Denise Richards and Chris O’Donnell, take heart. You’re not the first movie stars whose attempt at a career boost via a network TV series was painfully short-lived. True, Richards’ UPN soap Sex, Love & Secrets (above) halted production after seven episodes, and O’Donnell’s Fox drama Head Cases was canceled after just two airings, but that only puts these actors in good company.
Many of Hollywood’s most revered performers and biggest box office draws have learned the hard way the old adage that stars don’t make TV, TV makes stars. Among the most notable big-screen actors who flopped on the small screen is Geena Davis, whose current hit series, Commander in Chief, is erasing unpleasant memories of The Geena Davis Show. That offers another lesson for Richards and O’Donnell: Keep trying.
Whether TV’s star vehicles are admirable or genuine stinkers, they often have the same result: an audience too small for a second season. Read on for the tales of 10 who tried — and didn’t succeed.
The Geena Davis Show (ABC)
PREMISE Davis plays a kid-phobic public relations exec, Teddie Cochran, who marries a single father of two (Peter Horton, with, from left, Makenzie Vega, John Francis Daley, and Mimi Rogers); wackiness ensues.
LIFE SPAN Oct. 2000-June 2001
FUN FACT Four years after her critically savaged flop, Davis has found a hit on the same night and network, playing a character with a similarly gender-neutral name, President Mackenzie Allen.
CRITICAL TAKE EW’s Ken Tucker called the series ”assiduously joyless” and ”career-squeezingly unfunny” when he listed it among the five worst shows of 2000. (Read the full review.)
The Chevy Chase Show (Fox)
PREMISE I’m Chevy Chase — host of Fox’s entry into the early-1990s late-night talk show wars — and you’re not.
LIFE SPAN Sept.-Oct. 1993
FUN FACT Originally, the network sought Dolly Parton to host. Her manager turned the offer down but suggested the former Saturday Night Live newscaster instead.
CRITICAL TAKE A notorious catastrophe for Chase (pictured with early guest Goldie Hawn), the show earned an F from EW’s Ken Tucker, who moaned that its combination of ”mind-deadening” tedium and ”blithe contempt” for its audience has ”managed only to give vulgarity a bad name.” (Read the full review.)
The Court (ABC)
PREMISE Justice Kate Nolan (Field) nabs a seat on the Supreme Court, and tries to navigate the politics of the job while fending off a dogged reporter trying to dig up dirt from her past.
LIFE SPAN March-April 2002
FUN FACT Fields’ series was a launching pad for a pair of current CBS stars: How I Met Your Mother‘s Josh Radnor and CSI: New York‘s Hill Harper.
CRITICAL TAKE ”The Flying Nun had more coherence,” complained EW’s Ken Tucker. (Read the full review.)
The Persuaders! (ABC)
PREMISE Two swingin’ playboys — streetwise self-made tycoon Danny Wilde (Curtis) and British aristocrat Brett Sinclair (a pre-007 Roger Moore, right) — team up to solve crimes. Think The Odd Couple meets Austin Powers.
LIFE SPAN Sept. 1971-June 1972
FUN FACT Ben Stiller and British TV comic Steve Coogan are planning to star in a film version. (See a Persuaders! fan site.)
It Had to Be You (CBS)
PREMISE Urbane book publisher Dunaway falls for a carpenter (Robert Urich) with three young sons.
LIFE SPAN Sept.-Oct. 1993
FUN FACT Urich’s middle son was played by Reunion‘s Will Estes.
CRITICAL TAKE ”Watching these two utterly different acting styles share scenes, you immediately realize that, great old song title to the contrary, it really didn’t have to be them,” EW’s Ken Tucker wrote of Dunaway and Urich’s performances. (Read the full review.)
PREMISE Self-doubting (and fictitious) screen star Bette (with, from left, James Dreyfus, Joanna Gleason, Lindsay Lohan, and Kevin Dunn) juggles her home life, her ego, and struggling career.
LIFE SPAN Oct. 2000-March 2001
FUN FACT After the pilot was shot, Lohan was replaced by Marina Melota; she was the lucky one.
CRITICAL TAKE The show’s use of footage of a young Midler ”makes the toilet-flushing jokes that suck the new Bette down into mediocrity seem all the more ironic and sad, ” wrote EW’s Ken Tucker. (Read the full review.)
The Education of Max Bickford (CBS)
PREMISE Titular college history professor is shocked when his former student (and lover) gets the history-department chair he covets.
LIFE SPAN Sept. 2001-June 2002
FUN FACTS Marcia Gay Harden signed on as Bickford’s intellectual sparring partner shortly before winning an Oscar for Pollock. Battlestar Galactica‘s tough chick Katee Sackhoff played Bickford’s daughter.
CRITICAL TAKE Though the show earned some favorable reviews, post-9/11 audiences didn’t warm to the prickly characters. Ultimately, the producers softened it (EW’s Ken Tucker called it ”increasingly Touched by an Angel-ed”) — which was just enough to alienate the remaining fans. (Read the full review.)
A Family for Joe (NBC)
PREMISE Four orphaned kids persuade a homeless man (Mitchum) to pose as their grandfather in exchange for food and shelter.
LIFE SPAN Feb.-May, Aug. 1990
FUN FACT The young Juliette Lewis played one of the orphans when Joe transitioned from TV movie to half-hour sitcom.
CRITICAL TAKE ”The kids are leering little creeps, the jokes are moronic, and Joe’s homelessness is already absent from the show’s current scripts,” railed EW’s Ken Tucker, while slapping the series with a D. (Read the full review.)
Shirley’s World (ABC)
PREMISE World Illustrated photographer Shirley Logan (MacLaine, natch) trots the globe on assignment, finding laughs and adventures along the way.
LIFE SPAN Sept. 1971-Jan. 1972
FUN FACT Apparently unscarred by her small-screen failure, MacLaine’s website currently uses the heading ”Shirley’s World” to promote the actress’ favorite books, videos, and products.
The Smith Family (ABC)
PREMISE This tale of veteran Los Angeles detective Chad Smith (Fonda) focused more on his home life than life on the beat, although it gave him some time to confront the turbulent realities of Nixon-era America (above).
LIFE SPAN Jan. 1971-Jan. 1972, April-June 1972
FUN FACT Playing teenager Bob Smith was future Oscar-winning director Ron Howard, whose Smith stint marked an awkward post-Andy Griffith/pre-Happy Days phase.