Following tonight’s primetime Olympic footage, NBC will air a special debut presentation of the upcoming sitcom About A Boy. The single camera comedy is an adaptation of Nick Hornby’s beloved book About A Boy. It was created for the screen by Parenthood and Friday Night Lights showrunner Jason Katims, and the network is clearly hoping it, along with Growing Up Fisher, will push NBC into a new era of comedy. Unfortunately, there’s just one little elephant in the room.
Lead actor David Walton, who is undeniably handsome, charismatic and likeable, has been down this road before—like more than five times before, and every single time, the show in question hasn’t exactly stuck around. Was he the problem with those cancelled programs? No. He continues to get work, but for whatever reason, he just can’t buy a hit where he’s a lead character. And he’s not the only one. Hollywood is filled with wonderful talents who keep taking cracks at television shows, only to see every effort come up a little short.
Here are six actors who just can’t break through on television, regardless of how hard TV executives keep pushing them.
Many of us would probably like to believe that Fox’s short-lived series The Finder marks the beginning of handsome leading man Geoff Stults’ problems on television. In truth, he’s been the kind of guy that always gets work, but never manages to entice an audience for more than a season or so. After a successful stint as a side character on 7th Heaven in the mid-2000s, Stults began nabbing bigger roles, starring in the 2007 ABC drama October Road and the 2010 drama Happy Town.
After those programs failed to gain any traction, the man hopped networks for the aforementioned The Finder, a sort-of spinoff for Fox’s hit, Bones. That gig raised the actor’s profile for TV aficionados and helped him to nab a pretty big role on Ben & Kate (cancelled) and Enlisted (likely to be cancelled). Which means that thus far, Stults’ most impressive role has been on October Road, which actually did manage to nab a second season on ABC. He has the self-assurance and acting finesse to make it with the right role, but for whatever reason, it just hasn’t come along yet.
Kyle Bornheimer has a loveable face and goofy charisma. Because of this, it’s a little sad to see him on this list, but man, the dude cannot make a series work. His best bid was his first big series, Worst Week, which aired on CBS way back in 2008 opposite How I Met Your Mother and Two and a Half Men. It’s easy to see why Worst Week had trouble competing with those big comedies, but it was pulling at least 8-9 million viewers an episode…
…which is better than we can say for his more recent starring gigs. Back in 2011, Bornheimer played ½ of one of the couples in, um, Perfect Couples. That obviously didn’t turn out well, getting replaced by The Paul Reiser Show on NBC after a paltry three episodes. Then, there were the forgettable midseason replacements Romantically Challenged and Family Tools. In the man’s defense, he’s extremely watchable on television, and with the right project, maybe one day he’ll be able to write himself off of this list. It’ll have to be one hell of a project, though, because he doesn’t exactly have any momentum going.
Walton is really, really good at playing dudes who have a little heart beneath their cocky exteriors, but thus far, his career as a television actor has been a disappointing series of cancellations. He first broke out on the Mike White comedy Cracking Up, which lasted six episodes. He then appeared on Heist, Quarterlife and 100 Questions, none of which lasted a full season. Later, he teamed with poor Kyle Bornheimer to play ½ of one of the other couples in, um, Perfect Couples, but as you read in the last entry, that was a failure too, as was Bent.
A few of those shows didn’t exactly get a very good push from the network and were in danger of cancellation before they even premiered, but some of the others were given multiple chances to succeed. Walton is too good to be best known for the forgettable movie Fired Up for the rest of his life. Hopefully, About A Boy is the one that finally gets him over the top.
Laura Benanti is a veteran in the acting world, receiving a Tony for her work in the Broadway musical Gypsy. Her transition into television hasn’t seen the same success, however. Her first big TV gig, Starved, aired in the same block as It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, but the audience didn’t translate over and the show was cancelled. Other small roles followed until Benanti landed in the limelight with The Playboy Club, a glitzy period drama set in the 1960s in the swaggy atmosphere of Chicago’s famous nightclub. That one only lasted three episodes before NBC buried its head in shame and cancelled the drama.
However, NBC really seemed to like Benanti’s onscreen presence, hiring the actress the following year to star in Go On, a funny and irreverent comedy starring Matthew Perry (who has had his own troubles on TV lately). Go On did decently in the ratings at NBC, but in a mad frenzy, NBC purged most of its comedy lineup last spring, leaving Benanti without a job. Luckily, she isn’t the sort of woman who must be a lead or go bust. She’s found steady work on Burn Notice and in The Sound Of Music Live! since then, but she still hasn’t found the pilot that turns her into a bonafide TV star. At least she always has her theater cred to fall back on.
Minka Kelly has been a great supporting player on a lot of great television shows like Parenthood and Friday Night Lights. There’s something about her smile that just lights up the room. It led Yankees great Derek Jeter to take notice en route to a multiple year relationship, and it led the CW to snag her for a pilot called Body Politic back in 2009. Unfortunately, that effort apparently didn’t turn out so well because it never saw the light of day. Two years later, ABC hired her to topline its glitzy Charlie’s Angels reboot. Tons of money was poured into advertising and promotional appearances, but the ratings were horrible and it was axed almost immediately.
Now, Kelly has found a steady job on Almost Human. Great news, right? Well, maybe not. Ratings have been aggressively mediocre thus far, and predictions are flying in that it may not see a second season. That’s too bad too considering, unlike the majority of the shows on this list, that one seems to have actually found an invested fanbase.
Wait, what? Really? Christian Slater? Undoubtedly the most famous person on this list, Slater has opened more than his share of good movies. He’s hosted Saturday Night Live and could not walk into any busy, well lit bar in America without being at least vaguely recognized by someone. That being said, his track record on TV is actually quite poor. In 2009, ABC convinced him to topline The Forgotten. They gave the show 17 episodes, a heavy marketing push and even a new female lead, but a second season wasn’t in the cards. Two years later, he tried his hand again, this time with the vehicle Breaking In. It premiered as a midseason replacement and got extended into the following year, but when it returned, ratings were horrible and it was quickly cancelled.
Next week, Slater will return alongside veteran actor and all-around badass Steve Zahn in Mind Games. The show will follow two brothers who use a combination of manipulation and science to solve the problems of their paying clients. It actually sounds pretty good, but given it hasn’t exactly been advertised at full blast and is premiering in February, I probably wouldn’t get my hopes up too much.
Enthusiastic about Clue, case-of-the-week mysteries, the NBA and cookies at Disney World. Less enthusiastic about the pricing structure of cable, loud noises and Tuesdays.
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