10 Iconic TV Roles That Almost Went to Another Actor

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Casting can make or break a TV series. Think about some of the most popular shows in TV history, and try to imagine someone else playing the lead character. What would All in the Family be without Carroll O’Connor’s Archie Bunker? How about Home Improvement without the comedic genius of Tim Allen? Sometimes fate helps an actor or actress land the role that defines their career and helps turn a show into an enduring classic. Here’s a look at 10 iconic TV roles, and some of the performers who were seriously considered for the gig.


10. Jeff Goldblum as Jack Bauer in 24

A Fox executive originally wanted Jeff Goldlum in the role of Jack Bauer on the action series 24.

Fox considered Jeff Goldblum to play Jack Bauer before Kiefer Sutherland landed the role; © Fox, Paul Rudman (inset)

Once you’ve seen Jack Bauer scream at terrorists or shoot a bad guy in the leg during an interrogation, it’s impossible to imagine anyone other than Kiefer Sutherland in this iconic role. But Howard Gordon, one of the show’s writers and producers, told Sky UK in 2010 that someone at Fox originally had someone very different in mind for the role. “This is a crazy thought, but at one point Jeff Goldblum was actually being considered for Jack Bauer,” Gordon said. “But once Kiefer came up that was pretty much done.”


9. Lloyd Bridges as Captain Kirk on Star Trek

Gene Roddenberry had several actors in mind before picking William Shatner to play Captain Kirk.

Lloyd Bridges (inset) was the first choice to play Captain James T. Kirk on Star Trek.

Better known today as the father of actors Jeff and Beau Bridges, Lloyd Bridges had star power in the early 1960s for his lead role in the TV series Sea Hunt. In 1964, Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry pitched Bridges on playing the role of a starship captain in the pilot episode of the series. According to Memory-Alpha.org, a Star Trek fan page, Bridges declined because he had already endured one sci-fi flop in his career, the 1950 movie Rocketship X-M. The role of Captain Christopher Pike in that pilot went to film actor Jeffrey Hunter. When Hunter declined to appear in a second pilot, Roddenberry contacted Jack Lord (later of Hawaii Five-0 fame). That deal fell through when Lord allegedly requested 50 percent ownership in the show. So Roddenberry had to settle for William Shatner in the role. Not a bad backup plan.


8. Danny DeVito as George Costanza in Seinfeld

Seinfeld producers considered many different actors in trying to fill the roles of Jerry Seinfeld's friends.

Seinfeld would have been different with Danny DeVito in the role of George Costanza; Inset photo by Gage Skidmore

DeVito is 15 years older than Jason Alexander, but the two actors share similar traits; still, it’s hard to imagine a character as old as DeVito being as incredibly naïve as Alexander played Costanza. According to the entertainment website Splitsider.com, DeVito wasn’t the only interesting casting choice considered for this classic series. Other actors considered for the role of Costanza included Steve Buscemi, David Alan Grier and even David Letterman’s longtime band leader Paul Shaffer, who years later said he was offered the role. Among those considered for the role of Elaine: Rosie O’Donnell, Patricia Heaton (Everybody Loves Raymond) and Megan Mullally (Will & Grace).


7. Nick Nolte as Sonny Crockett on Miami Vice

Nick Nolte was an early favorite to land one of the lead roles in Miami Vice.

Nick Nolte was considered for the role that went to Don Johnson in Miami Vice; Image included under Fair Use guidelines.

According to IMDB.com, both Nick Nolte and Jeff Bridges were considered for the co-lead role played by Don Johnson in this hit 1980s TV series. In that era, however, successful film stars rarely ventured into the lower-paying, less prestigious world of TV. As for the role of Ricardo Tubbs played by Philip Michael Thomas, one of the initial candidates was a young Denzel Washington.


6. Matthew Broderick as Alex Keaton on Family Ties

Michael J. Fox's first audience as Alex Keaton did not go well.

