BetteBack January 22, 1987: Shelley Long On Leaving Cheers And Outrageous Fortune

Winnipeg Free Press
January 22, 1987


A few weeks ago, the day Shelley Long announced she would be leaving her role as Diane Chambers, the sassy, literary minded waitress on TV’s Cheers, the phones in her publicist’s office rang all day. People across the country wanted a comment, a reason for her departure. What should, perhaps, have come as a Casual announcement from Hollywood’s faritasyland turned into a heated race to get “the scoop.”

One of the most popular sitcoms on TV for the past five years, much of the show has been built around Diane’s on-again, off-again, onagain romance with the less than brainy, but very brawny bartender, Sam Malone. Their rollercoaster romance recently culminated in an engagement. But Long won’t be around to hear the wedding bells.

“Boy, it was tough, really tough,” Long says, shaking her head, of her decision to leave the
show. “I really care about all those people, about the show, and Sam and Diane‘s relationship, and it was very hard to let go of that.

But the producers couldn’t give me any specifics in the direction that the relationship would take next year. The first year that process of getting together was difficult, there were some wonderful episodes done but there was a kind of struggle involved. It was hard to know what that relationship should be like when Sam and Diane were together.

“After the breakup it was pretty jerky from then on. There was a constant juggle. My question was “What is going on here? What are my feelings? What is my character looking for?’ It was difficult to know what Diane had in mind, what she was seeking. I would have a lot of questions, as actresses always do, and when you’re working with a lot of people there, a lot of writers and producers, it’s hard to get clear insights into those questions.”

It is obvious that despite the fact the actress has landed a sweet development deal with Disney Studios, leaving the show that made her famous was a serious decision.

She relates an anecdote about two women she encountered in an elevator who expressed their disappointment at her departure. From her tone, it’s clear she feels, on a very personal level, that she’s let down her fans.

“I’m touched to hear that people feel that kind of tie to my character and the show. I understand that Diane is a primary element in the show but I don’t think she’s the most primary. Everyone is given strong consideration and a lot of exposure. I’m sure Cheers will do just great next year without me.”

C e r t a i n l y her d e p a r t u r e shouldn’t, in reality, be given the importance of headline news but, then again, considering the reams of articles on how Dallas viewers felt cheated by Pam’s Dream, it’s understandable why Long herself seems to be suffering from some
private angst.

But whatever personal turmoil her decision has wrought, Long may find solace in the release of her first film for Disney, Outrageous Fortune. Although she has done numerous films before, from the bombs Caveman, Loosin’ It and The Money Pit, to Night Shift and Irreconcilable Differences, it is Outrageous Fortune that may make the actress a viable box office draw.

The witty, rowdy comedy pairs Long with Betle Midler in one of the few female “buddy” pictures to come out of Hollywood in recent history. Both women play actresses, with Midler playing the unorthodox slob and Long – in a role not too far removed from Diane Chambers – a sophisticated, snobbish “.method” actress.

“I think the combination of Shelley Long and Bette Midler brings a lot of images to mind and just makes you laugh,” says Long. “It was written that way, for two different ladies who are thrown together in an unlikely situation but who make the best of it.”

The “situation” in this case is the discovery that their “dream” man (Peter Coyote) has been romancing each of the unsuspecting actresses. But the battles between Long and Midler on-screen made the papers as well when it was reported the pair were fighting off-screen over who would receive top billing in the credits.

“The word battle is so ridiculous,” asserts Long. “It wasn’t a battle. Billing is an important element in a contract. It does affect advertising and conceptions. I don’t know, this isn’t my area. Lawyers, agents and managers, they get into it and it’s regarded by those people as being important.

It’s not life shattering, but it’s important. I had my contract’first.

Bette wanted top billing, which makes every sense in the world, and those people went off and worked it out and everyone was happy. I got top-billing in half the country and she got it in the other half. What annoys me is that the press seems to really be looking for any issue.

“If people want to see a good fight, they should go to the movie because we fought good. We scream and roll on the floor and pull each other’s hair. It’s great. They’ll love it.”

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