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The NBC comedy Cheers went on for six more seasons after Shelley Long left. The first five seasons were really dominated by Sam (Ted Danson) and Diane (Long). It was one of the great TV romances, and the stars had some say over when they broke up and got back together. 

'Cheers': Sam (Ted Danson) pours a drink behind the bar while Diane (Shelley Long) waits
Ted Danson and Shelley Long | Ron Tom/NBCU Photo Bank

Cheers co-creator and director James Burrows discussed the development of Sam and Diane relationship on Alan Alda’s Clear + Vivid podcast and the Conan O’Brien Needs a Friend podcast. Burrows was discussing his book, Directed By James Burrows, with both hosts and addressed the story of Sam and Diane. 

Sam and Diane got together early in ‘Cheers’

Diane was an aspiring writer who ended up at Cheers when her fiance left her. She took a job as a waitress and so began the flirtation with Cheers owner Sam Malone. Burrows recalled when they first got together, the reviews were scathing. 

“I still have Howard Rosenberg’s review in the L.A. Times who said the show is over, it’s lost the magic,” Burrows said on Conan O’Brien Needs a Friend. “We didn’t care. We knew we had to be evolving, we knew we had to get them together and break ‘em up, get ‘em together and break ‘em up and we knew that at the end of every year, the boys would write themselves into a corner. They’d break them up somehow and then figure out in the summer how to get them back together again or not.”

Ted Danson and Shelley Long helped ‘Cheers’ tell Sam and Diane’s story

Getting together wasn’t the end of Sam and Diane’s story. At the end of season 2, Diane left Sam only to return in season 3 with Frasier Crane (Kelsey Grammer). But, Sam and Diane were planning their wedding before the end of season 5.


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“It’s an important part of the process because you inhabit those characters,” Burrows said on Clear + Vivid. “On Cheers, we would at the end of every season, we would have Ted and Shelley come up to the room and talk to us about their relationship, what they felt, where it was going, what they felt working with one another, how they felt about each other’s characters. We would take that all in and then the boys would go off and write the arc of the next season. So actors are valuable.”

The end of Sam and Diane 

When Long decided to leave Cheers to pursue movies, that spelled doom for Sam and Diane. Diane postponed their wedding to pursue a writing opportunity, but Sam knew she wasn’t coming back. Cheers even filmed a Sam and Diane wedding to throw the studio audience off. Long would return in the season 11 series finale to explain why she never called

But, Cheers season 6 introduced new stories for Sam and the other characters. Sam sold the bar to a company who put Rebecca Howe (Kirstie Alley) in charge. When Sam came crawling back, he had to work for Rebecca. Sam and Rebecca became a new will they/won’t they which lasted six more years.