12 '90s TV Stars Who Disappeared For A While And Nailed Their Comeback

List Rules
Vote up the TV stars who are way more than one-hit wonders.

Everyone loves a comeback story. And, as far as TV star comebacks go, there have been more than a handful over the years. The 1990s in particular have plenty of television comeback stories for the small-screen obsessed among us.

Child stars like Mayim Bialik and Neil Patrick Harris came roaring back into the public consciousness after years away thanks to their respective roles in The Big Bang Theory and How I Met Your Mother. Others, like Jennifer Aniston and Katey Sagal, made the jump from sitcom glory to serious drama in The Morning Show and Sons of Anarchy. Still other stars, such as Ed O'Neill and Tim Allen, reasserted their comedy dominance thanks to Modern Family and Last Man Standing. So break out your Tamagotchis and your Walkman - we're running through the '90s stars who managed to make a roaring television comeback.


  • Ed O'Neill: From 'Married... with Children' To 'Modern Family'
    Photo: Fox / ABC

    Ed O'Neill went from a little-known character actor to a major primetime comedy star thanks to the role of Al Bundy on Fox's long-running sitcom, Married... with Children. Being one of the leads in 251 episodes of a show over 11 seasons will do that to a guy, and it led to O'Neill getting all kinds of roles after his time as Al Bundy was over. O'Neill spent the decade following Married... with Children's finale appearing in movies like The Bone Collector and Spartan, as well as television series like The West Wing and L.A. Dragnet. Nothing as successful as his sitcom star days, but nothing to complain about, either.

    And then O'Neill came back to sitcom glory as the patriarch of the extended Pritchett family on ABC's smash hit, Modern Family. From 2009 to 2020, O'Neill played Jay Pritchett in 250 episodes of ABC's most stable show in its up-and-down comedy block. If you combine Married... with Children and Modern Family, O'Neill has starred as a main character in a successful American sitcom for 22 years and over 500 episodes total. Even Ted Danson would be jealous of those numbers.

    133 votes
  • Neil Patrick Harris: From 'Doogie Howser, M.D.' To 'How I Met Your Mother'
    Photo: ABC / CBS

    Wouldn't you want to watch Neil Patrick Harris as a teenage doctor? The premise of a show like Doogie Howser, M.D. is more than a bit outlandish for a major network, especially from names like Steven Bochco and David E. Kelley, but with a Disney+ spiritual successor in Doogie Kameāloha, M.D. getting a second season, it's clear the basic idea still connects with an audience all these years later. And the original show got four seasons and turned the young NPH into a budding television star.

    Harris struggled to find that level of career stability again in the years following the end of the show that made him famous. The most notable projects he worked on afterward were Starship TroopersHarold & Kumar Go to White Castle, and voicing Peter Parker on MTV's short-lived Spider-Man: The New Animated Series. And then, rising like a phoenix from the ashes, How I Met Your Mother's Barney Stinson came along and made him an A-lister again. Stinson may be a weird character to go back to in the post-"Me Too" era, but Harris's charisma is undeniable and it's kind of difficult to understand how he struggled to find major success after Doogie Howser, M.D. for so long.

    141 votes
  • Katey Sagal: From 'Married... with Children' To 'Sons of Anarchy'
    Photo: Fox / FX

    After transitioning from an early career in music, Katey Sagal had a pretty swift rise to television stardom. A short stint on Mary Tyler Moore's comeback show Mary led to her booking the role of Peggy Bundy on Married... with Children, and that's all she wrote. Though her first big gig went off the air in 1997, Sagal never really went away thanks to projects like Futurama and 8 Simple Rules for Dating My Teenage Daughter.

    Had John Ritter not tragically passed early into the second season of 8 Simple Rules, that probably would've been the show that returned Sagal to the spotlight. Instead, the show was canceled after three seasons and it fell to Sons of Anarchy to remind everyone what they were missing. Sagal starred as Gemma Teller Morrow in all seven seasons of Sons of Anarchy. After Anarchy ended, Sagal has continued her television dominance, with extended stints on Shameless and The Conners keeping her in the public eye.

    126 votes
  • Mayim Bialik: From 'Blossom' To 'The Big Bang Theory'
    Photo: NBC / CBS

    From 1990 to 1995, Mayim Bialik starred as the titular character in over a hundred episodes of Blossom on NBC. After a few roles on film and television, the part of Blossom Russo turned the young actor into a household name in the early '90s. Being the lead on a primetime sitcom will do that to you. Post-Blossom, though, Bialik mainly transitioned to voice work on various cartoons as she worked to complete multiple degrees from UCLA.

    Then, beginning in 2010, Bialik returned to primetime in a big way thanks to the biggest sitcom on television at the time: The Big Bang Theory. By the time the show ended in 2019, Bialik had played Sheldon Cooper's love interest, Amy Farrah Fowler, in an astonishing 200+ episodes. That is how you make a big-time television comeback.

    133 votes
  • Claire Danes: From 'My So-Called Life' To 'Homeland'
    Photo: ABC / Showtime

    The short-lived teen drama My So-Called Life turned Claire Danes into a young actor on the rise and a name to watch for the future. Getting nominated for both a Golden Globe and an Emmy for the role means she didn't have to work in television if she didn't want to. Hollywood would come calling. Danes's post-My So-Called Life years saw her appear in films like Romeo + JulietThe RainmakerLes Misérables, and Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, among many others. 

    Danes would make her triumphant return to the small screen in 2011 with Showtime's Homeland. Though that show's critical reception and place in the public consciousness waned as the years went on, it's important not to forget how big a hit it was there for a few years. Danes would even win her second and third Emmys for her role as CIA officer Carrie Mathison in 2012 and 2013.

    104 votes
  • Christina Applegate: From 'Married... with Children' To 'Dead to Me'
    Photo: Fox / Netflix

    Christina Applegate became a star, as all of her co-stars did, thanks to the outrageous success of Married... with Children. Her role as vacuous teenager Kelly Bundy proved she had talent to spare at a young age, and after Married... with Children ended in 1997, she was the safest bet for an extended post-show career. She had numerous chances at landing another sitcom hit, but although she starred in JesseSamantha Who?, and Up All Night at various points from 1999 to 2012, Applegate failed to find that true second television hit.

    That being said, starring in comedy films like Anchorman: The Legend of Ron BurgundyHall PassVacation, and Bad Moms did a great job of keeping her career on the right track. She was just waiting for that great television project to come along, and come along it did in 2019. Netflix's Dead to Me is a bit darker than Applegate's other sitcom projects, but that shouldn't be seen as a negative. Netflix managed to do something ABC and NBC couldn't: remind the television-viewing public that Applegate could reign as a star again.

    100 votes