When we discuss the end of an actor’s career, we usually take some liberties with phrasing. It’s incredibly rare for an actor to simply stop working altogether. Most will gradually take on (or get offered) fewer roles over a long period of time. It doesn’t happen overnight, though. Now, we also realize that there is a belief out there that any actor who is not an A-lister is somehow the same as a failure. Truthfully, there just isn’t that much room available on the A-list and the names of actors who occupy those spots are always cycling in and out. This is the nature of the industry. An actor does not need to be consistently in blockbuster films and on primetime TV shows to be successful.
Having said that, careers do have ups and downs, and it is possible to map career trajectories. So, for the careers that were progressing steadily upward and then faded, we wanted to try and pinpoint the moments that the fade began. Is it possible that some careers began their decline because of one horrible scene? We argue that it is.
Many of the actors we discuss on this list are still working in the industry. We acknowledge and accept that we’re going to ruffle some feathers by saying a working actor has a “ruined career.” We still enjoy the work of many of the stars included here, but we are referring to the change in their career trajectory. In terms of the scenes we chose, these are the moments that stuck with people. The actor involved in the scene might have kept their career moving long after the scene first aired, but we will argue that these moments left a lasting impression on fans that couldn’t be shaken, a scar that could never be forgotten. Because of that, these actors saw their once high-flying careers slowly dissipate to what they are today. Here are 15 TV Scenes So Bad They Ruined Careers.
15. Priya In General – Aarti Mann
It’s probably not fair to include Aarti Mann on this list because she never really had a career on television, but her appearance as Priya on The Big Bang Theory (really her only major role) was so bad that it ruined her career before it even got started. There really wasn’t just one scene that did actress Aarti Mann in. It was more the entire thing. Her accent was one of the major problems. It was one of the most grating and annoying voices on television for a time. Her nasal Indian accent even outshone her controlling and unforgivable personality at times. Priya’s attitude would be okay if she wasn’t controlling the show’s main protagonist. She was also compared to Penny and stood in the way of a Penny-and-Leonard union, which bothered many of the show’s fans.
14. Violet Foster’s Introduction – Ashlee Simpson
It didn’t take long for the Melrose Place revival to kill Ashlee Simpson‘s acting career. Obviously, Simpson was a musician (or is or whatever), but she was an actor too. Remember 7th Heaven? Well, her plans to become something bigger in the industry were dashed with her dreadful performance in Melrose Place. From the very beginning, it was painfully clear that her acting abilities were nonexistent. The writing was no help to her, but it was the line delivery that really blew people away. In her first scene, in which she’s shook up over finding a corpse, a guy tells Violet that he met the deceased in church at St. Patty’s Day. To that, Violet responds, “You must be pretty religious.” What? He said he went to church one time on a day named for a saint. But, it’s not the line that bothers us the most. It’s the head shaking and the widening of the eyes in an attempt to show emotion. She’s horrible.
13. Jumping The Shark – Henry Winkler
The term “jumping the shark” refers to the point in which a show moves past the point of no return. It usually points to a moment when an established show tries to change things up to spur on ratings. It also signifies the moment that the show’s writers start grasping at straws. This phrase comes from Happy Days, specifically from the third part of the “Hollywood” episode in season five, when Fonzie (Henry Winkler) jumped a shark on water skis. In true Fonzie fashion, he made the jump while still draped in his leather coat. Although the show would continue for another six seasons after this, Happy Days would never be the same. Similarly, the character of the Fonz became a silly shell of his former self.
In many ways, Winkler’s career was much like the Fonz post-shark-jump. He continued acting for many years, but he never came close to the same success. It wouldn’t be until about 20 years later on Arrested Development that Winkler’s career would be revitalized. Currently, he seems to be back as a new man, but, for at least 20 years, the shark jumping incident ruined what was a powerhouse career.
12. Ecstasy Trip Dawson’s Creek – Meredith Monroe
Listen, we loved Dawson’s Creek. It was a pure product of its time. The show is hard to go back and watch because it’s just too wholesome and utterly unbelievable. While we were able to suspend our disbelief and accept all of the characters back then, the one that always bothered us was Andie. This girl was just a mess. She obviously had some emotional issues, but she was just too squeaky to be taken seriously. Her breaking point came in season four, when she took ecstasy and mixed it with antidepressants to celebrate getting into Harvard. As an actress, Meredith Monroe was forced to act as high as a kite, and she looked completely preposterous doing it. Petting Joey, stumbling all over, and dancing like a fool, Monroe sealed her career’s fate in that episode. She would go on to have a recurring role in Criminal Minds, but we stopped believing in her the day she popped that pill.
