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'CHEERS' TAPS A KEG OF LAUGHS, POURS ON CLICHED SENTIMENTS

AFTER 11 years, "Cheers" ended Thursday in a room filled with more cigar smoke and sentiment than expected. It was so enjoyable for 75 minutes that we didn't want it to end. And it appeared the writers didn't know how to end it.

After the regular cast members smoked Cuban cigars inside the bar and spouted cliches about friendship, it ended somewhat disappointingly with Sam Malone (Ted Danson) left alone to close the bar. I would have left viewers with a laugh. But at least "Cheers" didn't try to end with tears in its beer.

Of course, the final original episode received so much hype it probably was impossible to live up to expectations.

The show scored consistently with familiar character-based laughs: After searching for a millionaire, Rebecca married a plumber; Sam and Diane flirted with marriage again before coming to their senses; Frasier flirted with insanity; Cliff knew everything; Woody knew nothing; Norm drank nothing but beer, and Carla screamed insults at everyone.

About 30 minutes before it was over, it looked as if writers Glen and Les Charles were going to ignore sentiment, as they usually did. That's when Carla considered giving Diane a compliment before deciding, "Nah, life is too short."

But it wasn't to be. Blame the actors for the cliches at the end. The Charles brothers used their words. When Sam said, "It's time for me to move on and face new challenges," he was reciting words that Danson uttered when he decided to quit.

When Rebecca said, "The days I had at Cheers were the best days of my life," she was reciting words that Kirstie Alley uttered earlier.

When Woody told Sam, "It wouldn't be the same without you," he was speaking for the producers who ended the show after Danson quit.

Shelley Long (Diane) had more screen time but Alley got some of the night's best lines. Noting that she married a plumber (played by Tom Berenger), she added, "And the horrible part of it is he is too good for me."

It may have been because we've come to "Cheers" with Rebecca's misguided expectations that the final minutes felt like a letdown. Those minutes may have meant more to the cast than to viewers. Sam straightened out the cast's favorite prop -- a picture of Geronimo -- before exiting.

Buffalo viewers can always remember getting special treatment in the finale. In the pre-telecast show hosted by Bob Costas, the sportscaster noted that "Cheers" was the Super Bowl of comedy with one exception: "We think they'll be laughing in Buffalo."

Lockport's Kim Alexis showed up early to get some good-natured kidding about her Sports Illustrated swimsuit appearances.

And near the show's closing, Norm gave Western New Yorkers a final reason to laugh: a Buffalo chicken wing joke.

Then Norm turned sentimental and told Sam, "You'll always come back to your one true love."

The finale of "Cheers" was much better when it searched for a bucket of laughs than when it looked for a bucket of sentiment. But overall it was still worth three hearty cheers.

Rating: 4 stars out of 5.

This Sunday's NBC movie, "In the Line of Duty: Ambush in Waco" (9 p.m., Channel 2), is a predictable and simplistic piece of made-from-headlines television about cult leader David Koresh that doesn't have much insight into why anyone in his right mind would be drawn to him.

In the early scenes in which Koresh plays guitar and sings Christian songs, Tim Daly reminded me more of John Denver than the religious nut the "Wings" star looks like.

But soon Daly is raising his voice in rage in just about every scene. His performance that just has too much firepower.

It is hard to see how anyone but the most simple-minded lost souls could be drawn to a man who sends his own son into a shed with rats to teach him a lesson and believes that God has chosen him to sleep with every woman on earth.

To further the simplemindedness of this movie, the leader of the government's flawless-looking Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms squad is played by Dan Lauria, best-known as Kevin Arnold's father in "The Wonder Years." The casting adds to the ATF's well-meaning and heroic look.

Written before the tragic ending that resulted from the FBI raid, the movie culminates with the ATF's being ambushed during a February raid on Koresh's heavily armed compound. The villain: the media, which accidentally leaked the timing of the raid.

Any reasonable-thinking person would have left the compound as soon as Koresh started talking about God's asking him to plant his seed everywhere. Talk about indecent proposals. You'd have to pay me a million bucks to watch this again.

Rating: 1/2 star.

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