant (Samsung) did not have a license from the Wheel of Fortune copyright holder. Here it is concrete: The panel holds that licensed animatronic figures based on the copyrighted Cheers characters Norm and Cliff infringe on the rights of the actors who portrayed them. As I predicted, White's voracious logic swallows up rights conferred by Congress under the Copyright Act.

Oh boy do I remember the summer I spent with the Vanna White robot. I still have microchip scars on the back of my neck.

My favorite line in that was:
White's voracious logic swallows up rights conferred by Congress

Man, that sounds sexy.

Defendant Host International decided to tap into this keg of goodwill. After securing a license from Paramount, the copyright holder, Host opened a line of Cheers airport bars. To help get patrons into a Cheers mood, Host populated the bars with animatronic figures4 resembling Norm and Cliff: One is fat; the other is dressed as a mailman.5

That sounds sexy, too.

The brief than drones on for a handful of paragraphs. Nothing else is sexy about the brief... other than the word 'brief'.

Posted by Guy Hutchinson

Guy Hutchinson
Guy Hutchinson


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