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Actors Who Left A Show But Later Returned As A Regular Cast Member

While there are major outliers like "Friends," "Seinfeld," and "The Big Bang Theory" that buck the trend, the vast majority of shows that last more than a few seasons tend to lose an original main cast member or two at some point. Whether it be contract disputes, behind the scenes turmoil, an actor's movie career taking off, or simply an actor deciding to move onto other projects, shows that approach the 10-season mark aren't often able to keep the core cast they start with intact all the way through the finale episode.

Sometimes an actor leaves a show and never returns to it in any capacity. However, what tends to happen a little more often is that an actor who has left a show will come back for a couple of guest spots here and there, with a cameo during the series finale being a fairly common way for an actor to make one last appearance as their former television character. With all that said, it's rare but not unheard of for a main cast member to leave a show only to come back and rejoin that same show years later.

Gates McFadden (Star Trek: The Next Generation)

Given her particularly personal history with Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart), the "Star Trek: The Next Generation" cast member whose appearance on "Picard" arguably caused the most excitement among the "Star Trek" fanbase was Beverly Crusher (Gates McFadden). And for those who have seen all of Season 3 of "Picard," things are revealed about the relationship and history between the two that will certainly go down as some of the most significant moments of the entire franchise.

And to think, Dr. Crusher was initially only on Season 1 of "Next Generation" before departing and giving way for Dr. Pulaski (Diana Muldaur) as her replacement. It turns out that McFadden didn't get along with Maurice Hurley, one of the show's main writers and producers at the time, and as a result, McFadden was fired at the end of Season 1. The fans were not happy, nor did they ever embrace Dr. Pulaski. So when both Muldaur and Hurley decided to leave "TNG" at the end of Season 2, McFadden was invited back and returned to the show as a main cast member for its remaining five seasons as well as all of the "TNG" movies.

Kim Raver (Grey's Anatomy)

One of the main factors that keep a show like "Grey's Anatomy" on the air for many years are its characters. Sure, that means beloved fan favorites that viewers love to root for, but antagonistic characters that fans love to hate are just as important. "Grey's" fans are often outspoken in their hatred of her character Teddy Altman, but as Kim Raver put it, "That means that we're doing our job. We're not here to be liked."

Cardiothoracic surgeon Dr. Teddy Altman was a fairly short-lived character at first, only joining the main cast during Season 6 and departing by the end of Season 8. But Raver eventually came back to the show to stir up trouble again as Teddy, first in a recurring role in Season 14 and then once again as a main cast member in Season 15. That makes her one of only five "Grey's" cast members who go back as early as Season 6 and are in the main cast as of Season 19, and the only actor thus far to leave the show and come back in a full-time capacity.

Patrick Duffy (Dallas)

In one of the most memorable and beloved finales in television history, the very last scene of the sitcom "Newhart" brilliantly suggests that the entire series was just a dream of Bob Newhart's character from his previous sitcom, "The Bob Newhart Show." This was actually a parody of actor Patrick Duffy's departure and return to the primetime soap opera "Dallas." Duffy's character, Bobby Ewing, dies, only to later return and have the season he spent dead retroactively turned into his wife's dream.

Duffy's contract only ran through Season 8 of "Dallas," and Duffy chose not to negotiate his return. Considering the show had previously hit ratings gold with its Season 3 finale cliffhanger — which famously had America asking, "Who shot J.R.?" — it was decided to kill Bobby at the end of Season 8 to give it another shocking, potentially hype-inducing moment. Instead, Season 9 saw slumping ratings and misguided storylines, and producers thought that bringing Bobby back was what the show needed to survive. His death, however, provided a major inconvenience. 

So, the dream twist paved the way for Duffy to return to "Dallas" as a regular cast member for the show's remaining five seasons, as well as all three seasons of the 2012 revival series.

Maggie Roswell (The Simpsons)

As remarkable as it is that "The Simpsons" has now soared well past the 30-season mark, what's almost even more impressive is that it has managed to retain almost all of its original main and recurring voice talent, save for those that have passed away. Beyond the six actors – Dan Castellaneta, Julie Kavner, Nancy Cartwright, Yeardley Smith, Hank Azaria, and Harry Shearer – that comprise the show's primary main cast, there are a handful of others who show up in the "also starring" end credits of nearly every episode and voice many of the show's most popular and frequently appearing characters.

One such "also starring" that's been with the show from Season 1 is Maggie Roswell, who quickly became integral to the cast as she was responsible for voicing such important characters as Maude Flanders, Helen Lovejoy, Ms. Hoover, and Luann Van Houten. But Roswell ended up quitting the show in 1999 over a pay dispute in which she says Fox refused to raise her salary to help cover the cost of her flying back and forth between the show's LA studios and her home in Denver. After Roswell left, Maude Flanders was killed off and Roswell's other characters were voiced by someone else. 

