10 Casting Decisions That Hurt That ‘70s Show (And 20 That Saved It)
There are plenty of sitcoms out there that strike a strong chord with audiences, but That ‘70s Show tapped into a special energy that made it a major presence on television for nearly a decade. What was special about That ‘70s Show is that it not only spoke to the current younger generation, but due to its ‘70s-set setting, it was also appealing to the older demographic, too. The result was a genuine hit for FOX that the network could use to incite nostalgic, or just present silly sitcom stories, and engaging romantic relationships.
That ‘70s Show started with very humble aspirations and its small-town Wisconsin vibe made it feel distinctly different from a comedy that took place in New York or Los Angeles. Furthermore, the show’s cast was a bunch of relative unknowns who would quickly go on to win over audience’s hearts and all turn into genuine stars in their own rights. That ‘70s Show's slow growth into a huge landmark program is a lot of fun, but it’s also entertaining to see the pedigree of talent that this brings to the show. Accordingly, here are 10 Casting Decisions That Hurt That ‘70s Show (And 20 That Saved It)!
30 Saved: Isaac Hayes
That ‘70s Show was a master of pulling off period appropriate cameos and guest spots that conjured strong nostalgic memories towards the ‘70s. Plenty of faces from the past would show up in elaborate fantasy sequences, but one of the most satisfying and surprising was when Isaac Hayes shows up to lend an overpowered Fez a hand.
In season eight, Fez pulls off a fancy Saturday Night Fever style dance where Isaac Hayes is the ringleader. If Hayes’ appearance wasn’t enough, he adds a further layer of authenticity to all of this since he’s also responsible for the “Work Fez” theme.
29 Saved: Alice Cooper
That ‘70s Show has a real skill at finding the best way to apply a guest star to their universe. The show knows when it works to play against one's type or when to delightfully feed into it. In the case of major influential ‘70s rocker, Alice Cooper, the show makes the inspired choice to have Cooper play himself.
In the show’s third season, Donna finds herself with a job at a radio station. Donna relishes her new gig, but it also puts her around a bunch of rock stars, namely Alice Cooper. It’s a super fun appearance and it’s still early enough in the show’s run that it comes as a bit of a surprise.
28 Hurt: French Stewart
Another comedy that was popular during the run of That ’70s Show was NBC’s 3rd Rock from the Sun. French Stewart, the series’ resident weirdo, popped over to That ‘70s Show to do his eccentric routine. A sub-plot in an episode where Kelso, Bob, and some others attempt to win a new van from a radio contest is what brings French Stewart’s character into everyone’s orbit.
Michael is determined to win this new van, but Stewart’s Daniel is the reigning champion of radio contests and proves to be a difficult competitor for the prize. Stewart’s character is perhaps a little too weird for his own good, and he’s already in a storyline that’s pretty incidental.
27 Saved: Megalyn Echikunwoke
That ‘70s Show made some interesting strides for Hyde’s character during the program’s seventh season. Hyde learns that he has a half-sister named Angie Barnett and the two of them end up managing their father’s record store together. Angie is featured throughout the season, and even though she and Hyde sometimes butt heads, she’s a welcome addition to his family and helps him grow as a character.
Perhaps the most touching moment between the two of them is when Angie takes an interest in Kelso and Hyde starts to develop protective tendencies over his half-sister. This proved to be a great new side to Hyde’s character.
26 Saved: Kevin McDonald
Pastor Dave shouldn’t be as memorable of a character from That ‘70s Show as he is, but it’s a testament to Kevin McDonald’s strong performance. On a surface level, Pastor Dave is your typical cautionary religious figure who appears to be the eternal square to Eric and company. However, McDonald’s performance brings a certain whiny pathos to Pastor Dave that you can’t help but love.
It was a glowing performance that got to feature a lot more than originally planned, and it was easy to see why the character grew into such a supporting presence in the series.
25 Hurt: Lindsay Lohan
That ‘70s Show would have a lot of fun with an “art imitates life” quality to their guest casting and occasionally, the people that actors were actually dating in real life would be pulled into the show. This tactic was perhaps most prevalent with Wilmer Valderrama (Fez), as was the case when his current flame, Lindsay Lohan, was brought into the series for an episode.
Lohan’s Danielle was a client at the beauty salon that Fez worked at and sparks immediately began to fly between the two of them. Unfortunately for Fez, Kelso also develops an infatuation with Danielle and the two compete for her affection. It just feels like reductive, pandering stunt casting.
