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TV series that continued on after they lost their star

TV is a flexible business. With shows that can go on for years, actors often come and go as they explore other career and personal opportunities. However, most TV shows keep their main characters the same, giving viewers a familiar face to come back to every week. Some, though, are not so lucky, losing their stars to other things before they're ready. While many series just get the axe after their lead departs, others go on. Here are some television shows that continued even after losing their lead.

House of Cards

Hollywood has been rocked with quite a few sexual harassment scandals recently, and one of the stars struck down by their past alleged bad behavior was House of Cards lead Kevin Spacey, who played Frank Underwood on the Netflix series' first five seasons. Spacey was critically lauded for the role, earning a Golden Globe nomination in 2014 and a win in 2015. He also holds five Emmy nominations for lead actor in a drama series.

However, none of that was enough to keep Netflix from dropping Spacey after Star Trek: Discovery actor Anthony Rapp came forward saying that Spacey had made sexual advances toward him when he was just 14 years old. As of this writing, 14 other men have come forward about Spacey's alleged behavior, which also resulted in the actor being completely cut from the already-finished Ridley Scott project All the Money in the World

Producers decided to move forward with House of Cards' sixth season, which was already set to be the show's last before Spacey was kicked out. They'll be building off the season five twist in which Frank's wife, Claire Underwood (Robin Wright), took over the presidency. Frank, meanwhile, will likely be the victim of an offscreen death.

The Office

Many people thought that The Office wouldn't be The Office without Michael Scott, and depending on your feelings on seasons eight and nine, some fans may still believe that to be the case. However, the show proved that it could go on without its star when Steve Carell departed at the end of season seven so that he could tend to his burgeoning movie career and spend more time with his family. 

Carell earned one Golden Globe win and an additional five nominations for his time on The Office, along with a slew of Emmy nominations. Although he started out on camera, he also made inroads behind the camera on the show as well, becoming a producer in season three as well as writing two episodes and directing three more.

Because of his strong and varied work on the show, Carell's loss was felt strongly by the show's fans. However, executive producer Greg Daniels said that there wasn't much talk of ending the show after Carell left. "If we hadn't thought of some good ideas, we might have gone that route," he said. "But it wasn't like anybody wanted to end it."

Although Carell hedged on whether or not he would ever return to the series, Michael did end up making a brief appearance in the finale. Carell's movie career has since taken off in an unexpected direction, with the actor earning an Oscar nomination in 2014 for the drama Foxcatcher and Golden Globe nominations for Foxcatcher and The Big Short.

The O.C.

Mischa Barton started off as the quintessential O.C. blonde as Marissa Cooper, but, throughout the show's run, the character started to go more and more off the rails, dealing with alcoholism, bad boyfriends, and struggles at home. Meanwhile, Barton was dealing with problems of her own, including substance abuse issues and fatigue. Producers decided to kill off Marissa in the season three finale in a car crash that rocked Orange County for the entirety of the show's fourth and final season.

Producers tried to keep the death hush-hush, but Barton actually spilled the beans on Access Hollywood just a few hours before the finale aired. This made a lot of fans of the series very angry, and yet many were happy to see her character killed off—and so was Barton. She said in an interview that she was scared that her character would be brought back from the dead somehow, when she just wanted to move on to other things. Marissa did stay dead, although Barton's career hasn't had the resurgence she probably hoped.

Two and a Half Men

Charlie Sheen has never been a very family-friendly figure, which is what made him perfect for the role of Charlie Harper on Chuck Lorre's foul-mouthed Two and a Half Men. However, it's also what led to his downfall on the show, as the star became embroiled in scandals and started to badmouth Lorre and his fellow castmates, resulting in his character being killed off at the end of the show's eighth season. 

The saga of Sheen's meltdown is fairly long and extensive. In 2011, Sheen headed to rehab after pleading guilty to domestic violence against his then-wife Brooke Mueller, putting Two and a Half Men on hiatus with 16 of the planned 24 episodes of the eighth season filmed. While in rehab, Sheen did an interview with Alex Jones in which he said that Lorre had an "un-evolved mind," among other inflammatory comments.

