As an actor in Hollywood, it’s an incredibly tough thing to strike gold with even one television show. Countless stars have been a part of shows that never make it past one season on the air – or worse, shows that only ever reached the pilot stage and never even reach circulation. The answer is simple – it can be tough to judge exactly what audiences want, what will work on the small screen, and how to maintain the characters and storylines over the course of several episodes rather than just a 90 minute movie.
So, while countless celebrities have starred in memorable and even award-winning films, the number who have been a part of a television show that aired for upwards of five seasons is far slimmer. Despite those odds, there are a handful of actors and actresses who have managed to earn leading roles in not just one extremely successful television show, but two! Some of them have stayed within their genres; others have leaped to opposite end of the spectrum. Either way, they’ve managed to achieve something that very few actors and actresses have. Here are 14 celebrities who have starred in multiple TV shows.
14. Bryan Cranston
Once upon a time, Bryan Cranston’s most well-known role was playing the lovable dad on sitcom Malcolm in the Middle. While most actors who end up achieving success with a light sitcom eventually end up snagging similar roles throughout their career, Cranston did a complete 180 and took arguably one of the most dark, dramatic roles in television history as Walter White in Breaking Bad. Suddenly the goofy father became an intense teacher turned crystal meth dealer who built an empire. While Cranston got several awards show nods for his role in Malcolm in the Middle, Breaking Bad is what truly cemented his legacy. I mean, the man won four Emmy awards for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series. That’s saying something.
13. Alyson Hannigan
In her younger days, when she was just getting her foothold in Hollywood, Alyson Hannigan snagged the role of Willow Rosenberg, Buffy’s best friend in the hit series Buffy the Vampire Slayer. She played the increasingly complex character for the show’s entirety, and then took a few steps away from television to appear in movies. In 2005, she struck TV gold twice by snagging the role of Lily Aldrin in the sitcom How I Met Your Mother, where she played one half of one of the most adorable television couples ever. Whether she’s playing a sexually curious witch or a fashion-obsessed teacher, Hannigan definitely knows how to master a character for the small screen.
12. Ed O’Neill
Ed O’Neill has managed to snag leading roles in two iconic sitcoms – and he continues to impress, season after season. He shot to stardom playing Al Bundy, the lovable dad with often questionable parenting decisions, in the show Married… With Children in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. He then took a bit of a break from television (a common decision for many actors who spend countless seasons working on the same show, however successful) and took a few film roles. Then, he stepped back into the public eye as Jay Pritchett in the hit sitcom Modern Family, where he stars alongside his TV wife Sofia Vergara.
11. Courtney Cox
It’s tough to come out from under your own shadow after starring on a sitcom as iconic and beloved as Friends, but Courtney Cox has managed to do it. She spent about a decade of her time in Hollywood starring as the neurotic yet caring chef Monica Gellar, and she soon proved that she wasn’t done playing beloved characters on television just yet by snagging the role of Jules Cobb on the sitcom Cougar Town. While Monica was a young professional trying to get her start in the Big Apple, Jules is a recently divorced single mother with a successful business and a penchant for wine. The two roles are drastically different, yet audiences are equally charmed by Cox’s performance in both.
10. Neil Patrick Harris
It can be tough to move immediately from one successful role to another in Hollywood, and Neil Patrick Harris proves that a little bit of a hiatus doesn’t have to end in disaster. From 1989 to 1993, Harris played the young, precocious doctor on the show Doogie Howser, M.D., achieving success at a relatively young age. Then, for about a decade, he snagged mostly supporting or minor roles. He catapulted back to superstardom when he got the role of the womanizing playboy Barney Stinson on the sitcom How I Met Your Mother, where he proved that he was – wait for it – legendary.
9. David Duchovny
When The X-Files was originally on the air, David Duchovny was basically television royalty – I mean, Agent Fox Mulder was an icon! There’s a reason why the show was recently rebooted – over a decade after it originally aired, fans were still obsessed with Mulder and Scully. However, that wasn’t the only television success that Duchovny had. In 2007, he took a completely different role, playing the sex and substance addicted Hank Moody on the show Californication. His television success continues with the recent X-Files reboot – and we’re betting it felt pretty cool to step back into the role of Mulder after all those years.
