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An actor who is, to all outward observation, a member of the regular cast, but who still receives guest billing. This usually has something to do their contract and whether or not it stipulates that they receive main cast billing (and possibly with how much they get paid), though in some cases it may be done as a gimmick to call attention to an actor whose reputation vastly exceeds that of the rest of the cast. This can also happen if a guest star becomes an Ensemble Darkhorse and is written into future episodes to capitalize on their unexpected popularity.

Occasionally, you even see a "Special Guest Star" credit on a movie — how exactly someone can "guest star" in a production that doesn't have a regular cast is left as an exercise to the reader.

Compare Advertised Extra, where a character who is supposed to be part of the main cast ends up feeling like a guest star.

Examples of Fake Guest Star include:

Live Action TV

  • Sharon, Lois & Bram's Elephant Show always had "Eric" listed as a guest star despite long runs of episodes in which he continuously appeared.
  • On Angel, Andy Hallett, the actor who played Lorne, was listed as a guest star or special guest star until the late 4th season, despite appearing in all but a handful of episodes since his debut in Season 2, Episode 1.
  • Both incarnations of Battlestar Galactica have a veritable parade of "guest stars" who've appeared in almost every episode.
    • In the new series, the credits list some actors-mostly those who play Final Five Cylons-before guest stars but without an credit, apparently putting them in some strange netherworld between "guest star" and "regular".
      • It's not limited to the Final Five — Tigh, Tyrol, and later Sam are credited like that, but so are Helo, Cally, Dee, Gaeta, Billy, and Crashdown. Additionally, Ellen and Tory are continuously credited as guest stars.
    • Some of them did receive upgrades: Nicki Clyne (in season 2) and Michael Trucco (in season 4). However, the fact that Rekha Sharma did not get upgraded along with Michael Trucco is probably the best example of this trope on the show.
  • Jason Momoa, who played the not-at-all insubstantial role of Khal Drogo on Game of Thrones was never credited in the opening titles of the first season, despite his character out-living the formerly top-billed Sean Bean and Mark Addy's Ned Stark and Robert Baratheon, respectively. Instead his name appears at the end of guest star credits in the ending credits of each episode with an "Also Staring" attached to it. Then Drogo dies at the end of the season, effectively solving that problem.
  • John Glover, who played the Devil on every episode of Fox's short-lived Brimstone, was always credited as a guest star. In fact, the only name in the opening titles was Peter Horton.
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer had quite a few, including Anthony Stewart Head after he rejoined the cast for the final season, Amber Benson in all but her final appearance and Eliza Dushku , who appeared in a key role in over half the third season episodes yet never got billing beyond "guest star"
    • Amber Benson only got billing as a main in her last appearance because Joss Whedon wanted to kill off someone in the first episode that they got their name in the main titles.
  • The Dick Van Dyke Show has a couple, most notably Richard Deacon as Mel Cooley, who has appeared in more than half of all episodes on the show.
  • Drive listed Dylan Baker as a guest star for five of its six episodes. He was finally moved to the opening credits for the finale. Oddly, Rochelle Aytes, Riley Smith, and Mircea Monroe were not in all six episodes, but were listed in the opening credits.
  • Tim Curry as the main antagonist of Earth 2 is given away by his performance and billing, despite being in more episodes than some of the regulars (also not helped when the show was cancelled).
  • ER is a frequent offender. Many regular nurses and receptionists who appear in every episode receive guest star billing.
    • Of particular note are Laura Ceron (Chuny) and Deezer D (Malik), who each have been in more episodes than everyone except Noah Wyle and Laura Innes, but all their appearances were under normal guest star billing.
  • Jool, Noranti, and Sikozu on Farscape. Actresses Melissa Jaffer and Raelee Hill, who played Noranti and Sikozu respectively, were credited as guest stars even in the small handful of Season 4 episodes they didn't appear in.
