15 TV Stars’ Early Roles


Your favorite TV stars didn’t always have such shiny hair. They didn’t always have such great fashion sense, and being a diehard fan of their flagship series didn’t always give you cultural cachet. Travel back in time to a far fuzzier age, when some of today’s biggest stars were getting their first taste of TV fame.

Leah Remini

Before she played Kevin James’s wife (ugh) on The King of Queens — and before she became an outspoken member of the disgruntled-ex-Scientologists club — Remini had a recurring role in Season 3 of Saved by the Bell as Stacey Carosi, who works alongside the Bayside High gang one summer at the Malibu resort her father owns. That same year, 1991, Remini appeared on Cheers as Carla Tortelli’s (Rhea Pearlman) daughter, Serafina.

Sarah Jessica Parker

It’s rare that an actor fuses so completely with her character in the public imagination, but before she became the glam Carrie Bradshaw (and before she played the trusty best friend in Footloose) the Sex and the City star was best known as the awkward high-schooler Patty Greene in the 1982-83 sitcom Square Pegs.

Michael J. Fox

For most of us, he’ll always be Marty McFly, (or, if you’re a millennial who grew up on after-school reruns, Mike Flaherty, New York’s deputy mayor, in the late- ’90s/early-2000s sitcom Spin City.) But Fox’s first big role was the staunchly conservative Alex P. Keaton on the Reagan-era sitcom Family Ties.

Melissa Joan Hart

Before she donned the pointy hat as the star of Sabrina the Teenage Witch, Hart played the title character in Clarissa Explains It All, the tween sitcom that aired from 1991 to 1994.

Mayim Bialik

She’s rolling in that Big Bang Theory money now, but in the early ’90s, Bialik played the poor man’s Clarissa, in my humble opinion, as the title character of Blossom. At least we can agree that both characters had heinous wardrobes.

Johnny Galecki

While we’re on the topic of that Big Bang Theory money, Bialik’s co-star Johnny Galecki was also a ’90s sitcom star, appearing as Darlene’s docile boyfriend, David, on Roseanne. Between those reruns and his current salary of a million dollars per episode (!!!!), I cannot even begin to fathom this dude’s net worth.

Kaley Cuoco

I’m starting to figure out the reason The Big Bang Theory is such a stronghold of network TV. Kaley Cuoco, a.k.a. Penny, first gained fame as Bridget Hennessy, the stereotypical ditzy blonde on the early 2000s sitcom 8 Simple Rules. I guess if it ain’t broke….

Claire Danes

Before she quivered her lower jaw as the brilliant, bipolar CIA agent Carrie Mathison on Homeland, she quivered her lower jaw as Angela Chase, the narrator and star of the seminal mid-’90s teen drama My So-Called Life .

Judith Light

You know her as the indefatigable Shelly Pfefferman, the matriarch of Transparent, but Judith Light — who began her career in the late 1970s as an award-winning soap star on One Life to Live — was best known as TV’s favorite mom on the 1980s sitcom Who’s the Boss?

Jeffrey Tambor

Transparent must have a thing for vintage sitcom stars: Before he transitioned from Mort to Maura Pfefferman — and before he appeared as the crooked patriarch of the Bluth clan in Arrested Development — Tambor played Hank Kingsley, the sidekick to late-night host Larry Sanders (Garry Shandling) on The Larry Sanders Show.

Jason Bateman

It’s been off the air for years but it’s still hard to shake the image of Bateman as Arrested Development’s deadpan voice of reason, Michael Bluth. But in the ’80s, Bateman made his name as the horny teenager David Hogan on Valerie (later renamed The Hogan Family), starring Valerie Harper as a mother of three.

Kenan Thompson

The longest-running SNL cast member to date has been on TV since he was a kid: He first appearance was on CNN, as a young correspondent for “Real News for Kids.” From 1996 to 2000, Thompson co-starred in the Nickelodeon sitcom Kenan & Kel alongside Kel Mitchell. (The pair also starred in the 1997 comedy Good Burger).

Neil Patrick Harris

If Harris always seemed a little too comfortable in those ever-present suits as How I Met Your Mother’s resident cad Barney Stinson, it’s for good reason: He got his start as title child genius on Doogie Howser, M.D., who becomes a licensed doctor at age 14. At the show’s start, he’s a 16-year-old, second-year resident surgeon.

Maura Tierney

The star of The Affair was already well known for her decade-long role as Dr. Abby Lockhart on ER. Before she put on the white coat, though, she had another long-running role as smarty-pants news producer Lisa Miller on the ’90s sitcom NewsRadio.

Queen Latifah

Something tells me history will not remember Queen Latifah for her current TV role as the den mama Carlotta Brown on Star . The multi-hyphenate will more likely be remembered for Living Single, the 1990s sitcom about a group of besties living in a Brooklyn brownstone. She even wrote and performed the show’s theme song.