Old School Americana & Nostalgia


‘Cheers’: Ted Danson Has Shelley Long to Thank for His Iconic Role

‘Cheers’: Ted Danson Has Shelley Long to Thank for His Iconic Role

Ted Danson would have lost out on the role of Sam Malone in Cheers if it hadn’t been for Shelley Long. 

The Emmy-winning star got his first major break when he landed a spot in the now-iconic series. For 11 seasons, he portrayed a womanizing ex-baseball player who had all the jock stereotypes of the 80s. In real life, Danson claims he wasn’t at all a ladies’ man. Furthermore, he was a bit shy. So when he read for the part, he didn’t know how to get into character. 

In most situations, Danson would have lost the part, and who knows what that would have done to his now illustrious career. But he happened to read with Shelly Long, and they had enough onscreen chemistry to keep the producers interested. 

“I maintain that I got Sam because I was teamed with Shelley. She was really unique,” he told GQ in Sept. 2012. “You can’t imagine anyone else playing Diane. She was Diane.” 

Even after scoring the lead, Danson struggled to get into his persona. He said it took “at least two years” to own it. 

“There was an ease and an arrogance to Sam, and I was not a womanizer; I didn’t date a lot. If I kissed somebody, I was basically married from that point on,” he joked. 

‘Cheers’ Co-Creators Recall Danson’s Audition

In 2003, co-creators Glen and Les Charles spoke on Danson’s tepid audition during an interview with the Television Academy Foundation. They were not afraid to admit that the actor failed to impress them at first. He simply lucked out by being paired with Long and meshing with her so effortlessly. 

According to the duo, Danson and Malone were drastically different. Danson came off as “insecure.” And initially, the character was going to be an ex-football player. Danson didn’t have the build to pull that off. So, “there was controversy” about his consideration. Nonetheless, he made it to the final round of auditions. Three couples read together that day, and Danson had the luck of the draw when he partnered with Long, who had already secretly scored her part. 

“They would play off of each other. One would do something a little unexpected, and the other would respond to that. And they just enjoyed playing with each other, having fun together,” Les recalled. “It’s fun to watch that.”