    • Not to mention Jonathan Hardy, though this is somewhat justified in that he was only a voice actor. Still, he appeared in every single episode of the show.
  • Busy Phillips' character on Freaks and Geeks remains a guest star throughout the series' run, but she gets just as much screen time and dialogue as any of the stars. (I think one of the DVD commentaries states that Kim Kelly was intended to be a minor character, but the creators ended up liking her too much to not keep her around.)
  • Edward Herrmann is listed as "Special appearance by" in the Title Sequence of Gilmore Girls despite being in nearly every episode.
  • Aaron Hill as "Beaver" and Derek Mio as "Wade" on Greek. As Kappa Tau's right and left hand men, both were relegated to "Also Starring" in the end credits until Chapter 3, when they were Promoted To...the guest star list.
  • Heroes has several, but the only recurring characters to be promoted are HRG in season 1, Sylar and Ando in season 2, Angela in season 3, and Samuel in season 4. Characters in nearly every episode who were not promoted include Sandra, , the Haitian, West, Daphne, Knox, and many more. Indeed, season 3 demoted several characters-and one of them, Elle, has grown to being a true fake special guest star.
  • Home and Away has many examples from recent years. Most notable are Sam Holden, Melody Jones, and Angelo Rosetta who appear just as much as the regulars and have several major storylines.
    • This appears to be the exception, as although they're involved in major storylines, none of them have had anywhere near as much screen time as the regulars.
    • Morag Bellingham's actress has a special contract allowing her to come and go from the show as she pleases, which is why she'll never be credited as a main star unless her contract is changed.
    • Angelo's now a regular.
    • Given regular characters only appear in two or three episodes out of five in each week anyway, most of these do actually appear as much as the regulars. Melody was set up as a new foster child and considered a regular by many, so her sudden decision to go back to her evil mother who apparently wasn't evil anymore, just a few weeks into a new season and having just had two episodes to herself, was a bit of a shock.
  • Pushed to an extreme in the latter half of the fourth season, and the entire fifth season, of House, where House's new team of doctors, whom he spends most of his time ordering around interacting with, are guest stars, whereas two members of his former team, played by Jennifer Morrison and Jesse Spencer, have been relegated to occasional roles but are still billed as regulars.
  • The TV miniseries/DTV movie series Josh Kirby...Time Warrior! effectively had two sets of opening credits (one which played as a typical TV series intro, another that was simply the rest of the cast and crew for the movies on a black background, like a regular movie). The TV Show credits played up the roles of Corbin Allred (Josh Kirby), Derek Webster (Dr Zoetrope) and Jennifer Burns (Azabeth Siege), yet Barrie Ingham (Irwin 1138) is relegated to the rest of the cast, spoiling a major plot point.
  • Dame Thora Hird, Jean Alexander and Dora Bryan made a "Special Guest Appearance" virtually every episode for years on Last of the Summer Wine. They finally started being listed as members of the regular cast in 2002.
  • Law & Order: Special Victims Unit: Tamara Tunie, who played Medical Examiner Melinda Warner in nearly every episode of seasons 4-6, was always credited as a guest star because of a conflict with her contract for As the World Turns which wouldn't allow her to take top billing on any other show. That contract ended in 2007, however, and she was immediately promoted to SVU's opening credits.
  • Leslie Hendrix as Medical Examiner Elizabeth Rodgers on Law and Order and Law & Order: Criminal Intent. She's been on the original series longer than any of the current cast members.
  • On Lost, some recurring characters have appeared more than some members of the main cast, and yet are relegated to guest status. Examples include Tom in season three, who only appeared in one less episode than cast member Claire, and Frank in season four, who has appeared more times than Michael and Desmond, and just as many times as Miles. As of the season 5 finale, Richard Alpert has appeared more than any other guest star, to the point where some confuse him as being a member of the main cast. This may stem from rumors that Richard would join the main cast in season 4, which then repeated themselves prior to season 5, but Richard is still a guest star. (Promoted To Opening Credits in season 6).