11. Finale In Dexter – Michael C. Hall
Between about 2001 and 2013, Michael C. Hall was one of the biggest television stars in the world. He smashed his role in Six Feet Under and the early parts of Dexter, but the later seasons of Dexter really started to wear on people. Ever since that show ended, Hall hasn’t quite lived up to his potential, and we believe that his role on Dexter had a lot to do with that. The final scene in the show isn’t poorly acted or anything, but just seeing Dexter stare at us in that stupid orange beard (sorry Hall, we know that’s your actual beard) was just a mind-blowingly dumb finale. It was clear that the writers had just lost all sense of direction in the show, and they couldn’t come up with a satisfying conclusion. They ended up settling on Dexter moving away to become a lumberjack and growing a beard.
10. The Poolside Freak-out – Mischa Barton
Mischa Barton is still working in the industry and working often, but it’s unlikely that she’ll ever again see the highs she saw in the early going of The O.C. Even though the character of Marissa Cooper would carry on for another season on The O.C. after this magical event, it was the poolside freak-out that really did her character in. Sure, you could point out numerous moments in season three, the drunk Marissa season, that her career downslide could be blamed on, but it was the freak-out that first showed everyone the caliber of Barton’s acting. The awkward yell she lets out to show her mother she was frustrated physically hurt us to watch. It was about as bad as a scene can get.
9. Mark Goes Goth In Home Improvement – Taran Noah Smith
This one is hard for us because we love the Halloween Home Improvement episode “A Night to Disremember,” but this is also the episode that marks Mark’s conversion to a goth. This is the point that Mark becomes unbearable. He was also the weakest link in the show and his acting was atrocious, but goth Mark is much, much worse than ever before. He begins walking with a shoulder sway, and his looks are just as weird as his mannerisms are. The horror film that Mark makes is actually pretty good, aside from his acting, his stupid laugh, and his terrible line delivery. We begged, in that moment, for Taran Noah Smith to stop acting and, stop acting, he did. He would complete one more season as Mark and then hang up his leather trench coat and never act again.
8. Robert Romano And The Helicopters – Paul McCrane
While he’s had a few roles since his days on ER, Paul McCrane’s career has never been the same ever since he finished his run as Robert Romano. If you watched that medical drama, you are quite familiar with Romano’s run-ins with helicopters. Romano had two fateful encounters with helicopters, and both were so ridiculous that each could be responsible for his career decline. The first one came when Romano was walking around all willy-nilly around a helicopter’s rotor blades. For his sheer stupidity, he deservedly lost an arm. The next season, Romano came up close and personal with another helicopter. This time, in a Final Destination style death, Romano was crushed by a helicopter that fell off the roof of the hospital. This particular scene is one of the most ridiculous of all character deaths and sounded the death knoll for McCrane’s great career.
7. My Name Isn’t Michael Vaughn – Michael Vartan
The season five finale of Alias brought a ridiculous twist and a totally unbelievable revelation into the show. After agreeing to marry Sydney (Jennifer Garner), Michael Vartan‘s character, Michael Vaughn, reveals that he is not really named Michael Vaughn and that basically everything Sydney knows about him is a lie. The worst part about this horrible scene, aside from the horrendous acting by both Garner and Vaughn, is that he acts as if he’s just revealing a tiny secret. Sure, it’s the writer’s fault too, but there is no urgency or sincerity in Vartan’s voice. He’s saying it as if he’s admitting that he finished the milk and didn’t replace it. Vartan would continue on the show for another season and then his career would head downwards. Yeah, he got a lead role on the awful medical show Hawthorne afterward, but he has not had a truly memorable role since. We feel this one moment was his undoing.
6. Oliver’s Hissy Fit – Taylor Handley
For a guy who only had a six-episode arc on The O.C, it’s pretty amazing that Oliver Trask is as memorable as he is. To this day, Oliver is one of the most hated characters in TV history. The actor who played him, Taylor Handley, hasn’t done much since that time either. This is almost certainly because fans could never erase the image of this kid freaking out like a psychopath in his penthouse while holding Marissa hostage. Now, there were some major psychological issues there, but watching Oliver slap himself in the head like an unruly five-year-old at a toy store is infuriating. The acting isn’t particularly bad. In fact, it might even be described as good. The problem is that it’s just hard to decide if we hate the character or the actor. They both seem so damn slimy.
