Hollywood can be a fickle town. Actors are constantly looking to move up a rung in their industry, every one of them thinking they’re destined to be the next Will Smith or Michelle Williams.
While this happens in the film world a lot, it’s doubly true of television, which still has a reputation as something of a little brother to the realm of movies. Television actors often make rash decisions to leave behind a cushy gig in pursuit of bigger and better things – even when no bigger or better things seem to be lurking over the horizon.
There are plenty of actors who would never admit they made a mistake leaving their hits shows behind, hanging on to their pride even as their careers flounder. The much rarer, more commendable among them can admit to their mistakes, and maybe even apologize for the behavior that led to their lapses in judgment. That kind of self-awareness may not always salvage wrecked careers, but it can go a long way toward healing old wounds and finding a way to move on for both the actors and their fans.
We’re taking a look at some of the men and women of the small screen who were big enough to admit they made career moves they regret.
These are 16 Actors Who Regretted Quitting Hit TV Shows.
16 Colton Haynes – Arrow
Colton Haynes’ Roy Harper was becoming an increasingly crucial aspect of Arrow by the DC superhero show’s third season.
Starting out as a love interest for Willa Holland’s Thea, Roy had one of the show’s more complex arcs, taking him from a street hood to Arsenal, one of Oliver Queen’s most trusted allies. But Roy abruptly departed the series at the end of the third season, faking his own death and leaving town after claiming he was the Arrow instead of Oliver.
It was a shocking development that fans struggled to understand. Haynes would later reveal that he asked to leave the show due to his lifelong struggle with an anxiety disorder that was reaching a fever pitch when he was working long days on Arrow.
Haynes still clearly loves the series and its cast, as he’s returned for guest spots several times since his departure as a series regular.
15 Wil Wheaton - Star Trek: The Next Generation
You have to feel for Wil Wheaton. When Star Trek: The Next Generation began in 1987, the teenaged Wheaton was the most well-known face on the series, having just come off a star-making performance in the film Stand By Me. The show’s first season was notoriously troubled, and Wheaton’s Wesley Crusher got the worst of it, coming off like a bratty, deeply unlikeable know-it-all.
Even though TNG had become one of the best shows on television by its fourth season, that early impression of Wesley had calcified.
Wheaton was ready to move on, thinking he’d pick up where he left off as a movie star.
That never happened, and Wheaton has voiced his regrets over leaving the series when he did. It may be a small consolation, but Wheaton has become something of a nerd icon in the internet age. Wesley was still the worst, though!
14 Charlie Sheen - Two And A Half Men
Charlie Sheen’s 2011 meltdown is probably the most well known thing about the actor at this point. Sheen has dealt with addiction and mental health problems his entire adult life, and he hit a particularly low ebb in 2011, when he left his hit sitcom Two And A Half Men in an explosive tantrum that alienated virtually everyone on the show.
Sheen has attempted to rehabilitate his life in recent years, as he attempts to resurrect his career.
He’s admitted he has regrets over how he dealt with his departure from Two And A Half Men, and lamented the fact he so thoroughly alienated the cast and crew he couldn’t come back for the show’s series finale.
Sheen is one of Hollywood’s most infamous cautionary tales, a genuine talent who just can’t seem to overcome his demons.
13 Matt Smith - Doctor Who
After three seasons of bow ties and fish fingers, Doctor Who star Matt Smith departed the TARDIS to make way for Peter Capaldi’s regeneration of the enigmatic Time Lord.
Saying goodbye to the Doctor is built in to the role; a dozen men have played the character over the show’s 55-year run, with Jodie Whitaker coming on later this year as the first female iteration of the Doctor.
Most actors who’ve portrayed the Doctor left on their own terms, and the incredibly popular Smith did indeed leave of his own volition, but he almost immediately began voicing his sorrow over no longer filling those Gallifreyan shoes. He regretted not having a longer tenure with Jenna Coleman’s Clara, and just generally felt like he probably had one more year in him.
If nothing else, it’s probably a good bet he’ll be on hand for the next multi-Doctor anniversary special.
12 Josh Bowman – Revenge
Be careful what you wish for. By the third season of the twisty ABC drama Revenge, Josh Bowman believed his character, Daniel Grayson, had switched allegiances and crossed lead character Emily Thorne so many times that he had run his course as a believable character. Bowman went so far as to tell members of the press he thought it made sense for his character to be killed off.
