Kristen Bell was excellent on the season finale of Party Down. She is also one of several people who have appeared on this very good but relatively obscure cable show — which, however, will be back for another season — after previously working with the show’s co-creator, Rob Thomas. Her Veronica Mars dad, Enrico Colantoni, guest starred in the Party Down pilot; Jason “Logan” Dohring appeared as a college Republican type, and other Mars actors have guested on the show, even apart from the fact that most of the regular cast was drafted from people Thomas had worked with on that show.
I like when a creator corrals people from his old show into appearing on his new one. I guess sometimes it can seem a little needy, which is why it actually works better if the previous show wasn’t a gigantic hit (which Veronica Mars certainly wasn’t). That way it’s a nice shout-out to fans of the older show, as well as a publicity boost. It’s like Bill Lawrence’s frequent use of Spin City cast members on Scrubs (and his animated show Clone High): they’re good guest stars, but they also create a fun sense of continuity between the creator’s different shows. It’s interesting to watch to see whether their new character is like the one they played on the old show, or a complete change of pace, or something in-between.
The flip side of this practice is, of course, a showrunner bringing in the cast members of his flop show for guest roles on his long-running hit, e.g. Nathan Fillion turning up in a multi-episode guest part on Buffy.
The comments section will hopefully provide other examples of the first kind of guest shot, the famous actor turning up as a favour to the creator of his/her old show. The highest-profile example of this is probably Tom Hanks, having just won two consecutive Oscars, playing himself in the pilot of the Tea Leoni sitcom The Naked Truth. The creator of that show, Chris Thompson, created and ran Hanks’ show Bosom Buddies (and went on to create Action; he’s a bitter, bitter guy), and Hanks did the first episode as a favour to the guy who launched his career.
Here’s the clip; the setup is that Leoni is a sleazy tabloid photographer who is in talks to go over to a respectable publication, but can’t resist her urge to photograph celebrities in compromising situations.