Shondaland is a vast place that’s spent over a decade populating itself with myriad characters and stories. Grey’s Anatomy hit the airwaves in 2005, ad was followed by major hits Private Practice, Scandal, and How to Get Away With Murder. These shows all sport impressively large ensemble casts — casts that often fall victim to the rotating storylines and high mortality rate that are the Laws of Shondaland.
Landing a part on one of Shonda Rhimes’ megahit shows has launched many careers and reinvigorated even more. That said, it’s not always a walk in the park to transition a successful career that’s centered around one show and one character elsewhere after an actor’s time in that show and role is over. This is doubly true if the actor wants to transition to film from television – this has always been difficult and is only more so today, with the amount of former film stars transitioning to TV work over the last decade.
While former residents of Shondaland undoubtedly walk away with banging resumes, there are a plethora of former actors that faded into obscurity pretty quickly after exiting a Rhimes production.
Below you’ll find 15 Stars Whose Careers Flopped After They Left Shondaland.
15. T.R. KNIGHT – GREY’S ANATOMY
For five seasons, T.R. Knight’s George O’Malley anchored Grey’s’ core group of surgical interns. We watched as he went from bumbling first year dubbed 007 to accomplished resident; well-respected by his peers and superiors.
When he perished heroically in front of a bus in season 5, everyone was heartbroken, including the audience.
However, Knight claims his screentime was cut drastically during his last season and things were already strained between him and Rhimes after the creator took a full three months to condemn Isaiah Washington for his use of a homophobic slur on set. He asked to be let out of his contract early and walked away from millions.
14. COLUMBUS SHORT – SCANDAL
Veteran actor and choreographer Columbus Short played Harrison Wright, senior Olivia Pope Associate on the first three seasons of Scandal.
For a while, Wright was Olivia’s golden boy, tapped to replace Stephen Finch after the latter left and eventually set to inherit OPA if Olivia ever left the firm. Unfortunately, Short’s personal life got in the way of whatever Olivia Pope had in mind.
In 2014, Short was charged with assaulting his estranged wife and wound up pleading guilty to avoid jail time. His now ex filed a restraining order, and he was promptly fired from Scandal. Immediately after, the actor’s career slowed down significantly, and probably for the best as he’s sought treatment for addiction in the interim. He’s worked on smaller projects during this time, but nothing as major as Scandal.
13. KATHERINE HEIGL – GREY’S ANATOMY
Hopeless romantic Izzie Stevens provided a great foil for Meredith and Christina’s sardonic duo on the first six seasons of Grey’s Anatomy.
Katherine Heigl, who’d been starring in films and television since she was a child, is also the only cast member of Grey’s Anatomy to win an Emmy for her work on the show. But after her film career started to pick up and she publicly admonished the writers for not providing her character with quality material, she left GA in 2010.
Since her departure, Heigl has certainly worked, but she hasn’t achieved the same kind of mainstream success and notoriety as she did during her Shondaland residence. Her film career faltered after a string of mediocre romantic comedies and the two television shows she’s headlined (State of Affairs, Doubt) were canceled after one season.
12. ALFIE ENOCH – HOW TO GET AWAY WITH MURDER
Everyone’s favorite Quidditch captain moved across the pond after the end of the Harry Potter series to star in Shondaland hit, How to Get Away with Murder as resident moral compass, Wes Gibbins.
Alfie Enoch was one of the original cast members before he was revealed to be the body under the sheet in the middle of season 3. Enoch interviewed that the decision was entirely creative and that he was grateful for his time on the series.
Since his departure last year, Enoch hasn’t jumped onto any larger projects, instead returning to the West End to star alongside another Alfred (Molina) in a production of Red at Wyndham’s Theater and he’ll appear as Aeneas in the BBC television miniseries, Troy. So far, he’s announced no other projects.