CBS quickly suspended the rest of production on season eight, but Sheen wasn't done. He continued making the rounds in the press, introducing his now well-known catch phrase, "Winning." Sheen was officially fired from the show in March of that year; he later went on to sue Warner Bros. and Lorre for $100 million, which he later settled

Sheen isn't the only star Two and a Half Men lost throughout its run. Angus T. Jones, the titular half man, left after season 10 after going through some controversies of his own, which included referring to his status on the show as that of a "paid hypocrite" then begging people via a YouTube video to stop watching the series. Unlike Sheen, though, Jones did return for a cameo in the finale.

In spite of all of the above, the show still went on, with Lorre bringing on Ashton Kutcher as the new lead. The Sheen controversy and Kutcher's casting led to a 13 percent ratings increase over Sheen's final season. Although it still wasn't a favorite with critics, the series went on to four more seasons with Kutcher.

Nashville

Connie Britton earned a Golden Globe nomination and an Emmy nomination for her role as the country singer Rayna James on the ABC (and later CMT) drama Nashville, but she still decided that it was time to depart partway through the show's fifth season. Her character was killed off after getting into a car crash.

Britton has said that there were "many reasons" both personal and creative that made her want to leave the show, despite the fact that the character of Rayna meant "so much" to her. Her departure came during a time of upheaval for the series, which had recently moved from ABC to CMT and resulted in a change in budget. Despite rumors to the contrary, though, Britton says she didn't leave because of money.

"There were a lot of things at play, and ultimately it was about making sure the show was in a good place," she said in an interview. Nashville has done well since she left, adding The O.C.'s Rachel Bilson and Chris Carmack and earning a season six renewal. However, the sixth season will be the show's last, as CMT is looking to move more into unscripted programming. 

Spin City

Michael J. Fox was an '80s favorite as teenage Michael P. Keaton of Family Ties, and he continued his successful career as he grew and some years later led ABC sitcom Spin City. However, as he played New York's deputy mayor Mike Flaherty, Fox was dealing with secret struggles off camera with Parkinson's Disease.

Fox revealed partway through the show's run that he had suffered from Parkinson's for seven years and that it had flared up before big events like the Golden Globes and an appearance on The Late Show with David Letterman. However, even after going public with his diagnosis, Fox stuck around with the show another two years.

Eventually, dealing with both his health and the series became too much for Fox, and he decided to leave. He was replaced with Charlie Sheen's Charlie Crawford; the show was canceled after two more seasons.

Fox returned for a guest role in season six. He since appeared on shows like Boston Legal and The Good Wife, not to mention his one-season NBC sitcom The Michael J. Fox Show. He also runs the Michael J. Fox Foundation, which researches cures for Parkinson's, and has released multiple books about his career and his struggles with the disease. 

Charmed

Charmed is nothing without the "Power of Three," but the show still managed after losing its eldest sister at the end of its third season. Shannen Doherty, who played Prue, was killed off, reportedly due to some behind-the-scenes conflicts with her costars, specifically Alyssa Milano. Charmed, meanwhile, brought on Rose McGowan as a replacement to Doherty and ran for five more seasons.

Milano and Doherty's feud was covered extensively in the media, with Milano revealing in 2013 that she was unsure whether Doherty quit the show or was fired. Milano also caused some controversy herself by saying that working on the show's early seasons was "like high school" thanks to the already-existing friendship between Doherty and Holly Marie Combs, prompting a response from Combs on Twitter.

Luckily for Charmed fans, Milano and Doherty made up in 2017, with Milano saying that they talk a lot via Twitter's direct message function.  

The Vampire Diaries

Like many teen shows, The Vampire Diaries was built on a love triangle, in this case between the vampires Stefan (Paul Wesley) and Damon Salvatore (Ian Somerhalder) and the human (at least, for a while) Elena Gilbert (Nina Dobrev). Although the adventures of the trio anchored the show throughout the first six seasons, the show was able to go on for two more seasons after Dobrev announced her departure. 

