‘Cheers’ Finale: Shelley Long Gave Writers 1 Idea to Explain Diane’s Return

Shelley Long made big news when she left the NBC comedy Cheers. After five years, Long wanted to focus on movies, and she made some good ones like Outrageous Fortune, Troop Beverly Hills and The Brady Bunch Movie. Cheers lasted six more years with Kirstie Alley as the female lead. When it finally ended in 1993, they invited Long to return, and she had some ideas about where Diane Chambers had been. 

[Warning: This article contains spoilers for the Cheers finale.]

'Cheers' finale: Shelley Long returns as Diane to sit at a dinner table with Ted Danson as Sam Malone
Shelley Long and Ted Danson | Paul Drinkwater/NBCU Photo Bank

Long spoke with The Los Angeles Times for a story on the Cheers finale in 1993. In that interview she revealed the influence she had on Diane’s reunion with Sam Malone (Ted Danson).

Shelley Long was surprised to return to ‘Cheers’

Long indicated that returning for the Cheers finale was not a given. Co-creator Glen Charles asked her personally. 

“I was surprised that Glen called,” Long told the L.A. Times. “He was surprised that I was surprised. I said it has been six years, and when I chose to leave the show, I had offered to come back at whatever different points they thought would be fun, which obviously hadn’t happened.”

At least Long could tell they were excited for her return to Cheers. NBC even jumped the gun on the deal making. 

“They announced (my return) before I actually was coming back,” Long said. “My agreement was that I would sit down with Glen and Les Charles, the two executive producers who are writers, and we would discuss the story. But we hadn’t had that meeting yet. There was a natural assumption that it all would be fine. I wanted to do it for them and I wanted to do it for all the zillions of people who had come up to me and said, ‘Are you ever going to be on ‘Cheers’ again?’ But that meeting had not happened yet. Fortunately, it all worked out.”

The ‘Cheers’ finale had to answer 1 question

In the season 5 finale, Diane postponed her wedding to Sam to pursue her writing career. Diane called it temporary, but Sam knew. Six years later, when Diane returned, Long wasn’t going to pretend nothing happened. 

“I was also concerned about how they were going to explain why Diane had never called Sam,” Long said. “Diane with her many faults, still–and is in the final episode–a responsible person. They understood completely. I said, ‘I just don’t know why she didn’t call.’ So we talked a lot about that, about what she would say and address the fact she had never seen Sam or explained to him why she didn’t come back. I felt good about the speeches they gave me to address that.”

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‘Cheers’ Series Finale Almost Included a President Bill Clinton Cameo

In the Cheers finale, “One for the Road,” Diane tells Sam she moved to Los Angeles to adapt her unsold manuscript into a screenplay. Sam is going to get back together with Diane, but realizes it is a mistake on a plane with her. Then Sam returns to close the bar. 

Shelley Long brushed up on Diane Chambers 

Six years was a long enough time for Long that she needed to brush up on Diane Chambers herself. Long would reprise her role again on Frasier, as Diane was also a former love interest of Frasier Crane (Kelsey Grammer).

It was like going back to the old neighborhood, there are always changes. People have moved, buildings have moved. There were many people there who were from the days when I was there, and then there were others who were new. It felt familiar, but it felt new at the same time. I didn’t have a whole lot of time to figure out how I was feeling. I was pretty much paying attention to how Diane was feeling. I had to find where she had been when she left, which I did by looking at some episodes from my last year, and reminding myself of different events. Then I had to be creative on my own to fill in the blanks to what she had been doing.

Shelley Long, The Los Angeles Times, 5/16/93