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Why Hollywood Won't Cast Zach Braff Anymore

Braff was one of the most successful—and definitive—stars of the 2000s. From 2001 to 2009 he starred on NBC's acclaimed comedy/drama Scrubs as young doctor John Dorian, for which he earned an Emmy nomination. In 2004, Braff made a big splash as a writer-director with the drama Garden State. (He also selected its popular indie-rock soundtrack.) Braff has kept working ever since Scrubs left the air, on both TV and in movies, but we still don't see him as much as we used to. Here's why Braff hasn't been gracing screens as often as he once did.

His leading man roles haven't been in financially successful films

While actors like George Clooney (ER) or John Travolta (Welcome Back, Kotter) jump from a hit TV show to silver screen success, that path wasn't in the cards for Braff. During Scrubs' long run, Braff starred in two major motion pictures. The first was The Last Kiss in 2006, which Braff picked because DreamWorks supposedly promised him he could rewrite the script, which he says never happened. It didn't recoup production costs. A year later, Braff starred in the comedy The Ex, which made only $3 million domestically. Braff's next big starring role was in the dark indie drama The High Cost of Living, which was released straight-to-VOD.

His movies keep falling apart

Braff isn't ready to give up movies. In 2009, it was reported that Braff would star with Cameron Diaz in Paramount's romantic comedy Swingles. Braff was also going to direct the movie, in which he plays a newly single guy who recruits a wingwoman (Diaz) rather than a wingman. (Presumably, they fall in love.) Two years later, the movie hadn't been made and Braff was shopping the idea around to other producers. Another Braff movie-to-be is an English-language remake of the 2002 Danish film Elsker dig for evigt, or Open Hearts. At one point, Sean Penn agreed to star, but then the lead actress withdrew while Braff was scouting filming locations. And then the whole thing fell through.

He's been doing a lot of theater

Braff may not be on that many screens anymore, but maybe that's because he's busy writing and acting on stage. In 2011, his play All New People premiered in New York. About a man (Justin Bartha) trying to commit suicide only to be repeatedly interrupted by his friends (Anna Camp, Krysten Ritter) stopping by, the New York Times called it "slick and slight but lively" and said it boasted "a bleak comic panache." After New York, All New People was staged in Scotland and on London's West End. In 2014, Braff starred for four months in the Broadway musical adaptation of Woody Allen's Bullets Over Broadway.

The huge mess of 'Wish I Was Here'

To follow up Garden State, Braff went to ... Kickstarter. He'd initially gone through the standard channels to get the sensitive family dramedy Wish I Was Here made, but financiers wouldn't give him final cut on the movie. So in 2013 he asked for $2 million on Kickstarter and received a thrashing in the court of public opinion for not using his own money. Still, more than 46,000 backers put money into the project, raising a whopping $3.1 million. Screened at the Sundance Film Festival, Wish I Was Here landed a $2.75 million distribution deal with Focus Features. Soon thereafter, Braff vowed to never use crowdfunding again.

He's busy helping other people make their movies

Braff is credited as an executive producer on the 2014 Kickstarter-funded hacktivism documentary The Internet's Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz, simply because he donated so much money to the project—which launched on Kickstarter the same day as Wish I Was Here. Braff also donated enough to be an executive producer on the Kickstarter-funded Video Games: The Movie. And about a decade ago, Braff set up a grant for filmmakers at his alma mater, Northwestern University. Recipients of the $5,000 Braff Grants are awarded to film students to make their own five- to eight-minute movies, along with some consultation time with Braff himself. (He even helps read screenplay submissions to decide which students get the grants.)

He doesn't need to work

Braff was earning $350,000 an episode for Scrubs toward the end of its run, making him one of the highest paid actors on primetime TV at the time. (Which is to say nothing of his cut of the fortune generated by Scrubs reruns on networks and streaming services.) In other words, Scrubs made Braff very rich. So rich that he really doesn't have to work on movies or TV shows if he doesn't want to. "Scrubs put me in a position where I could say no," he says.

He's doing for-hire director work now

In 2017, Braff returned to the director's chair on a major motion picture. Only this time, it was as a hired gun—he didn't write this one. Going in Style, penned by Oscar-nominated Hidden Figures screenwriter Theodore Melfi, is a heist comedy about a group of cash-strapped senior citizens who rob the bank that stole their money through financial malfeasance. A remake of a 1979 movie, it stars Oscar winners Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine, and Alan Arkin. While the trailer and all-star cast suggested a lot of potential, it was met with mixed reviews.

He's staging a comeback

Braff has been working to get back on TV, but it hasn't been an easy road. In 2008, he directed a potential drama called Night Life, written by his brother Adam. Four years later, he sold a concept to ABC called Garage Bar, a comedy about what happens to a group of old friends when one becomes a successful musician. In 2015, MTV ultimately passed on the Braff-directed darkly comic murder mystery Self Promotion. Still, Braff kept digging.

In early 2017, ABC ordered a pilot for the comedy Start-Up, in which Braff stars as a guy who starts his own business. Now retitled Alex, Inc., ABC has picked up the pilot with a series order. With this return to television (and ABC), this will be Braff's first steady TV gig since leaving Scrubs in 2009.

Early reactions to the trailer suggest Alex, Inc. could be "another winning formula" for Braff, while others suggest that the series' biggest hurdle is Braff himself. TV Line's Kimberly Roots' reaction to the trailer was, "Holy Garden State, this looks right up my alley." Ryan Schwartz, on the other hand, isn't quite sold. "Looks charming enough, but I'm confused: Is this supposed to be a workplace sitcom? A family comedy with workplace elements? I'll give Zach Braff & Co. a few episodes to figure it out."

Only time will tell if Alex, Inc. really is the one that finally gets Braff back in the game.