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How Grey’s Anatomy Stars Paid Their Dues

by Diane Werts April 24, 2008 7:00 am
How <I>Grey’s Anatomy</I> Stars Paid Their Dues

As Grey's Anatomy finally returns with new post-strike episodes this week, we realize how much we missed the actors in that familiar ensemble. But it isn't just Grey's they're familiar from. Nearly all the cast members bounced around through other short-lived shows before landing in their current ABC megahit.

TV makes most of its stars work for what they get. How many shows was George Clooney in before ER? Five? Eight? (And can you name them? We've got answers below.)

Same with Grey's. Though title star Ellen Pompeo and costar Sara Ramirez arrived as fairly fresh faces, their cast mates have been through the network mill and back. They earned their quality time in the spotlight. Especially since their previous series weren't always brilliant. (Usually just cancelled.)

Here's a reminder where they served time before Grey's sprung them to stardom.

James Pickens Jr. (Dr. Webber) gives Clooney a run for his money. After four years in NBC's old daytime soap Another World (as Zack Edwards), he moved through supporting roles on such prime-timers as -- take a deep breath -- Beverly Hills 90210 (as Henry Thomas, Fox, 1991), The X-Files (FBI deputy director, Fox, 1998-2002) and Rob Lowe's legal drama The Lyons Den (NBC, 2003). That's in addition to recurring stints on Philly (Kim Delaney legal drama, ABC, 2001), The Practice (ABC, 1999), Brooklyn South (David Milch cop drama, CBS, 1997) and Roseanne (ABC, 1993). Among others.

Chandra Wilson (Dr. Bailey) acted from a wheelchair in Jason Alexander's first post-Seinfeld foray, the one-month-wonder Bob Patterson (ABC, 2001). She played a less-than-helpful secretary to his "motivational speaker." (Note to networks: If the lead character sounds that amorphous, don't make the show.)

T.R. Knight (George) didn't fare much better in the two-episode summer sitcom Charlie Lawrence (CBS, 2003), playing an intern to Nathan Lane's TV-star-turned-congressman. (The kiss of death here: noted series-killer Ted McGinley as a rival congressman.)

Chyler Leigh (Lexie) really made the rounds of short-runs. She had regular roles on Gregory Harrison's family drama Safe Harbor (WB, 1999), That '80s Show (as punk teen Tuesday, Fox, 2002), David E. Kelley's legal drama Girls Club (as Carla, Fox, 2002), and the truncated mystery saga Reunion (Fox, 2005). She also spent time on The Practice (Claire, ABC, 2003).

Katherine Heigl (Izzie) actually made a pretty big previous series splash. In three seasons of the youth/cult fave Roswell (WB/UPN, 1999-2002), she played an alien teen named, oddly enough, Isabel.

Sandra Oh (Cristina) got widely seen, too, as Robert Wuhl's loyal secretary Rita in HBO's long-running sports agent comedy "Arli$$ (1996-2002).

Justin Chambers (Alex) played an ex-con ranch hand in Ann-Margret's two-weeks-and-gone nighttime soap Four Corners (CBS, 1998).

Eric Dane (Dr. Mark Sloan) got his medical bona fides under Andre Braugher's hotshot doctor in Gideon's Crossing (ABC, 2000), then did the dud romance drama The American Embassy (Fox, 2002). He's probably better remembered for his arc as newspaper owner Jason Dean on Charmed (WB, 2003).

Patrick Dempsey (McDreamy) wasn't so much a series regular as a recurring kind of guy. Growing up from such '80s teen movies as Can't Buy Me Love and Loverboy, he earned a 2001 guest Emmy nomination on the quality-drama Once and Again, playing Sela Ward's schizophrenic brother Aaron. Other episode arcs: Will & Grace in 2001 as the sportscaster "love interest" of Eric McCormack's gay lead, and The Practice in 2004 as a charming doctor tried for killing his mistress.

And George Clooney? Long before he shot to fame with ER (NBC, 1994-99), he started on TV as an orderly on the Elliott Gould sitcom E/R (CBS, 1984). After that, he had regular gigs in The Facts of Life (as carpenter George, NBC, 1985), Roseanne (factory foreman Booker, ABC, 1988), Sunset Beat (undercover cop Chic Chesbro, ABC, 1990), Baby Talk (construction worker Joe, ABC, 1991), Bodies of Evidence (bleeding-heart detective Ryan Walker, CBS, 1992), and Sisters (another police detective, NBC, 1993). So that's seven regular stints before Clooney's ER breakthrough.

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