Sitcom Spinoff Is So Terrible That You Can’t See It

By Jacob VanGundy | Published

Cheers is widely regarded as one of the greatest sitcoms of all time, with a 90s spinoff in Frasier that’s also beloved. But back in 1987, the first attempt at a Cheers spinoff, The Tortellis, was a massive flop. I became curious about the notoriously bad show after watching Cheers for the first time last year and discovered how hard it is to track down the much-hated show today. 

The Tortellis Is Now Lost Media

The Tortellis follows Nick, the ex-husband of the iconic Cheers waitress Carla, as he and his family move to Las Vegas. Nick starts a TV repair business with his son Anthony, while Nick’s wife Loretta pursues a career in show business. They all live in Loretta’s sister Charlotte’s house, along with her young son Mark and Anthony’s wife, Annie. 

Mix Of Cheers Characters And New Ones

With a mix of Cheers side characters and new characters, the cast of The Tortellis is split between familiar faces for fans of the original show and new actors. Dan Hedaya, Jean Kasem, Timothy Williams, and Mandy Ingber returned as their respective Cheers characters. The newcomers playing Loretta’s family were Charlene Watkins and child actor Aaron Moffatt. 

Every character in The Tortellis are broad stereotypes they rarely rise above. Nick is a sleazy con artist trying to go straight, Loretta is a ditzy blond, Anthony is an idiot, Charlotte is a high-strung professional woman, and Annie is a snarky teen daughter-in-law. While I’d enjoyed some of these characters as guests on Cheers, they lacked the depth to carry even a basic family sitcom.

An Immediate Flop

It was the stereotypical nature of the characters that helped ensure The Tortellis was a bomb in 1987. The show was heavily criticized for its depictions of Italian Americans, with Nick’s criminal past in particular being cited as rooted in harmful ethnic stereotypes. While I can’t see the poorly written show becoming a hit under any circumstances, the charges of racism contributed to the show being canceled after only 13 episodes. 

Never Released On DVD

For as long as I can remember, The Tortellis has had a reputation as a terrible show, often used as a punchline about bad spinoffs. Still, I was surprised when I couldn’t find it officially available anywhere. While its absence on streaming services wasn’t surprising, I was shocked to discover that it never received an official home release, meaning it can’t be bought digitally, on DVD, or even on VHS. 

Not Missing Anything By Not Watching It

To watch The Tortellis I had to find it on YouTube, where a few users had uploaded episodes they’d recorded from over-the-air showings on their VCRs. I watched most of the show this way, on low-quality recordings with tracking problems and 80s TV commercials still intact. The show was undeniably not worth the trouble; even as a huge fan of both Cheers and the original Frasier, I consider it one of the worst shows I’ve ever seen. 

Despite how truly bad The Tortellis is as a piece of entertainment and art, I still find myself wishing it was easily watchable in a more official way. It’s a piece of TV history with connections to two of the most influential shows ever made, and it should be available to audiences. If you’re a curious Cheers fan like me, you’ll have to track down unofficial recordings to see what makes The Tortellis so bad.