Watching afterschool specials from the 1970s and 1980s is like looking through baby pictures or a high school yearbook for A-list actors. Many of them had their first TV roles on ABC Afterschool Specials, and the show’s teen angst and melodrama, acted out by inexperienced young actors, adds a level of unintentional comedy, especially upon reflection. Alumni of the corny but well-intentioned program include Oscar winners, TV heartthrobs, and great comedic talents.
Read on for 21 stars you never knew were in an afterschool special.
Rob Lowe in “Schoolboy Father”
In one of his first television roles, Rob Lowe played the title character of the schoolboy father, Charles Elderberry, in the 1980 episode “Schoolboy Father.” His ex-girlfriend Daisy gives birth to a son and puts him up for adoption, but Charles is not having it and says he wants to raise the child himself. Bonus: Rob Lowe sings pop love ballads in the shower.
Kyra Sedgwick and Jennifer Grey in “Cindy Eller: A Modern Fairy Tale”
“Cindy Eller: A Modern Fairy Tale” is a two-for-one deal for future stars Kyra Sedgwick and Jennifer Grey. The episode is a modern reimagining of Cinderella with Kyra Sedgwick playing Cindy, a teenage girl who isn’t getting along with her new step-mother and step-sisters. She befriends a homeless woman named Martha who wears metal pans for hats and encourages Cindy to go to the big party.
Jennifer Grey plays Laura, Cindy’s catty step-sister. This was one of her first on-screen roles, coming out only a year after Red Dawn and before Dirty Dancing or Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.
Reed Diamond in “Date Rape”
Before he was hailing Hydra on Agents of SHIELD, Reed Diamond played a similarly unlikable character, Gary, in the 1988 episode “Date Rape.” Spoiler: Gary is the rapist. In the episode, he takes his date Samm to an old, nearly abandoned warehouse and then forces himself on her. She doesn’t want to tell anyone, though, because Gary is the most popular guy in school.
Melora Hardin in “What Are Friends For?”
Melora Hardin is best known as Jan on The Office and Tammy in Transparent, but back in 1980, she appeared in the afterschool special “What Are Friends For?” This episode is probably one of the most insane of the afterschool specials with divorced parents, mental problems, kleptomania, Americans co-opting Eastern religious practices, witchcraft, and best-friend-forever pacts. Plus, Hardin’s character has a creepy antique doll collection that looks like something out of The Conjuring.
Sarah Jessica Parker in “The Almost Royal Family”
“The Almost Royal Family” firmly has its feet planted in 1984 with Sarah Jessica Parker posing next to a picture of Princess Diana. Sarah Jessica Parker plays Suzanne, a girl who is obsessed with the idea of royalty. Against all odds (and logic), her family inherits an island located between the United States and Canada. Technically, the island is not part of either country, so they form their own country Great Mosquito Island which makes Suzanne’s family “royalty.”