Two Guys, a Girl and a TV Set

Three college friends out in the world, filling the void with television…and loving it.

List: Lightning Strikes Twice…Sometimes

Posted by Mr. Feeny on September 16, 2009

With Jay Leno’s attempt at re-branding himself, it got me thinking. Very rarely is an actor or actress able to repeat their biggest success in a later venture. It just doesn’t happen very often. A person becomes permanently linked to their first popular role and can never really break away.

You see actors try it all the time. And some gain moderate success. Currently, Julia Louis-Dreyfus would be a good example. She’ll never be know for being Christine. She’s always Elaine. But at least her show keeps getting decent ratings.

Kelsey Grammar can’t say the same. He played Frasier for 20 years. On two different shows, but the same character. But his attempt at Back to You was poorly received and Hank is already being lampooned by critics and it hasn’t even debuted yet.

So who are the rare gems? The ones who strike gold in two (or more) shows? Spin-offs not included. I’m sure I’m missing some, so please add your suggestions! Especially actresses. This is list is very short on them.

*Episode totals are just for episodes they appeared in

  • Bob Newhart — Of course, it’s easy when you don’t have to really change your character. Just the profession (psychiatrist to innkeeper) and setting (Chicago to Vermont). But Bob was the same reserved, deadpan humorist in both The Bob Newhart Show and Newhart, making him beloved twice over. He didn’t need to reinvent the wheel…just keep the jokes fresh and funny. His second show actually ran longer, 184 episodes to 142. We can ignore his third (Bob) and fourth (George & Leo) goes. The criteria was only two successes. Of course, if you wanted to be literal, I guess Newhart was always just a part of The Bob Newhart Show anyway, based on the famous finale.
  • Dick Van Dyke — One of the best ways to increase your chances of a double strike is by putting several decades between the two. In truth, the audiences were probably the same for The Dick Van Dyke Show and Diagnosis Murder, but the former had aged and enjoyed seeing their old friend on TV again. But Van Dyke successfully brought in younger viewers too, keeping it on the air for 178 episodes (compared to 158 for the original sitcom). In between, he did dabble in other projects, like The New Dick Van Dyke Show. That would have doomed him to our list of failed comebacks if not for the clever idea to try a new genre.
  • Michael Landon — I think it’s safe to say Michael Landon broke the mold not twice, but three times. Immensely popular as Little Joe, he gained an almost equal following by growing up and raising kids of his own in a Little House on the Prairie. But having dominated the 60s and 70s on two different shows, he decided to make his mark on the 80s. Although Highway to Heaven ran for just 73 episodes (compared to 183 for Little House…and a whopping 429 for Bonanza), Landon proved that he could carry a show no matter what the premise. I’m sure if cancer hadn’t taken his life, he’d be doing it all over again now.
  • Lucille Ball — No list like this could be complete without the Queen of Comedy. And unlike Landon or Van Dyke, that’s all she used to make her mark again and again on television. She played the same ditzy, scheming red head in each of her three successful shows…but by far her most acclaim came when you could only guess that hair was red. I Love Lucy is, in my opinion, the greatest comedy of all time. It’s the Babe Ruth of sitcoms. The Michael Jordan of sitcoms. And what happened when they left the Yankees and Bulls respectively? They failed, faded and quickly retired. Not Lucy. After 181 episodes as Lucy Ricardo (plus the 13 comedy hours), she struck gold again with The Lucy Show (156ep) and then made Here’s Lucy (140ep) a success (though it gets the fewest, if any, reruns). But how many actors or actresses can lead three shows to at least 14o episodes in less than 20 years?
  • Ron Howard — Howard probably had it easiest of anyone on this list. That’s not to take away from his skills as an actor. It’s just that when you’re a star at such a young age, it’s easier to redefine yourself later. Clearly he did that in real life, becoming an award-winning director. But on the small screen, Howard grew up from Opie to Richie, but never lost the appeal of the audience. Of course, it helped that Richie was about as clean cut as you could get…basically a taller version of Opie. But he had to take on a leading role, with some serious subjects and convince viewers that he was just as likeable as a teenager. And he succeeded. The Andy Griffith Show ran for 210 episodes and Happy Days went 171 (four more seasons after he left). And, as much as I’d like to, I can’t call Arrested Development a success.
  • Andy Griffith — Naturally, Andy Griffith belongs on this list as well. He became beloved by America in 249 episodes as Sheriff Taylor…and then left us for two decades (By the way, those 249 episodes were in 8 years…boy do I miss those days of 30+ episode seasons). But then he set the precedent that Dick Van Dyke would follow. If this were a ranked list, Griffith would go above him. But I wrote it as I thought of each actor. Griffith flipped the tables on his comedic side and started solving crimes. Matlock ran for 181 episodes and introduced him to a whole new legion of fans…while also appealing the now more refined tastes of his original followers. Just like DVD.
  • Mary Tyler Moore — How could I go this long without remembering Dick Van Dyke’s co-star? As Laura Petrie, she introduced viewers to a more normal and classy housewife than Lucy…but often just as scatter-brained. She was a new brand of comedic actress. And after The Dick Van Dyke Show’s 153 episodes, MTM set off on her own, showing that she’s gonna make it after all. (Sorry, had to do it). What her first show started, Mary Tyler Moore completed. A new brand of sitcom, with a single woman as the star. No family. Just her in the workplace. And America loved it, keeping it on the air for 168 episodes.
  • Bea Arthur — Initially, my love of Broadway influenced this pick. But then I checked on how many episodes of Maude there were. 141. That’s no small feat. I said spin-offs don’t count. But they do if the original show isn’t part of the 1-2 punch. Arthur took a guest starring role on All in the Family and made it her own, taking Mary Tyler Moore’s independent female to a whole new level. She then kept that same type of character…really, could Bea play anything else…and became even more popular as Dorothy in The Golden Girls, which ran for 180 episodes.
  • Larry Hagman — The one on here that I think had the least amount of cross-over. It’s one thing for comedy fans to age and appreciate a comedic mystery hour, ala Diagnosis Murder or Matlock. But to go from the light-hearted fare of I Dream of Jeannie to the serious primetime soap opera of Dallas. Well, it’s completely different characters. But Hagman gained recognition for both. Jeannie lasted 139 episodes. A solid run, but it can’t compare to the 357 episodes of Dallas in which he appeared. Not to mention being part of one of the biggest television mysteries of all time: Who shot JR?
  • Sally Field — And finally, one more triple threat. As Brothers & Sisters enters its fourth season, and Field looks about 20 years younger than she actually is, it’s easy to forget that most of her viewers now probably don’t know her as either Gidget or Sister Bertrille. Based on episode totals alone, she probably doesn’t belong on this list. Gidget only lasted one 32-episode season and The Flying Nun went 78 (Brothers & Sisters will pass that this year). But she made such an impact in both roles that she deserves credit for striking gold twice…especially now that she’s won an Emmy as Nora Walker. While probably seen more as a movie actress, she made her mark on the small screen thrice over.
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16 Responses to “List: Lightning Strikes Twice…Sometimes”

