Every famous actor has one performance that served as a breakout role, and for many, that role was in a television series. Inviting the actors into your home on a daily or weekly basis is one of the most magical things about television. So you feel invested in those moments you see a star being born. From low-rated shows that only ran a season to ratings behemoths that remained popular for more than a decade, these series launched the careers of some beloved stars.
'Friends' (1994 - 2004)
It's easy to forget that the cast of "Friends" were all unknowns at the start. Courteney Cox was easily the most famous at the time, thanks to her prominence in Bruce Springsteen's "Dancing in the Dark" video, a gig on "Family Ties," and a handful of movie roles. Jennifer Aniston, Lisa Kudrow, Matt LeBlanc, Matthew Perry, and David Schwimmer were all working actors but none had yet found a project that took off. Everything changed when the six of them sat on that orange velvet couch at Central Perk, drinking oversized lattes. Despite some spectacularly awful 1990s fashion and those distinctive haircuts, "Friends" doesn't feel dated and remains one of the classic sitcoms of all time. The cast has not stopped working since the show went off the air, proving they will always be there for us.
'My So-Called Life' (1994 - 1995)
Critically beloved and tragically canceled after one season, "My So-Called Life" launched the careers of Claire Danes and Jared Leto. Danes was only 15 when she won the Golden Globe for her portrayal of Angela Chase, a sensitive teen trying to assert her own identity for the first time. "My So-Called Life" was groundbreaking and ahead of its time in regards to how it presented story lines focused on abuse, alcoholism, and homosexuality. Jared Leto's Jordan Catalano introduced girls of the '90s to the danger of the aloof dreamboat. (That hair and those giant blue eyes!) Both Danes and Leto have gone on to massive success, with Danes picking up multiple Emmys for her work on "Homeland," while Leto, among other achievements, won every Supporting Acting award possible for his work in "Dallas Buyers Club."
'Freaks and Geeks' (1999 - 2000)
Cult classic "Freaks and Geeks" was a veritable talent farm, launching the careers of Linda Cardellini, John Francis Daley, Seth Rogen, James Franco,Jason Segel, and Busy Phillips. It was also created by Paul Feig ("Bridesmaids") and executive produced by a little-known guy named Judd Apatow. So how exactly did this dramedy last for a mere 15 episodes on NBC? That's one of television's most enduring mysteries.
'ER' (1994 - 2009)
Best known for stints on "The Facts of Life" and "Roseanne," George Clooney's career exploded when he was cast as pediatric surgeon Doug Ross on "ER." It's a perfect example of the right actor being cast in the right role at the right time. Clooney brought an immense amount of charm to the role, and Doug became the quintessential bad boy with a heart of gold. His chemistry with co-star Julianna Margulies was electric, making Doug and Carol Hathaway one of the iconic TV couples of the '90s. And don't forget -- he brought the Caesar haircut back. Clooney left "ER" in 1999 to pursue movies, but returned as a guest star several times, proving that he never forgot where he came from.
Lest you think Clooney and Margulies were the only stars to emerge from County General, don't forget that Noah Wyle, Ming-Na, Alex Kingston, and Maura Tierney all had breakout roles on "ER" as well, making it a destination show for dramatic talent in the '90s.
'Dawson's Creek' (1998 - 2003)
Joshua Jackson had "The Mighty Ducks" franchise under his belt, but James Van Der Beek, Katie Holmes, and Michelle Williams were completely unknown when they were cast on "Dawson's Creek." Holmes even famously delayed her audition so she could star as Lola in her high school's production of "Damn Yankees." While the entire cast delivers fantastic performances, the one to watch is future three-time Oscar nominee Williams. Her portrayal of the troubled Jen Lindley displays a maturity well beyond her 15 years.