24 Saved: Brooke Shields
Jackie’s mother had always been a fleeting presence throughout the series, but one way in which That ‘70s Show tried to inject this storyline with new life was with some memorable recasting. In the show’s sixth season, Pam Burkhart was now played by Brooke Shields, who certainly brought a new level of elegance to the character that very much matched Jackie’s demeanor.
Shields helped make Pam an interesting and relevant character again, even some of her more misguided moments (like her relationship with Donna’s father) worked because of what Shields brought to the table.
23 Saved: Jim Gaffigan
Jim Gaffigan’s Roy Keene only sticks around for one season when Eric, Hyde, and a lot of the group are employed at his restaurant, but Gaffigan manages to become one of the more memorable guest characters. Every new appearance of Roy adds a new layer of desperation to the character and Gaffigan is sure to make each of them count.
Roy’s depressing nature leads to each of the core group spending time with him in various ways, but it feels like his most significant relationship is with Hyde. This strange dynamic between them, where they can both educate each other, is a real highlight.
22 Hurt: Rachel Bilson
It can be fun when guest star roles either play into the actor’s reputation from past roles or intentionally work against it. In the case of Rachel Bilson’s Christy, it definitely puts the actress into her comfort zone as the rich, well-to-do, doesn’t-feel-that-different from her O.C. socialite, Summer Roberts.
Fez encounters Christy at a wedding and in order to impress her, he pretends to also be rich and affluent. It’s a fun storyline, but it’s ultimately pretty reductive for both of the characters. Bilson does a good job here, but the role is ultimately a little distracting.
21 Saved: Amy Adams
Amy Adams is now one of the biggest movie stars that are out there, but before her extreme success in film, she was doing bit parts on The Office, the WB circuit of shows, and even That ‘70s Show. Adams’ character is hardly a memorable one, but she plays Kat Peterson, a partygoer from the show’s second season that Hyde sets his sights on.
Adams’ Peterson toys with Hyde in response to whether or not she’s actually interested in him, and even though this is a rather clichéd, condescending character, Adams makes it feel like a fuller performance. The actress’ talents are clearly on display, even in a simple role like this.
20 Saved: Luke Wilson
That ‘70s Show decided to mix things up in their fourth season with the introduction of Michael Kelso’s brother, Casey Kelso, who was played by movie star Luke Wilson. Wilson’s Casey Kelso is almost the anti-Kelso in the sense that he appears to actually be charming, intelligent, and not possess many of the weaker traits that define his brother. Casey’s allure is so strong that Donna begins to date him, much to Eric’s chagrin.
However, Casey eventually shows his true colors and things with him and Donna end, but that still doesn’t stop Wilson from popping up a few more times throughout the series as Michael’s brother.
19 Hurt: Erika Christensen
One of the most fulfilling dynamics within That ‘70s Show is the relationship between Eric and his father, and it’s especially fun when this stern father attempts to get involved in Eric’s love life. Unsurprisingly, the results are often stupendously awkward, as is the case with Erika Christensen’s character.
Red, with the best of intentions, notices that one of his Price Mart employees would be a good fit for Eric and decides to play Cupid. The thing here is that the two of them do get along well and Christensen has real chemistry with Grace, but due to the ickiness of the situation, this relationship never really gets a chance to go anywhere.
18 Saved: Billy Dee Williams
It’s no secret that one of Eric Forman’s largest passions is a deep love for Star Wars. Therefore, it was only a matter of time until some cast member from the series made an appearance, and Billy Dee Williams was the one to get that honor. That ‘70s Show doesn’t waste this opportunity and peppers Williams’ appearance with all sorts of fun Star Wars references and in-jokes. Eric also just seems to have a special bond with the character.
Williams plays a pastor that helps Eric and Donna after a possible turning point in their relationship. It would have been nice to see him show up again, but it’s still a standout performance.
17 Saved: Don Knotts
That ‘70s Show wouldn’t just have actors from iconic ‘70s properties guest star on the show, but in some rare occasions, they’d even have these actors reprise their famous roles from the ‘70s. Don Knotts is a legend of comedy and That ‘70s Show was fortunate enough to have him lend his talents to the program. The show decided to have Knotts reprise the role of his iconic nosey landlord from Three’s Company, and it made for a wonderful joke to bookend an episode.
