Cheers] Sam calls time at TV's top bar

AFTER a dozen years, in which the regulars barely moved from their bar stools, Sam called last orders and the world's most celebrated bar closed its doors. Cheers, one of American television's most successful programmes, is no more.

For British devotees who cannot wait until 13 June to see the final episode on Channel 4, this is the way the world ends:

Sam decides not to run away to California with the beautiful but dotty Diane; he stays faithful to his first love, the gang of no-hopers, beer and sex addicts at the neighbourhood bar. Risking sentimentality for the first time in a decade, Norm, the classic loser, admits that beer is not the most important thing in his life. Rebecca marries her plumber boyfriend; Woody, the dim-bulb barman, is elected a Boston city councillor; Cliff, the postman who never delivered a letter, gets a promotion; Carla, the bad-tempered, sex-mad waitress, finally goes home to her kids. Frasier, the insufferable psychiatrist, moves to Seattle to star in Frasier, the only Cheers spin-off. The series concludes with Sam saying to himself in the empty bar after the last patron disappears into the gloom: 'I tell you, I'm the luckiest son of a bitch on earth.'

Contrary to media speculation, President Bill Clinton, a confessed Cheers fan, did not pop in for a beer and a burger on the final night.

The colossal media hype for the last episode had two main sponsors - NBC Television and America's remaining pubs, which offered specials to lure customers for a farewell session with the bar-room philosophers.

In Boston, where a bar called the Bull and Finch was the inspiration for the sitcom, the stars of Cheers sank beers accompanied by bagpipes, Lexington Minutemen, who fired a salute, and the Governor of Massachusetts, William Weld. The last episode was watched by an estimated 100 million Americans, about 40 per cent of the population.

Cheers was nominated for 111 Emmy Awards, the most for one programme. It won 26, three fewer than the record set by The Mary Tyler Moore Show.