Television is a brutal beast. It’s a world where tastes can change, the medium can alter and events can shift your plans. It’s where actors can be starring in a smash hit show one year and be out of work the next. Where one bad line in an interview turns them into persona non grata. Given how TV is always looking for newer stars, it’s hard to last long in this industry.
Ironically, it’s the non-stars, the folks you see popping up all the time on dozens of shows, who have more lasting careers than “here today, gone tomorrow” types. Yes, some are able to make long careers in television, appearing on numerous shows and gathering award wins. And others are able to use that to achieve major fame on the big screen. But it’s not for everyone. For every George Clooney, there’s a David Caruso. For every Melissa McCarthy, there’s a Shelley Long. And you can achieve fame on TV and in movies only to be a nobody all over again (re: Katherine Heigl).
For many actors and actresses, this is as good as it’s going to get. That’s especially true for younger ones who don’t grasp how rough the town can be. Also, there’s the risk of typecasting; being unable to break away from that role or be seen as anyone else but that famous character by fans. Some are just trapped in shows that have lasted so long that their chances of breaking into better work are fading with new faces around. Maybe it’s unfair but it’s true. Here are 15 TV stars who, once their shows end, are likely to become “who?” in the future, showing just how tough this business can be.
15 Hayden Panettiere (Nashville)
Already, Hayden Panettiere has endured going from star to nobody. She had roles in various TV shows and a hit as the little girl in Remember the Titans. In 2006, she broke out as Claire, the invincible cheerleader in NBC’s smash hit Heroes, making it an iconic part. However, the show’s drop in quality hurt her and when it was axed after four seasons, Hayden faded away. In 2012, she made a good comeback as selfish country star Juliette Barnes on ABC’s Nashville. It was a big role and she handled it well. That included how Panettiere suffered post-partum depression and had to seek treatment for it. The show was axed by ABC but then CMT revived it, allowing Panettiere to rise back up.
She’s moved to the lead following Connie Britton’s exit and doing well. But her attempts to break out in movies have failed and her health issues seem to have affected her. Indeed, she’s talked about how, after the show ends with its upcoming sixth season, she might just take a long break from acting completely. With many hot blonde starlets around, it’s likely once more Panettiere fades into the background despite two notable TV roles.
14 Kit Harington (Game Of Thrones)
He’s handsome, he’s buffed, he has a great accent and he’s the star of one of the hottest shows of all time. Sadly, Kit Harington has tried and failed to break out of being anyone but Jon Snow. He has done a fine job with the role, turning this somewhat ignored character into the heart of the fantasy hit, astounding with his work. Whether slicing up guys, fighting undead monsters or baring all in love scenes, Harington has grounded the show and become a hero. True, fans of the series are the first to mock him being a bit flat at times but able to sell his spirit well. However, while engaging, Harington hasn’t had a lot of luck outside the show. He tried to do so in Pompeii but the mix of gladiator action and disaster flick was a major bomb. Harington still is trying with stuff like the upcoming The Gunpowder Plot mini-series. But many still see him as just Jon Snow and thus hurting his attempts to break out into bigger parts. A shame given his talent but Harrington isn’t likely to turn the part of Snow into anything major down the road.
13 The Arrowverse Ladies
Sci-fi fans can be a fickle lot. In some ways, they can hold onto shows most have long forgotten and hail them still as terrific. But other times, they can only look to the future and dismiss past stars as too “niche” to work out in major fame. The ladies of the CW’s “Arrowverse” appear to fit that past category. The only one who really had prior fame was Katie Cassidy from a few short-lived TV shows and bad movies. Since then, the wide range of actresses on the various shows are big but don’t seem to be ready to branch out beyond their roles. Emily Bett Rickards, Willa Holland, Candice Patton, Danielle Panabaker, Caity Lotz, they’re all good actresses but one can easily see nothing but a future of Lifetime/Hallmark TV movies for them.
Melissa Benoist may get a bit better with her singing voice leading to Broadway but will probably not be as big outside Supergirl. Just see how even Legends of Tomorrow fans have forgotten Ciara Renee, who played Hawkgirl in the first season. These ladies should get used to being on the convention circuit in the future rather than Hollywood fame when this universe finally shuts down.
12 Bella Thorne (Famous In Love)
In many ways, she’s gotten her name out there a lot but sadly, it’s less for her acting than for her wild looks and ways. Bella Thorne had a unique style already as the quirky CeeCee on the Disney Channel series Shake It Up. She’s risen up with some roles on shows, notably the Freeform series Famous in Love, playing off herself as a rising starlet. But Thorne has gotten more attention for her constant social media posts, flaunting her body in next to nothing most of the time. Her few projects outside include The Babysitter, a Netflix movie slammed as a total mess. While her former co-star, Zendaya, has gone on to some major fame on the big screen, it doesn’t seem as if Thorne is going to go the same way. Indeed, the comparisons to Lindsay Lohan are obvious from red hair to wild behavior and thus too easy to imagine that once Famous ends, Thorne’s own fame will simply being another teen star turned train wreck rather than big-screen success.
