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Sitcom Actor Careers That Bombed After The TV Series Was Over

The margins for success in television are slim. Careers succeed and fail largely on luck rather than any discernable merit. Of course, once an actor makes it, they've made it... right? Not so much. As any cast member of Seinfeld will tell you, having a huge built-in audience doesn't mean a new show is guaranteed any kind of success. All it takes is one bad movie choice, one negative story going public, or one spectacular bad decision in one's personal life to lose all that goodwill and go down in flames.

For the sake of this piece, we're defining "bombing" as a notable name who wanted to continue their career and failed. There are plenty of non-acting reasons why sitcom stars big and small choose to withdraw from public view. We're talking about stars people pegged for big things who had their careers blow up in public and spectacular fashion. From personal troubles to monstrously bad career decisions, here's the story behind some of the biggest post-sitcom career bombings.

Showgirls cost Elizabeth Berkley a career

Elizabeth Berkley first became famous as Jessie Spano, the bleeding heart liberal activist in Saved by the Bell. While the rest of her friends spent a season at Cal U in The College Years, Berkley wanted to break free from her squeaky clean sitcom image. As such, she went as far in the opposite direction as she could and starred in Paul Verhoeven's erotic drama Showgirls. The girl who once objected to Bayside's date auction was now playing a stripper.

Showgirls was touted as a potential paradigm shift, a project with big name talent that could make the NC-17 rating viable. Instead, the movie became one of the most notorious bombs of the '90s. Berkley was dropped by her agent and briefly had a hard time finding new representation due to the horrid reviews. The movie later picked up a cult following, but it was too late to save Berkley's only shot at being an A-lister.

She's had consistent work in the decades since — with plenty of TV guest spots, small movie roles, and theater work — but she's never landed another series lead or a lead role in a major motion picture. She did, however, return as Jessie Spano in the Saved by the Bell sequel series on Peacock, now a guidance counselor who has been caffeine-free for 29 years.

Jodie Sweetin's addictions tanked her career

From the ages of 5 to 14, Jodie Sweetin played middle sister Stephanie Tanner on Full House. Unlike her onscreen sisters, Candace Cameron and the Olsen twins, Sweetin's career tanked after the show ended. Part of this was her going to high school and college, but the biggest reason was a years-long addiction to drugs and alcohol.

Sweetin revealed in her autobiography UnSweetined that she was 14 years old when she first had alcohol, downing two bottles of wine at Cameron's wedding. Over the next decade or so, she dabbled in everything from ecstasy to cocaine to crystal meth. She claimed to be mostly retired from acting around this time, but it's hard to imagine she was capable of acting. She went through a series of volatile relationships and got clean several times before relapsing over and over, blowing many of her Full House residuals on drugs and divorce.

Sweetin finally got clean around 2008 and speaks openly about her struggles and sobriety. She also shows that a career bombing can be temporary. Everyone loves a comeback story. She reprised the role of Stephanie — now a reformed party girl — in Fuller House and has since picked up more acting roles than ever before, including starring roles in a few Hallmark movies.

Steve Rannazzisi was caught in a big lie

Just a few weeks into the seventh and final season of FX/FXX comedy The League, a huge lie star Stephen Rannazzisi told years earlier came back to haunt him. He hasn't been able to escape it since.

An oft-repeated part of Rannazzisi's comic origin story is that he survived 9/11. He repeatedly claimed that he worked for Merrill Lynch on the 54th floor of the South Tower, escaping minutes before the plane crashed into the building. It was this moment that taught him life is too fragile to waste time, so he quit his day job and moved to L.A. to become an entertainer.

Rannazzisi landed his biggest role yet in 2009, when he started playing Kevin MacArthur on The League. Fast forward to September 16th, 2015. The League is a couple episodes into its final season, and the New York Times breaks a big story: Rannazzisi's 9/11 story was a lie. It's a wonder no one caught on earlier, given that Merrill Lynch didn't have office space at the World Trade Center, but he wasn't employed by Lynch either, and he worked in Midtown.

Rannazzisi owned up, saying "I don't know why I said this. This was inexcusable. I am truly, truly sorry." He later revealed to Howard Stern that it started as a small lie he told at a comedy club — a lie that eventually grew into a prison for him.

