On May 20, 1993, Cheers ended its eleven-year run on NBC by bringing back the girl who got away. In the 98-minute episode, "One For the Road," Shelley Long reprises her role as Diane Chambers, the cocktail waitress/writer who left the Boston bar (and its handsome owner) six years earlier to concentrate on her novel. The gang watches The Cable Ace Awards and are stunned to see Diane not only nominated for an award, but win her category (her novel became a TV movie). Sam sends her a congratulatory telegram, she calls to say thank you, they catch up and talk of their respective spouses and children, and Sam casually invites her to visit the bar sometime, believing she'll never come. She does.
Carla can't stop shrieking when her nemesis walks back into Cheers. Frasier claims to be over Diane and happily married, but his actions say otherwise. Diane brings her "husband" Reed, Sam convinces a heartbroken Rebecca (who had just turned down a proposal from her plumber-boyfriend, Don) to act as his wife, and the foursome heads upstairs for an awkward lunch. Don bursts in and re-proposes to Rebecca, who accepts, and Reed's boyfriend enters in a jealous rage, prompting Reed to chase after him. Sam and Diane are left alone to speak their truths: they're both single and not where they thought they'd be at this point in their lives.
Cut to the next day, when Woody is sworn in as a member of the Boston City Council (and he's married with a baby on the way). A man of influence now, he arranges for an unemployed Norm to have a job with the city. Sam and Diane walk into the bar and announce they're engaged, yet no one expresses any excitement. Sam then reveals that they are leaving for California and he isn't coming back. When the gang asks what will become of all of them, Sam tells them he's not their mother, and the bar isn't their home.
But when electrical problems keep the LA-bound plane firmly on Boston soil, Sam and Diane reconsider their reconciliation. Is their rush to start a life together based on their love for each other, or on their fear that they will end up alone? They mutually decide to part ways, and Sam returns home to Cheers.
When he walks back through the door, he opens up a box of Cuban cigars he's been holding on to, hoping to share a smoke with the crew. One by one they each make excuses for why they can't stay, with Woody sharing that they're all leaving because "it's not like this is our home." As Sam fears he's alienated his best friends, they all quickly return with a "gotcha!" They smoke, they drink, they ponder what life's all about.
And of all people, it's Norm who offers the most profound answer for what really matters in life. After Cliff's convincing argument that comfortable shoes are the key to life, Norm tells Sam a little secret after everyone else has left. The most important thing in life is … love. "I don't think it matters what you love, Sammy. Could be a person, could be a thing. As long as you love it totally, completely, without judgment." Norm confesses to Sam that he knew Sam would return, because, "You could never be unfaithful to your one true love. You always come back to her." Sam asks who "she" is, and Norm replies, "Think about it, Sam," as he exits.
Sam then strokes the cherry wood of the bar and proclaims, "I'm the luckiest son-of-a-bitch on earth." He tells a wannabe customer that the bar is closed, adjusts the photo of Geronimo on the wall, and walks out the back of the bar.
And so the series ends. "One For the Road" received an overall Nielsen rating of 45.5 (over 42 million households watched the program), and total viewership was estimated at 93 million. A Cheers retrospective hosted by Bob Costas aired just prior to the series finale, and the cast appeared on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno later that evening in a live, remote telecast from Boston's Bull and Finch pub (which served as the exterior for Cheers).
In the end, Sam may have lost Diane (twice, as Carla so delicately points out over cigars), but he ultimately came back to the love of his life. Cheers.
- Adrienne Faillace