Monday, February 09, 2009

I love Shelley Long

An unavoidable delay in the Grammy review. It will be posted soon.

It still kills me that Shelley lost the Emmy one year to Jackee. How is that even possible?

Recently, I caught a first year episode of CHEERS and was reminded all over again of just how brilliant Shelley Long was. Diane Chambers was a role fraught with danger. Without just the perfect actress you could reeeeally hate that character. But Shelley managed to make her likeable and vulnerable and hysterically funny while still keeping the edge and condescension that “Diane” required. Not easy to do. Kinda like walking a tightrope in a typhoon.

It’s been 25 years, there have been a lot of shows since, many with really gifted comediennes, but I’ve never seen anyone better.

Here’s an example. One of my favorite scenes. From the episode “Diane’s Perfect Date” written by David Lloyd and directed by James Burrows. Sam and Diane agree to set each other up with dates, but Sam thinks that’s just a ruse and that Diane is going to set him up with herself. So he makes no effort to find her a date. Come the night in question, Diane arrives with a woman for Sam. Now he has to scramble. He grabs the first guy he can find. Here's what happens:


Anonymous said...

I totally agree with you. Although i' ve just started to see Cheers about a month ago (The first 4 seasons on DVD)i think she is a terrific actress. It's a pity that she didn't make many movies. One of mt favoirte scenes, where you can see how amazing she is, is when she and Andy Andy are playing a scene form Othello, and Diane is obviously not a gifted actress.
It's so difficult for an actress to play a role of a bad actress and she was great.
Keep writing, i like your blog.

Ps: Sorry for my English, i'm form Spain

Anonymous said...

Feel better...I am pretty sure Jackee won a supporting actress award and Ms. Long was always nominated as a lead actress. Not to say, she wasn't sometimes robbed. Just not by Jackee.

Alex S. said...

Different categories and never in the same year. Long was nominated 1983-1986 and Jackee in 1987 and 1988.

Shelley Long lost twice to Jane Curtin of Kate & Ally and then to Bette White in Golden Girls.

Now that the joke has been examined into the ground, I do agree with the sentiment of the post. I thought she was underrated and the mocking she took for leaving to pursue a movie career was mostly unfair.

Anonymous said...

Ken, I have a factoid I KNOW you'll appreciate. I was watching, as I do most every day, the wee hours rerun of TO TELL THE TRUTH on the Game Show Network. This episode circa 1958 had the panel identify the two parties involved in a romance that put a warm spot in the Cold War.

Czech discus star Olga Fikotova and American hammer throw champion Harold Connolly met and fell in love at the 1956 Melbourne Olympics. Three months later (after both won gold medals in their events) Connolly came to Prague and proposed to Fikotova. Although the authorities were reluctant at first, they did give permission and the couple were married in the Czech capital in March 1957 as a crowd of 20,000 cheered.

And the couple's best man...legendary Czech marathoner Emil Zatapek.

(the two would divorce in 1973, though)

Verification--"rergerge"--I believe that is the French term declaring it vulgar for someone to vomit.

Anonymous said...


Thank you for acknowledging Shelley Long. In my view she has long been under appreciated. She could do everything from really dramatic stuff to downright whacky -- I love the episode with "the voice" in which she suffers allergies after moving in with Frasier. And she pulled it all off. She made Diane seem real and genuine and that's not easy.

I especially like to watch her as other people are the center of attention... her reactions to what they say are wonderful and add depth to all those scenes.

Cheers was never the same without her. Maybe just as funny or even funnier, but it didn't have the same heart and soul.

Anonymous said...

If Long had more than one note to her acting, she might have had more chance in features. She struck me has having very limited range. I thought Christy Ally had much bigger acting chops. I've met a lot of people who had the same impression.

Anonymous said...

I'm so glad to see your praise for Shelley Long. I thought she did a terrific job. It used to bug me that she seemed to take flack from her co-stars, Rhea Pearlman and even Danson, which struck me as graceless. I don't know what the dynamics were among the cast and on the set, but she was a huge part of that show's success at the beginning. I'm glad to see her get some recognition here.


Anonymous said...

Shelly Long had terrific range as an actress, otherwise she could never have nailed the character as well as she did.

Over the years, I think her leaving the show clouded some people's judgment of her performance. I look as those years as a completed arc of a love story. And it was pretty damn funny.

