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Rhea Perlman Admitted There Was "Friction" Between Shelley Long and Her "Cheers" Co-Stars

Long left the series after five seasons in 1987.

For five seasons, Shelley Long starred on the hit sitcom Cheers, and during that time, she was half of one of the most iconic TV couples of all time. She played Diane Chambers to Ted Danson's Sam Malone, and their characters' on-and-off-again relationship was part of what kept fans tuning in. So, when Long left the series in 1987, it was a huge shock to audiences.

Despite the comedy's success, there was tension behind the scenes between Long and her Cheers co-stars. This has been confirmed by Long herself and by her castmates, including Rhea Perlman, who played Carla Tortelli. Read on to find out what they've said about the conflict.

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Perlman confirmed the drama between Long and her castmates.

During a 2019 appearance on Watch What Happens Live, Perlman was asked about rumors that there was "so much friction" between Long and the Cheers cast. Perlman confirmed that matters weren't always smooth, but made it clear that on-set troubles weren't as dire as rumored.

"There was, you know, there was a little," Perlman said. "But she left, and then we had Kirstie, and life moved on." Kirstie Alley joined the show as Rebecca Howe in Season 6, after Long's departure.

Watch What Happens Live host Andy Cohen pointed out how well Alley fit in, and Perlman responded, "It was truly one of the greatest first days. As was when Woody [Harrelson] took over for Coach who died—Nick Colasanto—who was, we all thought, irreplaceable. It was just like these two people just were the exact people you needed."

Long and Danson addressed rumors of a feud.

Shelley Long and Ted Danson on "Cheers"

In 1987, Danson was profiled by People and was asked about Long leaving the show. Commenting on the rumored feuding between them, he said, "I ain't gonna say anything bad about my partner. I mean, my wife and I have terrible arguments sometimes, and they're kind of our business. Our relationship, Shelley's and mine, has included not being happy with each other and being happy with each other."

As for Long, she told the magazine, "Terrible teasing went on in the relationship and outside the relationship, but our energy went into our work and it paid off."

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Years later, more details about the "schism" became public.

Ted Danson and Shelley Long at the 2006 TV Land Awards
Kevin Winter/Getty Images

In 2012, GQ published an oral history of Cheers in which many cast and crew members shared their experiences working on the show. Several participants shared that it was Long's acting process and meticulousness about her character that rubbed some people the wrong way.

"Shelley believed that she was the new Lucille Ball, and she would spend hours after the run-through talking with the writers about her character and the story, just talking it to death," assistant director Thomas Lofaro said. "They would indulge her, but they indulged her to a point where they couldn't stand it anymore.

Series co-creator Glen Charles said, "Shelley liked to discuss things. It was never a tantrum. But it did take a lot of talking, and I think the biggest problem was with the rest of the cast, because we'd have a reading at the table, and immediately she'd want to talk about it." Charles said that the crew accommodated Long, which "created a schism between Shelley and the rest of the cast."

Danson added, "Shelley's process would have infuriated you if it had been mean or if it hadn't been purposeful. But it was purposeful—it was her way of being Diane—and there's not a mean bone in Shelley's body. I had trouble hanging around her until we stood onstage together, and then I was in heaven."

Perlman declined to discuss Long's style and how it impacted the set in that interview. "It's not really something I can talk about, to tell you the truth," she said. "I can't go there. I don't think it's worth it, at this point in life."

Another co-star believed Long wanted him fired from the show.

Kelsey Grammer and Shelley Long on "Cheers"

The GQ oral history notes that in his 1995 memoir, So Far…, co-star Kelsey Grammer wrote that he believed Long tried to sabotage him. "Shelly's efforts to get me off the show were relentless. I learned after read-throughs she would insist the writers took out every laugh I had," he wrote.

Long called Grammer's take on the situation "so wrong." She added, "I have no idea how he got that idea other than me speaking up one time and saying, 'No, I really don't think it should be Frasier's baby.'" This was in reference to discussions about her character becoming pregnant when Long herself was expecting.

"It's just a crime that people don't take the time and make the effort to have a conversation if it's bothering them that much," Long continued. "I wish he had said something, but he never did. You know, it's too bad." Grammer confirmed in the oral history that he and Long had made up.

Long shared why she quit the show.

Shelley Long at NBC's 75th Anniversary in 2002
Everett Collection / Shutterstock

In the oral history, Long defended her approach to her character.

"There was scuttlebutt about me talking too much and being passionate about Diane. But I thought, 'That's my job. That's what I'm supposed to do… Don't tell me not to get involved in the discussion,'" she said.

The Troop Beverly Hills star also shared that she chose to leave the show because she thought that her storyline was becoming repetitive and because she wanted to spend more time with her young daughter.

"The Cheers writers were the finest in television. But I felt like I was repeating myself; it bothered me a little bit. And I was getting movie offers, which made people think, 'Oh, she's so snooty. She thinks she's going to do movies,'" Long explained.

She continued, "But most people tended to understand, because I had a two-year-old baby, and I wanted to spend more time with my family, which was the other reason I left the show … It was a good decision."

Lia Beck
Lia Beck is a writer living in Richmond, Virginia. In addition to Best Life, she has written for Refinery29, Bustle, Hello Giggles, InStyle, and more. Read more
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