Photo: NBC / ABC

TV Stars Who Couldn’t Lead Their Own Shows

Voting Rules
Vote up the actors who had a tough time branching out on their own.

Many actors from ensemble cast shows benefit from being just one key part of the big picture. They play a key role in creating the chemistry that fans love and turn a solid premise into a ratings hit. However, when successful shows or contracts end, it's not a cakewalk to capture that same magic when an actor is at the center of their next project.

Starring in a hit television program isn’t easy. For every Friends or Seinfeld, there are plenty more shows like Mr. Sunshine and Bob Patterson. Never heard of the latter two? That’s because they didn’t last more than one season despite having the small-screen star power of Matthew Perry and Jason Alexander. While those actors thrived acting alongside a stellar cast, they weren’t able to make it on their own. 

Most of the time it’s not the actor’s fault. There are several moving parts that need to land just right in order for a television series to succeed. The writing, directing, casting, time slot, and production all have to be perfect. Most shows fail; it’s a plain and simple fact.

Photo: NBC / ABC

  • 1
    185 VOTES
    Jason Alexander
    Photo: NBC / CBS

    Jason Alexander will forever be known as the selfish but totally lovable George Costanza from Seinfeld. Not that there's anything wrong with that! Seinfeld dominated television for nine hilarious seasons as Alexander worked alongside what could easily be considered one of the most comedically talented casts on television ever. Alexander earned four Golden Globe nominations and seven straight Emmy nods for his work as the temperamental stocky underachiever. 

    Seinfeld wrapped in 1998. It took Alexander a few years to star in his own television sitcom. ABC launched Bob Patterson in the fall of 2001 with Alexander in the titular role of the narcissistic self-help motivational speaker. Somehow Seinfeld found a way to make its four lead characters endearing despite their selfish flaws. Bob Patterson could not find that same magical formula. Critics didn't feel it lived up to the comedic heritage of Alexander's previous work, earning a 6% on Rotten Tomatoes. The sitcom was canned after just a few weeks and only five episodes ever made it to air. 

    Alexander tried to get another comedy to hit with 2004's Listen Up. The Tony Award-winning actor played Tony Kleinmann, a big-mouthed radio sports show host out of Philadelphia. The sitcom was canceled after one season due to mediocre ratings. It was also universally canned by critics and scored a 9% overall rating on Rotten Tomatoes. 

    • Age: 63
    • Birthplace: Newark, New Jersey, USA
    185 votes
  • Michael Richards
    Photo: NBC / NBC

    Not only was Seinfeld a once-in-a-lifetime hit sitcom, but Cosmo Kramer may also be considered one of the most memorable characters to ever grace the small screen. Michael Richards earned three Emmy Awards for Outstanding Supporting Actor for his work as Jerry's needy neighbor. No one could walk through a door like Richards.

    Richards would try his own thing in 2000 with The Michael Richards Show. The actor teamed up with three Seinfeld writers in order to create his new sitcom. On the show, Richards played a quirky private detective named Vic Nardozza who is known for his unorthodox but effective investigative style. 

    NBC canceled The Michael Richards Show after one season. Only nine episodes were produced, one of which never made it to air. The sitcom has a 0% on Rotten Tomatoes. Richards may have wanted to separate himself from the Cosmo Kramer character, but his portrayal of the private detective was shockingly similar, except it didn't work outside of the Seinfeld universe.

    • Age: 73
    • Birthplace: Culver City, California, USA
    157 votes
  • 3
    201 VOTES
    Adam Scott
    Photo: NBC / Fox

    Adam Scott wasn't a part of Parks and Recreation from the start, but he became a core part of the ensemble by the end of the series. Scott's Ben Wyatt joined the cast at the end of Season 2 and quickly became the soul mate for Amy Poehler's relentlessly optimistic civil servant Leslie Knope. Their romance and relationship was one of the major pillars of the show, and Scott's high-strung energy complemented the rest of the cast.

    After Parks and Rec ended in 2015, Scott's next big TV chance was the supernatural buddy comedy Ghosted with Craig Robinson. The show seemed to have a surefire premise with its comedy spin on The X-Files, but the episodes didn't find a consistent voice or sense of humor. An extended hiatus to retool the show couldn't turn the ratings around and it was canceled after just one season. Scott followed that up with recurring roles on The Good Place and Big Little Lies.

