Why You Don't Hear From Bonnie Hunt Anymore

Hey, you know who's great? Bonnie Hunt. Yeah, Bonnie Hunt! Few performers are as comforting and welcoming a presence in a movie or TV show—and a guarantee of rapid-fire jokes—as Bonnie Hunt. Hunt has been popping up with supporting roles in movies both big and small, and as the star of her own multiple sitcoms, for almost 30 years now, improving everything she's in with her sharp, crackling, quirky wit honed in the Chicago live comedy scene. For a while there, it seemed like there was always a Bonnie Hunt movie in the theaters, like Cheaper by the Dozen, or a Bonnie Hunt TV show on the air, like Life with Bonnie, The Bonnie Hunt Show, or several other series whose titles incorporated the famous name of the actress/writer/director/producer/host. Hunt doesn't appear on screen as much as she used to—and here are a few of the reasons why that may be.

She starred in five short-lived sitcoms, which is too many

While Hunt only got one shot as a director in the cutthroat, male-dominated world of film, television has been very willing to let Bonnie Hunt work. Since 1990, Hunt has starred in a staggering number of sitcoms—five—all of which were canceled swiftly, abruptly, or prematurely. Emmy nominations and critical praise be darned, because none were able to attract the millions of viewers needed to be profitable. 

Here's a brief tour through the graveyard of lovely Bonnie Hunt sitcoms. 

Hunt's first major role was in the NBC sitcom Grand (1990), which was about three interconnected families of various status in a small Pennsylvania town that played like a comic version of Dallas. Next came a part on Davis Rules (1991-92)a family sitcom that also starred a then-measured Randy Quaid and comedy legend Jonathan Winters, who won an Emmy for his trouble. On the David Letterman-produced, semi-improvised The Building (1993), Hunt played a newly single woman living in a Chicago apartment complex filled with wacky characters (for just five episodes). Letterman put Hunt back on TV in 1995 with Bonnie, in which she played a wacky TV reporter (for just 12 episodes). Then on Life with Bonnie (2002-2004), Hunt was Emmy-nominated for playing a daytime TV talk show host. Five attempts at sitcom fame is a lot, and at this point, TV is probably going to stop trying to make Bonnie Hunt happen. 

She's still on the Hunt for a good live-action movie

The two mid-2000s Cheaper by the Dozen movies starred two gifted comedy professionals whose talents were sorely underutilized. The sentimental family flicks about how crazy it is that a family has many children—that's pretty much the gist—starred Steve Martin and Bonnie Hunt as the parents. While both performers were probably just trying to get whatever work they could until Hollywood stopped paying attention to them because they were no longer young, it was a complete waste of Bonnie Hunt to cast her in a thankless and generic role. On the other hand, Cheaper by the Dozen and Cheaper by the Dozen 2 are two of the biggest box office hits of Hunt's live-action film acting career. Hunt had small but memorable supporting roles in Oscar darlings like Jerry Maguire and Rain Man, as well as the first couple of Beethoven movies, but those came out more than 20 years ago. Hunt's more recent non-animated movie work has barely been seen. The 2005 family drama Loggerheads was barely released outside of film festivals, and the inspirational sports movie Hurricane Season was released straight to DVD, despite a cast that included Hunt, Taraji P. Henson, and Oscar winner Forrest Whitaker. Hunt also had a role in Stolen Summer, a small indie film best known for being the cursed film at the center of Bravo's "let's make a movie" reality show Project Greenlight.

Her directorial debut didn't do well enough to merit a "Return"

In 2000, Bonnie Hunt got the chance of a lifetime: She didn't get to just write a screenplay that was adapted into a major Hollywood motion picture, but she got to direct the movie, too. Return to Me was a sweet and warm romantic comedy that starred David Duchovny as a grieving widower who gets set up on a blind date and subsequently falls in love with a recovering heart transplant patient (Minnie Driver)... who just so happens to have received his dead wife's heart. The film did just middling box office numbers—$32 million in North America—and received moderate approval from critics (it currently enjoys a 61 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes). That lackluster level of success just wasn't enough for Hollywood's money holders to allow Hunt to ever helm a big movie again. Also at play: inherent Hollywood sexism. Hunt is a woman, and there are very few female film directors in Hollywood. And since she didn't hit it out of the park with Return to Me, that was probably her one and only chance.

She's too clean for modern comedy

At least one veteran Hollywood big-shot loves Bonnie Hunt: David Duchovny. The X-Files star got his movie career off the ground with a leading role in Hunt's 2000 directorial debut/swan song Return to Me. "Bonnie is a unique comic voice," Duchovny told Consequence of Sound. "Bonnie's the one for me. Not only is she a great actress, she's a terrific director." In trying to explain why exactly Return to Me tanked, as well as why Hunt isn't in as high demand as she ought to be, Duchovny struck on a thesis: Her work is out of step with the comedy mainstream of the 21st century. "I think what happened partly with Bonnie is that her sensibility is a little more old-fashioned and a little cleaner," Duchovny explained. "A few years after that is when you have cable and Judd Apatow transforming comedy into a rougher, more sexually oriented arena. Bonnie works really clean and works from a different time."