Dobrev said that it was always the plan for her to leave the show after her six-year contract was up, to help her maintain the fire that comes from wondering if she would ever get a job again. Rumors at the time of Dobrev's departure suggested that it may have something to do with having to work with her real-life ex Somerhalder, although she has shot that down, saying that she and Somerhalder, along with his now-wife Nikki Reed, remain friends.

Dobrev also made a stop back in Mystic Falls before the show went off the air in 2017, appearing in the final episode as both Elena and her doppelganger Katherine. Dobrev also appeared as another doppelganger, Tatia, in a season two episode of The Vampire Diaries spin-off The Originals.

Cheers

Many people thought that Sam and Diane's relationship was the foundation of Cheers. Critics seemed to agree, Diane's Shelley Long was awarded a Golden Globe win (plus two more nominations) and an Emmy win (along with four more nominations) for her role as the more neurotic half of the on-again off-again couple. However, the show proved that it could last without the push-pull dynamic when Long left the show at the end of its fifth season.

While many wondered if disagreements with her costar Ted Danson caused her departure, Long insists that they just had minor work disputes. She said at the time she announced her departure that she was worried that Sam and Diane's relationship wouldn't cover any new ground, and she was having trouble getting the answers she wanted from the writers and producers about how her character was feeling. 

However, Long still wished the show well without her there, saying that she was sure it would still be "great." While some may debate whether Cheers worked without Diane, the show did continue to have a successful run, landing Kirstie Alley as a new female lead and running for six more seasons. Long returned for the series finale, nabbing another Emmy nomination for outstanding guest star in the process.

8 Simple Rules

8 Simple Rules had a simple comedic premise, focusing on the strict rules set by Paul Hennessy, played by John Ritter, for dating his teenage daughters, played by Kaley Cuoco and Amy Davidson. However, the series took a turn when Ritter died at the age of 54, shortly into filming of the show's second season.

Ritter is said to have had heart pains during a rehearsal for the fourth episode of the second season. He was at first misdiagnosed with a heart attack, but doctors later discovered that he had an aortic dissection, or a tear in his heart's main artery. However, it was too late to help him and Ritter passed away later that night. (His family later filed a wrongful death lawsuit, and although a jury ended up clearing the doctors involved, they are still said to have received more than $14 million in settlements.) 

The show went into hiatus following Ritter's death, but they went back into production after two months to film a one-hour goodbye episode to his character. (The two-part episode is among the show's highest-rated on IMDb.) The show ran for three seasons total before being canceled.

Once Upon a Time

Once Upon a Time launched with a buzzy first season, but, by the end of season six, it was pulling in just an average of 3.2 million. To try to get the show back on track, producers decided to take a big risk, writing out most of their original stars in favor of a soft reboot of the series.

This included losing Ginnifer Goodwin's Snow White and Jennifer Morrison's Emma Swan, plus other characters, incuding Prince Charming, Belle, the Wicked Witch of the West, and Henry Mills. Lana Parrilla's Evil Queen, Robert Carlyle's Rumplestiltskin, and Colin O'Donoghue's Hook stuck around for the most part. 

The show brought on quite a few new stars for the reboot, including Dania Ramirez as Cinderella, Gabrielle Anwar as Rapunzel, and Mekia Cox as Tiana. While the show's season eight fate has not been announced as of the time of this writing, it isn't looking good—the series' ratings have continued to drop, and the new season was not a favorite with critics, earning just a 40 percent on Rotten Tomatoes

That '70s Show

That '70s Show lost two of its core gang members after season seven, but it still managed to go on for another season before getting the axe. Topher Grace and Ashton Kutcher decided to leave the long-running sitcom before the end of its run, with Grace's Eric leaving to teach in Africa and Kutcher's Kelso leaving to take a job in Chicago.

Neither gave an official reason for their departure, although both had budding movie careers to tend to. Shortly after leaving the show, Grace would go on to star as the villain Venom in Spider-Man 3, while Kutcher, who had appeared in movies like Just Married and Dude, Where's My Car during the show's run, had roles in The Guardian and Bobby

Both stars made appearances in the show's final season, with Kutcher popping back to series locale Point Place five times and Grace returning for a small role in the finale. Rumors have it that Grace left the show because he didn't get along with his cast mates, although he has on numerous occasions tried to put those to rest, sharing pictures with his former costars and saying that they "all love each other." 

