‘Cheers’ It’s Been 35 Years Since Shelley Long’s Exit Changed the Popular Series

by Megan Molseed

It was 35 years ago this month when fans of the popular classic television sitcom series Cheers said goodbye to one of the show’s main characters, Shelley Long’s Diane Chambers. In a move that was largely uncommon for an actor to do when a series is as popular as Cheers was at the time, Long exited the classic sitcom to pursue her film career. However, it was a rough exit for fans as one of the favorite plotlines in the series is the “will they, won’t they” vibe Long’s character had with Ted Danson’s Sam Malone.

It Was 35 Years Ago When Shelley Long Said Goodbye To Cheers After Five Successful Years

When Cheers first premiered in 1982, it took the series took a few episodes to pull the fans in. However, once it did, the popular bar-room-centered sitcom became a fan-favorite series. Finding a regular spot among the most popular television shows.

And, portraying the academia-centered – and sometimes haughty – waitress at Sam Malone’s Cheers was a successful move for Long. The actress’s stint as Diane Chambers earned the actress an Emmy Award. But this wasn’t enough to keep Long in the series, and five years after Cheers premiered on NBC, the actress stepped away from her role as Diane Chambers.

“It was a very difficult choice to make,” Shelley Long admits in an interview. 

“We have done some really terrific work at Cheers,” the actress explains, of her time on the popular classic television series. “But I’ve decided to give priority to my family and my newly established film production company.”

Cheers Showrunners Weren’t Sure How The Series Would Fare After Long’s Exit From the Series

One of the show’s writers, David Lee, has said that everyone involved in the series was shocked when Shelley Long stepped away from the series. The Sam and Diane storyline was a major piece of the show’s charm. So, deciding what to do with the absence of the core character proved to be a difficult task.

“Our jaws dropped when we found out she was leaving,” David Lee says in a discussion with GQ

“From a writing standpoint, you would look at [Sam and Diane’s] scenes and go,” the writer explains. “That’s the glue that’s holding everything together.” And, notes a Cheers showrunner, Ken Devine some were afraid that a major exit such as this one would spell disaster for the series.

“There was a lot of concern that Shelley leaving would cause the show’s downfall,” explains the Cheers producer. “So everyone’s livelihood was at stake.”

Kirstie Alley Joins the Hit Series Bringing Even More Success To the Hit Bar-Room Sitcom

There may have been concerns that Cheers could struggle after losing the Sam and Diane storyline. However, the showrunners hit recasting gold when they brought in Kirstie Alley to portray Rebecca Howe in the show’s sixth season. And, soon Cheers went further than it ever had in the five prior seasons. Eventually becoming one of the most-watched series in the country.