Dana Delany as Carrie Bradshaw? Cosmo Kramer as Monk? Here’s a look at 11 actors who passed on some of TV’s most popular shows.
Calista Flockhart wasn’t David E. Kelley’s first choice for the lead on his series Ally McBeal; he originally offered the role to Bridget Fonda. Fonda decided to stick with films and turned him down. There were no hard feelings, though, as Kelley kept her in mind two years later when he was casting the comedy/horror flick Lake Placid.
As Seinfeld was winding down its nine year run in 1998, the major networks were salivating to sign the series’ stars to new projects. ABC pictured Michael Richards as a bumbling Inspector Clouseau-type detective and pitched a premise purchased from Disney Studios about a cop suffering from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Richards, however, disliked the pilot script; he felt that the character of Adrian Monk didn’t offer enough comedic possibilities for him to work with, so he passed on the project. With Richards’ veto, ABC lost interest in the show and eventually sold the rights to cable’s USA Network. Monk went on to become USA’s highest-rated show and Tony Shalhoub won three Emmy Awards for his portrayal of the title character.
Sex and the City creator Darren Star first offered the role of Carrie Bradshaw to his friend, Dana Delany. Delany had previously won two Emmy Awards for her portrayal of the compassionate nurse Colleen McMurphy on China Beach, but she was still smarting from the negative reviews she’d gotten for playing a dominatrix in the 1994 film Exit to Eden. She told Star that the public would never forgive her if she talked about sex onscreen again, so the part went to Sarah Jessica Parker.
According to Paul Shaffer’s memoir, We’ll Be Here for the Rest of Our Lives, Jerry Seinfeld personally left a message stating that the role of George Costanza on his upcoming pilot was Shaffer’s if he wanted it. But Shaffer was preoccupied with his other work and said he never got around to returning Seinfeld’s call.
Tim Allen’s Home Improvement sidekick was originally Glen, not Al. When the series was first being cast, Stephen Tobolowsky—you might remember him from such roles as Bob Bishop on Heroes and Sandy Ryerson on Glee—was hired to co-host the fictitious Tool Time with Tim, but a previous commitment prevented him from appearing in the pilot episode.
Richard Karn, a struggling actor who was making ends meet by managing an apartment building, happened to meet Home Improvement’s casting director while attending traffic school and finagled an audition. Karn was invited to be Tobolowsky’s “placeholder” in the pilot, and then was asked to film a second episode when the series was picked up and Stephen was still off working on a different project. The studio audience reacted favorably to Karn, so when Tobolowsky ultimately bowed out of the project, “Glen” was out and “Al Borland” was in.
Talk show host Bonnie Hunt was offered the role of Jamie Buchman on Mad About You, but she decided against it. Nevertheless, she is still frequently asked to autograph photos of Helen Hunt (who is no relation to her), and Bonnie’s mom is often complimented on the success of her “other” daughter.
Blonde bombshell (and mother of Law & Order: SVU star Mariska Hargitay) nixed the role of sexy Ginger Grant on Gilligan’s Island, stating “I am a movie star.”
When ABC decided to turn the 1949 film Adam’s Rib into a TV series, they cast Ken Howard (Ann Landers’ son-in-law) and Blythe Danner (Gwyneth Paltrow’s mom) in the roles originally played by Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn. The show only lasted 13 episodes, but Howard and Danner had such good onscreen chemistry (many viewers thought they were married in real life!) that they were offered the leads in the NBC series McMillan and Wife. Neither was interested in being part of the “wheel” format of NBC’s mystery movies, and the parts went to Rock Hudson and Susan St. James instead.
As Bill Carter reported in the New York Times back in 2006, NBC executives had a strong favorite for the role of Michael Scott on the American adaptation of The Office—Paul Giamatti. He wasn’t interested, and the network eventually offered the role to Steve Carell.
Of the many reasons actors give for turning down a role, “they offered too much money” is probably not in the top 10. Or even top 1,000. But that was the reasoning behind Polly Bond’s decision to refuse the part of Miss Kitty on Gunsmoke. The former Polly Ellis had recently married Tommy Bond, a former child actor most famous for playing “Butch” on The Little Rascals. Tommy was working on the production side of a local TV station at the time, and the Gunsmoke salary would’ve put Polly in a situation where she was out-earning her husband, which she felt would strain their fledgling marriage. Amanda Blake went on to play Miss Kitty for an amazing 20 seasons, and Polly and Tommy Bond remained happily wedded for an amazing 54 years.
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