ER

It's often a bad decision for an actor to leave a hit TV series to try to become a movie star, but for George Clooney, that was definitely not the case. The actor led the cast of the medical drama ER for five seasons but chose to leave the show in 1999 to head on to bigger things. Clooney was already pulling double duty during his time on the series, starring in the title role in 1997's Batman and Robin and appearing in other big movies like From Dusk Till Dawn and The Thin Red Line

Although Clooney was a big part of the show, there were no hard feelings from the producers when he decided to leave. Executive producer John Wells said that Clooney "lost literally millions of dollars" by staying on the show for his contractually obligated five seasons and said that him deciding to be ethical and stick with the series is "the thing that few people do." Clooney's exit also brought big returns for the show, which amassed 40 million viewers for his farewell episode. 

Some posited when Clooney left the show that he might not be able to make a name for himself in the movies, but considering the fact that he now has two Oscar wins and four more nominations to his name, we'd say it was the right choice. The actor also honored ER's fans by returning for the show's series finale in 2009.

Grey's Anatomy

Katherine Heigl was one of the prominent cast members of the ABC medical drama Grey's Anatomy, playing surgical intern (and later resident) Izzie Stevens through the show's sixth season. Although Heigl earned two Golden Globe nominations and an Emmy win for her role on the series, there was a lot of drama on set, which included Heigl refusing to submit herself to the Emmys in 2008 because she thought the material didn't warrant awards consideration. This reportedly angered the show's producers, who felt that it was an insult to the writers, who were already upset by the fact that Heigl had referred to a storyline featuring Izzie's affair with the married George as "a ratings ploy."  

Rumors abounded throughout the latter part of her tenure as Izzie that Heigl wanted out of her contract to further pursue her film career, which had been launched with 27 Dresses and Knocked Up. Heigl has since said that she left the show to spend more time with her family, although her costars have offered other reasons, with Ellen Pompeo saying she left over "hurt feelings" and the "huge paychecks" her movie career brought. Heigl, for her part, has said she was so upset over the drama and the scrutiny it brought that she entered therapy. 

Sleepy Hollow

Sleepy Hollow was a breakout hit in its first season, but the second and third suffered in the ratings. Producers decided to go for a shocking ending to the show's third season, killing off Nicole Beharie's Abbie Mills, who had been a co-lead with Tom Mison's Ichabod Crane since the show started. 

Beharie took to Twitter after her character's surprising death to say that she'd had an "incredible experience" on the show and felt that the character had a "perfect resolution." Although she wished her costars well, reports say she'd been trying to leave the show for a while and was originally supposed to die in the season three midseason finale. 

The move to kill off Abbie caused a lot of controversy, leading some fans to question whether or not the show respected its characters of color. (One person leading the charge was Orlando Jones, who starred on the show's first two seasons.) Despite this, the show ended up getting renewed for a fourth season, although after once again falling in the ratings, it was canceled

One Tree Hill

There were a lot of rumors flying around when Hilarie Burton and Chad Michael Murray decided to leave One Tree Hill after the show's sixth season. The pair, who played central couple Lucas Scott and Peyton Sawyer on the teen drama, were said to have departed over failed contract negotiations. Murray caused quite a stir when he said that he wasn't being brought back because "they want to save money," although Burton said at the time that "money isn't necessarily a big motivator for me."

Burton's decision to leave the series became a lot more clear in 2017, when she and other female costars came out to accuse showrunner Mark Schwahn of sexual harassment. Burton alleged that Schwahn created a hostile environment for women working on the show, saying that he was verbally abusive and forcefully kissed her on two separate occasions.

Schwahn's alleged harassment caused Burton to turn down a substantial raise to return for season seven after her original contract was up. After leaving the show, Burton ended up losing her agent because she didn't want to sign on to a long contract on another series where she did not know the showrunner. However, she has still managed to book some big roles, appearing in recurring parts on White Collar, Grey's Anatomy, Hostages, Extant, and Lethal Weapon. Murray, for his part, has come out in support of his female costars, saying he will "stand by them every step of the way."