5. Will Schuester Rapping – Matthew Morrison
For Matthew Morrison, Glee was both his making and his breaking. The hugely popular show gave Morrison a platform to show off his punchable face to millions of people and allowed him to create a teacher that many fans loved. The truth is, though, the character of Will Schuester was just the worst. Not only did he have a very inappropriate relationship with almost every one of his students, but his performances were some of the show’s most cringeworthy, especially the rapping. Oh, sweet lord, the rapping. Those raps that Morrison put out to the world were just dreadful. You could basically hear his suspenders and knee-high socks through his voice. Morrison has about as much flavor as plain yogurt. He should have never have tried to rap. But he did, and his career has suffered because the memory of it lives on.
4. Floating Away – Josh Radnor
The floating scene in How I Met Your Mother will always be seen as one of the stupidest scenes ever filmed in a television show. In what was likely meant to be a reference to One Hundred Years of Solitude, watching Robin float away into the sky as Ted looked on like a brain-dead puppy was difficult to watch. It was just so out of place and forced that no one could take it seriously. Now, placing this at the feet of Josh Radnor might not be fair, as Cobie Smulders and the writers should be held just as responsible, but Radnor’s character, Ted, was already the worst on the show. It’s not easy being the straight man on a popular comedy. It’s even harder being the straight man when the writers make you one of the most despicable and pretentious humans alive. It’s because of this that Ted becomes the scapegoat for this god-awful floating scene. His storyline was the most boring and least funny on the show, and the entire show concept was built around him. The memory of Ted Mosby has lived on through Radnor and has continued to impact his career ever since.
3. Screech’s Shirt Rip – Dustin Diamond
We all know about Dustin Diamond‘s fall from grace. After Saved by the Bell ended, Diamond would become an embarrassment to the memory of the show. But when did his downturn begin? Many would point to the College years, but we lost interest in the character of Screech long before that. It was always Zach’s show, but Screech was once an important member. For us, Screech died in the scene in which he and Zach fight over Lisa. Predictably, Zach wins the battle for Lisa’s love, and Screech is mad about it. Even though Lisa had thwarted Screech’s advances for years, he never got the message, like the true creep he is. But when he confronted Zach, he pulled the strangest move imaginable. He didn’t push or punch Zach. Nope! He ripped his shirt. If you had any respect for Screech, it was almost a guarantee that you lost it watching him cry over a woman who was repulsed by him.
2. Vince And Sasha – Adrian Grenier
This is going to hurt some people’s feelings, but Entourage is the just the worst show. Seriously, we have no idea how so many people stayed with this show for so long. Above everyone and everything else, Adrian Grenier is a steaming pile of bad acting. There was never a moment in the show or the film that Grenier’s performance ever impressed us. Sure, he’s an actor playing a bad actor, but he’s not capable enough to pull that off. Despite our feelings on the show, Entourage was hugely popular. But, if Grenier was as talented as fans claimed he was, you would think he would have gone on to bigger and better things. Well, he didn’t. There are moments in the show when the costars are able to carry Grenier, but he is at his worst in the scenes with the equally awful Sasha Grey. This relationship is what ruined Grenier.
1. The Glasses Thing – David Caruso
There wasn’t just one scene that ruined the illustrious career of David Caruso. It was more of a shtick that he made into one of the best-known bits on television that did him in. Caruso first started his epic climb with his role on NYPD Blue. From there, he landed the titular role on Michael Hayes. Then came the big one, CSI: Miami. It was this last role which would take Caruso through to the end of his career. Since this show went off the air in 2012, Caruso has not appeared in another role. You could argue that the halt to his career was his own decision, but it would be very hard to accept him in any other role than Horatio Crane, so it was inevitable. That character, with his ridiculous glasses and eye-rolling one-liners, became one of the most “memeable” the internet has ever seen. It is because of this bit that Caruso backed himself into a corner, albeit a very rich and successful corner. Playing a character so rigidly and iconically has both pros and cons. The lack of work for Caruso is evidence of the latter.
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