Knotts’ character eavesdrops on Fez and Jackie in their apartment, and although the two are innocently making fruit salad, he jumps to conclusions in regards to what’s going on.
16 Hurt: Seth Green
Seth Green’s Mitch Miller shows up throughout the course of season six as a persistent thorn in Eric’s side. In different circumstances, perhaps Mitch and Eric could actually be the best of friends. They both share a strong love of Star Wars and envelop a certain nerdiness, but Green’s Mitch is the antithesis of Eric in many ways. He’s the whiny, duplicitous, annoying version of Eric Forman. Matters get even worse when he sets his sights on Donna and becomes a romantic obstacle to Eric, too.
To Green’s credit, he played this obnoxious character well, but he was just such a transparent villain that it’s hard not to be annoyed by the whole thing.
15 Saved: Bruce Willis
The end of Michael Kelso’s arc in That ‘70s Show is marked by the character’s struggle over whether he should marry Jackie or take a dream job at a gentleman’s club in Chicago. The one that offers Kelso this cushy job is Vic, who was played by none other than Bruce Willis.
Willis played Vic with an exceptional amount of bawdiness, but the most memorable thing about this role is the behind-the-scenes history between Willis and Kutcher. Vic got to be very antagonistic towards Kelso, and Kutcher was currently dating Demi Moore, who used to be married to Willis.
14 Saved: Tommy Chong
Tommy Chong joined the cast of That ‘70s Show as Leo, Hyde’s slacker boss at his photo hut job. In spite of Leo being Hyde’s boss, he’s arguably even more irresponsible than he is. Leo was a fun addition to the show that stuck around for a surprisingly long time and even indoctrinated the gang’s group on several escapades.
Chong’s portrayal of Leo was highly entertaining, but the best thing about the character is that it hit incredibly close to home and doesn’t feel that far off from Chong’s cinematic alter ego. It’s a wonderfully meta performance.
13 Hurt: Christopher Masterson
Christopher Masterson, the brother of Danny Masterson (Hyde), is an actor in his own right and was even one of the stars of Malcolm in the Middle. In a fun little family reunion, That ‘70s Show decided to bring on Danny’s brother for an episode in season four. Christopher played Todd, an employee at a cheese store who happens to temporarily get Jackie’s attention and stir up some drama in the group.
Casting like this can sometimes bear fruit, but Christopher’s presence just stole focus. The fact that his character turned into such a villain didn't help either.
12 Saved: Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson
Before Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson was one of the biggest and most popular action stars on the planet, he was finding time to stop by Point Place to play an oddball in That ‘70s Show. Curiously, Johnson’s appearance happened when he was just known as The Rock, and the show capitalizes on his role as a wrestler.
At this point, Johnson has proven that he can be a commendable actor, but his appearance on That ‘70s Show was actually his first acting role outside of a wrestling capacity. The actor’s love was palpable, and now he’s a star that would likely be too expensive to book on a sitcom.
11 Saved: Wilmer Valderrama
When That ‘70s Show started, Fez was certainly the outlier of the group. While a lot of the cast fell into certain archetypes, Fez contained a mix of everything and was a reliable wild card through the show’s earlier years. Fez absolutely began the series as a simple stereotype, but Valderrama’s performance brought such an honesty and kindness to the character that a number of romantic storylines would begin to revolve around the character.
Valderrama’s charisma helped turn someone who was meant to be a joke into one of the biggest romantic prospects in the series.
10 Hurt: Justin Long
Justin Long played a curious character in That ‘70s Show who was actually a friend of Fez’s from back in his home country. After Fez experiences a difficult breakup with Jackie, Andrew Davis (Long) turns up and tries to convince Fez to return home with him. Long’s Andrew Davis looked and sounded totally different from Fez, which was the result of them being from opposite sides of the island.
It may be interesting to see other characters from Fez’s past show up, but Long’s performance was somewhat problematic and only doubled down on what was already an iffy stereotype. It was certainly one of Long’s stranger roles.
9 Saved: Laura Prepon
Laura Prepon has gone on to become one of the more notable names on Netflix’ Orange is the New Black, but when she hit the scene in That ‘70s Show, she helped bring an ordinary modesty to Donna’s character. Donna had to be appealing, but she also had to be approachable, and Prepon absolutely tapped into that aspect of the character.
Donna, in many ways, would be the anchor to the show, as plenty of characters would vie for her heart. Prepon helped Donna be more than just the girlfriend and turned her character into an inspiring role model.
