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The Actors Who Turned Down Iconic TV Shows

Things almost went differently for many of our favorite shows! These actors turned down offers for shows that went on to be really successful.
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Iconic TV shows rely on so much more than a storyline. Sure, they need a well-written script. They also can’t get by without a budget, costumes, and any number of other things. But in order to be great, they also need those interesting characters that keep viewers coming back week after week.

Some of the most popular characters on TV have made household names out of certain actors. They seem to fill their roles just perfectly. That’s probably why it’s so hard to imagine if those characters were played by different actors. But as it turns out, many of our favorite TV characters were almost played by someone else!

Macaulay Culkin Turned Down The Big Bang Theory

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Macaulay Culkin was obviously one of the most successful child actors in the 1990s but struggled with all that fame at such a young age. He largely stayed out of the spotlight until Party Monster in 2003 and Saved! in 2004. That desire to stay away from Hollywood and fame may have been part of the reason he turned down a role on The Big Bang Theory.

“I’d have hundreds of millions of dollars right now if I did that gig,” Culkin said while appearing on the Joe Rogan Experience. “At the same time, I’d be bashing my head against the wall.”

He also noted that the pitch didn’t seem particularly enticing.

“The way the pitch was, ‘Alright, these two astrophysicist nerds and a pretty girl lives with them. Yoinks!’ That was the pitch,” he recalled. “And I was like, ‘Yeah, I’m cool. Thanks.”

Ray Liotta Turned Down The Sopranos

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When HBO’s hit series The Sopranos was casting, the role of Tony Soprano was offered to the late Ray Liotta. The actor was best known for his role in the gangster flick Goodfellas, so I’m sure he seemed like the perfect fit.

Liotta decided to turn the role down. He was concerned that he might wind up being typecast as an Italian mafia member forever. The role ended up going to James Gandolfini. He won three Emmy Awards, five Screen Actors Guild Awards, and one Golden Globe Award for the portrayal.

Katie Holmes Turned Down Buffy the Vampire Slayer

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Sarah Michelle Gellar became a household name for playing the titular character on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but she wasn’t the first actress to be offered the role. A-lister Katie Holmes was a fairly unknown actress at the time when she was offered the role of Buffy Summers.

Holmes was still a teen in high school when filming for Buffy began, and she decided to focus on her studies instead. Soon after, she would take on the role of Joey on Dawson’s Creek, which became her breakthrough role. I don’t think she regrets her decisions!

Related: This Dawson’s Creek Star Won’t Do a Reunion – Here’s Why

Natasha Lyonne Turned Down Buffy the Vampire Slayer

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It looks like Sarah Michelle Gellar wasn’t the second choice for Buffy the Vampire Slayer, either. As it turns out, Natasha Lyonne was also offered the role of Buffy, but she turned it down, too. And hey, she turned down Dawson’s Creek during the same time. According to Lyonne, she passed on those “high-profile” roles to explore “the messy, unhappy lives of young women.”

I doubt she regrets turning down those TV roles. She went on to star in several films after that (four in 1999 alone), and now she also has originated her own iconic TV roles. She played Nicky for seven seasons on Orange Is the New Black and stars as Nadia on Russian Doll, a show she co-created and wrote.

Matthew Broderick Turned Down Breaking Bad

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Bryan Cranston gave an unforgettable performance as Walter White in Breaking Bad. He really embodied the role of the struggling teacher gone bad perfectly. It might be hard to imagine anyone else playing that role, but he wasn’t the only actor considered.

Matthew Broderick was approached about playing Walter White. Had he accepted it, it would have been his first long-term TV gig. Supposedly, Broderick decided not to accept the role because he didn’t want to play a “bad” guy.

I have heard that John Cusack was also considered for the role, though the actor did take to Twitter back in 2013 to say he never turned it down. It’s possible that he was considered but never officially offered the role.

Bridget Fonda Turned Down Ally McBeal

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We all know that Calista Flockhart was an amazing choice to play the title character of Ally McBeal. But not everyone knows that she was not the first choice. The show’s creator, David E. Kelley, originally wanted actress Bridget Fonda to fill the role. Kelley actually sent the Ally McBeal script and an offer directly to Fonda’s agent. She never even had to audition.

