Ten TV Stars Who Left Hit Shows And Now Appear in Made-for-TV Movies

Senior Pop Culture Editor
04.27.11 62 Comments

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.

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