Actors who returned to the shows that made them stars


When Neighbours wrapped after 37 years, several former stars decided to return for a last hurrah. The episode is set to screen here next month with TVNZ promising something special. But Neighbours is just one of several TV series to have lured back former cast members for a special finale. We take a look at a few of those stars.

Scott (Jason Donovan) and Charlene (Kylie Minogue) will return to Ramsay Street in the Neighbours finale.


Scott (Jason Donovan) and Charlene (Kylie Minogue) will return to Ramsay Street in the Neighbours finale.


Neighbours is going out with a bang after 37 years on screen, assembling all of its biggest stars for its final bow.

Kylie Minogue and Jason Donovan have returned for the finale, reprising their roles as Charlene and Scott Robinson. Minogue shared photos of her and Donovan on the set to Instagram with the caption, ‘Now we’re back together’, a line from their 1989 duet Especially For You.

But they’re not the only famous cast members returning to the soap that dominated the 80s TV landscape. Guy Pearce, who played Mike Young, will be back to farewell the show that gave him his start in acting, along with Natalie Bassingthwaite (Izzy Hoyland), Ian Smith (Harold Bishop), Mark Little (Joe Mangel), and Peter O’Brien (Shane Ramsay).

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Also back is singer Delta Goodrem (Nina Tucker) and Margot Robbie, who will finally get a chance to wrap up her character’s storyline, 11 years after Donna Freedman exited Erinsborough.

We’ll see the famous cast farewell the soap opera in September, with TVNZ promising something special for the final episodes.

Neighbours is just one of several TV series to have lured back former cast members for a special finale. Stuff has singled out a few of those stars…

Shelley Long as Diane Chambers, Ted Danson as Sam Malone.


Shelley Long as Diane Chambers, Ted Danson as Sam Malone.

Shelley Long – Cheers

Cheers was one of the 80s biggest sitcoms and Sam (Ted Danson) and Diane (Shelley Long) were its power couple. Their love/hate relationship was a key factor in helping make the series a huge success.

Long left Cheers in 1987 at the end of season five amid speculation that she was angling for a film career – like so many before and after her – and that she and Danson did not get along in real life. Both have admitted there were tensions between them but deny it was the cause of her departure.

“We have done some really terrific work at Cheers, but I’ve decided to give priority to my family and my newly established film production company,” Long said in a statement at the time.

The actor has since admitted she felt stifled by the series, saying in an interview in 2007 that she didn’t want to “keep doing the same episode over and over again”.

When Cheers ended in 1993, fans were delighted to see Diane return and reunite with her old flame, Sam. The pair decided to leave Boston together for Los Angeles. But after some soul-searching prompted by a delayed flight, the couple realised they were better apart and Sam returned to his first love, his bar.

Josh Charles in The Good Wife.


Josh Charles in The Good Wife.

Josh Charles –The Good Wife

It can be quite the quandary once you’ve killed off a character but want them back for the finale. That was a dilemma the creators of The Good Wife struggled with when filming their final season.

Josh Charles left the series in season five to pursue other opportunities and his character Will Gardener was fatally shot in a courtroom by a client.

But in season seven, Will returned in a dream to enjoy a fleeting romantic reunion with Alicia (Julianna Margulies). Some fans speculated that Will was a ghost but the series’ creators are adamant that The Good Wife did not veer into the paranormal.

“In our minds, it wasn’t a ghost,” creator Michelle King told US Weekly. “It was a fantasy in some sequences, and in others, a memory. You weren’t really meant to believe that Will Gardner’s ghost came back.”

House pulled the same stunt when it ended, bringing back character Lawrence Kutner (Kal Penn) who died in season five, along with other deceased colleagues, as hallucinations experienced by Dr House (Hugh Laurie).

Neighbours also dabbled in the realm of dreams, bringing Jim Robinson (Alan Dale) back from the dead as a ghostly vision in his son Paul’s Christmas bauble.

Aaron Paul and Bryan Cranston from Breaking Bad.


Aaron Paul and Bryan Cranston from Breaking Bad.

Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul – Better Call Saul

Strictly speaking, Walt and Jesse haven’t returned to Better Call Saul because they were never in the acclaimed series. But they are, of course, the lead characters from Breaking Bad, the series which spawned spin-off Better Call Saul, a prequel to Breaking Bad. And as a treat for fans of the franchise, Walter White and his protege returned for episode eight of the final season, also titled Breaking Bad. Given that Better Call Saul takes place before Breaking Bad and that Breaking Bad finished nine years ago, you might expect some makeup and special effects wizardry to be deployed to de-age actors Brian Cranston and Aaron Paul. But writer and director Thomas Schnauz told Variety they limited their use of that technology to turn back time.

