The phrase ‘the grass isn’t always greener on the other side’ can apply to many different areas of life, but today we’re focusing our attention on the wonderful world of television.
Over the years, a great number of actors have left their popular TV shows to pursue what they believed would be something bigger, brighter and better – only to completely regret their decision. Below are 20 examples of actors who left behind sweet TV gigs only to regret it later.
20. Wil Wheaton – Star Trek: The Next Generation
Wil Wheaton played Wesley Crusher during the first four seasons of Star Trek: The Next Generation before making the decision to jump (star)ship, believing that he would progress to bigger and better things in the world of TV and movies.
Unfortunately, Wheaton’s plans didn’t work out quite as he’d imagined. “Initially I thought it was a really smart business career move…what I was unprepared for was how much I was going to miss the people on this stage, [and] after that ended I just felt really ashamed of myself.”
19. Michael Learned – The Waltons
From 1972 to 1979, every episode of period drama The Waltons featured Michael Learned front and centre, playing the titular family’s matriarch, Olivia. Despite three Emmy Awards and four Golden Globe nominations over the course of her time on the show, Learned still called it quits.
The Waltons ended just two years after her exit in 1981, and Learned has since said she wished that she would have stuck around to close it out. “It probably would have been better to complete the whole show,” she said to Fox News in 2017, “but I felt a lot of the times I was sitting around for 14 hours saying, ‘More coffee John.'”
18. Chevy Chase – Saturday Night Live
As an original member of Saturday Night Live, Chevy Chase went from relative unknown to comedy giant within just one season. However, his SNL fame was short-lived, as he left immediately after the first season was completed, believing he was a big enough star to sustain a movie career, and wanting to spend more time with his then-girlfriend Jacqueline Carlin.
Though Chase enjoyed success as a movie star, he came to lament his decision, remarking, “The whole thing was crazy because I was a young fellow who was infatuated with the wrong person. Everybody there knew it except me. It was all nuts, looking back on it. But I did regret it.”
17. Katherine Heigl – Grey’s Anatomy
Katherine Heigl’s reputation for being difficult on the set of Grey’s Anatomy, compounded by her very public feud with Shonda Rhimes and her burgeoning desire to leave the cast in order to pursue a film career, all led to her character Dr Izzie Stevens being killed off by the show’s writers in 2010.
When asked in 2012 whether she regretted her decision, Heigl admitted “yeah, sometimes you miss it.” She also publicly apologised for badmouthing the show: “That wasn’t cool. I shouldn’t have said anything publicly, but at the time, I didn’t think anybody would notice.”
16. Christopher Eccleston – Doctor Who
Doctor Who was resurrected back in 2005 after a long hiatus, with Christopher Eccleston taking on the role of the wisecracking Time Lord. However, there was difficulty behind the scenes. Eccleston explained in 2018, “My relationship with my three immediate superiors – the showrunner, the producer and co-producer – broke down irreparably during the first block of filming and it never recovered. ”
This struggle led to Eccleston quitting after a single season. He has since expressed regret about his departure, saying “it was kind of tragic for me that I didn’t play him for longer, he’s a beautiful character and I have a great deal of professional pride.”
15. Wayne Rogers – M*A*S*H
Wayne Rogers’ departure from M*A*S*H* was in the cards as soon as he signed on to play the part. When he first accepted the role of Trapper John McIntyre, Rogers was told that the character would be on an equal footing with Alan Alda’s Hawkeye Pierce. However, it only took shooting a few episodes for Rogers to realise that it was Alda’s character, not his, that was at the heart of the show.
Rogers subsequently quit the show after its third season to pursue a career in film. Alas, this plan didn’t pan out the way Rogers had hoped, and so he pivoted to working in finance. He later said that if he’d known how successful M*A*S*H* would be, he would have stuck it out.
14. Colton Haynes – Arrow
After a long-running stint on the hit show Teen Wolf, Colton Hayes got the chance to appear on DC’s Arrow, as reformed small-time criminal Roy Harper. By season three, he had become Arrow’s sidekick and fellow vigilante, Arsenal. It didn’t last long, however, and an unexpected twist saw the character written off. Fans were shocked, but it transpired that Hayes had requested to leave.
