The Empty Nest TV show was one of NBC’s hit sitcoms in the late 1980s and early 1990s, but it’s sort of become a forgotten gem in the noise of modern cable and streaming services.
Positioned as a spin-off of The Golden Girls, Empty Nest starred Richard Mulligan as a widowed doctor, Harry Weston, living with his adult daughters, Barbara (Kristy McNichol) and Carol (Dinah Manoff).
The show also featured Park Overall as feisty nurse Laverne Todd and David Leisure as playboy neighbor Charley Dietz.
Marsha Warfield showed up, too, in 50 episodes as Dr. Maxine Douglas.
Then, of course, there was Bear the Dog, who played the lovable Dreyfuss.
But Empty Nest wasn’t just about the main characters … nope, it was also fertile ground for guest stars.
As you might imagine, the ladies from The Golden Girls made regular drop-ins, but there were plenty of others you would know from other walks of TV life … either before or after their stints with the Westons.
Here, then, are five guest stars you may have forgotten once graced the set of the Empty Nest TV show.
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Before he became super famous for his role as Chandler Bing on Friends, Matthew Perry spent the late 1980s and early 1990s building his resume with a slew of appearances on other sitcoms.
Among those were single-episode gigs on Charles in Charge (as “Ed”), Silver Spoons (“Davey”), Just the Ten of Us (“Ed”), and Who’s the Boss? (Benjamin Dawson).
Perry also landed a couple of recurring roles, most infamously as Carol Seaver’s boyfriend Sandy on Growing Pains. That one ended up with Sandy as a cautionary tale, dying in the hospital due to injuries from a drunken crash.
Perry was even a lead in the 1987-88 sitcom Boys Will Be Boys.
Mixed in among all those was an appearance on Empty Nest, in an episode titled “A Life in the Day.”
In that one, Dr. Harry Weston (Richard Mulligan) visits a series of patients, but we later find out they were all the same kid — Billy/Bill, as he grows up.
Perry is the last stop, “Bill at 18.”
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Bialik is most famous for her roles as the star of Blossom and, more recently, her run as Amy Farrah Fowler on The Big Bang Theory.
Her credits extend well beyond those two, though, and run back for decades.
Among her sitcom credits are quick hits on Murphy Brown, The Wonder Years, and Doogie Howser, M.D., as well as semi-recurring roles on The Facts of Life, The John Larroquette Show, and Lloyd in Space.
Bialik also had a fairly regular gig as Frieda on Webster in 1988 and 1989.
On Empty Nest, she appeared twice (1988-89) as a precocious patient of Harry’s named Laurie Kincaid.
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Depending on when your entertainment awareness began, you might remember McKean in any number of ways.
For me, as a kid in the 1970s, he’ll always be Lenny Kosnowski, the Lone Wolf galoot of the Lenny and Squiggy duo in Laverne & Shirley.
But McKean has a credit for just about any sort of screen (or off-screen) performance you could imagine, including …
Mr. Green in Clue (1985)
Hal in Flahsback (1990)
David St. Hubbins in This is Spinal Tap (1984)
Bill Nolan in Law & Order (2000)
Keith Chadwick in Family Tree (2013)
Chuck McGill in Better Call Saul (2015-2018)
And on and on and on.
In Empty Nest, McKean appeared as “Dennis” in a 1990 episode titled, “Mad About the Boy.”
Danny Thomas is famous because he’s Danny Thomas, star of The Danny Thomas Show.
That one ran from 1953 through 1964 and made Thomas a superstar of the small screen.
Of course, you don’t just land a gig with your name on it for nothing, and Thomas spent the late 1940s and early 1950s building his case with appearances in movies, including Big City, Call Me Mister, and I’ll See You in My Dreams.
But Thomas wasn’t just a pretty face … nope, he was also a producer and creative mastermind who teamed with Aaron Spelling and Sheldon Leonard to create TV staples Mod Squad, The Andy Griffith Show, and The Dick Van Dyke Show.
By 1991, Thomas was a legend and only making sporadic TV appearances.
But he dusted off the greasepaint for an episode of Empty Nest titled, “The Mentor,” in which he featured as the doctor who had taught Harry the ropes.
Dr. Leo Brewster makes a cameo at Harry’s hospital, and the younger man is thrilled to have his hero working beside him until he realizes the older doc is making pretty serious mistakes.
Sadly, Thomas died of a heart attack on February 6, 1991, just four days after this episode aired.
Thus, “The Mentor” stands as Thomas’s last credit.
If you like to dwell on sucky things, then Phil Hartman’s murder in 1998 should keep you shaking your head for a good long while any time you think about it (sorry!).
But the bright side of thinking about Hartman is remembering all the laughs he brought to all the audiences over the years.
Even before he crashed headlong into the Saturday Night Live culture in 1985, Hartman was bringing joy to kids as a voice man for cartoons like Scooby-Doo, The Dukes, and Pink Panther and Sons.
He also played Captain Carl on Pee-Wee’s Playhouse.
On the more adult front, and aside from SNL, Hartman was stellar as a regular on The Simpsons and NewsRadio, and he guest starred all up and down the TV dial.
One of those came in a 1991 episode of Empty Nest titled, “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner.”
Hartman played Tim Cornell, Laverne’s new trainee … a tough gig if ever there was one!
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