Buffalo Wild Wings immediately dropped him from an ad campaign, and Comedy Central mulled pulling his comedy special. He's had a few small parts here and there and made a low-budget independent movie or two, but he's largely retreated to the world of podcasts and panel guest appearances. Given that almost every Google search of him returns a mention of his 9/11 lie, it's understandable.

Amanda Bynes stopped acting after drug and mental health issues

Few teen stars of the past quarter century reached the heights Amanda Bynes did. Four seasons as one of the breakout stars of All That which begat three seasons of the self-titled Amanda Show is enough to make her a Nickelodeon legend, but she broke past that. She moved on to network TV, starring as the effervescent Holly on the WB's What I Like About You for four seasons. She was even able to use this momentum and land some serious film roles, including She's the Man, Hairspray, and Easy A.

This momentum didn't so much fizzle as it hit a brick wall due to addictions and mental health issues.

Bynes started doing various drugs in her late teenage years. She revealed in an interview with Paper that she tried molly, ecstasy, cocaine, and around 2006 became addicted to Adderall. This exacerbated several other undiagnosed mental illnesses, which led to her quitting acting in 2010 at age 24 — and more than a few public breakdowns. She became especially famous for her volatile activity on Twitter, once claiming that she had a microchip in her brain.

She was eventually placed under a conservatorship with her parents and got sober, expressing remorse for a lot of her behavior under the influence. She expressed an interest in returning to acting in 2018, but was primarily focused on studying fashion at the time.

Louis C.K.'s bad behavior killed his sitcom and his career

Louis C.K.'s career bombing and his sitcom ending are one and the same, both the result of years of awful behavior.

It's hard to overstate Louie's impact on comedy even before he started doing Louie on FX. He spent the '90s and early 2000s as one of the most in-demand comedy writers in America before making a name for himself as a standup. He hit his peak with the critically acclaimed tragicomic sitcom that bore his name. It's not an exaggeration to say that Louie did everything on Louie — wrote, starred, directed, even edited.

The show was on hiatus when Louie got hit hard in the post-Weinstein #MeToo wave, when the New York Times published accusations of sexual misconduct against him. Whispers and rumors about Louie had been circulating for years, and every single one of them was confirmed. Louie himself admitted all the accusations were true. FX immediately cut ties with him and he outright vanished from show business for over a year.

Louie still tours and releases specials, released entirely via his own website. It's likely the only way he'll get his work out, because it's hard to see a world where he's allowed near anything with an HR department ever again.

Brett Butler's erratic behavior burned all her bridges

Brett Butler was a rising comedy star in the late '80s who landed her own TV show in the early '90s with Grace Under Fire. The show was a monster hit for its first few seasons, but Butler couldn't get out of her own way backstage. She had many problems with drugs and alcohol, with the show stopping production on several occasions for her to attend rehab. What made matters worse was her erratic and abrasive behavior, which led to two cast members and five executive producers quitting over the course of the show's run. ABC couldn't deal with her anymore, especially after ratings dipped, and canceled the show part way through season five.

Between the violent death of Grace in 1998 and her volatile behavior, Butler has burned almost every bridge in her life. She moved to Georgia and quickly blew most of her money. She had a few standup gigs and made a TV guest appearance here and there, but by 2011 was living in a homeless shelter. A year after this low point, she started getting work again — she spent the 2010s getting recurring roles in shows like Anger Management, How to Get Away with Murder, and The Walking Dead. It's great that she's sober and working, even if she'll never reach the same heights she did in the '90s.

Michael Richards had a bad sitcom and a racist meltdown

Michael Richards was always going to have trouble escaping the shadow of Kramer. Most just would have bet on "typecasting" as the reason why instead of "racism."

Two years after Seinfeld ended, Richards got his own sitcom. Titled The Michael Richards Show, the show bombed and was axed after only two months. This alone might be enough to count as a career low, but not for Richards: few people remember The Michael Richards Show, but almost everyone remembers the Laugh Factory incident.

