Television can arguably be ranked as the most pivotal invention of the 20th century. When it was introduced to the general public at the 1939 World’s Fair, commercial broadcasters such as ABC and CBS immediately realized the potential of such a groundbreaking mode of communication, and commercial TV sets were widely available by the 1950’s. Since then, television has brought some of the world’s most historic moments into billions of living rooms around the globe. From the Apollo moon landing in 1969 to the fall of the Berlin wall in 1989 to the hotly contested election night results of the 2000 Bush/Gore presidential race, television has captivated us, inspired us and forced us to confront the intricacies of human nature.
Yet, profound moments of cultural significance (as important as they are) are hardly the norm in an average day of TV viewing. Ninety-nine percent of the time, TV is just there to give us something to stare at while we shove our third consecutive Hot Pocket into our mouths and wait for our dreams to slowly die. Fortunately for us, TV networks are aware of this fact and will make an effort to keep their shows surprising so we stay interested, and thus momentarily distract from our impending mortality. One tried and true gimmick that shows use to maintain viewers is the celebrity guest star appearance. This tactic dates all the way back to the 1950s, and while celebrity cameos can sometimes invigorate a storyline, more often than not, they’re bizarre dumpster fires of failure that make us want to turn off the TV and actually venture outside for fresh air and sunshine. Check out our list of the 15 celebrities who undoubtedly regret their unfortunate appearances on hit TV shows.
15. Elle Macpherson, Friends
In 1999, the iconic sitcom Friends was at the height of its popularity, and still convincing impressionable teenagers in the midwest that they could move to New York and immediately be able to afford a $5,000-a-month apartment. So when Australian-born supermodel, Elle Macpherson, appeared in a five-episode story arc playing, Janine LaCroix, the roommate turned girlfriend of sexually aggressive doofus Joey Tribbiani, it naturally translated into a ratings bonanza. But Macpherson went on record as regretting her appearance on the show because she underestimated the exposure that it would bring her, and how her role would live on forever in the form of syndicated reruns. Just last month, she told Fox News that “if I’d known how important it was in the U.S., or how long it would be on TV, I may not have chosen to do it.” We can’t help but wonder if her real regret is how many times she had to endure Joey Tribbiani’s “how you doin” catchphrase through the course of filming her role.
14. Nancy Reagan, Diff’rent Strokes
The year was 1983, and America was embroiled in an escalating drug epidemic that was destroying entire communities and putting the futures of vulnerable young people at risk. What was then-president Ronald Reagan’s answer to this complex issue? To shuffle the first lady, Nancy Reagan, onto an episode of Diff’rent Strokes in order to unveil the colossal failure known as the “Just Say No” campaign. In a Season 5 episode of the early 80’s series about two young African American brothers from Harlem being raised by a wealthy white widower, younger brother Arnold, played by the late Gary Coleman, revealed to a local newspaper that drugs are being sold in his school. Since convenient and arbitrary plot points are the lifeblood of scripted TV, Mrs. Reagan happened to be in New York the day the information appeared in the paper, and decided to pay a visit to the boys’ school to lecture them and their classmates on the dangers of drugs. She urged the students to “Just Say No” to the drug pushers, sparking a catchphrase that became a nationwide movement throughout the eighties.
13. Paris Hilton, Saturday Night Live
Saturday Night Live is one of television’s most iconic shows, thanks to its unique live comedy format and an ever-changing weekly guest host who appears alongside the cast members in sketches. While this formula has resulted in some groundbreaking comedic moments since SNL’s debut in 1975, it’s also been responsible for the television equivalent of a dead possum rotting on the side of the road. Such is the case of socialite Paris Hilton’s February 2006 guest host appearance. Before the Kardashian clan seized her status as an inexplicably famous person you most want to see launched into the cold recess of space, Paris was a regular on the talk show rounds, and even had her own reality show. Perhaps this is the reason why the top brass at SNL had high hopes for her performance. Unfortunately, she spent the entire episode torpedoing sketches with her dead-eyed stare, stilted line delivery, and complete lack of comic timing. Tina Fey, who was an SNL writer and show runner at the time, would later recall that Paris was a “piece of s***” and a general nightmare to work with. Seems like Paris should have just stuck to grainy night vision sex tapes.