11 Emmy Rossum (Shameless)
Her movie career wasn’t exactly very notable. Emmy Rossum got attention as the ill-fated daughter in Mystic River and that led to roles on The Day After Tomorrow and then The Phantom of the Opera. But it was nothing notable until she was cast on Showtime’s Shameless. As Fiona, she handles a rambunctious clan while doing a variety of fun scenes. Rossum has gotten attention for cutting loose majorly, including extensive nudity and wild love scenes. That’s made the show a good hit for the network but the raw material means Rossum is ignored by award shows. It’s also left her unavailable for various movie parts and while she has done some directing, it’s not a huge career ahead. While the part has some good material, it’s more famous for Rossum showing a lot of skin. Thus, when it does end, her career may suffer for it, unable to take off (not helped by so many actresses having the same looks as she does) and too bad Rossum took too much time for a shameless part.
10 Jared Padalecki & Jensen Ackles (Supernatural)
It’s laughable to remember back in 2005 when the creators of Supernatural talked of having a "five-year plan” and fans worried the show would be canceled before that. It’s survived from the WB to the CW and now currently in its thirteenth season. A key reason is the two leads as there’s no denying how handsome Jared Padalecki and Jensen Ackles are in their parts as Sam and Dean Winchester. They’ve handled everything from the Apocalypse (several times) to fighting the Devil, angels and just about every sort of monster imaginable. Yet more than a few fans are thinking it’s long past time the show finally met its end despite the CW continuing to push it. The fact is that the two actors have sadly wasted a prime period of their careers on these parts, ignoring possible movie roles and ways to branch out. The boys better have enjoyed this long ride as their careers afterward are likely to hit a ditch.
9 Ariel Winter (Modern Family)
This may seem a tough call but it’s also a likely one. When Modern Family began, Ariel Winter was the classic “nerdy kid” as Alex, the brains of her family. She wore glasses, frumpy clothes and clearly in the shadow of sister Haley. But as puberty hit, Winter changed and not just in talent. She famously needed a breast reduction to handle her growing chest and also had some famous family issues. Even the show has had to acknowledge that with Alex now sporting some sexier stuff. Winter herself has taken off on social media, flaunting her body in very risqué outfits and clearly loving showing herself off. She’s also earned a rep as a bit of a party girl. But that sadly means it’s likely that when Family finally ends its long Emmy-winning run, Winter isn’t going to be that in demand. Hollywood is already packed with buxom ladies willing to flaunt it, one more isn’t going to make a difference. Also, her strength is comedy, limiting some choices for other roles. While watching Winter grow has been great, her career seems likely for a comedown after this part.
8 Andrew Lincoln (The Walking Dead)
Much has been made about how the ratings for the latest season of The Walking Dead are sinking badly. It seems fans are being turned off by the slow pacing and often rough turns of the show. Which is a shame as Andrew Lincoln is still doing his best as Rick, the hero who leads this group of survivors in a zombie-overrun world. It’s astounding how the British-born Lincoln affects a perfect Georgian accent for the role and embodies the character so well. But it’s also the role he’s known best by and in some ways, it holds him back. Lincoln himself jokes that once he finally shaves his “Rick beard” off, people will have no idea who he is and that will hurt him in the long run. The fact that he’s sticking to a show clearly limping to a poor finish is also likely to hold him back and thus, probably just return to England after it’s finished. The man should be credited with making this part work so well yet it's unlikely he’ll do much of anything after the show is finally dead.
7 Millie Bobby Brown (Stranger Things)
The fate of child actors in Hollywood can be cruel. Sure, some are able to move onto fantastic careers as adults. But sadly, far too many fall apart, not just into addictions or such but just obscurity. Stranger Things has become one of Netflix’s biggest hits with many loving its 1980s vibe and gripping storytelling. Millie Bobby Brown has been boosted up as Eleven, the young telekinetic child at the heart of the story. Whether munching on waffles or sending a car flying with her mind, the character is pulling viewers in (even with the now-infamous “bottle episode” of season two). She’s earned an Emmy nod and doing well and many hope that at just 13, she can build off that. But it’s also quite likely that this is just a flash in the pan and when Things ends, Brown can’t do much else. Her age can work against her and the fact is, the odds are high she can’t get a role anywhere as good and fade into the woodwork. It’s quite possible in 20 years, she’s just another “remember her?” name on some list which is a strange but likely fate.
