Television has been in a golden age for almost 20 years. Advancements in technology and a larger demand for high-quality entertainment have been the catalyst for a major wave of content creation. In 2002, there were 182 shows that were on the air. In 2016, that number has increased to 455 original scripted shows and that number is only expected to get higher.
This increase in content has been felt in every phase of production. Writers looking for long-term gigs and extended stories to tell have flocked to television. Esteemed actors who previously refused to do television are now drawn to prestigious productions with HBO, AMC, and Netflix.
Given the number of candidates vying for high-profile television roles, making casting decisions is, to say the least, a daunting task. Television casting directors are looking for actors who will be reliable for multiple years, while also meeting the showrunner's criteria. It’s a difficult assignment, but when it works the result is years of financial and artistic success.
Some of the greatest shows ever made are the result of phenomenal casting, but these shows almost dropped the ball before a single episode was even shot.
Here are the 15 Great TV Shows That Were Almost Ruined By Terrible Casting.
15 Pamela Anderson as Scully in The X-Files
When the show was originally approved, no one could have predicted that The X-Files would amass a huge cult fanbase and run for 11 seasons. In an effort to boost the show’s appeal, the studio executives wanted to cast Pamela Anderson as Agent Scully.
“They were looking for someone, bustier, taller, leggier than me,” Gillian Anderson told Metro in 2008. “[Pamela Anderson] was somebody who was more familiar to them in terms of what was on TV at the time. They couldn’t fathom how David and me could equal success”.
Thankfully, showrunner Chris Carter ultimately got Gillian Anderson the part. “Chris stuck to his guns,” said Gillian. “Really, though, at the beginning, nobody trusted that I could do anything. I had no body of work behind me at all and certainly, Fox felt very strongly that I wasn’t the right person for the job.”
14 Michael Richards as Monk in Monk
As Seinfeld started to wind down in 1998, the studio executives started to search for ideas that they could build around the show’s former stars. In an attempt to land Michael Richards, Disney started to develop a Clouseau-style, bumbling detective story for the actor.
The studio hired Andy Breckman to create a script for a show about a brilliant detective with an obsessive-compulsive disorder. When Breckman returned with his script for “Mr. Monk Meets The Candidate”, the executives at Disney loved it and immediately decided to move forward. However, Richards didn’t think the script gave him enough material to work with. The Kramer actor instead decided to make a different show about a bumbling detective, The Michael Richards Show, with NBC.
It took another four years for the network to discover Tony Shalhoub, who would go on to win three Emmys and a Golden Globe for his performance in the series.
13 Matt LeBlanc as Phil in Modern Family
Ty Burrell has been nominated for eight Emmys for his work in Modern Family. Burrell is now earning about $500,000 per episode and is set to earn even more when the show enters its 10th season. However, he wasn't the show's first choice.
When the show was casting for its first season the production team had their hearts set on Ty Burrell for the part, but ABC executives instead offered it to Friends star Matt LeBlanc. Thankfully, LeBlanc turned down the part because he knew it was meant for someone else.
“I remember reading it thinking, this is a really good script, (but) I’m not the guy for this,” LeBlanc told USA Today in 2017. “I’d be doing the project an injustice to take this. I know what I can do, I know what I can’t do. Plus, I’m having too much fun laying on the couch.”
12 Connie Britton as Olivia Pope in Scandal
When Scandal debuted in 2012, the show’s star, Kerry Washington, became the first black woman in almost 40 years to star in a network drama. This streak almost continued because, initially, the studio executives were only considering white actors for the role, including Connie Britton.
“Nothing felt more important than the sense of outsiderness," Shonda Rhimes told The Hollywood Reporter in 2017. “ I didn't know that there hadn't been a drama series with a leading black woman for 37 years. When the show got picked up [to pilot], I got a phone call from somebody who said, ‘This would be the perfect show for Connie Britton.’ I said, ‘It would be, except Olivia Pope is black.’”
“The network was reading us their top choices, and it was Connie and all white women,” said casting director Linda Lowry. “I panicked. Somebody finally piped up, ‘We're going to have to redo this list.’”
