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Five TV stars who've exceeded expectations

by Allison Waldman, posted Jun 29th 2008 1:24PM
Ty in suedeWhen I look at some of the people who have emerged as today's biggest stars on TV, I scratch my head and wonder, "how did that happen?" There are a few stars who have completely exceeded my expectations -- and I bet yours, too. In fact, after you read my five (no cell phone pun intended), I'm betting that you'll have a few more overachievers to add to the list.

1) Ty Pennington
I'm not ashamed to admit that for a couple of years I was hooking on TLC's Trading Spaces. It may have been the perky Paige Davis, the home improvement on a $1,000, the cool things that the designers did in just 24 hours -- whatever it was, I was a regular viewer. Oh, yes, there was also a carpenter on the show named Ty Pennington.

He didn't get a lot of air time. In fact, cute Ty was mostly comic relief. If I had to pick one person to parlay Trading Spaces into primetime stardom, I would have put my money on Paige. I would have lost, but bing-bang-boom, in November 2003, ABC presented Extreme Makeover: Home Edition and who's hosting, none other than Ty Pennington.

Combining his eye for construction, his over-the-top enthusiasm, goofy personality and boyish good looks, he's become a big-time TV star. The Sears commercials don't hurt either. Ty is everywhere. I never saw it coming, not for a minute.

2) Kathy Griffin
I didn't like Kathy Griffin on Suddenly Susan. It wasn't the hard-edged, angry sidekick she played. It wasn't anything as superficial as her pre-plastic surgery face and body. No, what bothered me about Kathy was simple: she wasn't funny. It wasn't just the character, either.

Back then, Kathy did show up occasionally on a talk show and when I caught her act, I wasn't amused. Somewhere along the way, Ms. Griffin grew up and got better. She honed her comic instincts and found a way to turn that sharp, aggressive edge into funny material. When I see her on My Life on the D-List, I find her endearing and extremely funny. What's changed?

I think Kathy learned that by making herself the butt of the joke, being self-deprecating and the first one to laugh at her insignificant status in show business, she became relateable. I've heard some write off her success to the potty mouth and coarse humor; believe me, that's not it. Kathy Griffin has become a celebrity who's funny and real. The highpoint of her Emmy-award winning Bravo reality show occurred last season.

In real life, Kathy's father Johnny Griffin, who'd been featured on the show, died. It was included in the show and Kathy revealed her true emotions. It was heartbreaking, and it was also human. Amid the laughter, Kathy shared tears. I don't think I'll ever underestimate Kathy Griffin again. Her stardom has been earned.

3) Keith Olbermann
Dan Patrick and Keith Olbermann were ESPN Sports Center. That's right, they defined the show, more than any other hosts before or since. They were so inventive and interesting in the way they presented sports news that their partnership was the inspiration for Aaron Sorkin's Sports Night, a sitcom about two guys doing a sports show a lot like Sports Center.

Olbermann was on ESPN from 1992-1997, and everything about his career had been sports oriented. He'd been an anchorman, a sportscaster, and with Patrick he'd written a book about Sports Center. His switch to political news was stunning, especially because it seemed to come out of nowhere. He was doing a sort of news show at MSNBC -- the topics of the day -- but it morphed into Countdown and took a turn -- some would say it's a left turn -- to become the most aggressive political show on MSNBC.

Keith Olbermann has morphed himself from sports guy to the ghost of Edward R. Murrow (at least in his own mind). His special commentaries are scathingly well-written and delivered with conviction. Is this really the same fellow who sat elbow to elbow with Dan Patrick? Whether you like Keith or not (I do), the bottom line is he's a classic case of over-achievement.

4) Rachael Ray
Rachael Ray has never taken a cooking class in her life. She's never gone to culinary school or learned the proper terminology, the correct methods, the science behind how food is cooked. Guess what? It doesn't matter!

When 30-Minute Meals appeared on the Food Network, chirpy, personable Rachael Ray literally jumped off the screen. I remember watching her every night while making dinner. My husband would come home from work and ask me why I was watching her again. My answer, "I don't know, there's something about her." Apparently, Oprah Winfrey was watching, too, because she plucked Rachael from the kitchen and her Harpo Productions set up Rachael in her own talk show.