We need to talk about Bonnie

Talk shows are a great place for Hollywood to put recognizable, likable, and well-known stars... that it doesn't quite know what to do with. For example, after Hairspray, Ricki Lake went on to host a talk show, and after Will & Grace wrapped up in 2006, Megan Mullally hit daytime TV. And in 2008, the affable, personable, casually funny Hunt seemed like a natural fit for a chat fest: The Bonnie Hunt Show debuted on stations around the country. (Ironically, it was an example of life-imitates-art, as Hunt's prior project was starring as a TV talk show host on Life with Bonnie.) Despite a bunch of Daytime Emmy nominations (including one for Hunt as Outstanding Talk Show host), The Bonnie Hunt Show couldn't distinguish itself among its crowded field and according to The Wrap, didn't pull in very good ratings. Producer Warner Bros. canceled The Bonnie Hunt Show after two seasons.

Your kids will recognize her voice

Despite some career setbacks and big breakthroughs that didn't quite fall her way, Bonnie Hunt isn't exactly blacklisted from Hollywood. While she may not be headlining a sitcom, movie, or talk show at present, Hunt has quietly become a superstar in the wonderful world of Disney (and Pixar). She has lent her chipper, familiar, Midwestern voice to a slew of hugely popular and financially successful animated movies over the last two decades. Hunt has been as frequent a presence in Pixar movies as the A113 Easter egg and emotionally powerful scenes that can reduce adults to tears. Among her credits with the CGI juggernaut (to which you'll say, "oh, I thought I recognized that voice): Rosie the spider in A Bug's Life, love interest Sally Carrera in all three Cars movies, Flint in Monsters, Inc., a dolly named Dolly in Toy Story 3, and Mrs. Graves in Monsters University. The sound of Hunt also popped up in Zootopia, produced by Pixar's corporate parent Disney. She voiced Bonnie Hopps, mother of main character Lt. Judy Hopps.

Well, it's compliKATEd

Despite several ill-fated TV projects, as recently as 2012, Hollywood was still interested in being in the business of putting Bonnie Hunt shows on television. That year, Ben Stiller's production company Red Hour shot compliKATEd, a pilot for a potential ABC sitcom. Created by Hunt with her longtime writing and performing partner Don Lake, Hunt would also have starred in the comedy that Deadline described as the story of "a confidently insecure woman with a complicated life." The show failed to make it to ABC's fall 2012 schedule, which is definitely a ding on Hunt's record. It also doesn't help much in the way of her prospects of creating TV shows in that it wasn't the first time ABC passed on a pilot she co-wrote with Lake and was supposed to star in. Six years earlier, ABC passed on her series Let Go. Also known at one point as Crimes and Dating, Hunt portrayed a just-divorced detective. 

She plays by her own rules

Very rarely has a Bonnie Hunt TV series felt like a conventional, by-the-book TV series. She has a singular comic sensibility fueled by a love of improvisation and unpredictability. For example, Bonnie featured her in character as a TV reporter interviewing real, unsuspecting people on the street. Hunt needs and wants to do her own thing, and to do it her way, to the point where she's boldly and inspiringly rejected big opportunities because producers wouldn't let her be herself. Hunt actually rejected what could have been her biggest gig ever: Saturday Night Live. After emerging as a star in Chicago's storied Second City comedy collective in the 1980s, she auditioned for NBC's legendary late night show... and got offered a spot in the cast by producer/creator Lorne Michaels. Before she accepted, Hunt told the Los Angeles Times, she asked Michaels if "there's an end of a scene that doesn't feel like working, can you improvise?" Michaels said no way, no how. Not wanting to be comedically stifled, Hunt passed on the show, which she also thought was a toxic boys club back in the day. "It didn't seem like women's careers were really launched on that show."

It's Showtime for Bonnie Hunt

A Bonnie Hunt comeback just might be in the works, and it's taking the form of something the extremely funny and goofy actress hasn't had a lot of experience with: intense, action-heavy TV drama. After ABC failed to pick up its Bonnie Hunt pilot compliKATEd in 2012, Ben Stiller and Red Hour once again sought out Hunt, casting her in an upcoming miniseries called Escape at Dannemora. It's based on the real-life story of a 2015 prison break in which murderers Richard Matt and David Sweat escaped from the Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora, New York, with the assistance of prison worker Tilly Mitchell, with whom both were romantically involved. This eight episode limited series looks to be a surefire Emmy contender, with Stiller directing, Benicio del Toro and Paul Dano starring as Matt and Sweat respectively, and Hunt playing against type as Catherine Leahy Scott, the New York Inspector General who lead the manhunt to find the escaped convicts.