Even Hollywood’s biggest stars have some TV skeletons in their closets
Today we know them as some of television’s biggest stars, from hits such as Seinfeld, Friends and ER, but stardom didn’t come immediately. In fact, before becoming TV icons, each of these performers survived the humiliating failure of an earlier project that gave little indication of the success that would (eventually) come.
Jerry Seinfeld/Benson (1979)
Up-and-coming stand-up comic Jerry Seinfeld got what he thought was his big break in 1979 when he was cast on the hit sitcom Benson in a small recurring role as a joke-spouting mail-delivery guy named Frankie. It didn’t go well and he was fired after appearing in just a few episodes. As Seinfeld tells it, he didn’t find out he had been sacked until she showed up for a table read and discovered there was no script for him.
Dana Carvey & Nathan Lane/One of the Boys (1982)
Before hitting it big on SNL and The Birdcage, respectively, young actors Dana Carvey and Nathan Lane were thrilled to be cast in this 1982 sitcom vehicle built around legendary Mickey Rooney, who played a retiree who busts out of his rest home and moves in with his college-student grandson (Carvey) and roommate (Lane). A full-fledged stinker, the show never made it through the season, although the experience led Carvey to perfect an awesome Mickey Rooney impression that killed on SNL.
George Clooney/E/R (1984)
In a weird twist of fate, a decade before he landed the career-making role of Dr. Doug Ross on NBC’s ER, George Clooney played a doctor on a different NBC show called E/R, a short-lived sitcom based on a stage play. The show — starring Elliott Gould — only lasted a single season, but also featured a young actor named Jason Alexander, who would also go on to bigger and better things.
Matt LeBlanc/Top of the Heap (1991)
Matt LeBlanc must have thought he’d hit paydirt when he landed the role of dimwit goombah Vinny Verducci alongside comedy veteran Joe Bologna in this spin-off of Fox’s smash hit Married…With Children. Unfortunately, the show was a total dud and was cancelled after seven episodes. LeBlanc had a second chance when his character was spun off into another show called Vinnie & Bobby. This spin-off of a spin-off also lasted seven episodes before it too was cancelled. LeBlanc would later make zillions playing a similar dimwit goombah in a far better show.
Drew Carey/The Good Life (1994)
Bespectacled Cleveland native Drew Carey’s comedy star was on the rise when he landed the sidekick role in this 1994 sitcom that was meant to be a vehicle for stand-up comic John Caponera, who starred as a middle-manager at a Chicago office. Unfortunately for Caponera, Carey’s character — a shlumpy cubicle jockey who’s inexplicably a chick magnet — stole the show. It was cancelled after 13 episodes.
Mariska Hargitay/Can’t Hurry Love (1995)
The daughter of B-movie queen Jayne Mansfield, Mariska Hargitay was just another aspiring actress when she landed the role as the best friend and next-door neighbour of the character played by star Nancy McKeon (The Facts of Life). This little-watched rom-com was axed midway through its first season, leaving Hargitay available to investigate grisly sex crimes on Law & Order: SVU a few years later.
Louis C.K./Lucky Louie (2006)
Although Louis C.K.’s FX comedy Louie is a critical sensation hailed as a TV masterpiece, his previous comedy didn’t get quite the same response, to say the least. Making its debut on HBO in 2006, Lucky Louie was the comic’s attempt to meld the adult themes, language and nudity of pay cable with the traditional four-camera sitcom. An ambitious failure, the show was lambasted by critics and cancelled after a single season, although it remains the only TV sitcom in history to try to wring laughs from full-frontal male nudity.
(WARNING! THIS CLIP CONTAINS NAUGHTY LANGUAGE AND MAY BE FOUND OFFENSIVE)