Steelers Franco Harris' first-ever acting role in a forgotten '80s tv horror series

Franco's first ever acting role was made possible thanks to Pittsburgh horror icon George Romero
Dec. 5, 1982; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; FILE PHOTO; Pittsburgh Steelers running back Franco Harris (32)
Dec. 5, 1982; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; FILE PHOTO; Pittsburgh Steelers running back Franco Harris (32) / Malcolm Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

It’s not unusual for some NFL players to moonlight as actors. Some have gone on to acting after their careers ended. You have heard of most of these names: Fred Dryer, Alex Karras, Merlin Olson, and even Terry Bradshaw, who had some on-screen time in some Burt Reynolds movies.

One player you do not associate with acting is former Steelers Hall of Famer Franco Harris. Why would you? Sure, he did do a local commercial for a car rental business in Pittsburgh during his playing days, and at the end of the commercial, he takes a swipe at O.J. Simpson and the Avis car rental commercials.

However, he never went on to be an actor. It wasn't his forte. That is true to a degree, but not entirely true. Franco did have an initial acting role in 1988, but it's one you probably missed. Adding the the intrigue this small role was, in part, made possible thanks to Pittsburgh icon George Romero.

How George Romero made Franco Harris’ tv role possible

In Franco Harris' final season in the NFL in 1983, a brand new show was hitting the airwaves. This show was not on any major television networks; instead, it premiered in syndication, in which any station could pick it up and air it. You would typically see it on local TV stations not affiliated with ABC, NBC, or CBS at that time.

Another tidbit that Makes the show concept more interesting is that the show was the brainchild of George Romero, mostly known for his zombie movies shot in Pittsburgh locations. In early 1982, George Romero directed Creepshow, a film in three segments with a different horror storyline. Romero then decided to bring it to the small screen, although he had to jettison anything that would have tied it to the movie, as Warner Brothers had the rights to anything Creep Show-related.

The debut show was Tales from the Darkside, which Laurel Entertainment produced. Franco did not star in Tales from the Darkside, although it ran until 1988. As producers canceled Tales from the Dark Side, Richard P. Rubenstein spun the show off from Tales from the Darkside, making it more horror-related than Tales from the Darkside.

Birth of Monsters and Francos' first acting role

In 1988, Richard Rubenstein launched Monsters. In season one, episode six, Franco Harris made his debut alongside episode co-star Meatloaf, whose claim to fame in acting to that date was his cameo in the Rocky Horror Picture Show. There are few details on how Franco even landed the role; suffice it to say that when offered the role, he was available. 

Making the role more intriguing is the fact it was a slightly zombie-related episode as well, in which Franco's role is a football player who received a knee from a preserved dead man to help continue his football career. Then, 10 minutes into the episode, the zombie kills him.

If you watched the show, it typically had B-list actors and did not have a high production budget, and most of the episodes were kind of quirky. However, seeing Franco in a role where most people did not know he starred was fascinating.

Monsters would not be his last role, but it was just as obscure as his first. In 1996, Franco starred in an episode of Charlie Grace starring Mark Harmon on ABC. The show only lasted nine episodes before canceling, and it does not seem to float around much on most streaming services. Still, if you want to kill a half hour and have fun ahead of the start of the NFL season, check out Franco's first television role on Monsters.