A good TV show has the potential to launch an actor’s career. And sometimes, it makes them way more famous than their fellow cast members.
The actors on this list clearly stand out as the most famous person on the TV shows in question. Perhaps all the cast members were all unknowns at the start, but now, it’s clear who’s the biggest name on the show. It’s funny how these things tend to shake out: sometimes, the biggest star to come out of a TV show isn’t necessarily the lead.
It’s not that the other cast members aren’t well-known. They just aren’t as famous. Perhaps, undeservedly, the careers of these other actors’ went downhill after the show ended, and they have yet to recover. They may never reach the peaks of famous of the shooting stars of TV.
Some of the actors on this list started in TV but have since transitioned to glamorous world of movies. Some had incredible success after their hit TV show, going on to star in films and even more hit TV shows.
Here are 15 TV Stars Who Got Too Famous For Their Co-Stars.
15. Meghan Markle – Suits
If you get engaged to a prince, that tends to make you a little more famous.
In July 2016, Suits actress Meghan Markle began dating Prince Harry, and it’s speculated that the couple will soon get engaged. This relationship threw the actress, who already had already found success on TV, into the limelight. She’s easily the most well-known cast member on Suits, which also stars Gabriel Macht, Patrick J. Adams, Rick Hoffman, and Sarah Rafferty.
Markle has also appeared in Horrible Bosses and been in episodes of Fringe, Castle, and The League.
14. Katherine Heigl – Grey’s Anatomy
Grey’s Anatomy made Katherine Heigl a household name.
Heigl began to make a name for herself in romantic comedy films, starting with Knocked Up in 2007, and continuing her streak with 27 Dresses in 2008 and The Ugly Truth in 2009. She left Grey’s Anatomy in 2010, citing wanting to spend more time with her family as the reason. “I started a family and it changed everything for me,” she told Entertainment Weekly. “It changed my desire to work full-time.”
Thanks to her film career, Heigl became more well-known than her fellow original cast members, even the series’ star, Ellen Pompeo (Meredith Grey). Although Sandra Oh, Patrick Dempsey, and T.R. Knight have left the show as well, they are still mostly only known for their Grey’s Anatomy roles.
13. Shia LaBeouf – Even Stevens
Long before Shia LaBeouf was making headlines for unstable behavior, he was a Disney Channel star.
Playing Louis Stevens on Even Stevens was his first major role. The comedy followed the ups and downs in the life of the Stevens family, particularly warring siblings Louis and Ren (Christy Carlson Romano). LaBeouf and Romano were both unknowns when Disney cast them, but Shia LaBeouf ended up being the more famous of the two.
After the show ended in 2003, he transitioned into a successful movie career, starring in a long string of major films including Transformers, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, Disturbia, and Surf’s Up.
He then transitioned into indie film with projects like Nyphomaniac and American Honey. Nowadays, he is almost more famous for constantly being in the headlines for multiple arrests and other erratic public behavior, not to mention for his provocative performance art.
12. George Clooney – ER
Although we know George Clooney as a movie star, he actually got his start on TV.
Clooney had a recurring role on The Facts of Life from 1985 to 1987 and appeared on Roseanne from 1988 to 1991. Then, in 1994, he started what would be a five-year run on Michael Crichton’s medical drama ER. Around that time, he also started to find success as a film actor, playing Batman in 1997’s Batman & Robin and co-starring with Michelle Pfeiffer in One Fine Day.
In 1999, he left ER to pursue a career in film, and now he’s one of Hollywood’s most recognizable names. Clooney hasn’t forgotten the show, though: in 2009, he reprised his role as Doug Ross for an episode of the final season.
11. Ariana Grande, Victorious
Before she was a famous pop star, Ariana Grande was part of the cast of the Nickelodeon series Victorious.
The show, which follows Tori Vega (Victoria Justice) and her fellow students at a performing arts high school, aired from 2010 to 2013. Grande played voice student Cat Valentine.
In 2013, Grande began to pursue a career as a recording artist, putting out her first album, Yours Truly. At the same time, her success on the show led to a spinoff called Sam & Cat, which ran from 2013 to 2014. She has since switched her focus to music, becoming a well-known star with singles like “Into You”, “Problem”, and “Side to Side”,
10. John Goodman – Roseanne
Despite Roseanne‘s title, it was John Goodman and not Roseanne Barr who went on to have the most successful acting career.
The sitcom focused on the daily lives of the Roseanne Conner (Barr), her husband Dan (Goodman), and their kids. Laurie Metcalf and Johnny Galecki also starred.
Goodman is a staple of the films of the Coen Brothers. He found success in Hollywood before he even booked Roseanne, appearing in Raising Arizona and The Big Easy. After the show ended, he went on to appear in many more famous movies, including The Big Lebowski, O Brother, Where Art Thou?, The Emperor’s New Groove, Monsters, Inc., Argo, 10 Cloverfield Lane, and the Transformers franchise.
9. Keri Russell – Felicity
Keri Russell got her big break when she landed the lead role of Felicity Porter on Felicity.
19 years later, she’s by far the most famous of the main cast members. After the show ended in 2002, she went on to start in the critically-acclaimed movie Waitress. She’s also been in Austenland, Free State of Jones, and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. In 2013, she made a triumphant return to TV in The Americans.
Scott Foley, who played Noel, one of her suitors, has had a solid career in TV post-Felicity. He has had recurring roles on Scrubs, Cougar Town, Grey’s Anatomy, and True Blood. In 2003, he booked a leading role on Scandal as Jake Ballard. Scott Speedman, who played Felicity’s other beau, Ben, has also found success on TV again: he’s currently starring on Animal Kingdom.
