The pure alchemy involved in creating binge-worthy television from nothing is astounding. One has to figure that, in the beginning, all production companies have is a writer (maybe) and a few scripts. From there, they start building the foundation of what will eventually become Your Favorite TV Show. Part of this process, and arguably one of the most important aspects of it, is casting. This is where very critical people evaluate a sea of faces and pick the ones they hate the least. Presuming they’re casting a likeable role. One imagines that when picking the actor who played Joffrey on Game of Thrones, the casting directors were tearfully sending away nice, lovable candidates in favor of the snot-nosed brat we were eventually graced with. Thankfully, too. Because good casting has a lot to do with finding people who will evoke that special feeling in the audience’s gut: belief.
Getting the audience to believe that the celebrities whose faces we see plastered on magazine covers every day are actually zombie killers, or dragon riders, or meth dealers is an impressive proposition. It seems like downright magic. But, of course, it isn’t. It’s science. And science, as we know from grade school, is all about trial and error. Television casting is no different, with many trials and many errors involved before the “right one” shines through the rest. Sometimes the errors are caught early on, and sometimes they make it all the way to the pilot episode. At any rate, here are fifteen erroneous choices that we’re, quite frankly, glad never made it to the small screen.
15. Matthew Broderick (Breaking Bad)
It’s worth being clear from the outset: not every actor on this list is a necessarily bad actor in his or her own right. Instead, it’s that they just aren’t particularly suited for the role. Case in point: Ferris Bueller as Walter White. Cringe worthy isn’t it? The fast talking class-cutter slash King of the Pridelands was, reportedly, one of the big name actors originally considered for the role of White in the meth drama, Breaking Bad. Granted, the role of Walter White requires a certain nerdy and suburban aesthetic in the beginning, something Matthew Broderick could certainly handle, but it’s the gradual growth into a bonafide villain where we would lose believability.
Make no mistake, Broderick has acting chops. And we need go no further than Malcolm in the Middle to touch upon the utter unlikelihood that Bryan Cranston pre-Breaking Bad was a believable contender for a drug kingpin. But when it comes down to physicality, Broderick is, to put it indelicately, a babyface and Cranston is not. Also, please try to picture Ferris Bueller bald. No bueno.
14. Craig T. Nelson (Modern Family)
Long time fans of Modern Family will have a hard time picturing anyone besides veteran television actor, Ed O’Neill in the role of Jay Pritchett. And yet, he almost didn’t get the gig. Evidently, before O’Neill, Craig T. Nelson was eyed for the role. Nelson, who is no stranger to playing grumpy old patriarchs (see: Parenthood) reportedly passed over the role, despite really liking the character, due to the low salary he was offered. He says he felt disrespected by the offering, choosing Parenthood instead after being offered a higher salary.
Like O’Neill, Nelson was a veteran of the small screen, but perhaps had a bit more facial and name recognition at the time. He is, of course, undoubtedly kicking himself now considering the meteoric success of the show and the revival of O’Neill’s career. Nelson did avoid the slight scuffle with the studio that eventually saw O’Neill cut his salary in favor of back-end profits, but it seems a small price to pay.
13. Alicia Silverstone (How I Met Your Mother)
Remember Alicia Silverstone? The it-girl of the 1990s? The one who got away. Silverstone’s career is a confusing one, an attractive, funny, blonde actress who just never found her footing. There was a point in time (probably immediately post-Clueless) where everyone assumed that Silverstone would ascend to the sort of god-like status granted to current stars like Jennifer Lawrence and Emma Stone. But one too many stumbles (lest we forget Batman and Robin featuring George Clooney‘s nipples) shoved poor Alicia off the face of the map and her name was lost to obscurity. Until 2008, that is, when she was approached to play Stella Zinman (a major role and love interest for Ted Mosby) in How I Met Your Mother, the it-girl show of the mid-aughts.
Before we languish in the reality that 2008 was almost TEN years ago, it’s worth mentioning that Britney Spears was also still sort of popular around this time and was slated to play a supporting role alongside Silverstone. She, of course, went on to play Abby, assistant to Stella Zinman. Before the Stella role inevitably went to Sarah Chalke, Silverstone’s reps pulled out of the deal, claiming that they were afraid Spears might overshadow Silverstone. This, once again, really emphasizes just how long ago this was.