Anonymous said...

that's funny David, I had the complete opposite take on Long and Alley, (though I mean that not in the let's start a long internet fight about it way). I always found Alley one dimensional, which was good when she played a Vulcan, but not Long.

word verification: ovely, as in isn't she.


Anonymous said...

Some people have a hard time separating an actor from a role. Diane was the kind of character who would probably drive the average Joe or Jane up a wall in real life. They loved seeing Carla take Diane down a peg or two, but probably had no great love for the character per se. When Long left the show for movies, it seemed like a very Diane thing to do. Rightly or wrongly, this hasn't helped the public perception of her at all.

But there's no doubt the role was perfect for her, and she was perfect in it.

Anonymous said...

In the final season of Cheers Norman summed Kirsty Ally up perfectly "A jibbering idiot" but Shelley she had class and presence she was never silly. She was a brilliant actress and some of her films are really good if not classics. However if you want to see Shelley at her best try and see "Good Advice". No carla or the others but Shelley and Treat Wiliiams Really brilliant.

Anonymous said...

I've always kind of preferred Rebecca over Diane but that's not to say I didn't enjoy Diane's character. I liked her best in her last two seasons. (4 and 5).

I was just watching the final season of Cheers over the weekend and there's a scene where Woody, Norm, Cliff and Frasier go to the drive-in. They are discussing how a certain actress left the Godzilla movies halfway through the series. A wonderfully written self referencing line follows- Woody: Why would an actress leave a successful series right in middle?

Cracked me up.

I've probably seen that episode 20 times and never really paid much attention to the line before but for some reason it really jumped out at me this time around.

I did really like Shelley Long in at least three movies. The Brady Bunch and it's sequel and The Money Pit. (I may be the only person on earth who really enjoyed The Money Pit but that movie still cracks me up)

Anonymous said...

I enjoyed the last few seasons of Cheers so much, the balls-to-the-walls anarchy of them, that sometimes I actually forget how good, and how different, those first five seasons were, and Shelley Long was damn good.

And Coach. God I loved Coach.

One thing recently occured to me: I've read that the writers and Kirstie Alley had trouble figuring out how to fit Rebecca in with the rest of the group, and then figured out she was just as big a loser as the rest of them, and they could write really broad comedy for her. I was wondering if the "Shut uuuuuuuppppp" scene with Rebecca's sister (Marcia Cross) was a turning point? and if those kinds of turning points, with an actor/character, are common in sitcoms (or dramas, if you realize how good and interesting a character can be)?

Anonymous said...

On the special features of one of the DVD sets, Ted Danson praises Shelley Long, even giving her all the credit for the on-screen relationship between Sam and Diane. I thought it was a classy thing to do -- and, no doubt, true. Perhaps he was letting bygones by bygones.

Cap'n Bob said...

Well, David O'Hara, I suspect that most of the people who prefer Ally to Long are Ally's fellow Scientologists. If they had one ounce of perception they wouldn't be in that cult in the first place.

Anonymous said...

<3 shelley

p.s.-to sky,com's comment, where can one see "Good Advice" ?

Alan Coil said...

My favorite Cheers episode is the season finale where Shelly Long left the series. But I think it was the right time to leave. Many series lose their appeal after 4 or 5 seasons, so having a major cast change enables the show to go on for many more years.

Anonymous said...

Cap'n Bob Napier
"Well, David O'Hara, I suspect that most of the people who prefer Ally to Long are Ally's fellow Scientologists. If they had one ounce of perception they wouldn't be in that cult in the first place."

Wow, that's quite a leap, Alley = Scientologist, Scientologists = Senseless Losers therefore Alley Fans = Senseless Losers.

You weren't employed by the Bush Administration by any chance?

I for one am neither a senseless loser or Scientologist and while I thought Ms. Long did some fine work I always thought that Kirstie Alley (along with Bebe Neuwirth and Roger Rees) saved the series and added several years to it's existence. The original cast were a likable enough group, but no series has ever done a better job of adding recurring characters over the life of the show than Cheers.

JP said...

Good clip - Cheers was brilliant.

And more a Diane than Rebecca fan (though aware of some of Long's limitations).

Anonymous said...

