Tom Hanks did it. So did Michael Douglas. David Caruso tried it, though he wasn’t quite as successful. For Shelley Long, the decision to abandon a hit TV career to try her hand at the movies was clearly a risk. But with her final episode as Diane Chambers, after five seasons, on NBC’s Cheers on May 7, 1987, Long packed up her Q rating and headed for the movies.
In the early ’80s, Long’s film prospects seemed promising, after a role in Ron Howard’s 1982 Night Shift — even as Cheers languished at the bottom of the ratings in its first season. Five years later, Long was a bona fide TV star. Cheers finished the 1986-87 season at No. 3, largely because of Diane’s chemistry with Sam Malone (Ted Danson). Her flair for comedy also won her two Golden Globes and an Emmy.
But behind the scenes, she had a bad reputation, clashing with her costars, including Danson and Kelsey Grammer. ”Diane was…a pain in the butt…and I think the people of Cheers got me confused with that,” she said in 1993. ”Maybe I did too, which convinced me it was time to let go of that persona.” It helped that by then she’d had a hit movie, 1987’s Outrageous Fortune.
Even so, her exit elicited anything but cheers from some Cheers folks. ”I guess… they felt that I abandoned them,” Long said. Critics wondered what would happen without Diane — and even its writers and producers weren’t sure (she broke off her engagement to Sam to go off and finish her novel). Director James Burrows, though, saw the shake-up as salutary. ”Shelley’s leaving reenergized the bar,” he said. Viewers agreed: In its ninth season, with replacement Kirstie Alley, Cheers was No. 1.
Nowadays, Long, 48, lives in L.A. with husband Bruce Tyson, an investment adviser, and daughter Juliana, 12. Ironically, that dearly bought movie career hasn’t taken her far from TV. Of her post-Cheers projects, there have been six TV movies; the two big-screen Brady Bunch films; and one CBS sitcom, Good Advice. She’s also appeared on Frasier and even on Cheers‘ 1993 finale, in which Sam and Diane briefly reunite. And just last week, her new sitcom, Kelly Kelly, costarring Robert Hays, premiered on the WB network. It’s been a long time coming.