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Top 10 Iconic TV Roles that Were Almost Played by Other Actors

VO: Rebecca Brayton
Written by Spencer Sher Caution: mind-boggling revelations ahead. Welcome to WatchMojo.com, and today we’ll be counting down our picks for the Top 10 Iconic TV Roles that Were Almost Played by Other Actors. For this list, we’ll be looking at well-known small screen roles that could have ended up being very different if they had gone to other actors. We’ll be excluding people who still ended up with a main role on the show; like Courteney Cox, who read for the part of Rachel on “Friends” before being cast as Monica.
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Caution: mind-boggling revelations ahead. Welcome to WatchMojo.com, and today we’ll be counting down our picks for the Top 10 Iconic TV Roles that Were Almost Played by Other Actors.

For this list, we’ll be looking at well-known small screen roles that could have ended up being very different if they had gone to other actors. We’ll be excluding people who still ended up with a main role on the show; like Courteney Cox, who read for the part of Rachel on “Friends” before being cast as Monica.

#10: Hank Azaria as Joey Tribbiani
“Friends” (1994-2004)

It’s a little hard to imagine anyone other than Matt LeBlanc playing Joey, the show’s lovable goofball with a penchant for women and sandwiches. However, future “Friends” alumni Hank Azaria tried desperately to land the part. The longtime “Simpsons” voice actor once admitted that the role of Joey Tribbiani was “the only job I ever auditioned for twice.” In regard to LeBlanc’s Season One performance, Azaria went so far as to say, “I could’ve been funnier than him!” Azaria eventually changed his opinion (thank god!) and went on to appear in five episodes of the iconic sitcom as David, a physicist that Phoebe falls for.

#9: Katherine Heigl as Jen Lindley
“Dawson’s Creek” (1998-2003)

Katherine Heigl, known for her work in the stoner comedy “Knocked Up,” as well as for her time on “Grey’s Anatomy,” nearly landed a role on another super successful TV show years earlier. The role in question was that of Jen Lindley on “Dawson’s Creek,” one that ultimately went to future Academy Award nominee Michelle Williams. According to the show’s creator, Kevin Williamson, he was very impressed with Heigl, saying “She gave a great audition, I remember we were all sort of like, 'Wow, she's good.'" Despite this glowing review, he decided to go with Williams and the rest is history.

#8: Thomas Jane as Don Draper
“Mad Men” (2007-15)

“Mad Men” would not be “Mad Men” without Jon Hamm, plain and simple. His nuanced performance as 60s ad exec Don Draper won him two Golden Globes and cemented his legacy as one of the small screen’s all-time greats. And yet, the role was almost played by Thomas Jane. “The Punisher” star actually turned down the role, which begs the question: what was he thinking? This was not the only time Jane brushed shoulders with an iconic role only to keep on walking, as he was Frank Darabont’s first choice to play Rick Grimes on “The Walking Dead.” But when HBO passed on the show, Jane went elsewhere.

#7: Connie Britton as Olivia Pope
“Scandal” (2012-18)

Connie Britton, best known for playing Tami Taylor on “Friday Night Lights” has appeared in dozens of films and TV shows over the years; and she came pretty close to adding “Scandal” to that list back in 2012. She was one of ABC’s first choices for the role of Olivia Pope, which was an issue for creator Shonda Rhimes, who’d written the part with a black woman in mind. The network ultimately relented and Kerry Washington was cast as Pope, making her the first black woman to land a leading role in a television drama in over 30 years!

#6: Katie Holmes as Buffy Summers
“Buffy the Vampire Slayer” (1997-2003)

“Buffy the Vampire Slayer” could have looked a whole lot different had a couple of well-known actors said yes instead of no. Katie Holmes was offered the role of Buffy Summers and Ryan Reynolds was approached to play her friend Xander. Both actors wound up passing, opening the door for Sarah Michelle Gellar and Nicholas Brendon, respectively. Seeing as how Holmes and Reynolds both went on to have successful careers in the entertainment industry, we doubt they regret their decision. As for Gellar and Brendon, well, one could argue that Buffy and Xander remain their best-known roles.

#5: Dana Delany as Carrie Bradshaw
“Sex and the City” (1998-04)

“Sex and the City” made waves for its groundbreaking subject matter and plethora of unique characters. At the forefront was protagonist Carrie Bradshaw, who was played to perfection by Sarah Jessica Parker. However, it was Dana Delany and not Parker who was offered first crack at the role. So why did Delany pass on the show that would later become a cultural phenomenon? Sex. It was because of the sex. In an interview with the Daily Mail she said, “I didn’t want to be in a show about sex. The part went to Sarah Jessica Parker and it made her into a worldwide star, but I’ve got no regrets.” Fair enough!

#4: Matthew Broderick as Walter White
“Breaking Bad” (2008-13)

Now this one is surprising to say the least. We have a hard time picturing Matthew Broderick as Walter White telling his wife, “I am the one who knocks,” with any sort of believability. And yet, it almost came to fruition. Broderick and John Cusack were AMC’s first choices for the role of the cancer-suffering chemistry teacher who turns to a life of crime in order to support his family. They were hesitant to go with Bryan Cranston - showrunner Vince Gilligan’s initial choice – but after Gillian showed them an episode of “The X-Files” in which Cranston played a terminally ill anti-Semite, they gave in. It’s truly scary to think what might have been…

#3: Rob Lowe as Derek Shepherd
“Grey’s Anatomy” (2005-)

Unlike our previous entry, this one is considerably less far-fetched. Rob Lowe was the first actor up for the part of Derek Shepherd, aka McDreamy, one that ultimately went to Patrick Dempsey. According to Lowe, he “agreed to meet with the people making Grey’s Anatomy” and that he read the script, feeling that the writing was “crisp, real and very entertaining.” In the end, Lowe passed in order to play, get this, another doctor! That’s right, folks. Lowe accepted the role of Dr. Billy Grant on the short-lived CBS series, “Dr. Vegas.” In contrast, “Grey’s Anatomy” is still going strong more than a decade later.

#2: Matt LeBlanc as Phil Dunphy
“Modern Family” (2009-)

Could you honestly picture anyone other than Ty Burrell playing Phil Dunphy? The role has earned him two Primetime Emmy Awards for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series and we feel confident in saying that “Modern Family” would not be the same without him. Of course, we wouldn’t be discussing Burrell or his most iconic character if another well-known actor hadn’t almost landed the part before him. Matt LeBlanc was offered the part of Dunphy, but turned it down. He said he felt the script was great, but that he’d “be doing the project an injustice” if he accepted the role. Now that’s the kind of maturity that only comes from a seasoned vet!

Before we unveil our top pick, here are a few honorable mentions:

Rumer Willis as Serena van der Woodsen
“Gossip Girl” (2007-12)

David Duchovny as Danny Tanner, Joey Gladstone or Jesse Katsopolis
“Full House” (1987-95)

Tom Selleck as Mitch Buchannon
“Baywatch” (1989-2001)

#1: Chris Rock as George Costanza
“Seinfeld” (1989-98)

Yes, you heard that correctly. Actor and comedian Chris Rock was offered the role of George Costanza, Jerry’s neurotic, social awkward best friend, but ultimately turned it down. According to casting director Marc Herschfield, “we saw every actor we could possibly see in Los Angeles" in the hunt to find the perfect George. Danny DeVito and Nathan Lane were also considered before Seinfeld and Larry David settled on Jason Alexander. This was not the only character to have almost been played by someone else, as Elaine was almost played by none other than Rosie O’Donnell… not that there’s anything wrong with that.
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