Why Lucille Ball Changed Her Mind About Playing This Character on ‘Cheers’
Lucille Ball is still considered one of television’s most legendary comedians even over 30 years after her death. Striking comedy gold from 1951 through 1957 starring in I Love Lucy alongside her husband Desi Arnaz, the famous redhead soon became an acting icon.
Though Ball wasn’t a fan of too many shows in her later years, she tuned in to watch the NBC hit Cheers and almost joined the cast as a guest star.
‘Cheers’ becomes a hit
The on-again, off-again relationship between ex-jock bar owner Sam Malone (Ted Danson) and intellectual waitress Diane Chambers (Shelley Long) helped make Cheers Must-See TV during its 11-season run. Writer-producer David Isaacs saw similarities between the I Love Lucy legend and Long.
“For my money, Shelley’s just after Lucille Ball for great physicality and comedy,” he told the Hollywood Reporter in 2018. “Pound for pound I think she’s one of the best comic actresses I’ve been around. She brought a uniqueness to Diane that came out of her, and she was totally willing to make the laugh be on her.”
Making a priority of keeping content fresh, producers of the show often brought in celebrity guest stars. Some NBA players were asked to come on the sitcom, which sparked a possible appearance by Boston Celtics star Larry Bird. Though that fell through, another frontrunner from the team ended up at the Boston bar twice.
“We always wanted to get famous Boston athletes in,” Isaacs recalled. [Boston Celtics’] Kevin McHale actually had acting chops. He was completely at ease in front of an audience to the point we brought him back for a second episode.”
‘I Love Lucy’ star meets with ‘Cheers’ producers
Apparently, Ball was big a fan of Cheers. The I Love Lucy star even sent a message through the Hollywood grapevine that she wouldn’t mind sidling up to the Boston speakeasy. Show creator Les Charles had the perfect character in mind for the comedy icon to play.
“Lucille Ball had seen the show the first season and got in touch with us indirectly that she liked it and would consider coming on,” Charles explained. “We had the idea of Diane’s mother.”
After a meeting to discuss details, Ball chose not to go forward with the opportunity out of loyalty to her I Love Lucy following.
“We met with Lucy at her house and had a long chat with her,” Charles recalled. “She very wisely decided against it because she felt that Lucy fans wouldn’t want to see her as another character. There’s something to that.”
Lucille Ball surveys sitcoms in the 80s
In an interview with the Christian Science Monitor in 1984, Ball was asked her opinion of the current TV shows on the air.
”There’s not much new stuff, a sameness,” the comedy queen remarked. “And there’s too much to choose from – we used to have a few channels and that was it.”
Ball also thought there was a rush to judgement in the industry that didn’t allow characters to develop.
”Now nobody gets a chance to prove himself anymore,” she noted. “If the show isn’t an instant success, the network yanks it off the air so it never has a chance to find an audience.”
Ball evidently knew how to pick a winner. Cheers ran from 1982 to 1993.