To Stacet Sgrabo1640 re Good Advice. Good Advicer appeared on English Channel 4 but I got my copy ( 4 discs, ) from Andrew who used to run the Web site The Shelley Long Asylum but closed down now. I have tried everywhere to get original discs but to no avail whatsoever. I found the series brilliant and the characters where much much better than Cheers and thankfully NO obnoxious Carla and it dealt with grown up situations like homelessness which Shelley supports and a welcome change from the silliness of some of cheers. If you ever get a chance of getting Good Advice jump at it because each episodee starts with a 3 or 4 minute long comedy situation that were really very good indeed. Treat Williams who is a good actor anyway was a pleasure to watch.

Cap'n Bob said...

As a matter of fact. l.a. guy, I was employed by the Bush administration. I'm now employed by the Obama administration. And while I didn't make the leap in logic you claim, it works out anyway. Yep, Scientologists are losers. They lose money, time, and pride to a money-hungry con job that was founded by one of the biggest frauds to walk the earth.

Anonymous said...

I love you, Cap'n Bob!

Anonymous said...

Watching Cheers in England in the 1980s, all my family adored Shelly Long as Diane. I think she is one of the most brilliantly realised comic characters I've ever had the good fortune to watch on TV. Who invented her character and who cast Shelly Long? Did Cheers' creators realise she was pure gold from the start?

Thanks for such an entertaining blog


Cap'n Bob said...

Thanks, anonymous. You wouldn't happen to be a 30-something gorgeous female nympho by any chance. I'd like to be loved by one of them.

Seriously, thanks for the kudos.

WV: mista. Mister, in ebonics.

Anonymous said...

Well, Cap'n Bob, I AM a gorgeous female nympho, but GEE WHIZ... why can't you guys ever appreceate a woman over 40?? (even those of you who are on the shady side of 60 yourselves?) There IS something to be said for experience... just ask Tallulah!!
PS For the record, I'm only HALF her age ;) And I still love you, even though you are an ageist.

Cap'n Bob said...

Did I say 30? Must have been a typo. I meant 50. My apologies.

nicolas said...

my name is nicolas noe,and ive had the great pleasure of living in a time when magnificent creatures like shelley ruled my young dreams.Aithough now middle aged , married and with an insanely beautifull daughter of my own, my late teen to mid twenties could not have been as charmed if it were not for actresess of this caliber and class.Shelley showed me , through her acting,just how complicated and magnificent women really are.With this knowledge i have done the women in my life justice and will pass these sentiments on to my little girl.WE all have our trials shelley.thank you for showing how well to overcome them ,with love and compasion filtered through understanding.My camp wishes you all the best things in life.Youve earnt from australia

Frank Lapore said...

I would give my right arm to be with shelly literally as long as its a commitment I worship the ground she walks upon literally.

lauren alfreno said...

"Good Advice" was on CBS for a couple of seasons in the mid-90's. It WAS HYSTERICAL. Treat Williams and Shelly had an unbelievable chemisty. And then Teri Garr joined as Shelley's sister in the second season, which wad also amusing. I wish it would come out on DVD or be played in reruns. Shelley is hysterical and I enjoyed many of her films. If you haven't had a chance to see "Outrageous Fortune" with Bette Midler or "Don't Tell Her It's Me" (also known as "The Boyfriend School) with Steve Guttenburg and Jami Gertz, I highly recommend them as enjoyable examples of Shelley's range and acting prowess. If memory serves, she also received critical praise for a dramatic TV movie where she played a woman with multiple personalities (possibly titled "Voices Within: The Trudie Chase Story"??) and in Robert Altman's "Dr. T and the Women" opposite Richard Gere.

Anonymous said...

Why is no one acknowledging "Irreconcilable Differences" for godsakes? It's a masterpiece -- especially Shelley Long's performance. She clearly outshines Ryan O'Neil. Sharon Stone and Drew Barrymore -- not an easy accomplishment. And the Movie of the Week -- for the record -- was called "Voices Within: The Many Lives of Trudie Chase". I recall it being horrid, but perhaps I am wrong.

Doug Falor Jr said...