After his own show bombed, Richards went back to standup. This led to November 17, 2006 at the Laugh Factory in Hollywood. A small group of people in the crowd were heckling him, and his response was to launch into a racist tirade. TMZ posted the video, which showed him freely using the N-word and threatening the audience. That was the end of his career.

Three days later, Richards offered an apology on The Late Show with David Letterman that largely centered on himself. Many — including the in-studio audience — had a hard time taking it seriously, especially when he said "I'm not a racist, that's what's so insane about this" after repeating the N-word. Richards quietly retired from standup shortly afterward.

Richards returned to acting after a few years in exile, first in season seven of Curb Your Enthusiasm for the Seinfeld reunion storyline and later as a series regular in the short-lived TV Land series Kirstie. He's made one small movie appearance since 2014, and he's lucky Seinfeld residuals will cover him for some time.

Dana Plato couldn't stay clean and died young

Dana Plato was best known as Kimberly Drummond on Diff'rent Strokes, a role she played for six seasons. Though Diff'rent Strokes remains a syndication classic, and Kimberly had many important moments on the show, Plato may be better remembered for her personal nosedive after departing the show.

Plato left Diff'rent Strokes after getting pregnant at 18. She had a hard time establishing herself, which led to a lot of B-movies nobody remembers and a Playboy spread. Her substance abuse problems, which made her personal life more difficult and drained her finances, only compounded the problems. Her most notable gig post-sitcom was Night Trap, the infamous campy FMV video game controversial enough to get cited at a Congressional hearing.

Her problems became public in 1991, after she robbed a Las Vegas video store with a pellet gun. Several other drug-related problems, including forging Valium prescriptions, kept her more in the spotlight as a washout than a star. She reached her nadir in 1997, starring in trashy softcore erotica movie Different Strokes — a movie that had nothing to do with her sitcom, named entirely as an attention grabber.

Plato visited Howard Stern's radio show on May 8, 1999. She claimed to have been sober for ten years, minus some pain meds, and planned on getting her career back on track. She offered to take a drug test on air to prove her sobriety after callers ridiculed her. The next day, she took some pain meds and died of an overdose. There's conflicting opinion on whether it was an accident or suicide.

Gary Coleman couldn't escape Arnold Jackson's shadow

Gary Coleman is often listed as one of the most influential and impactful child actors of all time. Deservedly so, too — Arnold Jackson from Diff'rent Strokes is an iconic sitcom character. Part of Coleman's legacy, however, is his personal and professional downturn after the show ended.

Coleman's diminutive height and youthful appearance lasted well past his childhood, a result of a medical condition, and 4'8" men aren't typically cast in serious or even consistent roles. He also had more immediate problems: despite being one of the biggest earners on TV, his parents and representation mishandled millions of his earnings. Years of legal wrangling, trouble finding roles, and eventual bankruptcies meant his career never truly continued after Diff'rent Strokes ended.

Coleman found some success in video games, playing lemonade (and eventually gun) salesman Kenny Falmouth in The Curse of Monkey Island and a version of himself in Postal 2.  Even so, Coleman was never able to find consistent acting work again and spent much of the '90s as a security guard. He also got into a decent amount of legal trouble, including punching a fan at his security guard job after she asked for an autograph.

Coleman never stopped trying to return to the spotlight and step out of Arnold Jackson's shadow. He was a gubernatorial candidate in the circus that was the 2003 California recall election and appeared in the music video for John Cena's "Bad Bad Man." He'd continue to appear in small roles until his untimely death at the age of 42 in 2010.

Ken Osmond was typecast as Eddie Haskell and left acting

Ken Osmond played Eddie Haskell, the infamous scheming sycophant on Leave It to Beaver. The role was, in fact, a little too infamous — after the show ended, Haskell found himself typecast and struggling to find work. 100+ episodes of playing any character will do that, especially in an era with more limited entertainment options. He had a few guest spots on TV and a small movie here or there, but not enough to pay the bills.

By 1970, Osmond had a family and a house, and the lack of acting gigs meant he had a hard time paying for either. As such, he quit acting and joined the Los Angeles Police Department for a steady paycheck. He stayed anonymous by growing a mustache. He was shot five times during an arrest in 1980, which kicked off a court battle with the LADP where he was eventually awarded a lifetime pension and retired from the force in 1988.