Family Ties might have looked different with Matthew Broderick (inset, 1986) in place of Michael J. Fox; Towpilot

With apologies to Justine Bateman and the rest of the cast, Michael J. Fox carried this popular 1980s show with his sharp-witted conservatism. Now imagine Matthew Broderick in that role. According to IMDB.com, Broderick, at the time a Broadway actor with no Hollywood experience, was first considered for the role but rejected it because he didn’t want to be bound by a lengthy TV contract. That worked out well for Broderick, as he soon hit it big in movies with War Games (1983) and Ferris Buehler’s Day Off (1986). As for Fox, his first audition for the role almost killed his chances, as series creator Gary David Goldberg though he was too much of a smart aleck for the part.


5. Michael Richards as Al Bundy in Married… With Children

Married... with Children's Al Bundy role almost went to Michael Richards.

Could you picture Michael Richards as Al Bundy?; © Sony Pictures Home Entertainment/Alan Light (inset)

Michael Richards became such a scene stealer as Kramer in Seinfeld that producers asked the studio audience to limit their applause when he entered the set; seems the other characters complained that the overwhelming ovations he received were throwing off the timing of scenes. It would be easy to picture Richards playing the role of the beleaguered Al Bundy that went to Ed O’Neill. Richards auditioned for the role and got a call back. As he later told Access Hollywood, he thought he was “head-to-head” with O’Neill for the part, but doesn’t regret not getting it because O’Neill “was so perfect for the role.”


4. Gregory Peck as Steve McGarrett in Hawaii Five-0

Gregory Peck was supposedly offered the job of Steve McGarrett on Hawaii Five-0.

Jack Lord’s role as Steve McGarrett in Hawaii Five-0 might have gone to Gregory Peck (inset, 1973); Allan Warren

It would be hard to imagine anyone other than Jack Lord playing the taciturn leader of special police unit Hawaii Five-0 in this series that ran 1968-1980 on CBS. But producer Leonard Freeman initially had someone else in mind for the role. “You always start with Gregory Peck,” Freeman told TV Guide in 1969. “Who knows? You might call him up and he’d feel like doing a television series that day. After that, you put a lot of names in a hopper and finally sift them down to one.” As Freeman explained, Lord was high on the original list.


3. Betty White and Rue McClanahan Traded Roles in The Golden Girls

Betty White and Rue McClanahan swapped roles in The Golden Girls © Touchstone Television/Buena Vista International

The enduring popularity of The Golden Girls is due in no small part to the incredible chemistry between the four lead characters. Now imagine Betty White playing the role of sex-crazed Blanche Devereaux, and Rue McClanahan as the ditzy Rose Nylund. According to Entertainment Weekly, that’s how director Jay Sandrich initially envisioned the show, because they’d played similar roles on other shows (McClanahan on Maude, White on The Mary Tyler Moore Show). But worried that the two women might be typecast in those roles, Sandrich asked them at the last minute before their auditions to switch parts.


2. Former NFL star Fred Dryer as Sam Malone on Cheers

Former NFL star Fred Dryer was almost cast in the lead role in Cheers.

Fred Dryer (inset) lost out on the role of Sam Malone to Ted Danson; © Paramount Television

During the creation of Cheers, the producers pictured the character of Sam Malone as an ex-NFL player. And they had the perfect actor in mind — former NFL all-pro defensive lineman Fred Dryer, who had recently retired to pursue an acting career. Ultimately, the producers went with a more experienced actor, Ted Danson, in the role; given Danson’s thin physique, they decided to make his character a former baseball player. Dryer, who made several guest appearances on Cheers, eventually went on to star in the action series Hunter.


1. Gene Hackman as Mike Brady in the Brady Bunch

Gene Hackman might have landed the role of Mike Brady.

Gene Hackman allegedly lost out on the role of Mike Brady because he lacked TV acting experience.

According to BradyWorld.com, Brady Bunch producer Sherwood Schwartz had Gene Hackman in mind as his first choice for the Brady Bunch patriarch. Paramount, the TV studio producing the show, rejected Hackman because he lacked TV acting experience. Enter Robert Reed as the mild-mannered architect.


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