Bowman got his wish in the tenth episode of the show’s fourth season.
Daniel died trying to shield Emily from a gunshot, landing on the side of the good guys on his way out the door. Bowman expressed his sadness at leaving the series, but it ended up being a relatively minor misstep on his part, as ABC canceled the series at the conclusion of the fourth season.
11 Katherine Heigl - Grey’s Anatomy
The precipitous fall of Katherine Heigl is one of the more baffling Hollywood stories of the last decade.
Heigl became one of the breakout stars on the hit medical drama Grey’s Anatomy, playing the character of Izzie Stevens over the show’s first six seasons. After making a pointed criticism of the show’s writers by not submitting herself for Emmy consideration in 2008, suggesting the show’s material did not warrant awards attention. Heigl abruptly left the series in 2010 after not showing up for work. She was released from her contract to pursue more film opportunities.
Heigl’s post-Grey’s film career was a disaster, which led to a return to TV work, was also a disaster.
Grey’s Anatomy has continued on just fine without Heigl, who expressed a desire to revisit the show in 2012. Considering the bridges she burned, that seems like an unlikely outcome.
10 Jason Priestley - Beverly Hills 90210
For nine seasons, Jason Priestley’s Brandon Walsh was the moral center of the megahit teen soap Beverly Hills, 90210. The show made Priestley a household name, with only Luke Perry’s Dylan McKay emerging as a bigger icon.
Priestley was tiring of the role after literally hundreds of episodes, and decided to leave the series early on in its ninth season.
Priestley has admitted that was probably a mistake, as the show would only last one more year, and he felt that the show had no center without Brandon. He also worried that he had damaged his relationship with series producer Aaron Spelling by ducking out early, though that was apparently resolved before Spelling’s death.
Priestley’s gone on to a successful career as a director, but he knows he probably should have stuck around that iconic zip code for one more year.
9 Brian Dunkleman - American Idol
American Idol’s massive success in 2002 made household names of Simon Cowell, Randy Jackson, and Ryan Seacrest (Paula Abdulalready was, but definitely got a massive late career boost).
Brian Dunkleman seemed destined for the same fame and fortune, after serving as co-host with Seacrest during the show’s first season. But Dunkleman departed the show after that inaugural season. It remains unclear to this day if he quit or was fired.
Regardless, Dunkleman’s career essentially went nowhere.
He made some forgettable reality series appearances and now carves out a living as a low-profile standup comedian. Dunkleman has admitted to dealing with depression and resentment regarding his departure, and has vacillated on whether or not he wishes he could have remained. It’s probably a much more clear-cut decision when he looks at his bank statements.
8 Chevy Chase - Saturday Night Live
Chevy Chase was the very first breakout star on Saturday Night Live, a fact he was more than happy to let anyone know, whether they asked or not. Chase was the original snarky host of Weekend Update, and became famous for his pratfalls as President Ford. He shocked the entertainment world when he left the show after its first year, presumably to mine his newfound fame to become a movie star.
Chase says he left the series to follow a woman he fell in love with to California, and claims to have regrets about how he left the series.
Some of that likely has to do with his post-SNL career; after a brief run as a movie star, Chase’s career hit the skids after an infamously terrible turn as a talk show host. He’s become a notoriously prickly presence, leading to his departure from the sitcom Community in 2012.
7 Wayne Rogers - MASH
When Wayne Rogers signed on to MASH as Trapper John McIntyre, he was told his character would be on equal footing with Alan Alda’s Hawkeye Pierce. That may have been the original intention, but it quickly became apparent that Alda’s Hawkeye was the heart and soul of the series, and Rogers felt marginalized. He decided to leave the show after its third season in pursuit of starring roles.
Those roles never materialized, and by the '90s acting was more of a part time endeavor for Rogers.
He became incredibly successful as an investment strategist and money manager who made regular appearances on Fox Business Network. Despite his financial success outside of acting, Rogers admitted that if he knew MASH would become such a longstanding success, he probably would have swallowed his pride and stuck around longer.
6 Sherry Stringfield – ER
When ER began in 1994, it was an immediate megahit that made overnight stars of its entire cast. Virtually everyone – even future A-list movie star George Clooney – hung around for the show’s first five seasons, cementing their status as cultural icons and making ridiculous amounts of money through syndication deals and renegotiated contracts.