12. Shia LaBeouf (Freaks And Geeks)
Yes, Shia LaBeouf *was* in Freaks and Geeks. No, he was not in the role he auditioned for. These days, Shia LaBeouf is perhaps more famous for his antics and performance art than he is for acting (though his early years gave us such masterpieces as Holes). But there was a time when, like every other child actor, he was on the audition grind. During this time, he stumbled across a little show called Freaks and Geeks, starring just about everyone who is currently famous now. He would eventually land a small one-episode role as the mascot who gets shoved to the side in favor of Sam Weir. However, he was initially interested in the role of Neil Schweiber, the geeky and comedic sidekick to Weir. It’s hard to imagine the rat-tailed freestyle rapper as a sweater vest wearing Star Trek nerd. Even back then, LaBeouf’s presence lent a certain devil-may-care confidence coupled with a snotty disdain. Hardly the stuff of geeks.
11. Scott Glenn (Sons Of Anarchy)
Ron Perlman is unequivocally the face of Sons of Anarchy. Ask anyone if they could name a single actor from the show, even those who have never seen it, and they will, in all likelihood, name Perlman. This was, after all, by design. Playing the role of Clay Morrow, Perlman was the undisputed protagonist and main character of (at least) the first three seasons, before his shift in character later on down the road. But for all the gravitas and charismatic soul that Perlman brought to the role of Morrow, he wasn’t even the first actor that played the part. Indeed, the original pilot had an entirely different actor playing Morrow, a fact that turns the whole show on its head for any long time fans of the series. Scott Glenn, a brilliant and prolific character actor who most recently appeared in Netflix’s Daredevil, was the initial choice to play Morrow, before show runners decided they weren’t thrilled with the tone Glenn was bringing to the part. Thus, Perlman was given the gig and the rest is history.
10. Allison Janney (Shameless)
Speaking of brilliant character actors, Allison Janney was originally slated to appear as Sheila in the blue-collar, screwed up world of Shameless. In fact, similarly to Scott Glenn, she even went through filming and appeared in the original pilot episode. Naturally, as we all know, the episode never aired and the role eventually went to another character actress, Joan Cusack. When producers wanted to flesh out the character of Sheila more, and when it became evident that she would become a series regular, Janney dropped out in favor of another show she was regularly appearing on. Fortunately, at that. Can you imagine Janney bringing the same sort of manic excitement to the character as Joan Cusack eventually would? Decidedly not.
9. John Cusack (Breaking Bad)
Joan Cusack might have landed a great television role, but her brother John was not so lucky. John Cusack, like Alicia Silverstone, had a period of fame and household name recognition, but that time has long past and the last significant movie he was in was the embarrassing and unintentionally hilarious 2012. He may have done something since then, but if it doesn’t come to mind immediately, it sort of solidifies the point. Regardless, back in the mid-2000s, John Cusack (like Matthew Broderick) was approached for the role of Walter White. Once again, let’s all grimace at the thought of a bald Cusack. Furthermore, let’s play a sad song for Cusack’s career, an unpolished and (frankly) seemingly unsalvageable gem that may have experienced a revival through the complex character of Walter White. Or, perhaps, the show would have collapsed under the weight of an ill-fitting role. Thankfully, we’ll never know.
8. Tamzin Merchant (Game Of Thrones)
On the surface, the role of Daenerys Targaryen lends itself to a veteran television actress. The Khaleesi, a complicated and evolving character that transforms from the meek and subservient princess to the warrior queen and Mother of Dragons, requires a huge range to pull off. Casting the relatively unknown Emilia Clarke was, for all intents and purposes, a bold and risky move. Obviously, it all worked out in the end and the name currently listed above likely now elicits a “who?” whereas Clarke is plastered on every magazine in the checkout line of the grocery store. Yet Tamzin Merchant, fresh off a pretty good run of Jane Austen movies and The Tudors, was the first choice for Daenerys. In fact, like a few actors on this list, she even filmed a few scenes. There were a lot of actors (we’ll get to that later) who ended up being axed (ha) from the pilot, but Merchant’s is perhaps most significant, as the role of Khaleesi is arguably the most important in the series. Thankfully the pilot was reshot and Merchant, talented as she may be, was kicked to the curb.
7. Topher Grace (Mad Men)
Topher Grace is a ridiculous human being. This isn’t entirely his fault, nor is it entirely a bad thing. For example, playing Eric Forman on That ’70s Show, Grace was perfectly cast, his face eliciting laughs and, admittedly, pity. He suits a goofy show that doesn’t take itself too seriously, something that was incredibly clear when he was horribly miscast as Venom in the unspeakable tragedy that was Spiderman 3. What he doesn’t do well, he really doesn’t do well. Which is why everyone should breathe a sigh of relief that he never set foot on the set of Mad Men, a show that prides itself on doing just about everything well. Granted, the role he was considered for, that of conniving Pete Campbell, was probably the only role he may have been suited for. And yet, it would have ruined the magic if we had seen Eric Forman in a suit traipsing around the office and squaring off with the formidable Don Draper.