11. SANDRA OH- GREY’S ANATOMY
We never would’ve forgiven Shonda if she’d killed off Christina the way she wound up axing McDreamy. Yang is still safe in Switzerland doing cutting edge cardiothoracic surgery and presumably keeping up with Meredith off-screen.
Sandra Oh’s exit was an amicable one, by all accounts, but like so many other Shondaland stars, she hasn’t been in the spotlight nearly as much since she left GA.
Oh has completed a web series, a guest stint on American Crime, and starred in the indie feature, Catfight, alongside Anne Heche. She’s returning to television this year in the miniseries Killing Eve on BBC America, in which she plays the titular Eve, an MI5 agent on the run from an assassin. We’ll see if this departure from Christina Yang puts her back in the limelight.
10. DAN BUCATINSKI – SCANDAL
The man behind Scandal’s sweet, forgiving and most of all, dead James Novak is no stranger to Shondaland.
Dan Bucatinski guest-starred on Grey’s and also served as a consulting producer on the show for a number of episodes. He’s got a pretty prolific resumé beyond his time in Shondaland, too. He starred alongside Lisa Kudrow in the HBO cult hit, The Comeback, and created the Emmy-nominated web series, Web Therapy.
But since his stint on Scandal ended, Bucatinski has been pretty quiet, focusing less on acting and more on producing. He’s served as EP on the television docu-miniseries It Got Better and on the PBS ancestry series, Who Do You Think You Are?
9. PATRICK DEMPSEY – GREY’S ANATOMY
We cried very, very real tears when McDreamy met his end at the hands of a Mack truck. As one half of the couple whose love story anchored Grey’s Anatomy for nearly its entire run, Patick Dempsey’s exit was shocking and unwelcome.
GA’s proven it can still hold its own without its resident dreamboat, but Dempsey’s star has dimmed considerably since.
While the actor publicly stated he’d felt it was time to move on from the show that had been his home for more than a decade, rumors persisted that the real reasons he was fired had more to do with “diva behavior” on set and an alleged extra-marital affair with one of the show’s interns.
8. KATE WALSH – GREY’S ANATOMY/PRIVATE PRACTICE
Kate Walsh had an ideal Shondaland experience — coming on the scene as the third corner of one of the most talked-about love triangles in television history, then leaving two seasons later for her own show.
After two seasons on Grey’s, Addison Montgomery moved to LA and spent six more seasons warming our hearts on Private Practice.
Since the end of PP, Walsh has worked, just not as consistently. Her NBC series, Bad Judge, was canceled after one season and she’s done a string of smaller films and guest spots since. She appeared in 13 Reasons Why and garnered critical acclaim for her performance as Olivia Baker, Hannah Baker’s mother. She also had a memorable supporting role in Girls Trip.
7. BROOKE SMITH – GREY’S ANATOMY
We’ll always remember Brooke Smith as Catherine Martin, Jame Gumb’s final captive in The Silence of the Lambs. She went on to appear in film and television in various capacities throughout the ’90s and the early 00s until she booked a prominent role as Erica Hahn, a cardiothoracic surgeon from a rival hospital on Grey’s Anatomy.
After appearing as the surgeon in competition for a donor heart which would eventually go to Preston Burke’s patient, Denny Duquette, she returned a year later to head the cardio at Seattle Grace and dated Callie Torres.
After reportedly receiving network pressure to end their relationship, Smith was written off the show. Since, she’s guested on a few notable series (Bosch, Bates Motel, Ray Donovan), but nothing as permanent or as mainstream as her time on Grey’s.
6. JASIKA NICOLE – SCANDAL
Jasika Nicole was already widely known for her work on Fringe, Fox’s enduring genre cult hit. After it ended in 2013, she skated over to Shondaland as Huck’s long-lost wife Kim – and mother of their son, Javi.
Huck attempted to reunite with Kim and reenter his son’s life, but Kim didn’t trust his mental state or what he’d become since they’d last seen each other a decade before. Javi sought out his dad and the two wound up spending illicit time together until the boy saw his father murder someone (it was only a matter of time) and Kim restricted their contact.
