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. Given that many fans of Star Trek: The Next Generation considered Crusher to be a touch annoying (and an early example of a Gary Stu), it seemed like a gamble with no downsides.
Unfortunately, Wheaton’s plans didn’t work out quite as he’d imagined, leading the now 49-year-old to have recalled later that “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, with Olivia Walton developing severe tuberculosis and being sent to a sanatorium to explain her absence. Yikes.
The grisly way that Olivia Walton was written out of the show was not the reason for Learned’s regret, however. The show didn’t last long without her, airing its final episode 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. However, despite believing he was a big enough star to sustain an indefinite movie career without a long-term TV gig to keep him in the public eye, Chase has always maintained that he left SNL to follow his heart.
Whatever other motivations he may have had for leaving, Chase has said that he was simply determined to marry his then-girlfriend Jacqueline Carlin, and that necessitated a move from New York to Los Angeles. Chase said in 2011: “I was leaving really because there was a girl I wanted to marry that I was infatuated with out here. 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)
Her reputation for being something of a difficult personality 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 Katherine Heigl’s Grey’s 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,” before revealing her desire to resurrect her supposedly dead character by saying “I always felt that if they wanted me to come back and sort of wrap up that storyline…I’m down with it if they want me to.” Heigl later put her desire into action by publicly apologising for badmouthing the show’s writing to Rhimes directly, saying: “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)
It never seems to be off our TV screens these days, but Doctor Who was resurrected back in 2005 after a long hiatus, with Christopher Eccleston taking on the role of the wisecracking Time Lord. Eccelston was praised for the darkness and nuance he brought to the role, but he struggled privately with mastering the comedy chops necessary to play the part.
This struggle, along with BBC producers privately making it clear that the dark direction Ecceleson took the character in was not quite what they expected, led to Eccleston quitting before season two. 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.
Feeling as though he could do better, Rogers quit the show after its third season to pursue a career in film, hoping to bag a few starring roles. However, this plan didn’t pan out the way Rogers had hoped, and so he pivoted to becoming a money manager and financial strategist, returning to TV to appear on the Fox Business Network. 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 was an integral part of the programme, having become Arrow’s sidekick and fellow vigilante, Arsenal. It didn’t last long, however, as Harper was soon forced to fake Arrow’s death and start a new life away from crime-fighting, under the alias Jason.
The twist came out of nowhere, shocking and confusing fans, and it was soon revealed that it wasn’t the writers’ initial plans. Instead, it was Hayes who requested to leave the show, after his anxiety disorder was exacerbated by the long shoot times and increased public scrutiny. Despite doing what was best for him, Hayes has said that he wished he hadn’t had to leave the show, and has returned for guest spots as often as his health has allowed.
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.
Springfield asked to be released from her contract after her third season on the show, in order to pursue a movie career. The writers were allegedly furious, having made big plans for a romantic entanglement between her and (show lead) Anthony Edwards’ Mark Greene. Unfortunately for Springfield, her movie career just didn’t take off, 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 has inspired countless other programmes, from The Voice to The Masked Singer, and even has a number of spin-offs, like American Idol Junior and The Next Great American Band. 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, Dunkleman didn’t 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. Instead, his profile steadily diminished, and he has spoken in interviews about dealing with depression and resentment in the face of his career doldrums. He has even publicly wondered about how different his life would be if he had stuck Idol out for a 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, and so asked for a pay rise and a percentage of the show’s profits, both of which were denied.
The producers then cut her presence on the show down to just 60 seconds per episode, and Somers quit the show due to this treatment. The resulting feud with the producers led to her co-stars John Ritter and Joyce DeWitt refusing to speak to her for years, and the lost friendship caused Somers to regret her exit from the show. She once said in an interview: “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 stars of the 80s, despite people rarely seeing his face. As the voice of both Cobra Commander on G.I. Joe and Starscream on Transformers, Collins brought to life two of the most memorable characters in 80s kids animation. So, when he was hired to play Moe and Mr Burns on The Simpsons, it seemed like he was poised to take over the world of voice acting.
Unfortunately, Collins stepped away from The Simpsons after recording less than one season’s worth of lines, purportedly because he was having trouble getting along with the show’s creator Sam Simon. Tragically, Collins then attempted to break into stand-up comedy whilst continuing his children’s animation career, before dying at the age of just 44 after a decades-long battle with substance abuse.
9. Jason Priestley (Beverly Hills, 90210)
Jason Priestley’s run on Beverley Hills, 90210 lasted for nine seasons, with the show itself ending after ten. Priestley was a dedicated presence, not only starring in many episodes but also getting the chance to direct a handful. However, he still bowed out after the ninth season, feeling as though every facet of his character had been explored. Despite feeling good about where he left his own character, Priestley regretted stepping away from the show before its final season, as he believed his absence contributed to the sharp drop in quality.
In 2014, Priestley said in an interview that he believed his character would have gotten together with Kelly by the show’s end if he had stuck around, and that Beverly Hills, 90210 was worse for that not happening. Speaking about the show’s closing episodes, Priestley said: “There was no more linchpin. 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. Despite having a storied film career that spanned the 80s and 90s, by 2010 rumours began to spread that Sheen was struggling to keep his battle with mental illness and substance abuse under control.
Everything came to a head in 2011, when Sheen quit his hugely successful sitcom Two and a Half Men in 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 he was offered Chappelle’s Show in the early 2000s. The show was an instant hit and propelled him into the mainstream like he never expected, though he soon found himself dissatisfied. Working on the show meant he was spending up to 20 hours a day away from his family, and he also resented his work being boiled down to a series of catchphrases. So Chappelle 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: “Okay, fine, I don’t have $50 million or whatever it was. But say I have $10 million in the bank. The difference in lifestyle is minuscule. The only difference between having $10 million and $50 million is an astounding $40 million. Of course … 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.
Daniel Grayson died jumping in front of a bullet to save a friend, but Bowman’s decision to jump on the grenade and leave early proved a bit premature. 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 was tired of playing third fiddle, and believed he could cultivate his own fanbase elsewhere.
Lieutenant Colonel Henry Blake was killed off in one of the show’s most memorable episodes, but McLean Stevenson’s own career was killed off along with him. 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. She even allegedly asked to return, but dying on the Titanic was not the easiest thing for the writers to retcon or find a way around. 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. Unlike many of the actors on this list, he saw plenty of success after leaving Good Times, starring in projects like Roots, The West Wing and Coming To America. However, Amos regretted the immature behaviour that led to his exit from the show, and later said he wished that he could have avoided 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. The character is immensely beloved and hugely recognisable, so it only makes sense that those who have had the chance to walk in Gallifreyan shoes feel a fair amount of emotion when it comes time to return to Earth.
Matt Smith had a good run on Doctor Who and left of his own volition in 2013 after four years, but it didn’t take long for him to start speaking about his regret. In particular, Smith made it known that he felt his one season with Jenna-Louise Coleman’s Clara Oswald was just too little. Fans agreed, since the consensus was that Smith’s Doctor and Oswald 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 television program you hate, you have a few options. You can wait until your contract ends; you can 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.”
When his attitude didn’t get him fired, Caruso instead demanded “Fridays off, a 38-foot trailer, an office suite on the lot, two hotel suites in New York when the company went there on location, and a dozen first-class plane tickets.” That was sufficient to get him written out of the show, but cinema stardom never really materialised. Instead, Caruso largely dropped off everyone’s radar until he got a starring role on CSI: Miami, which he quietly remained on for several seasons.