6 Uzo Aduba (Orange Is The New Black)
The whole cast of Orange is the New Black is impressive but Uzo Aduba is the one getting the accolades. She’s won two Emmys for her work as Suzanne “Crazy Eyes” Warren, winning over fans for her take on this nutty crook who’s an innocent in so many ways. The role has won raves although some complain the character has devolved a bit in the last few seasons and overwhelmed by the larger cast. Aduba is a fun lady in person and comes off great in interviews but also seems to lack the wider range needed to build a bigger career. It may seem odd that a woman with Emmys can become a nobody but when was the last time you heard anything notable about Drea de Matteo? Aduba is a great actress and did fine with the role but it’s also likely to trap her in typecasting. Thus, sad as it is, the most notable person from OITNB is likely to fade into the background once that show reaches its end.
5 Ellen Pompeo (Grey's Anatomy)
Shonda Rhimes was smart to cast an unknown in the key role of Meredith Grey. It’s important to remember that no one expected Grey’s Anatomy to be anything but a spring filler show in 2005. Certainty, no one could have dreamed it would not only be a massive ratings hit but last 14 seasons and counting. Ellen Pompeo has been its heart as Meredith who’s endured countless heartache, massive slights, been blown up, in a plane crash, a miscarriage, a dead husband and way too many wild surgeries. Pompeo may not be the knockout of other stars on the show but still attractive and grounds the often wild series. Yet the fact she’s so identified in the role is going to hurt her trying to do anything when he ends. One can’t blame Pompeo as it’s good job security and it’s rather unlikely the show’s ending anytime soon. But it still looks likely that when the show ends (and it’s hard to do Grey’s Anatomy without Grey), Pompeo will just fade away as dedicating so much of her life to one role doesn’t leave much time to build a legacy.
4 Kaley Cuoco (The Big Bang Theory)
Kaley Cuoco has amazing beauty, there’s no denying it. But her acting talents lean toward simply being a sexy gal. That got her attention as the ditz on 8 Simple Rules and had real promise but the show suffered after John Ritter suddenly died. Cuoco was then added the final season of Charmed with hopes of a spin-off but viewers found her character horrible. It looked rough until Cuoco was cast as Penny in The Big Bang Theory. Massive success has followed with her being the highest-paid actress on television and terrific in her charisma to make the show a hit. However, it’s obvious Cuoco gets by on looks more than her talent and unlike other ladies (Katherine Heigl, for example), she hasn’t done much in movies to build her career. Beauty fades and Cuoco has spent most of her prime years on this show. Thus, when it finally does end its run, it’s likely Cuoco will fade and not experience anywhere near such success again.
3 Caitriona Balfe (Outlander)
For years, fans adored the Outlander series, Diana Gabaldon’s best-selling novel series of a 1946 nurse sent back to 1740s Scotland. In 2014, Starz finally launched a TV version with Caitriona Balfe cast as heroine Claire. With a great American accent, the Irish actress captured the role, handling everything from battle scenes to the very expansive amount of nudity. The actress has done very well, including the wild turns like Claire aging 20 years before going back in time and doing scenes on a boat during a storm. It’s a great performance but sadly is overwhelmed by others on cable, particularly with the rise of streaming shows. The long lags between seasons due to the big productions don’t help either as Balfe hasn’t done much else besides that show. Fans adore it but the show’s audience doesn’t approach the same level as, say, Game of Thrones. Thus, when it does end, Balfe’s own time is likely to run out and not be much remembered outside of those fans.
2 Chrissy Metz (This Is Us)
It’s not fair in any way but it’s the brutal truth: Chrissy Metz might not be able to get any roles on TV outside of This Is Us. From the start, NBC’s acclaimed hit has focused on her, Kate, a woman struggling with her weight and facing issues regarding it. Metz’s entire TV career has been playing that type of woman, including a “freak” on a season of American Horror Story. The woman has a lovely singing voice and is terrific, clearly putting her real-life experiences into Kate. The show is a hit with many seeing the character as an inspiration for handling their own issues. Metz is likely to fade away when the show finally ends. It’s no fault of Metz whatsoever, it’s just a harsh system.
1 Lana Parrilla (Once Upon A Time)
For years, Lana Parrilla bounced around various short-lived TV shows, not making a big splash at all. In 2011, she was cast as Regina Mills aka the Evil Queen on Once Upon a Time. With little advance buzz, the show was a huge hit and while it’s had a lot of ups and downs, fans still hold Parrilla being the best part of it. Her Regina has gone from pure villain to redeeming herself into a hero. In the recent season, she’s practically the only major cast member left and still doing her best to elevate the show. It’s rough with poor ratings but Parrilla is doing her best. Frankly, Regina is the best role she’s ever gotten and unlikely she can ever find one so great again. The show is likely to end after this year and it’s a shame a woman as beautiful and wickedly funny as Parrilla is going to fade afterward but the magic of a fine, long-lasting hit is very rare.