  1. Blu said

    William Shatner
    Heather Locklear
    Michael J Fox
    Richard Dean Anderson

    Those are just off the top of my head real quick.

  2. Blu said

    Greg Evigan
    Paul Reiser
    Danny DeVito
    Ron Perlman

  3. Blu said

    Betty White
    Ted Knight
    Gavin MacLeoud

  4. Mr. Feeny said

    Nice list, Blu! I was *this* close to including William Shatner. After all, he’s Denny Crane.

    Definitely agree with Heather Locklear, Richard Dean Anderson and Gavin MacLeod.

    But the others, I’m not so sure of. It’s gotta be a genuine hit both times. Does that apply to “Spin City”? I think it probably falls more into the “New Adventures of Old Christine” category.

    I don’t know “Too Close for Comfort,” so I’ll take your word on it for Ted Knight. But I think Betty White had too small a role on “Mary Tyler Moore” to be considered a twice-striker.

    As much as I love “Sunny,” I don’t think it’s a huge hit for DeVito. Same with Ron Perlman and “Sons of Anarchy” after one season…but I can’t figure out what his first hit would have been. Certainly not “Beauty and the Beast.”

    Although, that reminds me. David Boreanaz might belong on this list.

    It’s probably a stretch to include Paul Reiser. “My Two Dads” wasn’t exactly a hit. Which definitely keeps Greg Evigan off the list. Sorry, I know you like “BJ and the Bear”…but it’s not even close.

  5. Blu said

    What is the qualification of hit? Popularity or length of a run?
    Beauty and the beast was certainly a hit.
    Which reminds me that Shatner had three shows. TJ Hooker:)

    and a few more names for the list.
    Tony Danza
    Marylou Henner
    Don Johnson
    Edward James Olmos

  6. Blu said

    If My Two Dads is off the list then so is DVD, Diagnosis Murder was about as popular, a weak addition at best.

    • Mr. Feeny said

      I think popularity and length of run are pretty much the same. A show wouldn’t last for hundreds of episodes if it weren’t popular. And a widely popular show wouldn’t get canceled if it were actually a hit. (which is why Sally Field on the list is a stretch). I haven’t seen “Beauty and the Beast,” but as I understand it, it was a cult favorite.

      “Diagnosis Murder” had three times as many episodes as “My Two Dads”. No way they’re comparable.

      Tony Danza’s perfect. Just as popular in both shows, I think. We’ll just forget the talk show. And Don Johnson’s a great one. Edward James Olmos too.

      I openly concede that I’m pretty young. There’s a ton of shows I’ve never seen. But I figure if they were really hits, they’d be in reruns. Or I’d have at least heard of them. I’ve never seen a second of “Dallas” or “Dynasty,” but I know they were huge. But Marilu Henner in “Evening Shade?” This is the first I’ve heard of that show.

      I’m loving the discussion, though. Keep it coming!

  7. Blu said

    Evening shade was a great show!
    I’d love to have that series on DVD for sure!

  8. Blu said

    David Hasslehoff!
    How could I forget him?!?!

  9. Blu said

    Gerald McRaney

  10. Mr. Feeny said

    How about Jack Klugman?

  11. Blu said

    Jack is perfect!
    Ted Danson
    Avery Brooks
    Scott Bakula

  12. Mr. Feeny said

    See, now we’re stretching. I considered Danson and Bakula. But both their seconds were not big hits. Becker and Enterprise had some following…you wouldn’t call them flops…but they’re not on the same level as the originals. On the flip side, I don’t think Avery’s first makes teh cut.

    Gerald McRaney’s good. Hasselhoff’s for sure in there. I can’t believe I forgot William Daniels. For St. Elsewhere, Nightrider and Boy Meets World.

  13. Blu said

    Ernest Borgnine

  14. Blu said

    You know this really is a great conversation, your blogging buddies should join in.

  15. Blu said

    Howard Hessman
    Terri Hatcher
    Ricky Schroeder

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