12. James Franco, General Hospital
James Franco is like that pretentious, faux artsy D-bag in your “Introduction to Feminist Lit” class who you know is just there to creep on the ladies and has no intention of actually reading any of the assignments. Yet he’s also kind of hot, which just makes him all the more irritating. So maybe that’s why his 2010 guest stint on the daytime soap opera, General Hospital, seems oddly appropriate. It reeks of desperation, yet it’s somehow also intriguing. Franco had a two month story arc on the show that featured his character, named “Franco,” who was an artist, and also a serial killer. When confronted with the question as to why, as a famous actor who has appeared in multi-million dollar blockbusters, he would feel the need to appear in a daytime soap opera, James responded that it was performance art and a “meta” examination of different kinds of acting. Which just makes him all the more punchable, and also a bit more hot.
11. Bristol Palin, The Secret Life Of The American Teenager
In 2008, Sarah Palin was unleashed onto the world as the running mate of then-presidential hopeful, John McCain. While McCain went on to lose his bid for the presidency, Palin remained in the public eye thanks to a never ending supply of folksy conservative catchphrases and a distinctive MILF librarian look. Her daughter, Bristol, who was a teenage mother at the time, yet still somehow a proponent of abstinence-only sex education in schools, was able to capitalize on her mother’s notoriety with a 2010 appearance on the ABC family drama, The Secret Life of the American Teenager. The teen drama about a high school student dealing with the repercussions of unintended pregnancy should have been the perfect vehicle for Bristol’s acting debut, especially since she was playing herself. Sadly, her brief performance was panned by critics as awkward and stilted. Bristol quickly moved on to other projects, such as Dancing With The Stars and raking in millions of dollars lecturing on the merits of abstinence before becoming pregnant with her second child.
10. Tom Cruise, The Today Show
There was a lengthy period during the 80s and 90s when Tom Cruise was arguably the biggest movie star in the world. Handsome, charming, yet still down to earth, Cruise was the perfect leading man, and he headlined a string of blockbusters that seemed to solidify his status as Hollywood’s golden boy. Sure, there were rumors of him being involved in some kind of strange religion known as Scientology, but how bad could it be? Well, in June 2005, we all found out the answer to that question. That’s when Cruise made his now infamous appearance on The Today Show, allegedly to promote a movie and to discuss his budding romance with Dawson’s Creek actress, Katie Holmes. However, his interview with Matt Lauer quickly spun off the rails when he was confronted with questions about his relationship with the church of Scientology, with Cruise repeatedly calling Lauer “glib” before going off on a tangent about the evils of psychiatry. The public perception of Tom Cruise shifted overnight from “fun loving hunk” to “crazed cult follower,” and his career has never fully recovered to this day. At least Katie Holmes eventually managed to part ways with him amicably (or escape his clutches, however you choose to look at it) several years ago.
9. Charlie Sheen, The Today Show
In February 2011, Charlie Sheen was enjoying astronomical success as the star of the CBS sitcom, Two and a Half Men, despite the fact that it’s scientifically impossible to meet anyone who will admit to having watched that Chernobyl of a show. But instead of just quietly appreciating the dump trucks full of money that regularly rolled up to his mansion, Sheen demanded an even bigger salary from the show’s producers before he would commit to a 10th season. The producers responded to his demand by claiming that he was an uncontrollable drug addict and swiftly fired him. Sheen’s tactic for solving this dispute was to make a balls to the wall crazy appearance on The Today Show and pronounce in an interview that he had tiger blood and Adonis DNA, as well as proclaim that CBS should be “licking my feet” in gratitude for the runaway success of Two and a Half Men. Shockingly, his cocaine-fueled rant failed to convince the network to let him keep his job, and he was replaced by Ashton Kutcher for the remaining two seasons of the show. Actually, let’s all just forget about the Charlie Sheen drama for a second and let the fact that there were 12 seasons of Two and a Half Men sink in.