According to Fonda, she didn’t even want to read the script, out of fear that she might actually like it. She noted, “I’ve never wanted to do TV. I love feature films too much.”

Craig T. Nelson Turned Down Modern Family

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If you ask veteran actor Craig T. Nelson why he didn’t play Jay on Modern Family, he’ll tell you because the paycheck wasn’t big enough.

“I really wanted to do Modern Family and I really liked the script and I liked the people,” Nelson said of the series, but he decided he’s “been doing this too long” and felt “disrespected” by the offer.

However, if you ask the Modern Family creators what happened, they tell a slightly different story. They said that Nelson “countered rather aggressively.” And according to the casting director, Nelson “wanted star money” for “an ensemble show.”

On top of that, the co-creator admitted that they “started to hear some rumblings that maybe he was a little bit difficult on set.” After Nelson made some misguided statements bashing people on public assistance, they decided his “lack of self-awareness and compassion” was worrisome. They pulled the offer and gave it to Ed O’Neill instead.

Ashley Tisdale Turned Down Pretty Little Liars

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The drama Pretty Little Liars was loosely based on the novel series of the same name, and accumulated a large fandom during its seven seasons. The ensemble cast featured the likes of Troian Bellisario, Lucy Hale, Shay Mitchell, Ashley Benson, Sasha Pieterse, and Janel Parrish. However, Ashley Benson was not the first choice for the role of Hanna Marin.

Ashley Tisdale was originally offered the role but turned it down so she could star in the CW’s Hellcats. The gamble didn’t really work out in Tisdale’s favor. Hellcats was unfortunately canceled after one season, while Pretty Little Liars went on to see seven seasons and spawned spin-offs.

Related: A Look at The CW’s Failed Shows

Thomas Jane Turned Down The Walking Dead

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Unlike many of the other actors on this list, Thomas Jane had already accepted his role on The Walking Dead. Showrunner Frank Darabont offered him the role of Rick Grimes, and Jane was ready to fill the former deputy’s shoes.

Unfortunately, the production suffered delays that ultimately made it impossible for Jane to keep the role. By the time Darabont reached a deal with AMC and got production rolling, Jane was no longer available. He had already committed to starring in the HBO series Hung. Andrew Lincoln took over the role of Rick and became a household name.

Dana Delany Turned Down Sex and the City

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It is nearly impossible to imagine anyone filling Carrie Bradshaw’s Manolo Blahniks besides Sarah Jessica Parker, but it almost happened. SJP wasn’t the first actress offered the role.

Dana Delany was initially offered the role, but she decided to turn it down because she felt she had done similar roles already – and she didn’t want to be typecast.

“I had done a movie called Live Nude Girls with Kim Cattrall that was somewhat similar. It was women sitting around talking about sex,” Delany recalled. “It was very much in the early stages, and I had just done Nude Girls and Exit to Eden and I just said to [Sex and the City creator] Darren, ‘I cannot do a show with sex in the title.’ People will lynch me if I do one more thing about sex.”

Ellen DeGeneres Turned Down Friends

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Phoebe Buffay might have been a very different character. That’s because Ellen DeGeneres was originally offered the role. The actress was already known for starring in the TV sitcom Ellen–and for publicly coming out on the air in the late ‘90s.

DeGeneres ended up turning down the role, and we were graced with Lisa Kudrow as the Phoebe we know and love. DeGeneres went on to establish herself as a successful talk show host, started a record company and a production company, plus launched a lifestyle brand. As she currently has a net worth of $500 million and holds 32 Daytime Emmy Awards and a Primetime Emmy Award, I don’t think she’s regretting turning down Friends.

Michael Keaton Turned Down Lost

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While casting for Lost, director J.J. Abrams approached Michael Keaton directly. He wanted Keaton for the lead role of Jack Shepherd. Can you imagine?

While Keaton was pleased with both the script and the paycheck, he still turned down the role. The actor decided he would rather pursue more film roles, and wasn’t stoked about the idea of working full-time on a TV series. This is around the same time he starred in “great” films like First Daughter and Herbie: Fully Loaded. Meanwhile, Lost went on to become a huge hit.

Related: Every Actor Who Has Played Batman