10 Actors Who Regretted Leaving Hit TV Shows
By Rudie Obias
Actors leave TV shows at the height of their popularity all the time, but sometimes their exits come back to haunt them. Here are 10 famous actors who regretted departing their hit TV shows.
1. CHRISTOPHER ECCLESTON // DOCTOR WHO
In 2005, after years of lobbying the BBC, lifelong Doctor Who fan Russell T. Davies was given the opportunity to reboot the classic sci-fi series for a new generation, and there was a lot of excitement around the announcement that Christopher Eccleston had been cast as the Ninth Doctor. Although the show was an immediate hit, Eccleston left after just one season due to creative differences with the show's producers; he was replaced by David Tennant.
"It was kind of tragic for me, that I didn’t play him for longer," Eccleston admitted in 2016, during an interview with an Australian radio show. “He’s a beautiful character and I have a great deal of professional pride and had I done a second season, there would have been a marked improvement in my performance. I was learning new skills, in terms of playing light comedy. I was not known for light comedy and, again, production did not allow for that.”
Eccleston's relationship with the series has remained strained over the years, and he's recently revealed more about why. In March, he told The Guardian that, “What happened around Doctor Who almost destroyed my career. I gave them a hit show and I left with dignity and then they put me on a blacklist. I was carrying my own insecurities as it was something I had never done before and then I was abandoned, vilified in the tabloid press, and blacklisted." Right around the same time, he told Radio Times that, “My relationship with my three immediate superiors—the showrunner, the producer and co-producer—broke down irreparably during the first block of filming and it never recovered. They lost trust in me, and I lost faith and trust and belief in them.”
Despite all that, Eccleston is scheduled to make his first convention appearance later this year, when he appears at the London Film and Comic Con in July (where an autograph will reportedly cost you more than $100).
2. JASON PRIESTLEY // BEVERLY HILLS, 90210
In 1998, Jason Priestley left Beverly Hills, 90210 during the show's ninth season. Although he earned two Golden Globe nominations for his role as Brandon Walsh, and got the chance to direct a handful of episodes, Priestley believed he had explored every aspect of his character and could no longer play the role. However, he was disappointed with how the show ended in season 10 and felt that if he stayed on for one more season, it would’ve had a much more satisfying final year.
"In retrospect, I do regret leaving," Priestley told CNN in 2014. “Understanding what I do now about story and character, I believe that [Aaron Spelling] was pushing the story in a direction that would have had Brandon and Kelly end up together at the end of the show and I think I probably should have stuck around to its fruition."
Priestley was also upset that his leaving the show in some ways turned the series into something very different than what it was when it first aired in 1990. Beverly Hills, 90210 was originally about the Walsh family adjusting to life after moving from Minnesota to Beverly Hills, but quickly turned into a teen soap opera.
"I think there was no more moral center to the show," Priestley said. "There was no more linchpin. There were no more Walshes in the Walsh house. It kind of didn't make sense anymore. So, I regret leaving the show for all those reasons."
3. KATHERINE HEIGL // GREY’S ANATOMY
After gaining commercial and critical success as Dr. Isobel "Izzie" Stevens, Katherine Heigl left Grey’s Anatomy in 2010, after a very public feud with ABC and showrunner Shonda Rhimes. Despite winning an Emmy Award for the part in 2007, Heigl wasn't happy with her work on the medical drama. In 2008, she withdrew her name for Emmy consideration, saying that, “I did not feel that I was given the material this season to warrant an Emmy nomination and in an effort to maintain the integrity of the academy organization, I withdrew my name from contention. In addition, I did not want to potentially take away an opportunity from an actress who was given such materials."
Though her movie career was beginning to take off with plum roles in box office hits, another public feud—this time with her Knocked Up director Judd Apatow and co-star Seth Rogen—led to her being branded as "difficult" to work with. “There’s certainly things I regret about it,” Heigl told The Wall Street Journal of the episode in 2014.
In 2016, Heigl told Howard Stern that she had apologized to Rhimes. "I went in to Shonda and said, 'I'm so sorry. That wasn't cool. I should not have said that,'" she said. "I shouldn't have said anything publicly, but at the time, I didn't think anybody would notice.”
4. CHEVY CHASE // SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE
Chevy Chase was one of the original cast members on Saturday Night Live in 1975. While he was one of the show's first breakout stars, Chase left the now-iconic series after only one season to marry his second wife, Jacqueline Carlin.
“I tried to pretend that everything was great,” Chase told the Los Angeles Times in 2011 of leaving New York for Los Angeles. “I was leaving really because there was a girl I wanted to marry that I was infatuated with out here. The whole thing was crazy because I was a young fellow who was infatuated with the wrong person. Everybody there knew it except me. [A woman] who would not move to New York and insisted that I come there. It was all nuts, looking back on it. But I did regret it.”
5. WIL WHEATON // STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION
During the first four seasons of Star Trek: The Next Generation, Wil Wheaton played Wesley Crusher, the only son of Beverly Crusher, the chief medical officer aboard the USS Enterprise. He left the show in 1991 to pursue more acting opportunities in movies and TV.