    • Nikki and Paulo in season 3 and Daniel, Miles, and Charlotte in season 4 are all credited as guest stars in press releases but as main cast members in the episodes themselves. While this discrepancy was fixed for Daniel and Miles in season 5, the issue persisted with Charlotte...though it didn't matter for long because she dies five episodes into season 5.
    • Almost every recurring character got a Promotion to Opening Titles in the series finale.
  • Jonathan Harris (Dr. Smith) was billed as a "Special Guest Star" on Lost in Space, despite being a regular member of the cast. This is because he was not added to the show until after the original pilot was produced, and none of the other cast members were willing to renegotiate their contracts for lower billing. To compensate for sticking Harris at the end, the "Special Guest Star" credit was invented to give him featured billing. This was the beginning of the And Starring custom in credits to put featured players at the end of the list with a special notation.
    • "And starring Jerry Mathers as the Beaver"
    • According to a documentary on the Lost in Space 3rd season DVD boxset, Johnathan Harris also got paid more for his "Special Guest Star" status. The studio apparently tried to get him moved into the credits with the others starting at the beginning of season 2, but he refused.
  • Cloris Leachman was always billed as a special guest star during her time on The Mary Tyler Moore Show (and imdb among others treat her as a guest star and not a member of the cast) probably due to her Oscar win before the show aired.
  • Heather Locklear was billed as "And Special Guest Star" for her entire run on Melrose Place, despite being the main character for the last several seasons.
  • Martin Landau appeared in all but two episodes of the first season of Mission Impossible, with his character Rollin Hand being an important part of the IMF team and having a major role in nearly every mission... and each time he was credited as a "Guest Star" or "Special Appearance". The story goes that Landau was wary about committing himself to the series and didn't want to be bound to contract, so he didn't officially join the cast until the second season.
  • The series Mutant X had Tom McCamus as the villainous Mason Eckhart. Despite appearing in every single episode (not to mention the show's title sequence montage) of the first season, he was billed as a guest star.
  • Katya, Will, and Lolly (in her second stint) on Neighbours were always credited as guest stars despite being regular characters. Why this was the case for Katya is anyone's guess but the actors playing Will and Lolly left very soon after joining the show, which is probably why they were never promoted.
    • Though all three were included in the opening credits, however briefly.
  • Jon Gries as Broots in all but the final season of The Pretender.
  • In Sanctuary, Ryan Robbins was listed as a guest star for all of season one, despite appearing in thirteen out of fourteen episodes.
  • In Scrubs, at least four guest stars have appeared in over 50 episodes-Christa Miller played Jordan in 79, Sam Llyod played Ted in 83, Aloma Wright was Laverne or Shirley in 90, and Robert Maschio played Todd in 105.
  • In Stargate SG-1, Lexia Doig, who plays the SGC's main doctor, was not promoted to the opening titles despite apparently being a regular cast member. Then again, neither was the actress who played Janet Fraiser, who played pretty much the exact same role in the show. But since neither actress appeared in every episode, this was fully justified.
    • May not apply to Lexa Doig, who was only in 11 episodes in two seasons. Definitely applies to Teryl Rothery, who was in 74 episodes in seven seasons. By season 5, Dr. Fraiser was well-established as Carter's best friend and appeared in practically every Earth-based episode.
    • In Stargate Atlantis, Zalenka, Major Lorne, and Steven Caldwell were different from the main characters only in that they didn't have a required one-line per episode, they would generally show up on any episode that didn't have an explicit reason why the rest of the staff wasn't seen.
      • Especially bad for Carson Beckett in the first season. He got more screen time and character developement than Lieutenant Ford, despite not being a main character, AND arguably being more important (Beckett was the head doctor and served as the head of biological sciences) to the expedition as a whole. This was fixed later. And then ruined when they exploded a tumor on him.
