I wouldn’t be too worried for the career of Steve Carell after he leaves “The Office” tomorrow. Although his film career thus far has been spotty at best, including one of the most hated comedies of all-time ( Evan Almighty), Carell has enough roles already lined up to sustain him for awhile.
The same can’t be said for the following 10 actors and actresses, who left their hit TV shows hoping for something bigger and ended up instead finding—well, they found a lot of made-for-TV movies.
Lecy Goranson (“Roseanne”)
Fame: Known to fans as the First Becky, Goranson played Roseanne and Dan’s oldest daughter on the mega-popular show for four seasons, when she left to pursue her education at Vassar College. To cope, writers sparingly used Becky, but this soon became a problem, and Goranson was replaced with Sarah Chalke, a.k.a. Elliot on “Scrubs.” New Becky quickly jelled with the rest of the cast, and audience members began to forgot Chalke was a replacement cast member—until Goranson re-joined the show in its eighth season (except for two episodes, one involving an all-important wedding)…and left again before the show’s ninth, and final, season.
Ever Since: As someone who went to and graduated college, I’d just like to say: if I were in Goranson’s shoes in 1992, knowing what I know now, I’d have stayed on my top-five show—it certainly couldn’t have hurt her career, which has resulted in one-episode appearances in “Fringe” and “Sex and the City,” and that’s about it. She now has a tattoo and, all that having been said, a better post-“Roseanne” career than her on-screen brother, D.J.
Shelley Long (“Cheers”)
Fame: You’re the gorgeous star of a top-five show that’s won you an Emmy for Best Actress in a Comedy Series, along with the other three times you’ve been nominated—but you still want to leave. That’s what “Cheers” actress Shelley Long did in 1987, after five seasons of playing waitress Diane Chambers, for reasons still mostly unclear, although supposedly she constantly picked fights with the cast and crew.
Since Then: To quote Moe Szyslak, after Homer asks where his waitress went, “Oh, she left to pursue a movie career. Frankly, I think she was better off here.” You ain’t kidding, Moe: Long has never replicated the success she found on “Cheers.” She’s appeared in a bunch of largely forgettable movies—like Dr. T & the Women and the Brady Bunch films—and one spectacular bomb: the sperm-donor comedy Frozen Assets, which Roger Ebert once called “perhaps the worst comedy ever made.” But her most heinous offense: making Kirstie Alley a star.
McLean Stevenson (“M*A*S*H”)
Fame: Stevenson originally auditioned to become Franklin “Hawkeye” Pierce, the eventual breakout star on “M*A*S*H”, but that role went to Alan Alda. Stevenson, instead, played Lt. Colonel Henry Blake, but soon grew jealous at the popularity of Hawkeye. So, after only three seasons, when the show was ranked #5 in the Nielsen ratings, he asked to leave, and the writers obliged by killing his character off (the plane he was on was attacked over the Sea of Japan), making sure he could never return.
Since Then: With a name like his, it’s amazing Stevenson never became a marquee name. But how he did try: first, “The McLean Stevenson Show,” which lasted 12 episodes, then “In the Beginning” for 9, followed by “Hello, Larry,” which everyone hated, and lastly, 13 episodes of “Condo,” about a white family and a Hispanic family moving in next to one another in a condominium. Later, he played Baby’s father in the TV version of “Dirty Dancing.” Then he died in 1996. Show business is a bitch.
Sherry Stringfield (“E.R.”)
Fame: On a show known for its actors leaving, Stringfield is probably the most infamous example, unlike the famous George Clooney departure. She played Dr. Susan Lewis, who was with the show from the beginning, but after three seasons, she wanted to live a normal, non-acting life and break her contract, which called for a five-season commitment. This pissed off the show’s producers because it was around then that they were giving Lewis juicier storylines, including a romantic plot with Dr. Greene (see below), but she exited nonetheless, losing millions in the process, due to a soon-to-be signed cast member syndication deal. She returned in season eight, presumably because of a lack of money, and stayed with the show for four more years.
Since Then: Stringfield appeared on a few episodes of the least sexy “sexy” show of all-time, “Tell Me You Love Me,” and now mostly appears in TV movies, like “Who is Clark Rockefeller?” and “The Shunning,” about the Amish. Hmmm, an Amish made-for-TV movie? I guess she really didn’t need that syndication money, anyways.
Anthony Edwards (“E.R.”)
Fame: Oh God, I still remember Edwards’ final episode of “E.R.,” where he had portrayed Dr. Greene for eight seasons. Edwards told producers that he wanted to depart from the still-popular medical drama in order to concentrate on his directing career, and they came up with a doozy of a solution: diagnose Greene with brain cancer and kill him off! (Side note: I always thought Greene’s death episode, “On the Beach,” was the first pop culture use of Israel Kamakawiwo’ole’s hideously overplayed cover of “Over the Rainbow”—turns out, it was third, after Finding Forrester and Meet Joe Black. Sadly, Ukulele Ray‘s version has been underutilized.)
Since Then: And just like his character, Edwards’s career is dead, too. He hasn’t directed anything since a 2001 episode of “E.R.,” and his most famous role outside the confines of County General was as an inspector in David Fincher’s Zodiac. Last year, he appeared in Motherhood, the Uma Thurman-starring movie that only 11 people purchased tickets to see at its premiere in London and is now considered the second-biggest bomb in U.K. film history. He also isn’t George Clooney.
Shannen Doherty (“Beverly Hills, 90210”/”Charmed”)
Fame: The most common answer of why Doherty left “90210”: she was a total bitch, which isn’t all that surprising considering her character, Brenda Walsh, was a total bitch, too (it’s like being shocked Christian Bale is an intense man). After the show’s fourth season, Doherty was written off, replaced by another bad girl: Tiffani Amber-Thiessen. Years later, after doing nothing but starring in Mallrats, Doherty joined the cast of “Charmed”—but after three seasons, her character was killed, and replaced by Rose McGowan, supposedly due to tensions between Doherty and co-star Alyssa Milano.
