These Stars All Got Their Start on PBS Programs

Some celebs get a jump start on their acting career when they’re just little kids — and there’s no better place to do that than on shows meant for children! Many of these programs are aired on the Public Broadcasting Service, AKA PBS. The television network airs many childhood favorites like “Barney” and “Sesame Street” as well as animated series like “Arthur.” While these actors were just kids at the time they joined the network, it was clear even then that they were destined for stardom!

Find out which actors got their start on PBS programs…

1. Selena Gomez

Selena Gomez landed her first role as part of the cast of “Barney & Friends.” She played Gianna on the show from 2002 to 2004 and although she admits she got made fun of at school, she says it was an incredible experience. She even remembers a lot of the songs to this day!

“It was amazing to be able to be 7 years old and experience that. It was wild. I feel like it was such a part of my life,” she said during a BBC Radio 1 interview.

2. Sarah Jessica Parker

Back in the early 1980s, Sarah Jessica Parker made an appearance on the PBS children’s science show “3-2-1 Contact.” Sarah, who was starring in “Annie” on Broadway at the time, could be seen in the episode dressed in her musical costume as she explained how hibernation works.

3. Tatyana Ali

Tatyana Ali got her start on “Sesame Street,” playing one of the kids in the neighborhood from 1984 to 1989. She made appearances alongside celebrity guest stars like Dizzy Gillespie, Sid Caesar, and Herbie Hancock. During the show’s 50th anniversary in 2019, Tatyana reflected on her time on the show.

“You were a huge part of my childhood and now a part of my children’s lives. I loved being a part of the magic,” Tatyana wrote on Twitter.

4. Ben Affleck

One of Ben Affleck’s earliest acting credits was his appearance on “The Voyage of the Mimi” in the early 1980s. The educational program followed the crew of a ship called Mimi as they explored the ocean and researched whales.

“Much like my character in [‘The Accountant’], I had some training in my early life, but this kind of training was training in making sixth grade math and science students suffer through belabored explanations of math and science concepts on a child’s TV show. I did it over a period of time. There’s some where I’m 10, and some where I’m 13,” Ben shared on “The Graham Norton Show.”

5. Demi Lovato

Like Selena Gomez, Demi Lovato also got her start on “Barney & Friends.” The pair became close when they met at the audition and ended up starring on the show at the same time. Looking back, Demi says she was going through a very tough time personally and the show really helped her.

“At the time, I was just so grateful to be on TV, but I was also really struggling. Looking back, there was a connection, probably between any kid who’s ever sang that song to Barney, a little place in a child’s heart, a void, that could be filled…I guess subliminally, I did have a relationship with this figure that was saving my life in a way,” Demi told Cosmopolitan.

6. Julia Stiles

As a pre-teen Julia Stiles appeared on the PBS show “Ghostwriter” where she played a computer hacker named Erica Dansby. Julia admits that she’s “pretty embarrassed” by the role and wishes it wasn’t still online.

“I was so little and precocious, and it’s embarrassing to me. I mean, I’m grateful for all the work that I’ve been able to do in a job, and especially because that was when I was auditioning and all you want to do is get work. So I’m certainly grateful, but also extremely embarrassed,” Julia told AV Club.

7. Keshia Knight Pulliam

Keshia Knight Pulliam made her television debut on “Sesame Street” when she was just three-years-old. She appeared on episodes of the show that ran from 1982 to 1984. When she was later cast on “The Cosby Show,” she returned to her “Sesame Street” roots with the rest of the cast for a special guest appearance.

8. Tyler James Williams

Tyler James Williams’ earliest role was on “Sesame Street,” joining the cast when he was eight-years-old. He appeared on the show from 2000 to 2003 and was also featured in an “Elmo’s World” holiday special.

“It’s kind of the best way to start when you’re a child actor because they transition you. They know you’re a child. You meet all the Muppets but they stay in character. It’s a great way to learn how to get started,” he said on “Live With Kelly and Ryan.”

9. Ming-Na Wen

In 1985, “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D” actress Ming-Na Wen made one of her first television appearances on “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.” She appeared on a few episodes where she played a royal trumpeter in King Friday’s court. Looking back, she says it was “incredible” to be on the set and wishes she had brought a camera to document her experience.

“Mr. Rogers, he’s exactly the way you see him. I mean just sweet, kind, quiet, soft-spoken,” she said, adding, “I was in college and me and two of my classmates volunteered and we got to do it…It was incredible to be on that set.”

10. Debby Ryan

Just before Debby Ryan was cast on Disney Channel, she had a role in a Barney movie titled “Barney: Let’s Go to the Firehouse.” In the film, she played a teenager whose dog had gotten trapped in a hole and the fire department had to come to rescue it.

11. Madison Pettis

Madison Pettis also got her start on the “Barney & Friends” set, where she played Bridget from 2005 to 2006. Although her mom was hesitant to get involved in the entertainment industry so young, it ended up being the beginning of her successful career.

“My mom was hesitant because she wasn’t involved in the entertainment industry on any level but she could see how much I loved it. Soon after, I started modeling and then I booked some commercials. The first TV show I was in was Barney and Friends. Around that time, I started taking acting classes with Cathryn Sullivan, an amazing coach in Texas. She had an agent come from LA to scout me. He said if I flew to LA for pilot season, he would represent me,” Madison explained to Lefair Magazine.

12. Ashley Tisdale

When Ashley Tisdale was a little girl, she appeared on several episodes of “Sesame Street” throughout season 25. She recently shared a clip from one of the episodes where she could be seen holding up the letter F while on a playground.

“I bet you didn’t know I was on Sesame Street! also who knew my letter was later going to be the first letter of my married name, French. Also I couldn’t pronounce my R’s but look at me now!” Ashley shared on Twitter.

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