The actor struggled with an anxiety disorder, which was exacerbated by the show’s busy schedule and increased public scrutiny. While he clearly did what was best for him, Hayes admits he regretted quitting Arrow, and later returned for guest appearances.
13. Sherry Stringfield – ER
Medical drama ER was a bona fide hit from the very first episode. All of the central cast became overnight successes, which encouraged them to stick around for multiple seasons. Even George Clooney, whose profile rose to superstar levels during his time on the show, remained dedicated to ER for five seasons. The only real exception to this pattern was Sherry Springfield.
Exhausted with the demanding schedule, Springfield asked to be released from her contract after ER’s third season, much to the displeasure of her producers. Springfield hoped to pursue film, but this didn’t work out, leading her to ask to return to the show four seasons later, in a much-diminished role.
12. Brian Dunkleman – American Idol
American Idol is still one of the world’s foremost talent shows. It cemented the stateside fame of Simon Cowell, just one year after he judged Pop Idol in the UK, and Brian Dunkleman, the co-host on the first season, seemed destined for a similar trajectory towards stardom. Unfortunately for Dunkleman, he chose not to return for American Idol’s second season.
Instead, he began to pursue the stand-up comedy circuit in earnest, but failed to get much traction. Dunkleman’s profile steadily diminished, leading him to battle depression. He has publicly pondered how different his life might have been if he had stayed for Idol’s second season.
11. Suzanne Somers – Three’s Company
Nowadays Suzanne Somers is a well known actress, and her fame can be almost entirely attributed to Three’s Company. The show took Somers from a relative unknown in 1975 to a superstar by 1977, but by the show’s fifth season Somers believed she deserved more. She asked for a pay rise and a percentage of the show’s profits, both of which were denied.
Subsequent behind-the-scenes fallouts led Somers quit the show. Somers came to regret this because it soured her relationships with co-stars John Ritter and Joyce DeWitt. Somers said later, “To this day, I feel a sadness for not being able to finish out Three’s Company. I have a heartache that it ended so badly, this wonderful thing.”
10. Christopher Collins – The Simpsons
Christopher Collins was one of the biggest voice actors of the 80s, playing Cobra Commander on G.I. Joe and Starscream on Transformers. His career looked set to take a leap forward when he was hired to play Moe and Mr. Burns on The Simpsons in 1989. Unfortunately, Collins stepped away from The Simpsons after recording less than one season’s worth of lines.
Reportedly Collins left due to personal tension with The Simpsons’ co-creator Sam Simon. Tragically, Collins would die only a few years later at the age of just 44, after a decades-long battle with substance abuse.
9. Jason Priestley – Beverly Hills, 90210
Jason Priestley was one of the original cast members on Beverley Hills, 90210, and one of the longest-serving. When he bowed out after the ninth season, the actor said he felt there was nothing left to do with his character. Even so, Priestley regretted stepping away from the show before what proved to be its final season, as he believed his absence contributed to the sharp drop in quality.
Speaking about the show’s closing episodes in 2014, Priestley said, “There was no more linchpin [in the ensemble]. It kind of didn’t make sense anymore. So, I regret leaving the show for those reasons.”
8. Charlie Sheen – Two and a Half Men
Nowadays, the thing Charlie Sheen is best known for might actually be his very public breakdown (remember Tiger Blood?) in the early 2010s. Everything came to a head in 2011, when Sheen quit his hugely successful sitcom Two and a Half Men in an explosive manner.
On set sources described a tantrum in which Sheen managed to alienate both his co-stars and the show’s crew, leaving his reputation in tatters. Sheen has since tried to make amends and has said repeatedly that he will always regret the behaviour that led to his exit from the show.