    • Age: 49
    • Birthplace: Santa Cruz, California, United States of America
    201 votes
  • 4
    203 VOTES
    Katherine Heigl
    Photo: ABC / NBC

    Katherine Heigl played Dr. Izzie Stevens on the popular ABC medical drama Grey's Anatomy for six seasons. In 2010, the actress decided to exit the series when Grey's was still at the height of its popularity. At the time, Heigl asked to be released from her contract even though she still had 18 months left on the deal.

    There turned out to be several reasons for the actress's departure. The first slap in the face to series creator Shonda Rhimes came when Heigl publicly decided to withdraw her name from Emmy Award consideration because she didn't think that the writers had given her character enough meaty dramatic material to warrant an award. Rumors also began to circulate that Heigl was difficult to work with in general.

    Rhimes later hinted at Heigl's combative on-set nature during an interview with Oprah Winfrey. Rhimes said, "When people show you who they are, believe them." The popular showrunner was more direct about her feelings in a different interview, saying, "There were no Heigls" when discussing the cast of her drama Scandal.

    After leaving the large ensemble cast, Heigl made two attempts to lead her own series. The first came in 2014 when Heigl took on the role of CIA officer Charleston Tucker in the heavy political drama State of Affairs. NBC canceled the drama after a single 13-episode season. Critics gave the series an overall 28% on Rotten Tomatoes. Heigl tried to take on another series in 2017. She played a defense lawyer in the legal drama Doubt. That show also only lasted a single 13-episode season and received a critical score of 53% on Rotten Tomatoes.

    • Age: 44
    • Birthplace: Washington, D.C., USA
    203 votes
  • 5
    137 VOTES
    Josh Radnor
    Photo: CBS / NBC

    Josh Radnor played the constantly looking-for-love Ted Mosby on the hit Emmy Award-winning sitcom How I Met Your Mother for nine seasons. Although Radnor may technically be considered the main character on the show since he put the "I" in How I Met Your Mother, the ensemble cast of Ted's best friends helped to keep the show funny and fresh. Jason Segel, Alyson Hannigan, Neil Patrick Harris, and Cobie Smulders round out the strong cast. 

    Radnor is a man of many skills. He is a writer, director, and musician. He not only took the opportunity to star in his own series in 2018 called Rise, but also got to show off his passion for the arts. In the NBC drama, Radnor played Lou Mazzu, an inspirational high school English teacher who reinvigorates his school's drama department. Rise received mixed reviews and NBC canceled the drama after one season. The show started out performing moderately well in the ratings but continued to drop after each episode.

    • Age: 48
    • Birthplace: Columbus, Ohio, USA
    137 votes
  • 6
    161 VOTES
    Matthew Perry
    Photo: NBC / ABC

    Friends has a case to made as the most popular sitcom of all time. Imagine having to follow up Citizen Kane; it's not easy. Matthew Perry played the sarcastic but lovable Chandler Bing among a stacked cast. The writers always did an excellent job of spreading the funny material out between the six leads. 

    When Friends went off the air in 2004, Perry decided to stick with TV and headline the Aaron Sorkin dramedy Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip. The series featured a talented cast (Bradley Whitford, Amanda Peet) and focused on the production of a live comedy series. NBC canceled the program after one season despite it receiving mostly favorable reviews. As the season moved along, the show's ratings continued to dip as its popularity waned.

    Perry would trudge on. He returned to the half-hour sitcom format in 2011 with Mr. Sunshine starring alongside Alison Janey as an operations manager at an arena. The mid-season replacement was canned after one season due to poor ratings.

    Perry would make two more unsuccessful attempts at the half-hour sitcom format. In 2012, he played a salty sportscaster in Go On. The show lasted only one season. He would have a little more success in 2015 with his The Odd Couple reboot. Perry starred as Oscar Madison opposite Thomas Lennon's Felix Unger. The CBS show stayed on the air for three seasons before being canceled in 2017.

    • Age: 53
    • Birthplace: Williamstown, Massachusetts, USA
    161 votes