Winners from losers: Failed TV shows that produced big stars

Kimberly Potts
Writer, Yahoo Entertainment

The biggest TV flops can have a silver lining, and for this collection of failed tube efforts, it’s that they all featured major future stars in their casts. Yep, even a show that lasted a mere two episodes gave audiences their first chance to get to know Hollywood’s greatest female superhero, and future Oscar winner George Clooney was puttin’ a one-season comedy spin on the emergency room long before his career got serious with ER. Here, a roundup of 10 TV shows that were ratings failures but superstar-forecasting hits.

Gal Gadot, ‘TBL: The Beautiful Life’ (The CW, Sept. 2009)

It was an incredibly short-lived series — just two episodes aired before the CW pulled the plug — and future Wonder Woman star Gadot didn’t make her debut until episode 3. But all five installments of the NYC-set fashion model drama can be seen on YouTube, meaning you can check out the former Miss Israel and Israel Defense Forces combat instructor as supermodel Olivia on the Ashton Kutcher-produced series. (Photo: YouTube/Getty Images)

Margot Robbie and David Harbour, ‘Pan Am’ (ABC, 2011-12)

Before she was hangin’ on the big screen with Leo, the Joker, and Winnie the Pooh, actress and producer Robbie was runaway bride turned stewardess on the 1960s-set show about Pan Am employees. The series was nearly picked up by Amazon after ABC canceled it in Season 1, but alas, the deal didn’t — wait for it — fly. Bad news for Pan Am, good news for Stranger Things fans, as Harbour was free when it came time to try to maintain order in Hawkins, Ind., as Stranger Things’ Chief Jim Hopper, after his Pan Am British MI-6 agent Roger Anderson was ultimately revealed to be a secret KGB spy. (Photo: ABC via Getty Images/Walleye Productions/Getty Images)

Ryan Reynolds, ‘Two Guys, a Girl and a Pizza Place’ (ABC, 1998-2001)

The comedy premiered with 18 million viewers and ran for four seasons, but aside from its kooky title — which was later shortened to Two Guys and a Girl when the titular pie joint was ditched in Season 3 — Ryan Reynolds is far and away the most memorable takeaway of the series. His Michael “Berg” Bergen was a slacker employee of Boston’s Beacon Street Pizza, until he decided to go to medical school and start dating his best friend (the other of the “two guys”) Pete’s stalker. Bonus future star in the Season 1 cast: actress and screenwriter Jennifer Westfeldt. (Photo: 20th Century Fox/Everett Collection/Getty Images)

Seth Rogen, Jason Segel, and James Franco, ‘Freaks and Geeks’ (NBC, 1999-2000)

True, this high school dramedy lasted only one season, but it remains one of the most influential flops ever. Not just because it introduced us to the storytelling genius of series creator Paul Feig and EP Judd Apatow, but because of the future all-star cast. Rogen, Segel, and Franco — who played slacker “freaks” Ken, Nick, and Daniel — went on to big-screen success, while castmates Linda Cardellini (as freak and geek Lindsay), John Francis Daley (as geek Sam), Martin Starr (as the most endearing geek, Bill), and Busy Philipps (as freak Kim) went on to star in hit series, including ER, Bones, Silicon Valley, and Cougar Town. (Photo: Getty Images/NBC/Everett Collection)

Anne Hathaway and Jesse Eisenberg, ‘Get Real’ (Fox, 1999-2000)

Hathaway and Eisenberg were Meghan and Kenny, teen members of the dysfunctional Green family. She was an overachiever who shocked her fam by deciding not to go to college and then falling in love with her BFF’s boyfriend, while super-hyper Kenny fell in love with the girl next door and almost died from meningitis on his 16th birthday. Did we mention this was a dramedy? Things have worked out pretty well for the Green sibs, though, with an Oscar win for Hathaway (Les Miserables) and a nomination for Eisenberg (The Social Network). One more breakout from the cast: future Orange Is the New Black star Taryn Manning, who played Kenny’s next-door love, Rebecca. (Photo: 20th Century Fox Film/Everett Collection/Getty Images)

Hilary Swank, ‘Camp Wilder’ (ABC, 1992-93)

The TGIF comedy centered on a woman, Ricky Wilder, who returned home to raise her young daughter and teen siblings after the sudden deaths of her parents. Ricky’s brother, Brody (Jerry O’Connell), and sister, Melissa, often invited their friends over, where the teens all sought the advice of the laid-back, hip Ricky, including Melissa’s friend Danielle — future two-time Oscar winner Swank — who had a crush on motorcycle-ridin’ bad boy Dexter, played by future Oscar winner and rock star Jared Leto. Also in the cast: comedian Jay Mohr as Brody’s pal Dorfman, and future Veronica Mars, Big Love, Grey’s Anatomy, and Scorpion star Tina Majorino as Ricky’s six-year-old daughter, Sophie. (Photo: ABC/Everett Collection/Getty Images)

Sandra Bullock, ‘Working Girl’ (NBC, 1990)

This three-month, midseason replacement was a pretty straightforward remake of the Oscar-winning movie of the same name, with a then-unknown Bullock playing Tess McGill, the Staten Island secretary turned junior executive. An entry on the long list of flopped TV show adaptations of big-screen movies, the 12 aired episodes of this series are memorable only for Bullock’s prefame performance. (Photo: 20th Century Fox Film/Everett Collection/Getty Images)

Jennifer Aniston, ‘Ferris Bueller’s Day Off’ (NBC, 1990-91)

Ditto this TV series take on the classic John Hughes film, which is utterly forgettable and devoid of the movie’s charm. But yes, it did feature future Emmy and Golden Globe-winning Friends star Aniston as Jeannie, the jealous older sister of Ferris. (Photo: NBC/Everett Collection/Getty Images)

Halle Berry and Leah Remini, ‘Living Dolls’ (ABC, 1989)

The 12-episode Who’s the Boss? spinoff revolved around teen models, managed by Trish (The Waltons mom Michael Learned), a friend of Who’s the Boss? character Angela (Judith Light). Among the models: Charlie (future Emmy winner Remini), a tough but photogenic teen from the same Brooklyn neighborhood as Boss’s Samantha (Alyssa Milano), and, in her first role, future Oscar winner Berry as Emily. (Photo: Embassy Television/Everett Collection/Getty Images)

George Clooney, ‘E/R’ (CBS, 1984-85)

It’s true: Superstar Clooney starred in E/R and ER. Before his career-making turn as Dr. Doug Ross in NBC drama ER, his first TV role came as Ace, an ER technician, in this short-lived sitcom from Norman Lear’s production company. Also in the cast: future Seinfeld star Jason Alexander as hospital administrator Harold Stickley, Clooney’s future Ocean’s Eleven co-star Elliott Gould as Dr. Howard Sheinfeld, and Mary McDonnell — a future ER Emmy winner — as Dr. Eve Sheridan. (Photo: CBS/Everett Collection/Getty Images)