8. Andy Warhol, The Love Boat
While he may not be everyone’s cup of tea, iconic artist Andy Warhol and his “pop art” screen prints of Marilyn Monroe and Campbell’s soup cans profoundly influenced the world of modern art when he debuted his work in the late 1960s. It’s a little surprising, then, that the art world provocateur would accept a guest role on an ABC sitcom favored by elderly shut-ins. Yet that’s exactly what happened in October of 1985, when Warhol played himself on an episode of The Love Boat. The show followed the exploits of the staff and guests on a cruise ship, and while it was popular, it wasn’t exactly known for its cutting-edge humor, and often featured guest stars that were from a bygone era. So it’s safe to say that The Love Boat’s target audience had no idea who this wild-haired weirdo was, and why he had taken over their show. But to his credit, Warhol was said to have approached his guest role with a satirical viewpoint, and he seemed to have fun smirking at the cameras as if the audience were in on the joke. They weren’t, but he probably wouldn’t have cared anyway.
7. Hulk Hogan And “Macho Man” Randy Savage, Baywatch
There is perhaps no phrase that better sums up the 90s than “Hulk Hogan and ‘Macho Man’ Randy Savage guest starring on Baywatch.” While this scenario seems like pure, sweet, Clinton-era fiction, it actually happened in 1995. We still don’t know why, but the important thing is that it happened. The Hulkster and Macho Man play themselves, naturally, and the episode begins with the two wrestlers being saved from drowning after a jet ski accident by ultimate Baywatch babe, Pamela Anderson. The story just gets better from there, as WWE star Ric Flair plays a villain determined to shut down an athletic center for troubled teens. Oh, and there’s also a few subplots, including multiple scenes where the Hulkster tries to bed Pamela Anderson’s character, CJ Parker, as well as a warning on the hidden dangers of skin cancer. Thankfully, everything works out okay in the end. NASA should really consider launching a recording of this episode into space for an alien race to find someday, as it’s probably the most accurate representation of our values as a species ever put onscreen.
6. The Flaming Lips, Beverly Hills, 90210
While the Fox teen drama, Beverly Hills, 90210, was a ratings powerhouse throughout the 90s, it hasn’t aged particularly well. Somehow in the post-recession era, the manufactured angst of a bunch of rich white kids groping each other in the picturesque L.A. suburbs doesn’t draw in viewers like it used to. Yet, when you do happen to catch a rerun, you realize that the nostalgia factor is off the charts. From the fashion to the catchphrases to the musical guest stars who frequently appeared at the Peach Pit, the fictional hangout of the characters on the show, Beverly Hills, 90210 is utterly, unapologetically 90s. Which is why it’s so odd that the iconic psychedelic alt rock band, The Flaming Lips, made a cameo on the show way back in 1993 to promote their then-hit single, “She Don’t Use Jelly.” Unlike some of the other musical guest stars who appeared on the show and quickly faded into oblivion (we’re looking at you, Color Me Badd), The Flaming Lips are still a popular and influential group in today’s music scene. Hell, some of their fans today are too young to even remember when the band appeared on Beverly Hills. On second thought, maybe that’s for the best.
5. Kelsey Grammer, The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills
When you think of gravely voiced actor, Kelsey Grammer, his iconic role as Dr. Frasier Crane on the hit tv shows Cheers and Frasier probably come to mind. Most likely, you don’t associate him with drunk, overly Botoxed socialites throwing champagne in each other’s faces, but since he showed up for an entire season of The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, you’re going to have to adjust your image of him. Back in Season 1, Grammer’s then-wife, Camille, was a featured cast member of the reality show, and he made a series of frequent (albeit brief and reluctant) appearances. It was later revealed that Kelsey was having an affair the whole time the couple was filming the show, which would explain the palpable tension between the two whenever they were on screen together. They divorced shortly after the season debuted. While Camille later claimed that Kelsey actually encouraged her to do the show, he is on record as deeply regretting his involvement, explaining that he was “trying to pretend things were normal for the sake of letting her have that moment.” We’ll probably never know the whole truth, but luckily we’ll soon be too distracted by a whole new season of vapid psychopaths trying to rip out each other’s hair extensions to care.