Thanks for such a moving tribute to such a phenomenal talent. Via her recent guest turn on Modern Family as Eddie O'Neil's first wife, I was energized to reexamine some Shelley's movie and TV work. I mean, I even bought her as a hooker in Ron Howard's "Night Shift". Well, I mean I should clarify -- I didn't ACTUALLY BUY HER, but you know what I mean. I was a believable and comedically spot-on portrayal. I shoulf also mention that although I didn't see the mini-series, Truddi Chase, the woman Shelley played in "Voices Within" was recently on Oprah and sadly passed away several months ago from Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disorder (thought I'd give the update for the others on here who were discussing it).

Doug Falor said...

I was surprised she didn't get an Emmy nod for guesting on "Modern Family" last year. I hope they bring her character back. She and Ed O'Neil had an interesing chemistry. You know where I didn't enjoy her? Frozen Assets -- America's premier sperm bank comedy.

Meschach Pustizzi said...

I just read that Shelley Long will be back as DeDe on Modern Family again this year. Apparently, with Matt Dillon as her new boyfriend. Yowzers

Robin Raven said...

I agree. I came across your site when looking for an old site dedicated to Shelley I visited a while back. I discovered "Cheers" and Diane in reruns when I was 12, and I became a lifelong Shelley fan. I've seen all her work. She's incredible. :) Great blog, and great points!

Kevin MacNutt said...

There was a certain rhythm the show had with Shelley Long that was missing when Kirstie Alley joined the cast. The interplay between the non-intellectual, but street smart Sam and the book smart but socially clueless Diane was brilliant.

I felt the first few episodes with Alley stumbled a bit, although it would regain a bit of it's grace towards the end of that season. That said, there has never been a bad period for Cheers, but 1982-1986 were the only episodes I would consider classic.

Anonymous said...

I just watched Cheers in reruns and I honestley think Shelley Long was better in Cheers than Kristey Alley.
But I think the role the writers bestowed on Kristey was downright silly.
Bebe Newirth helped the series to have a nice comedy aspect. For me at least. Looking at it I find the first 5 seasons better than the 6 others.

An (is my actual name) said...

Just read this and wanted to add my thanks for this lovely tribute to Shelley Long. She is indeed brilliant and never has gotten the recognition she so deserves.

She should be working constantly, and yet year after year, we are inundated with staggering numbers of "quirky" and winsome wide-eyed hipsters chewing on too long shirt sleeves and being adorkable, artlessly stammering the catchphrases du jour, while inevitably being shoehorned into an ill-fitting, half-assed non-starter of a Sam/Diane story they will never have the chops to execute with even a modicum of believability or audience engagement.

An actress like Shelley would be a great gift to any show or film worth its salt and to the viewing public, who is starved for nuance and craft in performance. I would love for her to become a regular on Modern Family or another smart comedy or drama. She deserves it. We deserve it.

Anonymous said...

Watching the Cheers episodes online via Netflix has been a real treat, and it gives you the ability to stop and replay lines for better scrutiny. The thing that is so apparent is just how good Danson and Long were. Their timing, phrasing and chemistry was remarkable.

Sometimes I imagine reading the lines of a piece of paper and many of them just weren't that funny. But the cast of Cheers had a way of making them funny. That is true talent.

I always like Danson but have become a big fan of Shelley Long. I'm sure she is proud of her Cheers performance and she should be. She was tremendous. That kind of talent really stands out.

Robin Raven said...

I just found this entry, it being Shelley's birthday, and I came here from the link on the terrific tribute to Shelley on the Sam and Diane Tumblr.

I wanted to say I thought this was well said, and I couldn't agree more. I so enjoy your blog and reading your insights.

Unknown said...

I adored Shelley Long in Cheers and think the series was not the same without her. The magic between her and Ted Danson was so tangible you could feel it. They were always together standing beside each other or behind each other and I was devastated to read that they didn't seem to get on. I was so sad to read that Ted didn't seem to like her but if it hadn't been for her the chemistry would not have been there. It wasn't there between Sam and Rebecca. But it really was the time for Diane to leave. Sam and she had done everything they could have done. The first series was the building up - the second was the living together - the third was the breakup when she was with Frasier - the fourth was a sort of build up again and the fifth they were engaged. If they had got married where would the series have gone then. The Sam and Diane were together and there was nowhere else for them to go. But the first five series were utterly brilliant.

njs said...

