Credit: ABC/Courtesy of the Everett Collection, 20th Century Fox Film Corp./Courtesy of the Everett Collection, Warner Bros./Courtesy of the Everett Collection, CBS/Courtesy of the Everett Collection, Pearson All-American Television/Courtesy of the Everett Collection
15. Tika Sumpter
This soap alum hasn’t stopped working since her last appearance as Layla Williamson on One Life to Live in 2011. Recurring roles on Gossip Girl and The Game are among her numerous credits, but it’s her seven-year run as Candace Young on The Haves and Have Nots and concurrent gig as Alicia Johnson on Mixed-ish (a spin-off of the popular Black–ish) that land her on this list.
14. Paul Wesley
The Guiding Light and Another World alum’s resumé is full of recurring roles on several well-regarded primetime series. But his career really caught fire when the blood-sucker craze produced TheVampire Diaries. Wesley played Stefan, one of two smoldering vampire brothers, in the eight-season series, firmly entrenching him in the zeitgeist.
13. Melissa Fumero
Sometimes one show is all you need for success. That sure has been the case with One Life to Live‘s former Adriana Cramer. Yes, she had a couple of guest spots on other series, but she found a regular home on Brooklyn Nine-Nine for eight seasons as Amy Santiago. She’ll also be joining OLTL alum Nathan Fillion later this year while voicing a character for Marvel’s M.O.D.O.K.
12. Hayden Panettiere
Heroes was a hit right out of the gate giving NBC its highest-rated premiere in five years. One of the actors playing a super-powered human in that series was none other than the Guiding Light alum who played a young Lizzie Spaulding. Her next role might not have caught the same lightning in a bottle, but her work as the country-singing phenom Juliette Barnes on Nashville produced a passionate, if smaller, fan base over six seasons — especially when her character was paired up Avery Barkley, played by General Hospital alum Jonathan Jackson (Lucky).
11. Kim Delaney
She returned to daytime, as a recast Jackie Templeton on General Hospital, 36 years after she played All My Children sweetheart Jenny Gardner. But in between those roles, she steadily wowed primetime audiences with recurring parts on pop culture touchstones like L.A. Law, CSI Miami, and Army Wives. Of course, her most prominent role was that of Diane Russell, whom she played on the boundary-breaking NYPD Blue for eight years.
10. Richard Dean Anderson
It’s been almost three decades since he played the character, but the first thing that most TV fans think of when they hear this actor’s name is MacGyver. It’s even a verb — as in “I’m going to use that paper clip to MacGyver us out of here” — that’s still used today — and it’s not due to the recent reboot. After seven seasons, General Hospital’s former Jeff Webber found more cult-like fame playing Jack O’Neill for over 16 years in the Stargate sci-fi universe.
9. Sarah Michelle Gellar
She went from seeking vengeance on All My Children‘s Erica Kane to being Buffy the freaking Vampire Slayer. The impact of Sarah Michelle Gellar’s iconic character is still felt in the numerous TV shows that have followed and continues to inspire her many, many fans.
8. David Hasselhoff
Not everyone knows that this international superstar got his start as Young & Restless’ Snapper Foster, but everyone knows who he is. Maybe for his music but more likely as the driver of Knight Rider‘s talking car or as the hunky head lifeguard in the ’90s sensation Baywatch.
7. Justin Hartley
Who would have thought Passions‘ forever romantically torn Fox Crane would end up on one of the most popular primetime dramas of this decade? His portrayer might have, or at least hoped, as he consistently worked in primetime after leaving the campy, supernatural soap. After a return to daytime as Adam Newman on The Young and the Restless, Hartley catapulted into the mainstream consciousness with his role on NBC’s massively popular This Is Us.
6. Marcia Cross
The back-from-the-dead Kimberly Shaw revealing a scar under her wig on Melrose Place was the ultimate watercooler moment. This daytime vet’s character helped turn the show about the friendly and not-so-friendly apartment dwellers into must-see TV. Not content with just one uber-popular series, One Life to Live’s former Kate Sanders then leapt into more can’t-wait-to-talk-about-it drama when she starred as Bree Van De Kamp on Desperate Housewives.
5. Jensen Ackles
After leaving the role of Days of Our Lives‘ Eric Brady, this then-up-and-comer did well for himself by recurring on a couple of TV shows. But those breaks were nothing compared to his landing the role of Dean Winchester on Supernatural in 2005. That turned into 15 seasons, a legion of devoted fans, spin-offs, conventions and tons of passionate fan fiction written about his character. Next up, Ackles joins Season 3 of Amazon Prime’s superhero/vigilante series The Boys.
4. Marg Helgenberger
This veteran actress’ career has been one successful primetime gig after another since leaving the role of Siobhan Ryan Novak on Ryan’s Hope in the ’80s. From China Beach to Under the Dome, it feels like she’s never not worked in primetime. While she currently appears on All Rise, her most successful role was on the original mega-hit procedural CSI, where she played Catherine Willows for 13 years.
3. John Stamos
“Have mercy!” Any TV or pop-culture fan worth their salt knows that phrase courtesy of the actor’s Full House character. After eight years of playing the lovable Uncle Jesse, Stamos forged a steady career in primetime including a four-year role as Dr. Tony Gates on another small-screen phenomenon, ER. Most recently, General Hospital‘s erstwhile Blackie Parrish starred in and produced the rebooted Fuller House and premiered his new series Big Shot on Disney+.
2. Nathan Fillion
After playing One Life to Live’s Joey Buchanan for three years, the rising star recurred on several TV shows but earned cult-icon status as the lead on Firefly, even though it only lasted one season. His next lead role came courtesy of ABC’s Castle, where he played the titular novelist/crime solver for eight seasons. After recurring on several more successful shows, he landed on another series in 2018, playing John Nolan on The Rookie.
1. Shemar Moore
That smile. Those abs. This sex symbol transcends genres. Pop-culture observers know him whether they watched him for a decade on The Young and the Restless or for 11 years as Criminal Minds‘ Derek Morgan. Just ask his legion of fans. No longer a supporting player, Moore now leads his own show as Daniel “Hondo” Harrelson on CBS’ hit procedural, S.W.A.T., currently in its fourth season.