8. Jim Parsons – The Big Bang Theory
Although he is mostly known for playing Sheldon Cooper on The Big Bang Theory, that one role was enough for Jim Parsons to make a big name for himself.
He has been nominated for multiple Emmys and Golden Globes, winning four Emmys and one Golden Globe. Sheldon is the most well-known character on the show. A Sheldon spinoff called Young Sheldon is coming to CBS this fall, and Parsons will make an appearance as present-day Sheldon.
Outside of The Big Bang Theory, Parsons has been in Hidden Figures, Garden State, Wish I Was Here, and more. He has had a respectable Broadway career, headlining An Act of God (as God) and Harvey. He played Tommy Boatwright in the critically-acclaimed 2011 production of Larry Kramer’s The Normal Heart.
7. Tom Hanks – Bosom Buddies
Before he became a movie star, Tom Hanks first made a name for himself on TV in Bosom Buddies.
The buddy comedy starred Hanks and Peter Scolari as two single men who have to disguise themselves as women to live in an apartment they can afford. Holland Taylor was also in the cast.
Nowadays, Hanks has far outstripped Scolari in fame. He’s an Academy Award winner, producer, director, and writer. He’s also known for being America’s Dad, making headlines for his adorable tweets and antics, like that time he crashed a wedding shoot in Central Park. He’s known for Forrest Gump, Cast Away, Sleepless in Seattle, You’ve Got Mail, Saving Private Ryan, and more.
6. Zach Braff – Scrubs
It’s not surprising that Zach Braff, who played the lead character of J.D. on Scrubs, has become the show’s most famous cast member.
Many fans consider Scrubs to have gone downhill after season eight, which was supposed to be the final season. However, the show ran for a ninth season, without much of the original cast as regulars. Braff left the show as a regular after season eight.
J.D. is the heart and soul of Scrubs, and it wasn’t the same without Braff. Although Donald Faison and John C. McGinley were still series regulars in season nine, their star power wasn’t enough to keep the show going minus Braff.
5. Chad Michael Murray – One Tree Hill
Most of the cast of One Tree Hill never did manage to get out of that one tree town.
Even when the teen drama was on TV, CMM was the most well-known in a cast that included Bethany Joy Lenz, Sophia Bush, James Lafferty, Lee Norris, Paul Johansson, and Hilarie Burton.
Even if you didn’t watch One Tree Hill, you likely know who Chad Michael Murray is. The ’00s hottie impressively managed to be on two more of the big drama shows of the decade: Dawson’s Creek and Gilmore Girls. He was also prominent in the world of aughts teen movies, playing a romantic lead in A Cinderella Story opposite Hilary Duff and Freaky Friday opposite Lindsay Lohan.
In recent years, CMM has been in Agent Carter and Fruitvale Station and headlined CMT’s Sun Records.
4. Adam Pally – Happy Endings
When Happy Endings premiered in 2011, the show’s six leads delighted audiences with their chemistry and comedy chops. When the show was tragically canceled too soon, they all seemed like they had good things on the horizon.
Adam Pally seems to have found the most success post-Happy Endings. He booked a role on Mindy Kaling’s beloved sitcom The Mindy Project and Dr. Peter Prentice, who would become one of Mindy’s closest friends. Pally left the cast in season three, but has continued to appear as a guest star. In 2017, he fronted the indie movie Band Aid, co-starring with Fred Armisen and Zoe Lister-Jones.
He’s also appeared in mainstream and indie films alike, including The Little Hours, Don’t Think Twice, Life After Beth, and Iron Man 3.
3. Lee Pace – Pushing Daisies
Lee Pace was an unknown before he landed the role of swoonworthy piemaker/perfect boyfriend Ned in Bryan Fuller’s Pushing Daisies. The show turned out to be just the beginning of a diverse and exciting career.
Since Pushing Daisies, Pace has been in three major cinema franchises: Twilight, The Hobbit, and Guardians of the Galaxy. He’s also been in A Single Man, Lincoln, and the indie film Ceremony. He’s currently starring on the critically-acclaimed AMC series Halt and Catch Fire. He played one of Mindy Kaling’s love interests on The Mindy Project. And he made his Broadway debut as Bruce Niles in The Normal Heart.
2. Chris O’Dowd – The IT Crowd
The IT Crowd‘s core cast consists of Chris O’Dowd, Richard Ayoade, Katherine Parkinson, but Chris O’Dowd is by far the most famous of the three.
Playing Roy on the show was the Irish actor’s first big role. While the series was on the air, he broke into the big time with his part in Bridesmaids (2011). Since then, he’s become a staple of comedy films and shows, appearing in This Is 40, Girls, Mascots, and The Incredible Jessica James. From 2012 to 2015, he wrote and starred in Moone Boy.
As an actor, Richard Ayoade is only really known for his IT Crowd role, even playing Moss in the unsuccessful carbon copy U.S. remake of the show. He’s also known as an indie/writer director. He has made two major films: Submarine and The Double. Parkinson has continued working in comedy, but hasn’t gained the same level of prominence as O’Dowd.
1. Blake Lively – Gossip Girl
Although Blake Lively was well-known before Gossip Girl, the show made her a star.
She came on to the scene in 2005 when she played Bridget in The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants. Two years later, she landed the role of rich and beautiful Upper East Side teen Serena van der Woodsen. The rest of the cast was made up of similarly fresh-faced actors, including Leighton Meester, Penn Badgley, and Ed Westwick. But by the time the show concluded its run in 2012, Blake Lively had become by far the most famous young actor in the cast.
Today, she’s a Hollywood staple. She’s been in The Shallows, The Age of Adaline, and Café Society. She and husband Ryan Reynolds are universally beloved as a couple.
Are there other stars who far outstripped their castmates fame? Share them in the comments!
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