I was skeptical, and I still don't think much of Rachael beyond the food segments, but she's proven me wrong. The Rachael Ray Show just won the Daytime Emmy as Outstanding Talk Show, beating The Ellen DeGeneres Show and The View. Go figure! Maybe Barbara Walters should have added Rachael Ray to The View instead of Rosie O'Donnell?

Rachael is not to be underestimated. She's got star power; people like her and enjoy watching her. I should have seen it, after all, she had me tuning in day after day ... at least on the Food Network.

5) Craig Ferguson
Like Kathy Griffin, Craig Ferguson started out on TV as a supporting player. On The Drew Carey Show, there were so many great, funny cast members -- Kathy Kinney, Ryan Stiles, Diedrich Bader, Christa Miller -- it wasn't easy to stand out and make an impression. Still, as Nigel Wick, Craig Ferguson found a way to break through. He was playing a weird, twisted character, and he was damn funny.

I hadn't seen his stand up comedy, but apparently he is hilarious. He made some independent films, including The Big Tease, but it was definitely "out of left field" when CBS named Craig Ferguson as Craig Kilborn's replacement for The Late Late Show. Craig Ferguson was perhaps known because of The Drew Carey Show, but he has now become renown for his monologues and his work on The Late Late Show. He's the heir apparent to David Letterman, and ten years from now, he could very well be a TV institution (like Letterman).

So, there you have my overachieving five pack. Who would you add to the list -- and why?

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I agree it should be renamed "TV Personalities" and Joel McHale should be on that list.

June 30 2008 at 12:10 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

What about Steven Colber(t)? His stint as a DS
"correspondent" provided some of the finest moments
in that show. Now the Colbert Report is must watch,
appointment tv for me. He's juvenile and sophisticated
at the same time. Its pure magic.

June 30 2008 at 7:54 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Rachel Ray, please spare me...

June 30 2008 at 1:01 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Rachel Ray and Kathy Griffin have to be two of the least likeable TV personalities currently around.

June 29 2008 at 7:19 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to MosquitoControl72's comment

I'm glad I'm not alone in that opinion.

July 01 2008 at 9:32 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
tv junkie

i think this post should be retitled "five tv personality..." rather than tv stars.
i agree with your point on kathy griffin. her show has a lot of heart and definitely a lot different than her standup. she's very genuine and unpretentious, unlike the rest of Bravo/E's reality show stars. Her shows in iraq, arizona prison, and her real life family were really heartwarming and definitely emmy deserving.

June 29 2008 at 6:37 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I know it was a longer progression, but it was also a larger one: Conan O'Brien. In the early 90s he was just a writer for "SNL" and then "The Simpsons". Even after a season or two of "Late Night" (where he was already the most unlikely of hosts), people didn't think he was going anywhere. 6 week contracts and the like. Next year he'll be taking over the longest-running institution in television. I wouldn't have guessed that 15 years ago.

And how about Steve Carell? I bet he's even exceeded his OWN expectations. 12 years ago he was doing some writing and sketch acting on the short-lived "The Dana Carvey Show". Then he got recommended to "The Daily Show" by Stephen Colbert, but he wasn't this huge breakout star of the show or anything. Even 4 years ago, when "The Office" started, it got lukewarm (at best) ratings and nobody expected it to last beyond its original 6 episode order. Now Steve's become a bankable movie star, appearing in 5 $100-million movies (soon to be 6 with "Get Smart") along with a couple critically-acclaimed films to boot. He continues to exceed expectations.

June 29 2008 at 4:47 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

The Craig that Ferguson replaced should also get a mention, Kilborn made the transition from Sports Center to Late Night TV and had a fairly successful run on the original TDS and his Late Late Show, although his career has now dwindled to bit parts in Dude Comedies.

June 29 2008 at 4:39 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
mj green

The only one I like is Craig. The others are all so irritating! Ty is overly gosh darn sweet. Ray is whiny, and all she has is a big mouth. Craig at least seems to be an honestly nice guy. And I too am surprised that Seacrest isn't there. I really don't trust people who suddenly are everywhere, and no one is sure why.

June 29 2008 at 1:57 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Im surprised Ryan Seacrest isnt number one on the list. First season of AI he was the cohost and by the second he was the sole host then he was EVERYWHERE.

June 29 2008 at 1:33 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to iambored8907's comment

I think she was trying to make a list of people who have talent. :)

June 29 2008 at 2:11 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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