  • On Star Trek: The Original Series, all the cast except for William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, and (from season 2 on) DeForest Kelley were guest stars.
  • On Star Trek the Next Generation, season 2, Diana Muldaur (Dr. Pulaski) was always a guest star, even though she was in every episode of the season except for two, "Q Who" and "The Outrageous Okona". Muldaur was offered regular billing, but chose to decline. Also, Colm Meaney (Chief O'Brien) appears in many episodes, and is a main character in some, yet is always listed as a guest star. He finally received main cast billing in Deep Space Nine.
  • On Star Trek Deep Space Nine, it's Elim Garak, much beloved by the fans, and eventually of incredible importance to the plot, but never billed as one of the main characters. The actor was actually offered a place in the front credits part way through the series, but he turned it down.
    • Inverted with two words: Jake Sisko. Despite being credited as a main character for the show's entire run, the Son of the Emissary appeared in less than half of the show's episodes. The top recurring character Morn, who always appeared in the background and never spoke a single word, appeared in more episodes than Jake did.
    • By the final season, many characters who receive guest billing are in every episode. Of course, there were so many by that point that putting them all in the opening would've made the opening ten minutes long. The show's Grand Finale featured appearances by pretty much every recurring character, resulting in guest star credits that ran for most of the first act.
  • Brian Dietzen has played Jimmy Palmer, ME's assistant, on NCIS longer than Cote de Pablo, Lauren Holly and Rocky Carroll have been regular cast members, but is still relegated to the guest stars' robot roll call. Heck, he's even had whole episodes about him!
  • Chris Noth as Peter Florrick on The Good Wife seems to be in most episodes, even if he's in prison.
  • Tim Conway appeared on every episode of The Carol Burnett Show for several seasons as a "guest star," before becoming an official regular.
  • In The Tudors, there's Anthony Brophy. He played Eustace Chapuys, and is in more episodes than anyone except Jonathan Rhys Meyers and Henry Cavill — who are the only actors who appear in every episode. Joely Richardson (Katherine Parr) probably qualifies as well — she's in the main credits but billed as a "Special Guest Star".
  • Roseanne in its nine years never added actors to the main billing whose characters were newly introduced. The only character who was dropped from actor billing was Crystal after she never appeared anymore, but numerous other characters were introduced that became indispensable to the show's plot, particularly Bev, David, Jerry, Leon, Mark, Nancy and Scott. But none of their actors ever got more than a guest credit, as the main billing became strictly limited to the fictional immediate family (minus Jerry who was born later) and Jackie.
  • Similar to Roseanne, The Nanny never added actors to its main billing. Val, Yetta, and especially Sylvia became much more prominent as the series wore on, yet Rachel Chagall, Ann Guilbert, and Renee Taylor were always guest stars.
  • Matthew Timmons, who plays Woody on The Suite Life On Deck, has yet to receive anything other than guest star billing.
    • Which is actually quite odd since when Doc Shaw showed up in the Second Season, he automatically got Star Billing even though they play comparable roles.
    • The same is true for Adrian R'Mante who played Esteban in the parent series appearing in most episodes
  • Twenty Four is a regular offender of this. Carlos Bernard (Tony Almeida) spent the whole first season as a guest star, despite getting ample screen time in nearly every episode. Mary Lynn Rajskub (Chloe O'Brien) spent two whole seasons as a guest star before finally being added to the main cast, again despite appearing in nearly every episode of both seasons. This is especially odd as Sarah Wynter (Kate Warner), James Badge Dale (Chase Edmunds), and Leslie Hope (Teri Bauer) all appeared in only one season each, yet received regular cast billing for their respective seasons.
    • Roger Cross (Curtis Manning) spent the greater part of season four as a guest star before finally being bumped up to regular cast billing for the last third of it, and has remained at that position for the rest of his stay on the show.
