The Best TV Appearances by Oscar-Winning Actresses

By Stefanie Lee

Mar 04, 2010

It's no secret that television is a starting block for many Academy Award hopefuls. Several Oscar-winning actresses, like Hilary Swank and Sissy Spacek, starred in their fair share of made-for-TV-movies and mini-series on their way to the top. Others, like Jodie Foster and Sally Field, started out on mainstream sitcoms and dramas. Some even return to TV after their wins: Kate Winslet, who won Best Actress last year for The Reader, is set to star in the new HBO mini-series Mildred Pierce. And though it's somewhat rare, we love it when Oscar-winners return to the small screen. Here are nine of the best actresses to sign up for apres-Oscar roles on TV.

Liza Minnelli won Best Actress in 1972 for her role as Sally Bowles in Cabaret... and went on to spend 30 years as tabloid-fodder with three divorces, several failed comeback attempts, and countless health problems. In 2003, she poked fun at her own campiness and guest-starred in ten episodes of the short-lived sitcom Arrested Development as the kooky, vertigo-plagued Lucille Austero.

Sally Field won Best Actress in 1979 for her role as the title character in Norma Rae, and again in 1984 for her role as Edna Spalding in Places in the Heart. (She later starred in Forrest Gump (1994) and won an Emmy for her recurring role as Maggie Wyczenski on ER.) Since 2006, Field has played Nora Walker, the stubborn family matriarch on the soap-y ensemble-cast drama Brothers and Sisters.

Sissy Spacek won Best Actress in 1980 for her role as Loretta Lynn in Coal-Miner's Daughter. She has since received four additional Oscar nominations—for Missing, The River, Crimes of the Heart, and In the Bedroom. Earlier this year, she guest-starred in five episodes of Big Love, as Marilyn Densham, a fierce anti-polygamy lobbyist in Washington, DC.

Kathy Bates won Best Actress in 1990 for her role as Annie Wilkes in Misery. She also received Oscar nominations for her performances in Primary Colors and About Schmidt. In 2003, she played a recurring role as Bettina on Six Feet Under. She's currently guest-starring on The Office as Jo Bennett, the stalwart CEO of the corporation that bought out Dunder-Mifflin.

Holly Hunter won Best Actress in 1993 for her role as Ada McGrath in The Piano. She earned two more Oscar nominations for her performances in The Firm and Thirteen. Since 2007, she has starred as Grace Hanadarko, the title character and over-sexed Oklahoma police officer on Saving Grace.

Charlize Theron won Best Actress in 2003 for her intense, transformative role as Aileen Wuornos in Monster. She since received one more Oscar nomination, for her role in North Country. In 2005 she appeared on Arrested Development as Rita, the mentally-challenged love interest of Michael Bluth (Jason Bateman). The show occasionally cited Theron's Oscar-winning role, using images of her as Wuornos to show what the beautiful Rita looked like "before reconstructive surgery."

Linda Hunt won Best Supporting Actress in 1983 for her cross-gender, cross-cultural role as Billy Kwan in The Year of Living Dangerously. From 1997 to 2002, she played the recurring role of Judge Zoey Hiller on The Practice; since 2009, she has starred as Operations Manager Hetty Lange on NCIS: Los Angeles.

Helen Hunt won Best Actress in 1997 for her role as Carol Connelly in As Good As It Gets. She had begun playing Jamie Buchman on Mad About You in 1992 and stayed with it after her Oscar win until the show's end in 1999. Since then, she's starred in movies like What Women Want and Pay It Forward.

Anna Paquin won Best Supporting Actress in 1993 (and at age 11!) for her first-ever acting role as Flora McGrath in The Piano. She's also known for playing Rogue in the X-Men movies. Since 2008, she has starred as telepathic waitress Sookie Stackhouse in the HBO series True Blood, her first and only television role so far; and considering that she's already picked up a Golden Globe for it, I'm guessing it won't be her last.

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  • TV-Tome-Vits Mar 05, 2010

    ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT wasn't short-lived.It lasted more than 2 seasons.

  • IndianaMom Mar 05, 2010

    And the list goes on and on. You didn't mention Sally Field's roles in Gidget and The Girl With Something Extra. That's probably for the best. ;) I think NCIS: LA should use some scenes from The Year of Living Dangerously as Hetty's flashbacks to an old field assignment.

  • naldro Mar 05, 2010

    How about Elizabeth Taylor when she appeared on Hotel or when she appeared on four shows in one night? How about Shirley Booth who played Hazel? And Jane Wyman who starred on Falcon Crest? How about Anne Baxter who starred in Hotel? And Miyoshi Umeki who co-starred on the courtship of eddie's father? Have we forgotten Shirley Jones, Mrs. Partridge on the The Partridge Family. Dianne Wiest who starred on Law & Order.

  • Baur1712 Mar 05, 2010


  • mgfish Mar 05, 2010

    Marlee Matlin on West Wing was good.

  • Hovabyte Mar 05, 2010

    Susan Sarandon? Geena Davis? Whoopi Goldberg?

  • MLionhart2 Mar 05, 2010

    You forgot Louise Fletcher. She played 'Nurse Ratched' in "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest", and was great as the villian 'Winn Adami' in "Star Trek: Deep Space Nine". She managed to portray several villianous tendencies strongly but subtly. Check her character out.

  • iamApollo Mar 05, 2010

    Yay Anna Paquin! Go the Kiwis!

  • muggle421 Mar 05, 2010

    I loved Charlize Theron and Liza Minnelli on Arrested Development. Kathy Bates is great too on The Office.

  • Adam_Dicy Mar 05, 2010

    Your forgetting Ruth Gordon(Academy Award winner for Rosemary's Baby)appeared twice on the show Newhart as Kirk's Grandma Blanche Devane, Cloris Leachman(won the best supporting actress for The Last Picture Show in 1971)appearing on the Mary Tyler Moore Show from 1970-75.

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