11 Matthew Broderick and John Cusack as Walter White in Breaking Bad
Bryan Cranston received near-universal praise for his performance as Walter White in Breaking Bad. He won four Emmys and a Golden Globe in the role, but it almost never happened. Breaking Bad’s creator, Vince Gilligan, knew that Cranston was a capable dramatic actor, seeing as he had previously worked with him on the set of The X-Files. However, the higher-ups at AMC took some convincing.
The executives at AMC were only familiar with Cranston’s role on Malcolm in the Middle. “We all still had the image of Bryan shaving his body in Malcolm in the Middle. We were like, ‘Really? Isn’t there anybody else?’” one former executive told The Hollywood Reporter.
Instead, the executives proposed casting Matthew Broderick or John Cusack. It wasn’t until both actors had passed on the role that AMC agreed to cast Cranston.
10 Martin Landau as Spock in Star Trek
When Gene Roddenberry first created Spock, he asked actor Gary Lockwood who he should cast. Lockwood told him he should cast Leonard Nimoy, who had made a guest appearance on Roddenberry’s previous show, The Lieutenant.
While Nimoy was always Roddenberry’s first pick, NBC required Roddenberry to audition other actors for the role. Victor Lundin, Rex Holman, Michael Dunn, and Martin Landau all auditioned for the part. Under pressure to cast a better-known actor from NBC executives, the part was offered to Landau instead of Nimoy, but Landau turned it down.
“A character without emotions would have driven me crazy; I would have had to be lobotomized,” Landau said in 2001. Instead, Landau took a part on Mission: Impossible and the part was offered to Nimoy.
9 Jaleel White as Rudy in The Cosby Show
Throughout most of the casting process for The Cosby Show, Jaleel White was considered the frontrunner to play the youngest member of the Huxtables, Rudy. It seemed so certain White would get the role, that his family was already packing to move to New York, where the show was recorded.
“In 1984, I auditioned for The Cosby Show. And that was a very emotional audition,” Jaleel White told EW. “They brought everybody that made the show, all the kids — they probably had us audition over the course of like five or six hours. My agent had been told that they’ve pretty much settled on [me], so I went to the audition thinking I was just going on a last audition. And then, all of a sudden, this little girl walks in.”
The part was eventually given to Keshia Knight Pulliam. “I went home, and I just … I cried my eyes out,” said White.
8 Tamzin Merchant as Daenerys Targaryen in Game of Thrones
Tamzin Merchant was not just considered for the role of Daenerys Targaryen, she was actually cast in it. On August 20th, 2009, HBO announced that Merchant had been given the part after an extensive casting search. Later that year, the network shot a pilot episode of the series that was a complete disaster.
“Watching them watch that original pilot was one of the most painful experiences of my life,” showrunner Dan Weiss said in an episode of the podcast Scriptnotes. “As soon as it finished, Craig [Mazin] said, ‘You guys have a massive problem.'”
The original pilot for the show never aired and, eventually, the entire episode had to be rewritten and reshot. The following March, it was announced that Merchant was leaving the show. No reason was ever given, but a month later the part was given to Emilia Clarke.
7 Rob Lowe as McDreamy in Grey's Anatomy
In 2004, Rob Lowe had committed to a CBS drama called Dr. Vegas. After his contract had been negotiated, he was contacted by the creators of Grey’s Anatomy to play Dr. Derek Shepherd.
"I agreed to meet with the people making Grey's Anatomy,” Lowe wrote in his 2014 book Love Life. “I had read it and loved it—the writing was crisp, real and very entertaining—and it's always been a good idea to hear out talented people. ‘We would be thrilled if you would play Dr. Derek Shepherd,' they said right off the bat. I was torn. Grey's was a much better script; in fact, there was no comparison."
Eventually, Lowe made the decision to stick with Dr. Vegas. “Year after year after year, all of ABC's new dramas flopped. CBS was on a hot streak that continues to this day," he wrote. Dr. Vegas ended up only running for 10 episodes.
6 Thomas Jane as Don Draper in Mad Men
When AMC started casting for Mad Men, it seemed unlikely that the drama would be a success without a recognizable star to draw in viewers.Due to the desire for star power, the network pursued The Punisher’s Thomas Jane rather than the unknown actor, Jon Hamm.