The storyline was put on the back-burner after this event, so while Kim and Javi are still alive, Nicole hasn’t appeared on the show since. That was in 2015, and while she’s worked consistently since, none of the projects approach Scandal in scale or popularity.
5. KADEE STRICKLAND – PRIVATE PRACTICE
KaDee Strickland’s breakout role came in 2004 when she played Susan in The Grudge. In following years, she proceeded to populate her resume with several other feature films including Fever Pitch, American Gangster, and The Family That Preys. But her six seasons on Private Practice as Oceanside Wellness’ resident sexologist proved to be her most memorable work.
Since then, Strickland is another example of an actor who’s been working, but not on any projects that can compare to Shondaland. She most recently appeared on the now-canceled Hulu series Shut Eye, and hasn’t worked in film since 2008.
4. ERIC DANE – GREY’S ANATOMY
What was sadder: McDreamy’s car accident or McSteamy’s beatific surrender to his injuries after the plane crash? The plastic surgeon survived for a month after his rescue, but eventually passed away in “Remember the Time”. His death was especially tragic given how much his character had evolved from womanizing in season 2 to loving father and soulmate to Lexi Grey in seasons 8 and 9.
After his departure from Grey’s Anatomy, there was a two year gap in Eric Dane’s resume before he managed to make the jump to TNT’s post-apocalyptic naval drama The Last Ship. While the show’s a genre hit, Dane hasn’t seen the same kind of mainstream success he did while parking it in Shondaland.
3. NORM LEWIS – SCANDAL
Olivia’s life would’ve been so much easier if she’d just stayed with Norm Lewis’ Senator Edison Davis. He was sweet, he was handsome, her father hated him – but his relationship with Olivia so easy and perfect that she was bored out of her mind. The character largely disappeared after their breakup – probably for the best since Eli Pope would’ve probably had him offed before they could actually get married.
After his exit from Scandal, the veteran Broadway actor has only made two television appearances — a guest spot on Younger and as a recurring character on Daytime Divas VH1’s talk show drama that just got canceled after one season.
2. KIM RAVER – GREY’S ANATOMY
After searching for what seemed like years for another cardiothoracic mentor once Preston Burke left, Christina Yang finally found one in Dr. Teddy Altman. Owen Hunt’s best friend (and former crush) proceeded to impress Yang so much, the resident famously offered Altman relationship rights to Hunt if it meant a heartsick Altman would stay at Seattle Grace.
Altman did stay at that point, but wound up leaving after Hunt replaced her following the demise of their working relationship.
Kim Raver’s just returned to GA reprising her original role as Altman, but in the interim she never achieved the same heights as she did while working for Rhimes.
She reprised her role in 24 for the miniseries, 24: Live Another Day, worked on Eric Kripke’s Revolution, and appeared in a few guest spots, most notably on Showtime’s Ray Donovan. We’re very happy she’s back in Shondaland and, hopefully, in Owen’s arms (finally).
1. GAIUS CHARLES – GREY’S ANATOMY
Charles appeared as Dr. Shane Ross, the ambitious-to-a-fault surgical intern who’d wind up accidentally killing Alex Karev’s dad because he’d worked himself into a fugue state . In the end, he was talented enough to convince Christina Yang to take him with her to Switzerland and assist with her research. Ross will always be one of the more memorable surgical interns who’ve spent time on GA, and we were sad to see him go.
Since his departure, Charles has appeared on two series, but nothing that compares to his time on Grey’s. He was a part of the short-lived David Duchovny period detective drama Aquarius and most recently he can be seen in the TV adaptation of Taken on NBC. Unfortunately, his character fell victim to what NBC deemed a necessary “dramatic reboot” and he will not return for a second season.
What other actors’ careers have underwhelmed since they left Shondaland? Let us know in the comments!
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