4. Larry David, Hannah Montana
Larry David is the creator of both Seinfeld and Curb Your Enthusiasm, two of the most hilariously cynical shows to ever air on television. While he is a comedic genius, David’s style isn’t for everyone. He relishes the awkward hell created by everyday social encounters, and virtually any topic, from the struggles of blind people to Schindler’s List, is fair game for a storyline as far as he’s concerned. So he doesn’t seem like the most natural choice for a guest star on the bubbly Disney show, Hannah Montana, which featured pop star, Miley Cyrus, and enjoyed a successful run during the mid-2000s. Yet, in the second season, David indeed appeared on the show as himself, along with his two daughters, who were huge fans of the show at the time. In the episode, he and his daughters are denied reservations at a restaurant, while Hannah Montana was able to walk right in and get a table. David later said that he only agreed to the cameo to make his daughters happy, and it showed since he appeared awkward, stilted, quick to want to leave. This actually sounds like it would have made a perfect Seinfeld episode.
3. Justin Bieber, CSI: Miami
The entire CSI franchise has proved to be a reliable mainstay of network TV, even though it seems to exist purely to serve as background noise while you visit with your grandma in the nursing home. Yet even a proven series needs a little shaking up every now and then, which is why international pop star/irksome troll, Justin Bieber, was tapped in 2011 for a guest stint on CSI:Miami. Bieber was featured in a two-episode story arc as Jason McCann, a troubled teen who is eventually gunned down after a police standoff. While the then 17-year-old Bieber was reportedly excited about his acting debut, his bratty behavior on set didn’t seem to earn him many new fans in the industry. One co-star claimed that he didn’t want to bother learning his lines, locked a producer in a closet, and smashed his fist into a cake on set. While that does seem pretty obnoxious, we’re talking about Justin Bieber here. The cast and crew should have just been grateful he didn’t plow his Corvette into the soundstage.
2. Richard Nixon, Laugh In
After being narrowly defeated by John F. Kennedy, Jr. in the 1960 presidential election, Richard Nixon went on something of a comeback tour in 1968 as he prepared for another campaign to reach the White House. Realizing that the ever important youth demographic wouldn’t naturally gravitate to a presidential candidate who constantly looked like an angry basset hound, Nixon knew that he needed to revamp his image with a cameo on a hip, fun TV show. The Rowan and Martin’s Laugh In, a groundbreaking variety show that debuted in 1967 featuring salty sketch comedy, musical numbers, and psychedelic sets, was just the ticket. All he had to do was appear on camera for five seconds and utter the show’s signature catchphrase, which was “Sock it to me.” Those four little words and Nixon would be well on his way to appearing relaxed and likable to millions of people. Except he managed to royally bungle his delivery of the line, adding an uptick to the word “me” that made him sound like an alien who was still getting acquainted with the intricacies of human language. Nixon still managed to win the presidency a few months later, and went on to become the first and only president to resign from office following the Watergate scandal. We still think the greater shame was his heinous performance on Laugh In.
1. The Beach Boys, Full House
It’s pretty much an indisputable fact that The Beach Boys are one of modern music’s most iconic bands. Their 1966 album, Pet Sounds, is widely recognized as a masterpiece, and Brian Wilson is considered a genius who methodically crafted the group’s distinctive sound. However, the group experienced a decline in popularity by the year 1988. Though they were still respected in the industry, they had been overshadowed by new styles of music and were thus considered to be an irrelevant nostalgia act. So it’s a bit of a mystery why The Beach Boys thought that an appearance on Full House, a decidedly G-rated sitcom geared towards kids and their terminally bored parents, would reinvigorate their image for a new generation. On the plus side, they seemed to be having fun in the episode, which featured them rocking out to some of their hits with the entire Tanner clan at a very conveniently timed beach concert. The Beach Boys Full House episode did give a rendition of their song “Kokomo,” which went on to become a number one hit, thanks in part to a music video featuring John Stamos playing the drums. Perhaps the public was wrong all along and The Beach Boys are actually masters of synergy style marketing. Is there anything they can’t do?