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TV Shows That Actors Refused To Be A Part Of

By their very nature, TV shows get viewers comfortable with the idea of certain actors playing certain characters. Whether it's 22 half-hours of a sitcom or 13 hours of a cable drama, spending so much time with a performer who's inhabiting a specific role makes it hard to imagine anyone else taking on those parts. That's especially true when the actor is amazing at portraying their character. Could anyone else have played Walter White like Bryan Cranston on Breaking Bad? Ditto Elizabeth Montgomery as Samantha on Bewitched? It's impossible to comprehend anyone else taking on those parts.

But while these actors seem tailor-made for their roles after hours of viewing, the inherent process of casting means that these stars were rarely the first choice for their characters. As it turns out, many of the original picks just flat-out refused to be part of TV shows that would end becoming some of the most iconic programs of all-time. Though it may sound preposterous to turn down those series with the benefit of hindsight, a multitude of reasons informed these actors and their decisions to walk away. 

Sometimes, salary disputes kept certain performers at bay, while other times, it was as simple as an actor being uncomfortable performing on television. Whatever the issues, there are endless examples of famous faces decidedly saying "no" to some of the most beloved TV shows of all-time.

Whitney Houston could've been a star of The Cosby Show

You'd have to live under a rock not to know about musician Whitney Houston's vast library of iconic songs. In addition to being one of the all-time great singers, Houston also scored a number of high-profile acting gigs in movies like The Bodyguard and The Preacher's Wife. But there's a timeline where both her acting career and her career as an artist in general would've been dramatically altered. Such a deviation would've occurred if Houston had taken an offer in the 1980s to headline The Cosby Show as the character Sondra Huxtable.

Houston wasn't just in contention for the role — she came extremely close to signing on for part. It's easy to imagine Houston having far less time to headline movies or deliver hit songs if she was busy working on one of the most popular sitcoms of the '80s. Cosby Show director Jay Sandrich remembers that was actually Houston's motivation for not signing on the dotted line. As he explained to the Daily Mail, "She said, 'Well, I want to be a singer ... I can't be in every show ... I have to be in every tour.'" Sabrina Le Beauf would end up taking on the part of Sondra Huxtable while the subsequent success of Houston's music career proved that her decision to turn down The Cosby Show was extremely wise.

Natasha Lyonne almost sank her teeth into Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Nowadays, when people think of Natasha Lyonne and television, they probably think of her unforgettable lead role in the TV show Russian Doll. Or perhaps they think of her work as Nicky Nichols in Orange Is the New Black. Perhaps some even associate her with her childhood acting role as Opal on Pee-Wee's Playhouse. While Lyonne has inhabited many memorable TV characters, her portfolio could've been all the more impressive if she'd ended up taking on the famous TV role of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

The first mention of Lyonne consciously passing on an opportunity to appear in the TV show Buffy the Vampire Slayer came all the way back in 2000, with her reasoning being a desire to focus on smaller-scale projects. Of course, the matter didn't just end there. Since Lyonne never specified what part she turned down, speculation ensued on who Lyonne could've played. After more than a decade of guessing, the truth finally came out in 2013. Lyonne made an offhand comment to Entertainment Weekly (via HuffPost) about how her mother said she should've done Buffy before making a joke that revealed she'd been offered the titular role herself. 

While Sarah Michelle Gellar made for a widely beloved vampire slayer, Lyonne's track record for playing TV characters you can't turn away from makes it impossible not to wonder what the Russian Doll lead could've done headlining Buffy.

Eric Stoltz could've laid down the law on The Shield

For all seven seasons of The Shield, Vic Mackey was a character who took viewers on some of the darkest stories to ever grace the airwaves. This brutal show needed an actor who could handle bleak material without batting an eye. The Shield got just that with Michael Chiklis, an actor who made viewers both hate and sympathize with a corrupt, complex cop. Though Chiklis delivered a widely acclaimed turn as Vic Mackey, he wasn't the first pick for the role. In fact, somebody vastly different was originally eyeballed for the role

The Shield's network, FX, originally had hopes that Eric Stoltz would take on the part of Mackey, a fact The Shield creator Shawn Ryan revealed on Twitter in July 2012. "FX wanted Eric Stoltz to play Vic Mackey. Made him an offer, almost took it," Ryan said. No further details have surfaced on why Stoltz turned down the show. This makes Vic Mackey the second iconic role to slip through Stoltz's fingers after losing out on the role of Marty McFly in the first Back to the Future movie. But unlike that case, Stoltz intentionally turned down the part of Mackey. Considering how critical Chiklis would end up being in making The Shield work like it does, Stoltz passing on being a part of FX's classic crime show was ultimately a blessing.