“There’s a little bit of stuff on the guys’ faces to take a few lines out here and there,” said Schnauz.

“There’s only so much you can do before it starts looking ridiculous.”

George Clooney from ER.


George Clooney from ER.

George Clooney and Julianna Margulies – ER

When ER ended after 15 seasons, its biggest former stars, George Clooney and Julianna Margulies, didn’t make it to the finale but they did show up in the fourth-to-last episode of the hit medical drama.

As Doug Ross and Carol Hathaway, the pair were a popular couple on the medical series and fans were dismayed when Dr Ross packed away his stethoscope in season five.

Clooney would become one of the few TV actors for whom taking the risk of leaving a successful TV show for a movie career actually paid off.

Margulies soon followed Clooney, departing in season six. But in 2015, the pair returned to the series that made their names for a low-key final appearance.

Fans who had long hoped for a happy ending for the TV couple were treated to scenes of the now-married doctors working together in a Seattle hospital.

Clooney and Margulies might not have returned to County General Hospital for its last day but plenty of others did turn up. Noah Wyle, who starred in the series from the start, left in season 11, but returned as John Carter once more.

In the final episode, Carter opened a clinic for the underprivileged, with many former colleagues such as Susan Lewis (Sherry Stringfield), Elizabeth Corday (Alex Kingston) and Peter Benton (Eriq La Salle) in attendance.

Ashton Kutcher in That 70's Show.

Renee Williams

Ashton Kutcher in That 70’s Show.

Ashton Kutcher –That 70s Show

For seven seasons, Ashton Kutcher played human labrador Michael Kelso on comedy That 70s Show.

Kutcher, who made his name on the show, did not renew his contract for its eighth and final season in 2006 but appeared in a few episodes to close out his storyline.

Like his co-star Topher Grace, who played Eric Foreman, Kutcher wanted to focus on his movie career. But, ironically, he would return to TV with Two And A Half Men in 2011.

Grace departed at the end of season seven but both stars returned for the final episode. The series ended with a New Year’s Eve party to ring in the 1980s.

Eric returned home from Africa where he was teaching English to reunite with his friends and first love Donna (Laura Prepon) for one final basement celebration.

But the cast will be back together again with many of the actors, including Grace and Kutcher, returning as guest stars for Netflix spin-off, That 90s Show.

Steve Carell in The Office.

Supplied 2008/Stuff

Steve Carell in The Office.

Steve Carell – The Office

While it was a remake of the UK series and the characters of David Brent and Michael Scott certainly shared some buffoonish traits, Steve Carell managed to make Michael entirely his own and quite separate from its British roots.

Carell left the series in 2011 at the end of season seven to spend more time with his family. However, according to a book titled The Office: The Untold Story Of The Greatest Sitcom Of The 2000s, Carell’s contract was not renewed. Despite the loss of arguably its central figure, the show chugged along for two more seasons.

Michael Scott returned in May 2013 for the last episode ever where he performed best man duties at Dwight Schrute’s wedding. Carell said in an episode of podcast An Oral History Of The Office that he was reluctant to return for fear of overshadowing the current cast but finally agreed, stating, “I felt like I should, out of respect for all of you guys and out of my love for everybody, to acknowledge the ending of this thing.”

Marg Helgenberger, who plays Catherine Willows in CSI. 2003


Marg Helgenberger, who plays Catherine Willows in CSI. 2003

Marg Helgenberger – CSI

Marg Helgenberger starred as Crime Scene Investigator Catherine Willows in 12 seasons of popular procedural CSI. She left to pursue other projects, telling the Hollywood Reporter, “I instinctively felt it was time to end that chapter of my career. I’m 53 now, and I feel like I’m still young enough to switch it up.”

But when the series came to a close in 2015 after 15 seasons, its former leading lady returned to farewell the show and crack a final case along with her co-star William Petersen, who played Gil Grissom for nine seasons.

And although they said goodbye to their crime-solving characters, it wasn’t the end for Willows and Grissom. Both actors have come full circle with Petersen starring in season one of CSI: Vegas in 2021, while Helgenberger will make her first appearance in season two of the CSI spin-off.