During his legal battle, he had functionally stopped policing anyway and returned to acting. His big comeback role after a quarter century? An older Eddie Haskell in the CBS TV movie Still the Beaver. He reprised the role in The New Leave It to Beaver, which showed all the original cast of Leave It to Beaver as adults with children of their own.

Frankie Shaw lost her show after misconduct allegations

Frankie Shaw had been acting onscreen for a decade, most notably in Blue Mountain State, before she created SMILF on Showtime. She was the primary creative force for the show, not only starring but directing and writing most of the episodes. It was occasionally compared to Louie, which was predictive in a way — the show got canceled after controversy and Shaw's career took a hit.

In between the first and second season, the Hollywood Reporter broke the news that Shaw was in the midst of a workplace misconduct investigation. There were multiple complaints of abusive behavior, with staffers claiming that Shaw's support of Time's Up and #MeToo were Febreze against mistreating staff. This included at least two cases of poorly handled sex scenes, one of which saw actress Samara Weaving leave the show after claiming breach of contract. The show was canceled partway through the airing of the second season in 2019, and Shaw made herself scarce.

Since the show's cancellation, Shaw has quietly been attempting a comeback. Variety reported in 2020 that she was cleared of wrongdoing after an internal investigation by the studio and paid out the balance of her contract. She has a few movie roles and writing/directing/produce slots lined up, including work for Showtime rival HBO, so we'll see if this bombing is permanent or temporary.

Alfonso Riberio was too good as Carlton

Alfonso Riberio will always be remembered as Carlton from The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. It's easy to remember the dancing, the Tom Jones, and being the punchline to half of Will's jokes, but Carlton as a whole was one of the most compelling '90s sitcom characters. His complex but loving relationship with his cousin was the beating heart of the series, and Carlton was front and center for many of the show's dives into sociopolitical issues. It was a range he never got to show off after Fresh Prince.

Of his acting experiences post-Fresh Prince, Ribeiro told The Ringer "Imagine for a second you do a role so well that they tell you you're not allowed to do anything else ever again because they can't believe that you're not that guy." He got a few small parts here and there as Carlton clones, but never found consistent and varied acting work — certainly not anything that showed his range.

That said, Riberio has seldom been out of work in general. He's directed many TV shows, including episodes of Are We There Yet? and Will Smith-created sitcom All of Us. He later pivoted to hosting game shows, and won a Daytime Emmy for hosting Catch 21. Since 2015, Ribeiro has hosted America's Funniest Home Videos — and yes, that show is indeed still on the air. He's also been a contestant on several reality shows, including a victory on Dancing with the Stars.

Jennette McCurdy regrets her career

Jennette McCurdy played Sam Puckett for all six seasons of iCarly before co-headlining spinoff Sam & Cat. It was at the latter show where her public image became firmly attached to that of co-star Ariana Grande. To borrow wrestling terminology, the two were a formidable tag team, but all tag teams break up eventually. McCurdy and Grande were the Rockers, where Grande was Shawn Michaels and McCurdy was Marty Jannetty.

Sam & Cat is less remembered for its characters and storylines than it is for the behind-the-scenes conflict that led to its cancellation after one season. The specifics are fuzzy, but McCurdy implied Grande was paid more than her despite a promise they'd be treated equally. Either way, the show ended under a cloud of suspicion and rumors. McCurdy later claimed that she and Grande made up, but it's a feud that's cast a long shadow over their careers. 

Even if there are no hard feelings, there's still a stark contrast between their career trajectories. Grande almost immediately ascended to pop music icon status, while McCurdy's music never quite cracked the Top 40. McCurdy had some small acting work over the ensuing years, but never broke that big again and retired from acting in 2017 to focusing on producing and directing. She's since expressed embarrassment regarding many of her roles and admitted she mostly acted to take care of her family, which stopped being a priority after her mother died.

Dustin Diamond was a mess

Few people cashed more checks from the Saved by the Bell franchise than Dustin Diamond, who played Screech for over a decade. First on Good Morning, Miss Bliss, next on Saved By The Bell, and then on Saved by the Bell: The College Years. He reprised the role on Saved by the Bell: The New Class, a show that lasted longer than the original despite retaining no fanbase, as a Bayside staff member. He had a hard time finding work after that, and typecasting was only part of it. After struggling to find post-Saved by the Bell work, he seemingly dedicated his life to antagonizing everyone he worked with in his professional prime.