The one notable exception was Sherry Stringfield, who asked to be released from her contract during the show’s third season.
The request angered the show’s producers, who had plans for Stringfield’s Susan Lewis and the show’s lead, Anthony Edwards’ Mark Greene. After a failed attempt at movie stardom, Stringfield asked to return to ER during the show’s eighth season in 2001. She ended up staying for four more years the second time around, but her earlier decision relegated her to a minor role in the show’s pantheon.
5 Chris Latta - The Simpsons
Chris Latta may have been the unluckiest man in show business. Latta spent the '80s shrieking his way into the hearts of children across America, giving voice to Cobra Commander on G.I. Joe and Starscream on Transformers. Latta instilled a level of vitality into his performances that was far from standard in' 80s TV animation.
Latta seemed to be moving up in the world when he landed the roles of Mr. Burns and Moe the Bartender on The Simpsons.
But he would be gone from those roles before the first season ended, reportedly due to clashes with the show’s volatile co-creator Sam Simon. Notorious for his personal demons with substance abuse, Latta toiled in children’s animation and standup comedy before dying in 1994 at the age of 44.
He was a meteoric talent, and his departure from The Simpsons is one of the great “what ifs” in TV history.
4 John Amos - Good Times
When John Amos joined the cast of Good Times, he thought he’d be taking on a role in one of producer Norman Lear’s trademark sitcoms that tackled social issues in a thoughtful, provocative manner. It soon became clear that Jimmy Walker’s J.J. Evans was going to dominate the serious with his cartoonish antics and silly catchphrases.
Amos was deeply uncomfortable with the direction the show took, which led to conflict with Lear and, ultimately, his dismissal from the cast after the fourth season.
Amos would find further success on both film and television, starring in projects like Roots, The West Wing, and Coming To America. Later in life, Amos admitted he could have handled his issues with Good Times’ tone in a more mature way, and regretted the damage his departure did to his relationship with Lear.
3 Christopher Eccleston - Doctor Who
When Doctor Who returned from its 16-year hiatus in 2005 – minus a TV movie in 1996 – one of the major indicators that the BBC was committed to making it a first-class production again was the casting of Christopher Eccleston as the Doctor.
Rather than the unknown TV lifers who had played the role previously, Eccleston was a highly respected film and stage actor who brought a level of class and gravitas to the series that was not unlike what Patrick Stewart brought to Star Trek: The Next Generation.
It was announced Eccleston would be leaving the role less than a week after his first episode premiered.
Eccleston would later make vague allusions to a hostile work environment and a level of exhaustion, but he remains proud of his work on the show, and ultimately lamented the fact he didn’t stay in the role longer.
2 McLean Stevenson - MASH
MASH was instantly one of the biggest shows on television when it debuted in 1972, boasting one of the best ensemble casts in the history of sitcoms. But that ensemble nature didn’t sit well with McLean Stevenson, who played Lieutenant Colonel Henry Blake.
Frustrated with the attention paid to the show’s breakout character, Alan Alda’s Hawkeye Pierce, Stevenson decided to leave the show at the end of the third season, where his character was killed off in one of the more memorable shockers in TV history.
While MASH would march on for another highly successful eight seasons, Stevenson’s career never recovered.
He conceded leaving MASH when he did was a huge mistake, famously saying “I made the mistake of believing that people were enamored of McLean Stevenson when the person they were enamored of was Henry Blake.”
1 Michael Learned - The Waltons
Even in the 1970s, The Waltons felt like a show from a different era. The incredibly wholesome story of a family living in rural Virginia during the Great Depression, the show was seen as something of an answer to the growing edginess and progressive leanings of that era’s most enduring shows.
One of the anchors of the show was Michael Learned, who played Olivia Walton, the family matriarch. Learned won three Emmy awards for her portrayal, but departed the show during its eighth season due to the long hours and a desire to try something new.
While still acknowledging the show had run its course and was on creative fumes when she left, Learned admitted she wished she would have stayed until the series ended. She ended up reprising the role in four TV movies as recently as the '90s.
Are there other actors who expressed regret at leaving TV shows? Share your knowledge in the comments!
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