Ray Liotta was a contender for The Sopranos

Ray Liotta's biggest film role is Henry Hill, the gangster protagonist in Martin Scorsese's Goodfellas. That part has forever associated Liotta with tough guys and mobsters, and he's played plenty of them over the years in movies ranging from Wild Hogs to Killing Them Softly. He had another chance to explore this territory when he was offered a part on The Sopranos. Today considered one of the greatest TV programs ever made, it would've seemed like a no-brainer for Liotta to extend his penchant for playing gangsters over into this series, especially since Sopranos already made use of so many Goodfellas actors like Michael Imperioli and Lorraine Bracco.

However, Liotta turned down a chance to be a part of this beloved TV program. This wasn't due to concerns over typecasting but rather worries about how much time it would to take to be on the program. "It was for a two-year commitment, and I didn't really want to give up that time now," Liotta said in 2001, with his intent apparently being to concentrate on appearing in movies. While he opted not to be a part of the Sopranos TV show, that doesn't mean Liotta has been locked out of the franchise forever. As it turns out, Liotta plays a part in the Sopranos prequel movie, The Many Saints of Newark, bringing this staple of the modern gangster genre into the Sopranos franchise at long last. 

Craig T. Nelson could've returned to sitcoms with Modern Family

Between Ed O'Neill, Ty Burrell, and Julie Bowen, Modern Family was a show whose lead actors had plenty of experience headlining network TV comedies. However, another veteran of this domain almost made it into the show's cast. Former Coach star Craig T. Nelson was offered O'Neill's role of Jay on Modern Family. However, Nelson turned out to be one sitcom veteran who refused a part in Modern Family in no uncertain terms.

Considering what a massive hit Modern Family turned out to be, it sounds ludicrous to turn down such a big part. But speaking to Access Hollywood, Nelson revealed what caused him to forego the role of Jay. While Nelson said that he liked the script he'd received for Modern Family, his decision to walk away came down to the proposed (meager) paycheck. "I just felt disrespected to tell you the truth," Nelson said of the offered salary. Wanting better pay, Nelson let Modern Family go, opening up the chance for Married... with Children star Ed O'Neill to take on the role in the process. O'Neill would proceed to play Jay in Modern Family for over a decade. Meanwhile, Nelson would find himself another sizeable role on a modern TV comedy with his part on the NBC program Parenthood.

Dana Delany refused to take on Sex and the City

The chemistry between the four lead ladies was crucial to making Sex and the City a phenomenon. However, there almost was an entirely different dynamic between the cast members of this show, given that Dana Delany was almost cast in Sarah Jessica Parker's role of Carrie Bradshaw.

Delany has opened up about her decision in recent years, and she attributed the move to ensuring she didn't get stuck in a rut as a performer. "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 explained to Irish Central. "[Sex and the City creator] Darren Star was a friend of mine ... and he asked if I'd be in it. ... I had just done Nude Girls and Exit to Eden, and I just said to Darren, 'I cannot do a show with sex in the title.' People will lynch me if I do one more thing about sex."

Delany's decision allowed the eventual rapport between the four leads of Sex and the City to flourish. Plus, we've got to think that Parker is pretty appreciative that Delany passed on the program.

Angus T. Jones wanted nothing to do with Two and a Half Men

For ten seasons, actor Angus T. Jones portrayed the character of Jake Harper on Two and a Half Men. Playing the titular "half," Jones grew up before the eyes of audiences everywhere, starting out as a precocious ten-year-old boy and eventually becoming a grown adult. Something else audiences got to witness was Jones' priorities drastically changing once he hit adulthood. At this point in his life, Jones didn't want to star in Two and a Half Men anymore ... and he also wanted viewers to actively avoid it. 