“I left Star Trek: The Next Generation when I was 18 years old, and initially I thought it was a really smart business career move," Wheaton said during a Star Trek reunion at the Calgary Expo in 2012. "In some ways it was, and in more ways it wasn’t. What I was unprepared for was how much I was going to miss the people on this stage. After that ended, I just felt really ashamed of myself. I felt like I just couldn’t go to the set, and I felt like I couldn’t look them in the eye. I felt like I didn't have the right to invite them to my wedding. Years after that, I sort of saw them at a few conventions and I just, you know, I just tried to sort of say, 'I apologize for being a kid.'"
6. SUZANNE SOMERS // THREE’S COMPANY
In 1977, Suzanne Somers was cast to play Chrissy Snow on Three’s Company and immediately became a major celebrity. Before the beginning of season five, Somers requested a pay raise and a percentage of the show’s profits, but the producers denied her request and reduced her role to merely 60 seconds of screen time, which she shot separately from co-stars John Ritter and Joyce DeWitt.
Somers eventually quit Three’s Company, which divided the cast and escalated into a very public feud with producers. In addition, Ritter and DeWitt felt betrayed because of her request and completely shunned her for decades afterwards.
“To this day, I feel a sadness for not being able to finish out Three’s Company,” Somers told the Television Academy Foundation in 2012. “I still have a heartache that it ended so badly, this wonderful thing. Joyce DeWitt, to this day, doesn’t talk to me. John Ritter and I made up right before he died, which I was so glad.”
There's a happy ending to this story, though: In 2012, DeWitt and Somers reunited on Somers's talk show after 30 years of not speaking to each other.
7. DAVE CHAPPELLE // CHAPPELLE’S SHOW
During the massive success of Chappelle’s Show in the early 2000s, co-creator Dave Chappelle walked away from Comedy Central because he didn’t like where the show was heading and hated that his work was reduced to a series of catchphrases. He also believed that working 20 hours a day took away from his family and stand-up comedy career.
In 2005, Chappelle left the show and a new $50 million contract, and for the next eight years, he stayed out of the spotlight until he restarted his stand-up career. In 2014, he went on the Late Show With David Letterman to talk about life after Chappelle’s Show, as Letterman asked if he ever regretted turning down Comedy Central’s money.
“It’s very hard to go through something like this because no one’s really done it before. So there’s not too many people that don’t think I’m crazy, right?” said Chappelle. “Okay, fine, I don’t have $50 million or whatever it was. But say I have $10 million in the bank. The difference in lifestyle is minuscule. The only difference between having $10 million and $50 million is an astounding $40 million. Of course … of course, I would have liked to have that money.”
But what tens of millions he may be lacking in his bank account, Chappelle has more than made up for with perspective on his life and career. He spent more time with his family and produced a 2005 documentary with director Michel Gondry called Dave Chappelle's Block Party. In 2016, he signed a $60 million deal with Netflix for three comedy specials.
8. MCLEAN STEVENSON // M*A*S*H
Although M*A*S*H is one of the most beloved shows in TV history, its massive appeal made actor McLean Stevenson, who played Lt. Colonel Henry Blake, very uneasy because he was part of an extremely talented cast instead of being the sole superstar.
While he received critical acclaim and a Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actor, Stevenson left the show after his contract expired at the end of the third season in 1975—then had trouble finding work that matched the caliber of what M*A*S*H was producing.
"I've never been able to work with a group that's as talented or scripts that are as good,” Stevenson told The Baltimore Sun in 1990. “I made the mistake of believing that people were enamored of McLean Stevenson when the person they were enamored of was Henry Blake.”
9. BRIAN DUNKLEMAN // AMERICAN IDOL
In 2002, during the first season of American Idol, there were actually two hosts: Ryan Seacrest and Brian Dunkleman, who left the reality TV competition at the very beginning of its success. Dunkleman quit American Idol to pursue a career in stand-up comedy and acting, but his ambitions didn’t pan out as he planned.
“[T]he undeniable truth is, I just didn’t have the wisdom at the time to handle what was happening,” Dunkleman wrote in Variety in 2016. “Do I regret not remaining on the show now that it’s coming to an end? Yes. Especially when I open my bank statements.”
10. MICHAEL LEARNED // THE WALTONS
From 1972 to 1979, Michael Learned played Olivia Walton on The Waltons. After seven seasons as the family’s matriarch, Learned left the hit TV show because she didn’t feel the role was challenging enough as an actress, despite winning three Emmy Awards and earning four Golden Globe nominations for her performance.
“There’s been times when I’ve regretted it only in that it probably would have been better to complete the whole show,” Learned told Fox News in 2017. “But frankly, when John-Boy came back with a new face and a new voice, it was like something happened. I just couldn’t do it anymore … and also, I felt a lot of the times I was sitting around for 14 hours saying, 'More coffee John.'"
Olivia Walton was written out of The Waltons with the character developing severe tuberculosis and being sent to a sanatorium in Arizona. Learned returned to make a few special guest appearances, while she also reprised the role in four made-for-TV reunion movies.