He had frequent money troubles throughout his adult life, including multiple foreclosure notices on his house and facing at least three delinquent tax warrants. He went to often bizarre lengths to get money however he could, with the most benign example being the time he sold T-shirts to avoid a foreclosure. Other times were much less pleasant.

Diamond released a sex tape in 2006, partly as a stunt but also as a cheap way to get money. He later expressed regret, saying the blowback wasn't worth the profit, and admitted that he used a stunt double and just superimposed his face later. If this didn't destroy his reputation, his next move did: publishing Behind the Bell, a supposed inside look at his show. He made many tawdry allegations about behind-the-scenes behavior, most of which was publicly repudiated by his fellow cast members. Diamond later claimed that the most salacious bits were parts his ghostwriter put in without permission.

Diamond was arrested in December 2014 for stabbing someone during a bar fight and was sentenced to four months in jail the following year. He served three before getting paroled, only to be locked up again after a parole violation. He claimed to want a clean slate after this and get back into acting, but it never came to pass — he wasn't invited back for the Saved by the Bell sequel series on Peacock, though Screech was name-dropped as living on the International Space Station. Diamond died in February of 2021 of lung cancer, diagnosed only a month earlier.

McLean Stevenson bet on himself and lost

Long before Gary Coleman or Dustin Diamond or anyone else on this list became shorthand for bombing after leaving a sitcom, McLean Stevenson was the gold (well, more like bronze) standard. He achieved great fame as Colonel Blake in M*A*S*H, the original commanding officer of the 4077th. Behind the scenes, however, there was some strife on his part — stories confirmed by both coworkers and friends. He resented that Blake was never more than a supporting character, one whose scenes were often trimmed. He also fought with Twentieth Century Fox over money and accommodations.

As such, he decided to take a bet on himself and left the show, with Blake memorably being shot down on the way home. After leaving M*A*S*H, Stevenson starred in four sitcoms in succession. None lasted more than two seasons and all were off the air before M*A*S*H concluded its run. He still found some work, notably guest hosting The Tonight Show and dozens of game show appearances, but never got a big acting role again. He became even less relevant after M*A*S*H went off the air — at that point, he was just pop culture trivia instead of someone whose failures ran parallel to a big success.

By the mid-to-late '80s, one critic wrote that Stevenson wore out his television welcome. He was well aware of this status, telling the Baltimore Sun that "I made the mistake of believing that people were enamored of McLean Stevenson when the person they were enamored of was Henry Blake." Even so, some have come to his defense. TV writer Mark Evanier said of Stevenson's reputation that "Show business is a field that requires taking the occasional gamble. It's hard to gain without a risk... and when a risk doesn't pay off, there are always plenty of folks around to grin and say, 'I knew that would never work.'"

Kirk Cameron chose his faith over his acting career

Kirk Cameron, as Mike Seaver on Growing Pains, was a teen heartthrob through the 1980s. The sky was the limit for this young actor, and maybe there's a world where he went on to hone his craft further. In our world, though, Cameron had one of the most famous about-faces in TV history: he converted to Christianity toward the end of his time on the show. His behavior around the conversion caused all sorts of issues, including backstage arguments that saw producers quit rather than deal with him.

Cameron has expressed some regret about his behavior at the time, specifically feeling that he emotionally abandoned the show toward the end and didn't communicate his new needs to the cast. He returned for a couple TV movie Growing Pains reunions, but has largely stuck to Christian media since then. He runs The Way of the Master, a Christian TV ministry, and stars in movies like the much-maligned Saving Christmas.

Most today known Kirk Cameron as an evangelical Christian who dismisses evolution by making up creatures like the crocoduck, denies and/or minimizes COVID-19, and calls homosexuality "unnatural" on national television. It's hard to call his post-Growing Pains career a total bomb, because he found a niche for himself — but alienating everyone he worked with and disappearing from Hollywood proper as an actor is by most metrics quite the career tank.