In November 2012, Jones released a YouTube video in which he made this point clear by imploring viewers, "If you watch Two and a Half Men, please stop watching Two and a Half Men. I'm on Two and a Half Men. I don't want to be on it. ... Please stop filling your head with filth."

Jones' change of tune was apparently due to how the show contradicted his new religious beliefs. In response to this video, Jones left the show after its tenth season, with the role of the "half" in the program eventually being filled in by a new character, Amber Tamblyn's Jenny. In the years since his departure, Jones has mostly stayed out of the limelight and acting altogether, though he did reprise the role of Jake Harper one last time for the series finale of Two and a Half Men.

Paul Giamatti turned down a chance to be in The Office

No matter how many Oscars he gets nominated for or dramas he appears in, Steve Carell will always be Michael Scott. He goes as perfectly with the role as Jim does with Pam. But initially, Carell wasn't set to play the part. Back when the American version of The Office was first getting off the ground, a number of other actors were considered for the character. Everybody from Philip Seymour Hoffman to Bob Odenkirk was considered for the part that would provide the anchor for the entire program.

Among those actors in contention to play Michael Scott was Paul Giamatti. In fact, the Sideways performer was outright offered the role of the Dunder Mifflin boss. Giamatti's entire demeanor as an actor is totally different than Carell's, meaning we nearly got a radically unique take on Michael Scott. However, viewers never got to see it since Giamatti turned the role down. Reportedly, this was due to Giamatti's hesitance to perform in television, which does line up with how Giamatti almost exclusively appeared in movies in the 2000s. 

One exception to this was the prestige HBO program John Adams. However, that historical drama was only a seven-episode commitment, whereas The Office had individual seasons running between 22 and 24 episodes. That kind of lengthy commitment led to Giamatti turning down The Office and paving the way for Carell to take on his most iconic character.

Thomas Jane didn't see the appeal of Mad Men

In 2021, it's hard to imagine Mad Men without its individual cast members. Elisabeth Moss, John Slattery, Christina Hendricks — none of them are disposable. Each performer brought something unique and critical to the table in their individual performances. In the process, this cast of actors all coalesced to help make Mad Men one of the most acclaimed dramas of all-time. This is especially true of the show's leading man, Jon Hamm, who was essential in making protagonist Don Draper so compelling. Hamm is so tied directly to Draper that it's hard to imagine another actor playing him. Originally, though, the producers of Mad Men were eyeballing not Hamm but a veteran of 2000s genre movies to take on the part of Don Draper.

In October 2011, Hamm revealed to Entertainment Weekly that The Punisher and The Mist leading man, Thomas Jane, was the first actor approached to play Draper. "I think they went to Thomas Jane for it, and they were told that Thomas Jane does not do television," Hamm recalled. While a disdain for small-screen work kept Jane from headlining Mad Men, it wasn't a rule Jane would adhere to for his entire career. As Hamm observed, at the time of the interview, Jane had just signed on to star in the cable show Hung, indicating that he'd gotten over his trepidation for television work in the years since declining the widely acclaimed AMC series. 

Michael Keaton had no interest in getting Lost

Lost is a show famous for its twists and turns, including ones that make about as much sense as a polar bear showing up on a tropical island. Perhaps more shocking than anything that happened in the show, though, is that one of the lead characters of the program was originally supposed to be played by a movie star. The character of Jack wasn't always meant for Matthew Fox. In fact, the first pick for the role was actor Michael Keaton, who was initially excited to be a part of Lost. In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Keaton explained that he was originally signed on to the role because Jack was supposed to die at the end of the pilot episode. Intrigued by a show killing off what seemed to be its lead character at the end of a pilot, Keaton hopped on board.

Of course, given that Keaton is nowhere to be found in the actual show, something changed after Keaton signed on. The problems emerged when producers changed their mind on their long-term plans for Jack. As the series got reshaped, the producers of Lost decided that killing off Jack was no longer in the best of in the show. With Jack set to be a regular for the entire program, well, in the words of Keaton himself, "That didn't interest me." Keaton left, and Fox ended up taking on the role for the landmark program.