7. Dave Chappelle – Chappelle’s Show
Dave Chappelle had a relatively ordinary comedy career trajectory until Chappelle’s Show. The series was an instant hit and propelled him into the mainstream like he never expected, but Chappelle soon found himself dissatisfied creatively, and resentful of the time he had to spent away from his family. He walked away in 2005, leaving a $50 million contract behind.
It took eight years for Chappelle to restart his comedy career, and when he did he was asked often whether he regretted leaving Chappelle’s Show. Speaking to David Letterman he admitted to having mixed feelings, saying: “of course, I would have liked to have that money.”
6. Josh Bowman – Revenge
As you might expect from a show called Revenge, the 2011 drama series that debuted on ABC featured a lot of double-crossing. In fact, by season three, Josh Bowman thought his character Daniel Grayson’s constantly shifting allegiances had reached the point of farce. Rather than see him swap sides again, Bowman begged the writers to simply kill off his Grayson, which they did.
Revenge was cancelled just a few episodes later, after its fourth season, leaving Bowman to express regret that he hadn’t stuck around to close out the show, even if that meant switching sides just one more time.
5. McLean Stevenson – M*A*S*H*
Wayne Rogers famously left M*A*S*H* because he was upset at the attention being lavished upon Alan Alda’s character Hawkeye Pierce, and he wasn’t the only one. When Rogers walked out the door at the end of season three, he was joined by McLean Stevenson, who played Lieutenant Colonel Henry Blake. Stevenson’s career never reached the same heights again.
Leaving M*A*S*H* became one of Stevenson’s biggest regrets, with the actor famously saying: “I made the mistake of believing that people were enamoured with McLean Stevenson when the person they were enamored with was Henry Blake.”
4. Rachel Gurney – Upstairs, Downstairs
Rachel Gurney was one of the most beloved stars of Upstairs, Downstairs. She gained a reputation for playing the powerful matriarch Lady Marjorie Helen Sybil Bellamy, around whom much of the show’s drama revolved, but by season two Gurney believed that she was ready to move on to other things. She asked the writers to give her an out, and was granted one, in the form of Lady Bellamy dying on the Titanic.
Unfortunately, Gurney massively regretted leaving the show, as it tanked her career trajectory. Her co-star, Nicola Pagett, later said: “Rachel Gurney; she regretted bitterly leaving the series. She decided she’d had enough and then changed her mind, but she’d already died on the Titanic so it was too late.”
3. John Amos – Good Times
John Amos eagerly joined the cast of CBS’s Good Times, believing it would be a thoughtful and socially aware sitcom that tracked real-world issues in a realistic but sweet way. However, one season in, he realised that his character mostly existed to act cartoonish and spout catchphrases, and he didn’t hide his frustration well.
Amos continually clashed with the show’s writers and made it clear that he didn’t think much of the show, leading to him being dismissed in Good Times’ fourth season. Though he went on to enjoy film success, Amos regretted burning a bridge with sitcom creator Norman Lear.
2. Matt Smith – Doctor Who
The Doctor is one of those roles that once you play them, you join a pantheon of special, chosen actors forever. Matt Smith, the eleventh Doctor and youngest actor to take on the role, had a good run on Doctor Who. He left of his own volition in 2013 after four years, but it didn’t take long for him to start speaking about his regret.
Smith made it known that he felt his one season with Jenna-Louise Coleman’s Clara Oswald was just too little. Fans felt the Doctor and Clara would have made a perfect couple, had Smith not regenerated into the much older Doctor played by Peter Capaldi shortly afterwards.
1. David Caruso – NYPD Blue
If you’re stuck doing a show you hate, you can either wait until your contract ends, leave anyway and be in breach of contract, or you can try the David Caruso method, and attempt to get fired by acting badly on set. Caruso tried everything to get fired from NYPD Blue, with his co-stars reporting he was “emotionally unavailable to everyone, and he was volatile, moody or sullen, depending on the day.”
Eventually Caruso’s attitude got him written out of the show. He thought cinema stardom was inevitable, but this never really materialised. Instead, the actor dropped off everyone’s radar until he got the lead role on CSI: Miami, which he headlined for a decade without complaint.