Since Then: Outside of reprising her role as Brenda in the 2008 remake of “90210″, Doherty barely acts anymore, and couldn’t even beat 80-year-old Buzz Aldrin on “Dancing with the Stars” (or get past the first round). She also spells her first name stupidly.
Michael Moriarty (“Law & Order”)
Fame: Before joining the cast of “Law & Order” in 1990, Moriarty, no relation to Sherlock Holmes’ archenemy, won two Emmys—one for the TV movie “The Glass Menagerie” and the other for television miniseries “Holocaust”—and a Tony, too. But he’s best known as Executive Assistant to the District Attorney Ben Stone, appearing on 88 episodes of the show. In 1993, then-Attorney General Janet Reno launched a crusade against supposedly violent shows like “Law & Order”, and the outspoken Moriarty took offense. According to the actor, because of his public criticisms against Reno, including a full-page advertisement in a trade magazine, he was asked to leave the show.
Since Then: After departing “Law & Order,” he exiled himself in Canada, and has since gone crazy. In 2009, he went off on Dick Wolf, the creator of “Law & Order” who Moriarty still believes blackballed him, writing on Big Hollywood that Wolf made the show a “clown act that leads the American viewing audience into an increasingly predictable pile of hard left propaganda.” And here are his thoughts on Islam: “In and of itself, [Islam] is an Allah-worshiping, Kamikaze Nation, exactly like pre-World War II Imperial Japan. Its Bible, the Koran, can be read like Hitler’s Mein Kampf. It demands to rule the entire human race.” As for his acting career, he mostly appears in TV movies that no one’s ever heard of, and he also wrote and starred in “Hitler Meets Christ,” as seen above.
T.R. Knight (“Grey’s Anatomy”)
Fame: Knight’s character on “Anatomy,” Dr. George O’Malley, was being written out of the show by creator Shonda Rhimes in 2009, even though he was a fan favorite. Rhimes eventually confessed that she was subtly — or at least as subtly as “Grey’s Anatomy” can get — trying to prepare fans for a season finale involving O’Malley getting hit by a bus, but Knight had no idea, and was pissed that he only appeared on-screen for a total of 48 minutes in the first nine episodes of Season 5 (the two had “trust problems”). So, instead of asking Rhimes what was going on, Knight simply asked to leave. And he was hit by a bus.
Since Then: Well, I once got to interview him and Patrick Stewart when the two were doing press for A Life in the Theatre on Broadway. He seemed like a swell guy, and, um, that’s about it. As for “Grey’s Anatomy,” it sucked then and it sucks now, but women still watch it, so bad call, T.R.
Ellen Cleghorne (“Saturday Night Live”)
Fame: In 1991, Cleghorne became only the second African-American female repertory player, i.e. not featured, on “Saturday Night Live” (trivia: who was the first?), with a specialty of celebrity impressions that Kenan Thompson would probably be forced to do today, including Tina Turner, Whoopi Goldberg, and Toni Morrison. [Editor’s Note: Thompson does indeed portray Whoopi] After “Saturday Night Live’s” painfully unfunny 1994-1995 season, Cleghorne quit the show, thinking she could be more successful with a sitcom of her own, the modestly-title “Cleghorne!” It lasted one season on the WB. (Fun fact: its penultimate episode was named “Money for Nothing and Your Chicken for Free.”)
Since Then: She’s basically disappeared. Playing “Uncredited” in Old School hasn’t done much for her career, and according to IMDb, she hasn’t appeared in anything since 2007’s Mattie Fresno and the Holoflux Universe, the unofficial sequel to Joseph and the Technicolor Dreamcoat. But Cleghorne will always have a special place in my heart: as Bus Driver Sally in “The Adventures of Pete and Pete.”
Joe Piscopo (“Saturday Night Live”)
Fame: “This story begins in the unforgettable spring of 1983. Ms. Pacman struck a blow for women’s rights, and a young Joe Piscopo taught us how to laugh.” Piscopo joined the cast of “Saturday Night Live” in 1980, and he and Eddie Murphy quickly became the show’s breakout stars (here’s a brilliant clip of them impersonating Frank Sinatra and Stevie Wonder). They also both left the show in 1984 in search of big-time movie careers.
Since Then: “It all happened during the magical summer of 1985. A maturing Joe Piscopo left ‘Saturday Night Live’ to conquer Hollywood; People Express introduced a generation of hicks to plane travel; and I was in a barbershop quartet.” Unlike Murphy, who would soon star in Beverly Hills Cop, Raw, and Coming to America, Piscopo’s career quickly bombed with movies like Johnny Dangerously and Sidekicks, where he played an evil dojo store owner. He has since been accused of having a steroid addiction, and his career has become a punch line for “Family Guy”, Tom Petty, “Psych”, and, yes, “The Simpsons.”
Toby Huss (“The Adventures of Pete and Pete”)
Fame: It wasn’t exactly a big hit at the time, but for millions of nostalgic twentysomethings like myself, “The Adventures of Pete and Pete” was one of the greatest things to come out of the 1990s, along with Pavement and Topanga from “Boy Meets World.” He left the show near the end of Season 2 with the two-part episode “Farewell, My Little Viking,” where the Strongest Man…in the World! goes off to befriend another young boy in need of a superhero (in retrospect, that’s pretty disturbing, actually).
Since Then: Huss has gotten steady work since, including voicing Cotton on “King of the Hill” and as the Robber in an episode of “Bob’s Burgers” from earlier this year, but he’ll never top Artie, who taught me how to dance the Voodoo Crispy.