    • Oddly, Lana Parilla (Sarah Gavin) was also moved up to main cast mid-season in season 4 despite only appearing in half of the season and never appearing in any other season. On the other hand, Jude Ciccolella (Mike Novick) appeared in more episodes than all but seven other actors and never got billing above guest star--though he did get the "special appearance" billing reserved for returning cast members in the first episode of Season 5 along with Reiko Aylesworth (Michelle Dessler) and Dennis Haysbert (David Palmer), both of whom were killed off in that episode.
      • The opening credits of the season 5 premiere are somewhat of an indirect spoiler, as while Aylesworth is listed as a guest star, Carlos Bernard is listed with the main cast.
  • Beverly Hills, 90210 did this in its last seasons with Luke Perry's character, Dylan McKay, after the actor wanted to avoid typecast and venture into other roles. He returned for the remaining seasons; but, his name never returned to the main credits.
  • Bonita Friedericy remained a "guest star" on Chuck even after nearly three seasons of being in almost every episode. She's been upgraded to the main cast for Season 4.
  • Amy Acker appeared in all but three episodes of the first season of Dollhouse, playing the important, highly recurring role of Dr. Claire Saunders. Despite occasionally appearing in more scenes than some of the regular cast, Acker was still considered a guest star.
    • Same with Reed Diamond as Mr. Dominic, the Dollhouse's security chief.
  • Kirsten Vangsness spent the entire first season of Criminal Minds as a guest star before being promoted to the opening credits in Season 2.
  • In season 4 of Friday Night Lights, Zach Gilford was listed as a guest star, despite being a main character for the past three seasons. This was allegedly a gambit so that he could be nominated for Best Guest Role in a Drama Series at the Emmys, which is less competitive than the main and supporting actor categories. It didn't work.
    • Buddy Garrity, played by Brad Leland, was a fixture of the show for all 5 seasons, appearing in all but 13 episodes, but Leland was never billed above guest star. Even in season 5, where he appeared in every episode.
  • In season 2 of Dawsons Creek, Meredith Monroe and Kerr Smith were both credited as Special Guest Stars. Kerr Smith was in every single episode of the season and Meredith Monroe was in all but the finale. They were both upgraded to regulars for the third season.
  • In Kath and Kim Magda Szubanski (who played Sharon Strzelecki) is credited in the opening as "Special Guest", even though she is a main character who appeared in every episode.
  • On Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, Michael Hurst was initially credited as a guest star. This was somewhat justified in the first season, as Iolaus only appeared in half the episodes and was established to have a home of his own. However, while he doesn't appear in every episode of Season 2, Iolaus still appears in the majority (even getting his first A Day in the Limelight episode) and is by this time established as a traveling hero like Hercules. In Season 3, Michael Hurst was promoted to the opening credits with "Also Starring."
  • Jesse L. Martin was listed as a guest star throughout all eight episode of The Philanthropist, even though he had a larger role than Neve Campbell, who was given second billing.
  • In the first season of Glee, Naya Rivera (Santana) was in every episode, and Heather Morris (Brittany) all of them but the pilot (both were made regulars in season 2) — Harry Shum Jr. (Mike) has been in every episode so far but the first three, but was billed as a guest star until his third and final season.
    • This trope was the case in Season 2 for Chord Overstreet (Sam), who appeared in all but one episode of the season. It's stayed true in season 3, with him appearing in every episode since his return in episode 8.
  • Prison Break has had several — Stacy Keach (Warden Pope) appeared in 20 out of 22 episodes in season 1, Frank Grillo (Nick Savrinn) appeared in 18 out of 22, Muse Watson (Charles Westmoreland) appeared in 18 out of 22, Carlo Alban (Mc Grady) appeared in every episode in season 3, and Leon Russom (General Jonathan Krantz) appeared in every episode in season 4.
  • In the first season of Big Time Rush, Tanya Chrisholm who plays Gustavo's assistant Kelly, wasn't put on the cast billings, despite being in every episode. The second season however added her to it.
