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The NBC comedy Cheers had an impressive list of guest stars. Alex Trebek played himself when Cliff Clavin (John Ratzenberger) went on Jeopardy! Wade Boggs played himself and later made inappropriate comments about Kirstie Alley. John Cleese and Harry Connick Jr. played characters. That didn’t stop Cheers from trying to land legendary guest stars. Lucille Ball didn’t bite but she turned them down in a hilarious way. 

Lucille Ball wraps a fur coat around herself
Lucille Ball | Vinnie Zuffante/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Cheers writer Ken Levine told the story on his podcast, Hollywood & Levine. Even though we never got to see Ball on Cheers, we can enjoy this story. 

The grapevine erroneously told ‘Cheers’ Lucille Ball was a fan

Cheers was not a hit in its first season. It became one in the second, after everyone discovered it in summer reruns. So maybe they should have been suspicious when someone told them Ball was watching in season 1. They wrote an episode with Diane (Shelley Long)’s mother and hoped Ball might play her.

“Somebody said that Lucille Ball loved Cheers,” Levine said on Hollywood & Levine. “We were going to do an episode with Diane’s mother. It was written by David Angell. We all thought, wouldn’t it be amazing to get Lucy to come on as Diane’s mother?”

Meeting Lucille Ball 

Cheers creators Glen and Les Charles and James Burrows reached out to Ball, and they got through. Ball humored them, and it was worth it for the story alone. 

“So they contacted Lucy and Lucy said, ‘Come on over for lunch,’” Levine said. “So the Charles brothers and Jimmy went over to her house in Beverly Hills to have lunch with her. And they say, ‘So, we understand that you’re big fans of Cheers?’”

Here’s where it gets funny. Les Charles would say Ball declined because she thought Lucy fans wouldn’t want to see her as a new character. Levine told a different story.  

“And she goes, ‘Uh, I’ve never seen it. Somebody said it was good but I’ve never seen it,’” Levine continued. “They said, ‘Oh, well, we were wondering whether or not you wanted to guest?’ ‘No, I don’t. I don’t do television anymore. I’m certainly not going to do television for a show I’ve never heard of.’”

By 1983, Ball had already had four series under her belt: I Love Lucy, The Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour, The Lucy Show and Here’s Lucy. She would attempt one more with 1986’s Life With Lucy but in 1983 she thought she was done.

The creators of ‘Cheers’ still enjoyed their lunch with Lucille Ball

According to Levine, neither Burrows nor the Charles brothers pressed the issue. As far as they were concerned, they were meeting Ball. They eventually found an actor to play Helen Chambers.

“Well, okay, sit down and have lunch,” Levine said. “And that was their lunch with Lucy. We ended up getting Glynis Johns who did a very fine job.”