Shelley Long “Never Regretted” Leaving ‘Cheers’ Early

The Emmy winner said that ‘Cheers’ was “a dream come true” and “one of the most satisfying experiences” of her life. So why did she walk away?


Jun. 4 2024, Published 1:46 p.m. ET

Nicholas Colasanto, Rhea Perlman, Ted Danson, and Shelley Long on the ‘Cheers’ set in 1983.
Source: Getty Images

The NBC sitcom Cheers was a critical and commercial smash hit, earning 28 Emmy Awards out of 117 nominations, including four wins for Outstanding Comedy Series, and spending several years in the ratings pantheon. It also spawned the spinoff sitcom Frasier, starring Kelsey Grammar. He told Variety recently that he would love for Shelley Long to join Frasier’s Paramount+ revival. So, why did Shelley Long leave Cheers anyway?

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For the first five seasons of Cheers, Shelley played Diane Chambers, a graduate student who becomes a barmaid at the titular Boston bar and has an on-again off-again relationship with bartender Sam Malone, played by Ted Danson.

Diane left Sam in Boston at the end of Season 5 to pursue a writing career. Shelley, who won an Emmy and two Golden Globes for the performance, reprised the role on Cheers just once more, in the series finale six seasons later.

Why did Shelley Long leave ‘Cheers’?

Shelley exited Cheers to pursue a film career and to spend more time with her daughter, Juliana, according to TIME, which declared her departure “probably one of the greatest career stumbles in show-business history.”

She starred in a few well-earning movies, like 1987’s Outrageous Fortune and 1995’s The Brady Bunch Movie. But others, including 1989’s Troop Beverly Hills, 1990’s Don’t Tell Her It’s Me, and 1992’s Frozen Assets, weren’t financial successes.

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Shelley Long and Ted Danson act in a scene from an episode of 'Cheers'
Source: Getty Images

Shelley Long and Ted Danson on 'Cheers'

Shelley returned to television as a star of the 1993 CBS sitcom Good Advice and the 1998 WB sitcom Kelly Kelly, although neither show lasted long.

Since then, Shelley has been a frequent guest star on TV, appearing in episodes of Joan of Arcadia, Boston Legal, Switched at Birth, and Modern Family.

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Shelley also wanted to “let go” of her Diane Chambers persona, she said.

Shelley had tension with Ted and Kelsey and developed a bad reputation on the Cheers set, according to Entertainment Weekly.

“Diane was … a pain in the butt … and I think the people of Cheers got me confused with that,” she said in 1993, per EW. “Maybe I did too, which convinced me it was time to let go of that persona.”

Even so, Shelley’s Cheers colleagues didn’t want to see her go. “I guess … they felt that I abandoned them,” she added.

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But Cheers continued for years, and with Kristie Alley in place as Shelley’s replacement, the show hit No. 1 in the ratings in Season 9. “Shelley’s leaving reenergized the bar,” director James Burrows once observed, per EW.

In an interview on Australian TV, Shelley said that she wasn’t sorry she left, saying that she “didn’t want to keep doing the same episode over and over again and the same story. It had been such a fresh and vital experience for me. I didn’t want it to become old and stale.”

Shelley did miss her Cheers colleagues, however. “I missed them very much,” she said. “You know, working at Cheers was a dream come true. It truly was. And it was one of the most satisfying experiences of my life. So yes, I missed it, but I never regretted that decision.”

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