  • Shake It Up has Tinka Hessenheffer, who is played by Caroline Sunshine, who appears in every episode along with her twin brother Gunther, but is billed as a recurring character while Gunther is included as a regular in the opening credits.
  • The long-running Britcom Last of the Summer Wine always listed (Dame) Thora Hird and Jean Alexander as being special guest appearances which at first they were as they appeared first in Christmas specials but later were in most or all episodes with Jean staying till the end Dame Thora having died a few years previously.
  • Even though the only episode of Joan of Arcadia that "guest stars" Becky Wahlstrom and Christopher Marquette weren't in was the pilot, they weren't added to the opening credits until season two.
  • Chris Pratt (Andy) on Parks and Recreation got this for the first season. He got a Promotion to Opening Titles (he was actually always there, just labeled as a "guest star") for season two. Interestingly, he was only supposed to be a temporary character, but that quickly changed before season two.
  • Mystery Science Theater 3000 is an unusual case, aside from all credits appearing at the end. In seasons 2 and 3, the Mads and other visitors were billed under "special guest villains". In all other seasons (including season 1), they were billed under "also featuring", with the Satellite of Love portion of the cast billed under "featuring". Of special note: show creator Joel Hodgson didn't even get credit for playing Joel Robinson in the first season! (Fortunately, he still got credit for everything else he did, and the cast issue was rectified in season 2.)
  • Hawaii Five-O, the original version of, is an unusual case — while Jack Lord receives starring credit and is the only person not to have the name of his character included in his billing, the other cast members aren't officially credited as co-stars; James MacArthur (second-billed in all but the final season, which he wasn't in) and all the other cast members listed in the opening credits are billed under "With."
  • In Eureka, Chris Gauthier has notably appeared in most episodes of the series and maybe misses 2-3 per season at most, yet still has remained a guest star on the show.
  • The X-Files does this frequently. Mostly because the show had the same opening titles through seasons 1-7, which only billed David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson as characters in the show. Everyone else, even highly recurring characters, were guest stars. This continued through season 8, when the credits were changed to reflect David Duchovny's absence from the show, but still only had Gillian Anderson and Robert Patrick in it. Even Mitch Pileggi, who played Walter Skinner and appeared in 81 episodes, did not get a main title credit until the show's final season, season 9.
  • This fate befell Janel Maloney in the first season of The West Wing, whose characer Donna Moss would become one of the most prominent and popular characters amongst the show's Ensemble Cast; the situation was remedied by Season 2, with Maloney given a slot in the main titles.

Western Animation

  • Futurama voice actors Lauren Tom (Amy), Phil LaMarr (Hermes) and David Herman (various characters, most notably Scruffy) were always "guest stars" during the original run, despite the fact that at least one of them appeared in every episode (although, in Season 4, they did get their own caption instead of having to share one). In the current Comedy Central run, Tom, LaMarr, and Herman gained starring credits.
    • This appears to be a pattern for Lauren Tom, who also got guest billing for voicing Connie and Minh on King of the Hill.
  • The voice actors for the recurring villains on Kim Possible are always listed as guest stars, even though two of them (Nicole Sullivan and John DiMaggio) are in half the episodes (sometimes as characters other than their primary villains).
  • Whenever Edna Krabappel appears on The Simpsons Marcia Wallace is billed as a guest star. Same with Phil Hartman.
    • And unlike the late Mr. Hartman, Edna is the only person Marcia Wallace voices (she could have been included in the regular cast like Yeardley Smith, who also only voices one character, but decided against it).


  • The 1984 comedy Best Defense includes this widely-visible text in the poster: Dudley Moore. Strategic Guest Star: Eddie Murphy. There is a reason for this — the film originally did not feature Murphy, but when the original cut tested poorly they filmed scenes with him and inserted them into the film.

Real Life

  • The United States has a series of tax breaks known as "extenders". While they last only a year, they are renewed every year. They are not made permanent to avoid having to put them in the budget.