6. Thomas Jane (Mad Men)
Topher Grace wasn’t the only close call cast on Mad Men, though. The coveted role of Don Draper, he whom Jon Hamm so totally and thoroughly embodied, was originally offered to Thomas Jane. You know Thomas Jane, right? No? He played The Punisher in the 2004 film of the same name. He was big and broody, seemingly perfect for the role of Don. But he turned it down (something he now says he regrets) and, instead, we were given the exceptional and wonderful Jon Hamm who, similarly to Emilia Clarke, now graces our magazine covers and television screens on a near daily basis, having seen his stardom rise to its highest potential. But what if it hadn’t gone to Hamm? And Jane had played the role of Draper instead? This is a sad, cold world that should barely even be considered.
5. Chris Zylka (American Horror Story)
You probably don’t know who Chris Zylka is. Hell, one wonders if he even knows who he is, occasionally stumbling past mirrors with a look of utter confusion. He’s just one of those “guys with nice jawlines and hair” that populate Hollywood for the sake of keeping things aesthetically pleasing. If that sounds harsh, it’s because Zylka is on this list purely for comedic reasons. His lost shot at being on a big-time television show was, in retrospect (and probably even at the time), ridiculous and petty. American Horror Story‘s second season saw the recurring cast locked in a 1960s Asylum. As such, there was a whole lot of head-shaving, something Zylka would have nothing of. Indeed, so fervent was his desire not to have his precious hair shaven, that he backed out of the series entirely and his character (whoever he may have been) was completely written out. The things people won’t do for thousands of dollars is remarkable.
4. Jennifer Ehle (Game Of Thrones)
It’s worth nothing that some actors, however, recognize the privilege of their station. They even want to act! Shocking. Such was the tragic case of Jennifer Ehle, the unfortunate victim of the great recasting of Game of Thrones. Originally playing the role of Catelyn Stark, Ehle was part of that ensemble of actors who actually filmed the pilot episode. She was on track to become one of the most recognizable actresses on the block, with Game of Thrones gearing up to be the biggest show on television. But the entertainment machine, ever moving as it is, cares little for dreams and her part was inevitably cut in favor of Michelle Fairley (who played the part splendidly, mind you). As common as this practice is, Ehle reportedly felt downtrodden over the decision and feared that she might never work again. Luckily for her, she picked back up and has since appeared in a bevy of famous blockbuster movies.
3. Eion Bailey (Westworld)
Westworld is pretty much the new Game of Thrones, despite the latter’s still dominant role in the HBO market. Every episode was its own cultural event and for those that waited each week with bated breath, the suspense was downright unbearable. It was just one of those shows. Thus making it the desirable option for anyone looking to make a name for himself. Eion Bailey was, admittedly, no stranger to big-time television. He wasn’t even a stranger to HBO, having played a major role in Band of Brothers back in 2001. More recently, he’s been doing work on ABC show, Once Upon a Time. But he was briefly cast in the role of Logan, William’s sadistic brother-in-law. That role would eventually go to Ben Barnes of Narnia fame, but in the very brief time that Bailey was up for the part, he was evidently ecstatic. Sorry bro.
2. Iris Bahr (The Big Bang Theory)
Iris Bahr is one of those actresses that shows up on sitcoms, popping up in The King of Queens, Curb Your Enthusiasm and even Friends. She’s a face you know, but a name you forget. But there was a brief time where she was almost a star. Indeed, at the outset of the mega popular nerd-a-thon that is The Big Bang Theory, there was a whole different main cast. One that included Iris Bahr as a character named Gilda. This filmed but never aired pilot saw Gilda as a scientist and friend to both Leonard and Sheldon, even going so far as to mention that she had sex with Sheldon at a Star Trek convention. Of course, this characterization goes against everything the series would eventually portray and Bahr’s character was scrapped before she could ever make it to the screen.
1. Jim Parsons (How I Met Your Mother)
But that’s nothing compared to what almost happened to How I Met Your Mother. Jim Parsons (or Sheldon, as you may know him) was almost one of the OTHER most famous sitcom characters on television. That’s right: Jim Parsons almost played the famed Barney Stinson, a pairing that boggles the mind. Perhaps it’s because the role was so entirely inhabited by Neil Patrick Harris that the thought of literally anyone else playing the character of Barney seems outright impossible. Luckily, the show’s creators didn’t even bother to bring Parsons in for filming as he apparently never made it past the auditions. Sometimes, you just know when something’s not right, and the emotionless, calculating method of Parsons just did not mix with the incredibly irrational and emotional role of Stinson. Though he certainly shared his penchant for catchphrases.