8. Joshua Jackson
While Dawson may have initially been the leading male on the teen drama Dawson’s Creek, fans were soon utterly obsessed with the lovable bad boy Pacey Witter, played by a young Joshua Jackson. While many stars of teen dramas end up unable to follow up their early successes, Jackson isn’t one of them. He took an entirely different role as Peter Bishop on Fringe, and his portrayal of the complex character soon earned him accolades. Whatever he decides to do next, whether it be going for the television hat trick with a third major starring role or sticking to film, we have no doubt that Jackson will continue to succeed in Hollywood.
7. Matthew Fox
When Matthew Fox first appeared on the beach as the main character, Dr. Jack Shephard, in the hit series Lost, many younger viewers were intrigued by the relatively unknown actor. However, television fans who were there in the 1990s knew him as the eldest sibling, Charlie Salinger, in the teen drama Party of Five. The two roles were polar opposites, but Fox managed to pull both off effortlessly. In interviews, Fox has stated several times that he’s totally done with television – and after being a part of a show like Lost, arguably one of the biggest television hits in history, it’s easy to see why one would want to step away from the medium. He’s kept a pretty low profile, but we’re betting he could keep snagging film roles for at least 20-30 more years.
6. Alyssa Milano
It’s common for child stars to peak early in their careers and then fizzle out completely, either heading down a path of self destruction or just opting to pursue a regular career outside of the entertainment industry. However, Alyssa Milano proved that she definitely has some staying power thanks to her multiple television successes. She first caught the public’s eye as Samantha Micelli on hit sitcom Who’s The Boss?, a character that the public basically watched grow up right before their eyes. However, after stepping away from television for a few years, she returned in a blaze of glory by snagging the role of Phoebe Halliwell, one of the four sisters in the witchy drama Charmed.
5. Katey Sagal
If you think that it’s impressive to snag leading roles in two successful television shows, just talk to Katey Sagal – she has an impressive three hit shows under her belt. Her first major role was the hilarious Peggy Bundy on Married… with Children, a role that she played for about a decade. Then, a few years later, she snagged another role – this time playing John Ritter’s wife Kate on 8 Simple Rules for Dating my Teenage Daughter. Once that show ended, Sagal kept her eyes on the television prize and snagged yet another memorable role – this time veering away from sitcom territory and starring as Gemma Teller Morrow on the drama Sons of Anarchy. Quite a career!
4. Mila Kunis
Lately, Mila Kunis has become more known for her film roles, but when she was just a teenaged actress looking for her big break, she managed to achieve her goal by snagging the role of Jackie Burkhart in That ‘70s Show. However, she wasn’t content to star in just one show – she also voiced Meg Griffin on the popular comedy Family Guy. While you might not see her face on Family Guy, trust us – her voice is very recognizable and you can definitely tell that it’s Kunis playing the Griffin family’s daughter.
3. Laura Prepon
While Topher Grace’s Eric Forman was basically the main character on the sitcom That ‘70s Show, let’s face it – Laura Prepon’s gorgeous, sassy, red-headed girl next door Donna Pinciotti definitely stole the show time and time again. After eight seasons on the show, Prepon began branching out and taking various smaller roles in television and film, but she was catapulted back to superstardom with glasses and raven locks in the role of Alex Vause on Netflix hit series Orange Is The New Black. Prepon has proved that she can master both comedic and dramatic material – there’s no telling what she might do next.
2. Claire Danes
Most actors and actresses who attain huge stardom thanks to a role on a television series end up on series that air for about a decade. They play the same character for season after season, and capture the audience’s hearts forever. However, Claire Danes’ first major television role was fairly short lived – she played the teenage Angela Chase on the drama My So-Called Life. Whether it was the skilled cast or the witty dialogue, something about the show captivated audiences and it became a cult hit. Danes returned to television in 2011, playing Carrie Mathison on the series Homeland.
1. Julianna Margulies
You know that you’re a skilled actress when your performance convinces the writers to keep your character, despite their original intentions – and that’s exactly what happened to Julianna Margulies. She snagged a role as Nurse Carol Hathaway in the pilot episode of the medical drama ER, and was originally supposed to die right away and leave actors like George Clooney to star in the show. However, the producers ended up changing things up, and Margulies remained on ER for six seasons, receiving Emmy nominations throughout her time on the show and even a Best Supporting Actress award. She eventually decided to leave the show, but returned to television over a decade later as the powerful and intelligent Alicia Florrick in The Good Wife.