“I started, literally, on the very, very bottom — I couldn’t have had less heat on me,” Hamm said on an episode of WTF with Marc Maron. “Nobody knew who I was. The casting directors didn’t know who I was. I wasn’t on anybody’s lists... The funny thing was, I think they went to Thomas Jane for it, and they were told that Thomas Jane does not do television.”
Since telling AMC that he doesn’t do television, Jane has gone on to star in HBO’s Hung, The History Channel’s Texas Rising, and Syfy’s The Expanse.
5 Paul Shaffer as George Costanza in Seinfeld
Several actors were considered for the role of George Costanza. Notably, Danny Devito, Steve Buscemi, and David Alan Grier were once part of the conversation. The strangest person to be offered the role wasn’t an actor or even a comedian, it was musician Paul Shaffer, who is best known as David Letterman’s musical sidekick.
According to his 2009 book, We’ll Be Here For The Rest Of Our Lives, Jerry Seinfeld called Shaffer in 1988 to tell him that he could have the part if he wanted. Shaffer wasn’t home at the time, so Seinfeld had to leave a message.
As a result of his rigorous schedule with The Late Show With David Letterman, Shaffer didn’t get the message until some time later. By the time that Shaffer had reached out to Seinfeld, the part had already been given to Jason Alexander.
4 Jim Parsons as Barney Stinson in How I Met Your Mother
Regardless of how you feel about How I Met Your Mother and its very controversial ending; it’s undeniable that Neil Patrick Harris was the perfect person to play Barney Stinson.
Originally, the character was envisioned as a much larger “John Belushi type,” but a couple of smaller actors were invited to audition. This included Neil Patrick Harris and The Big Bang Theory’s Jim Parsons. In an appearance on The Late, Late Show with James Corden, Parsons spoke out about his experience.
"The funny thing about this is I auditioned to play Barney, and felt I was very wrong for it, and almost ran screaming from the room after I auditioned. Like, 'Well I did that and I don't know why.' They actually made me come back in as if they were interested. Not interested enough because the right person got that part, Neil Patrick Harris."
3 Paul Giamatti as Michael Scott in The Office
It’s not often that an American remake of a foreign show ends up being better than the original. However, thanks to its incredible casting, The Office did just that. While the casting process ultimately ended up with the right ensemble, there were a couple of actors who almost made the cut, the strangest of whom is Paul Giamatti as Michael Scott.
When the creators of the show first brought the idea to NBC, the studio executives thought it could be a huge success and they knew the perfect actor for Michael Scott. Fresh off his acclaimed performances in Sideways and American Splendor, Giamatti made sense to executives looking for someone to pull off the comic desperation of the character. Giamatti was offered the role, but he declined.
Several other actors were also considered for the role of Michael Scott including, Hank Azaria, Martin Short, Bob Odenkirk, and Rainn Wilson.
2 Ray Liotta as Tony Soprano in The Sopranos
Now over ten years old, The Sopranos influence on television is undeniable, but is unfortunately forgotten by modern audiences. It launched the golden age of television and was voted the best-written show of all time by the Writers Guild of America. The show’s star, James Gandolfini, went on to win three Emmys and a Golden Globe.
However when the show began, he was relatively unknown. Instead, HBO wanted to cast one of the most iconic gangsters of all time, Ray Liotta. The studio offered Liotta the part, but he didn’t want to make a multi-year commitment.
“It was for a two-year commitment and I didn't really want to give up that time now,'' Liotta said on the Today show. “I would love to do a guest spot on there, do a couple of episodes. Having done Goodfellas, it's definitely a genre I'm familiar with.”
1 John Posey as Danny Tanner in Full House
When ABC started casting for Full House, the producer’s first choice to play Danny Tanner was Bob Saget, but he wasn’t available because of his commitment to CBS’s The Morning Program.
Instead, a comedian from Atlanta named John Posey got the part. A pilot episode of the show was shot with Posey in the lead role. It was immediately picked up and Posey prepared for a move to L.A.
“I was in Mississippi,” Posey told Yahoo in 2014. “I'm driving back thinking, ‘We're going to get to work soon on this new show.’ And I get a phone call, and it was my agent saying, ‘I don't know what's going on, but for some reason, they're testing Bob Saget.’"
Did we miss any other great shows that were almost ruined by terrible casting? Let us know in the comments!
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