8 Saved: Debra Jo Rupp
An essential aspect of That ’70s Show was Eric’s relationship with his parents. Kitty and Red definitely occupy opposite ends of the parental spectrum, but they both very clearly have tremendous love for their children. Kitty is instantly a lovable character as she tries to accentuate the positive and put her friendliest foot forward. It’s hard not to be on Kitty’s side and a lot of that has to do with Debra Jo Rupp’s kind portrayal of the character.
It was easy to enjoy Kitty’s optimistic antics, but her iconic laugh was also one of the most cheerful aspects of the entire series. Debra Jo Rupp just adds so much to the picture.
7 Hurt: Jessica Simpson
That ‘70s Show tried to go all out for their season five premiere. Donna and Kelso had both run off to California and the season wanted to mark this big start to the year with an impressive, popular guest star. Enter Jessica Simpson. Simpson’s Annette starts a relationship with Kelso and follows him back to Wisconsin to drive Jackie bonkers for a few more episodes.
Simpson’s appearance felt like the most gratuitous of stunt casting on the show’s part, and while she brought in big ratings, her character was too reflexive, and she even pulled you out of the story to some extent.
6 Saved: Topher Grace
It’s hard to be the lead in a series, especially when that character is largely the straight man to a larger ensemble of weirder personalities. Topher Grace was perfect as Eric Forman and he brought a strong everyman dynamic to the character that made him very easy to root for. Grace has played around with feature film roles, but he has never resonated as strongly as he did as Eric Forman, and there’s something to be said for that.
Eric may not have been the most entertaining character, but he undeniably held the series together. His absence during the final season was tremendous.
5 Saved: Kurtwood Smith
Kurtwood Smith made his mark early and loud with Red Forman. Red is the ultimate no-nonsense father and he's always breathing down Eric’s neck when his son was trying to figure out his life. Red is an intimidating presence that plays into the generational gap of baby boomers and their next of kin, but Smith made sure that his performance didn't turn into a caricature.
Red’s larger, more explosive moments were always the most enjoyable, but there’s also a tenderness to the character that Smith got across, too. Even in his harshest moments, he was still a good father.
4 Hurt: Joseph Gordon-Levitt
Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s Buddy from the show’s first season was actually an incredibly progressive, well-rounded, closeted character to appear on a sitcom from the ‘90s. Eric starts a strong friendship with Buddy, but when the new friend misreads his signals and makes a move on Eric, Eric freaks out and the friendship falls apart.
Buddy’s character was well written and Joseph Gordon-Levitt played him in a very charming manner. However, fan response to this character was not popular and audiences did not want to see more of him. Accordingly, the plans to make Buddy a recurring character were squashed.
3 Saved: Mila Kunis
Mila Kunis entered That ‘70s Show as a young teenager who was an absolute unknown, but her performance as Jackie Burkhart became one of the earliest highlights of the program. Kunis enveloped the role of Jackie and turned it into a virtuoso performance. Yes, the character is spoiled and vain, but she also truly matures and grows into a complex individual. In fact, Jackie grows more than any other character in the series.
Kunis makes the character always remain lovable and it’s easy to see why her character is always getting put into new romances. She just has a clear presence.
2 Saved: Ashton Kutcher
There are few performances that are as sublime and perfect as Ashton Kutcher’s portrayal as Michael Kelso. Kutcher flawlessly taps into the character’s dopey human, Labrador demeanor. Whether Kelso was doing something incredibly illogical or deeply romantic, he had the audience on his side. The series also helped Kutcher grow as a performer and turn into the colossal name that he is now. Kutcher’s popularity even hit such levels that he had left the show before its conclusion.
Kutcher continues to play lots of characters, but it never feels like he’ll truly get out of Kelso’s shadow.
1 Hurt: Josh Meyers
After Topher Grace and Ashton Kutcher left That ‘70s Show at the end of the series’ seventh season, the creators decided to add a new central character for the show’s final year. Randy Pearson was a highly controversial character, not only because he was a poor replacement for Eric, but he also stole focus from the show’s main cast and also started a brief relationship with Donna.
Josh Meyers did a commendable job with the character, but he was really in a situation that he couldn’t win. Randy wasn’t without his moments, but fan response was so negative that the character is barely even featured or mentioned in the final episodes.
Where do you stand on That ‘70s Show’s casting decisions? Sound off in the comments below!