I think it was a real find for cheers to find Shelley Long. I have always loved her. I am a great fan. It was a shame that Ted Danson and Rhea Perlman did not get along with her. They recently had a 30th anniversary show for Cheers which showed Ted Danson and Shelley long together and how he thanked her for putting Cheers on the map. That was nice of him to do. I heard that Kelsey Cramer wasn't too fond of her either. If that be the case why did he have her on Frasier a couple of times. I think she is a wonderful actress, and should be proud of the work that she did on Cheers, no one else could of done a better job.

Anonymous said...

When Long left, "Cheers" had no reason to exist. Like "All in the Family/Archie Bunker's Place" after the exits of Mike, Gloria and Edith the series continued for purely economic reasons.

Kristie Alley was badly served by the male-centric "Cheers" writers, with episodes focused on Rebecca often coming off as little more than warmed-over Lucille Ball garbage. Rebecca's over-the-top bawling combined with brain-dead, forty-year old sitcom tropes like losing dogs, breaking priceless vases or hiding under the boss' bed made Alley's a thankless job. She was just one more cog in a very tired joke machine.

Long made "Cheers" worth watching. Nothing that came after her departure was of interest except to those who use aging sitcoms as TV comfort food.

Anonymous said...

I've loved Shelley since i was a little kid back in the 80's and I still do now and I do agree she is very underrated because she is wonderful in anything she does.Cheers really went downhill when she left and I don't blame her one bit for leaving. She wanted to move on with her movie career and she did a really great job in whatever she starred in.It could have been a flop and I would have watched it anyway because she's in it.That is how much Shelley has touched my life.Thank You Shelley you're one in a million.

JediJones said...

Thanks for this tribute to Shelley's talent and legacy. I would point to another actress who tried but failed to get the Diane Chambers role, Julia Duffy, as one who might have failed to pull off the same likability. Duffy of course played a similar pretty, upper class, snobbish character on Newhart. She never came off as warm, likable or lovable to me in that role. Shelley Long was so lovable that she was my first celebrity crush, as a 9-10 year old watching her last two Cheers seasons on NBC and the "Coach" years in syndication.

It's also important to note just how sexy she was. She exuded a classic, classy form of femininity while almost never being presented in an overtly sexual manner (although she could do that well too, see Night Shift). She had to have subtle sex appeal in her balancing act of a performance or we would never believe that Sam Malone would be attracted to her. Another dynamite scene that shows the layers in her performance is where Sam breaks into her apartment and she pretends to have called the cops on him. She has to convince Sam and the audience that Diane called the cops, while hiding the fact that Diane's still attracted to him and is just testing him, yet playing the scene for laughs by acting in an extremely polite manner towards Sam the whole time. It's so hard for an actress to make a scene like that both comprehensible, believable and amusing but she achieved it magnificently and to perfection.

I think she had real range as an actress, but clearly fell prey to typecasting after the Diane Chambers role. People wanting to cast her again and again in that role at least stands as an affirmation of how good she was in it. I wish someone like Quentin Tarantino would come along to write a fresh new part for her that would give her another chance to reinvent herself and have a little career revival.

I'm not sure why it's still seen as almost a scandal that she left the series. Seinfeld did 180 episodes of his series before calling it quits while the show was still popular. Shelley did 121 episodes. That is enough to have left a real legacy behind. Every great series seems to fall into creative rot at one point or another. I lost interest in Cheers sometime around season 8 when we started getting outlandish, unrelatable, gimmicky premises like Cliff being on Jeopardy. So I'm not going to worry about maybe 2 more good years we might have gotten with Shelley when I can appreciate the 5 great years that we did get.

I hope wherever she is she is aware of how many of us still remember her and look back fondly on all of the warm smiles, big laughs and good feelings that her work gave us.

Tim Norton said...


I agree about Shelley's remarkable depth, energy, sensitivity and talent as Diane. She was perfectly cast and the producers deserve credit for hiring her. She laid the foundation for a great show and it bothers me to think she may have been ostracized by other cast members but you know far better than others if that was true or not.

Shelley played every emotion and committed fully to every scene. She won me over in the pilot when she realized that Sumner Sloane had deserted her. Diane dropped her head in silent despair and Shelley surely drew on real pain because what was seen in her face was heartbreaking in that moment.

Please tell Shelley that millions of fans love her and are grateful for what she gave and the legacy she left us.