In 2002, Fox agreed to let Roswell record her lines from home, and she returned to the show where she's been an "also starring" for the last 21 years and counting. 

Mike Evans (The Jeffersons)

People sometimes forget that "The Jeffersons" was actually a spin-off of "All in the Family." In fact, various members of the Jefferson clan appeared in over 30 episodes of "All in the Family" before they were finally given their own show. The actors who played Louise Jefferson (Isabel Sanford), George Jefferson (Sherman Hemsley), and Lionel Jefferson (Mike Evans) on "All in the Family" all made the jump over to the new show, though one of them wouldn't stay on board for long.

According to Jimmie Walker (via an interview with The Television Academy), who starred on "Good Times" – a show co-created by Mike Evans where he also served as a writer — Evans demanded more screen time on "The Jeffersons" from Norman Lear himself at a company Christmas party and threatened to quit if he didn't get it. Instead, Evans was fired from the show on the spot. Actor Damon Evans (no relation) was cast in the role of Lionel for Seasons 2 through 4, with the character missing from the show entirely during Season 5. But Mike Evans returned to "The Jeffersons" full time to play Lionel for Seasons 6 and 7, moving to a recurring role for Season 8 and then returning as a guest star for the 11th and final season.

Paget Brewster (Criminal Minds)

The crime drama-police procedural genre can provide a steady, long-term paycheck for an actor if they are so inclined. The most successful entries in this genre last for decades, and actors who work primarily in television know how fortunate one can be to land such a gig. This is probably why, even though she is also an extremely talented comedic actor and that seems to be where her heart lies, Paget Brewster jumped at the chance to take a role on "Criminal Minds" as Special Agent Emily Prentiss in 2006.

Brewster played Agent Prentiss in the main cast of "Criminal Minds" from Season 2 through Season 7. Though she was no longer on the show full time after that point, she didn't stay away completely, appearing here and there via guest spots between Season 9 and Season 11. But she would eventually return to full time when she rejoined the main cast in Season 12 and has remained as a main cast member ever since – including in Seasons 16 and the upcoming Season 17, in which the show rebranded as "Criminal Minds: Evolution" and moved to Paramount+.

Darrell Hammond (Saturday Night Live)

We're stretching the definition of "regular cast member" a little bit with this one ... but hear us out. Darrell Hammond had previously been the longest-running cast member of "Saturday Night Live" prior to being overtaken by Kenan Thompson, though Hammond holds various records related to the show, including the distinction of being the oldest cast member in the history of "SNL" — he was 53 during his 14th and final season on the show.

Hammond left the show in 2009 at the end of Season 34, though he would make history as the first and thus far only former cast member to ever return to "Saturday Night Live" in a full-time capacity rather than just guest hosting or appearing in cameos. After longtime announcer Don Pardo died in the summer of 2014, Hammond came back to "SNL" in Season 40 to take over Pardo's old job. While Hammond has made the occasional on-camera appearances — beginning with playing Donald Trump in Season 41 – he has largely stuck to announcing and other voice-over duties on the show, remaining the full-time announcer to this day.

Prior to his death, Pardo once told a story about how Hammond secretly filled in for him one night when Pardo had laryngitis, doing such a good job that even Pardo's sister-in-law thought it was actually him.

David Duchovny (The X-Files)

Though he had appeared in several high-profile movies and television shows prior, actor David Duchovny didn't fully break out into stardom until landing the part of Special Agent Fox Mulder in "The X-Files." His dry delivery was perfectly suited to Mulder, and his chemistry with Gillian Anderson, who played as Mulder's partner Dana Scully, was undeniable. One of the first big non-comedy hits for the still fairly new Fox network, "The X-Files" was extremely popular in the '90s and quickly developed a passionate cult following that remains to this day.

Despite all that, Duchovny left the show after his contract was up at the end of Season 7, in part because he felt Fox wasn't giving him his fair share of the money it was earning from "The X-Files" and its various distribution deals. While he only stayed fully gone for part of Season 8 – during which time Mulder was, fittingly, abducted by aliens – Duchovny wasn't a main cast member and only appeared in a handful of Season 9 episodes. Scully's replacement full-time partners were Agent John Doggett, played by Robert Patrick, and Agent Monica Reyes, played by Annabeth Gish. 

But when "The X-Files" returned in 2016, Duchovny was back as Mulder 100% for Seasons 10 and 11. He was also the top-billed star of the second "X-Files" movie, "I Want to Believe," released during the hiatus between Season 9 and Season 10. 

Sherry Stringfield (ER)

The six actors that comprised the main cast of long-running medical drama "ER" from its first season are Anthony Edwards, George Clooney, Sherry Stringfield, Noah Wyle, Julianna Margulies, and Eriq La Salle. Contrary to what you might assume, the first of them to leave actually wasn't budding movie star Clooney, but Stringfield, who left behind the character Dr. Susan Lewis after three seasons. Stringfield told Variety (via ABC News) at the time that she left because she "needed a life" and subsequently got married and had a child.

In that same interview, Stringfield also detailed her reasons for coming back to the show full time as Dr. Lewis beginning with Season 8, saying, "I just felt like really working again, and it was the obvious choice for me," pointing out that she left the show on amicable terms, so it was easy for her to come back. Stringfield's second stint playing Dr. Lewis as a main cast member was even longer than her first, as she stayed with the show until the beginning of Season 12. 

In addition, along with all five of the other original main cast members, Stringfield returned once again to make special appearances during the 15th and final season of "ER." 

Esther Rolle (Good Times)

"Good Times" had plenty of cast-related drama, including a main cast member departing from the show and returning to once again play that character full time for a later season. In this case, it was the show's matriarch, Florida Evans (Esther Rolle), who was a main character for the show's first four seasons before Rolle left over issues she had with the rising popularity as well as the portrayal of the show's breakout character.

Though "Good Times" was originally meant to focus on Florida and her husband, James (John Amos), their oldest son J.J. (Jimmie Walker) became a fan favorite and the show was retooled to fit his sillier comedic sensibilities. In an interview with Ebony magazine (via Sitcoms Online), Rolle expressed her disdain for the character of J.J. and said that he perpetuated too many negative stereotypes about Black youth. Amos also raised similar issues with the producers, which ultimately led to his firing and the killing off of his character. Rolle wound up leaving voluntarily over the direction of the show at the end of Season 4.

After being gone through all of Season 5, Rolle returned to play Florida Evans once more for the final season of "Good Times."

Christopher Meloni (Law & Order: SVU)

There are a few "Law & Order" franchise lifers who seem like they are more than willing to stay on their respective shows for as long as they exist. "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit" in particular seems adept at retaining talent, with Mariska Hargitay having played Olivia Benson for more than 500 episodes and Ice-T hitting that milestone with his portrayal of Fin Tutuola midway through Season 24. Christopher Meloni was going strong as Elliot Stabler for the show's first 12 seasons as well, but he ended up leaving after what is still a very impressive run.

After almost 10 seasons away, Meloni returned to "SVU" on a recurring but steady basis beginning with Season 22. Meanwhile, he has returned to the "Law & Order" franchise as a whole as a main cast member — only Stabler is now the primary lead on "Law & Order: Organized Crime," which is currently in its Season 3. It's likely he only came back to "SVU" as a means of cross-promotion for "Organized Crime," but he's still made a fair number of appearances in his return to his original "Law & Order" show and it remains to be seen what his presence will be on "SVU" going forward. Who knows? Maybe he'd be willing to return full-time if "Organized Crime" doesn't end up having long-term legs.

Lecy Goranson (Roseanne)

Strap in, because this one is confusing. Lecy Goranson was the original actor to portray Becky Connor on the acclaimed sitcom "Roseanne," a role she played for five seasons until she went to college. Initially, Goranson tried to balance her duties on the show with her studies by reducing her role to more of a part-time, recurring presence. But it was too much for Goranson, who ultimately had to leave the show entirely during Season 5 in order to fully concentrate on school.

Rather than have Becky be absent from the show in the meantime, actor Sarah Chalke was brought in to take over as Becky for Season 6 and Season 7. Goranson then returned to take her old role back over in Season 8, though Chalke still had to stand in again for Goranson for a few Season 8 episodes as Goranson's school schedule got in the way. Goranson ended up leaving again, with Chalke taking over as Becky full time yet again for season 9.

Twenty-two years later when "Roseanne" returned for its revival season, it was Goranson back in the role of Becky, a part she continued to play as the show transitioned into "The Conners" the following season. Chalke also appeared on "Roseanne," this time as a woman named Andrea who wanted Becky to be her surrogate due to the physical resemblance between the two women.

Sue Devaney (Coronation Street)

For as much as we celebrate the long runs of American shows like "The Simpsons" and "Saturday Night Live," England's still-running soap opera "Coronation Street" laughs all the way back to its 1960 debut as it closes in on the mind-blowing 11,000-episode mark. To say the show has been a mainstay on British television for multiple generations would be an understatement, and its extensive tenure means that literally hundreds of characters have appeared on the show over the course of its 60-plus years on the air.

While only a single original actor remains – William Roache, who has played Ken Barlow for the show's entire run – there are plenty who have put in several decades at this point. It's also not unusual for actors to leave "Coronation Street" only to return later, or for characters to be portrayed by different actors as time goes on. But one character that stands out is Debbie Webster, played by Sue Devaney and initially only appearing within a single season between 1984 and 1985. 

In 2019, after a 34-year absence, Debbie made a surprise return to the show, remarkably still played by Devaney. Devaney has thus far remained with the show since her return, with Debbie playing major parts in various plotlines.