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Famous TV Characters We Never Want To See Recast

Our bonds with TV characters run deep. While we see movie characters once every so many years, we invite TV characters into our living rooms every week. At most, we usually spend about ten hours with a movie character ... but that's just a single season with someone on television. With an average show lifespan of 3-4 seasons (according to The Ringer), you can expect to spend 40-80 hours with your favorite TV characters! 

"Character-bonding" is a real thing, and it seems especially strong with the heroes and villains on TV — and the people who play them. Just like there are movie characters we never want to see recast, the same goes for television. We'll always associate certain characters with certain actors, sometimes even long after the shows have ended. It's never quite the same when TV actors are replaced, and we hope it never happens with our favorites. Who are our top choices, and did your favorites make the list? Here are famous TV characters we never want to see recast!

No one should ever try to recast Buffy

Sarah Michelle Gellar wasn't the first actor to play Buffy Summers — that was Kristy Swanson in the 1992 cult classic film. But to generations of fans, only Gellar should wield the wooden stake. She certainly had her work cut out for her, as the movie died faster than a vampire in the sun with critics and audiences alike (earning 36% and 43% Tomatometer scores, respectively). At best, its $14 million gross delivered a razor-thin profit on a $7 million budget, and for a moment, it looked like the character would remain on Blockbuster shelves forever ... if not for producer Gail Berman, who asked Joss Whedon if he thought the concept would make for a good TV show.

Whedon then graduated from the screenwriter of the Buffy film to the showrunner for the Buffy series, which ran from 1997 on The WB to 2003 on UPN. Fans followed Buffy's nocturnal adventures for seven seasons and 144 episodes, earning astounding average Tomatometer scores of 82% from critics and 92% from viewers. While Whedon's writing was key, the show could've stunk like garlic if it weren't anchored by Gellar's performance, which was perfectly balanced between tongue-in-cheek and nobly heroic. Naturally, there's a Buffy reboot in the works, but if they plan on recasting Gellar's titular vampire slayer, any new Buffy show belongs in a coffin.

Kelsey Grammer's Frasier Crane was a TV mainstay for 20 years

Norm, Cliff, Carla, everybody knows their names (sorry, not sorry), but it was Dr. Frasier Crane who got the spinoff after Cheers historic 11-season run ended. But while Frasier was the best Cheers spinoff, it wasn't the first. That was The Tortellis in 1987, based on Carla's loutish ex-husband, played by Dan Hedaya (who knew?). A Frasier TV show seemed like a harder sell. A highbrow sitcom about a sophisticated radio psychiatrist? Who was going to watch that? Turns out, lots of people. Frasier was consistently a ratings hit, culminating in the series finale scoring 25.2 million viewers in 2004 (basically 13% of the population).  

Kelsey Grammer was key to Frasier's success. How do you make an intellectual, erudite, borderline arrogant bon vivant with a penchant for seven-syllable words so lovable? Don't ask us. Just watch Grammer, who made it look easy. From his Cheers debut in 1984 to his Frasier denouement in 2004, the psychiatrist was a fixture on America's TV screens. Only a comic actor as brilliant as Grammer could pull that off for two decades. So it's no wonder that he might be reprising the part in the rumored reboot.

Only Emilia Clarke has the fire to play the Mother of Dragons

Daenerys Stormborn of House Targaryen, the First of Her Name, Queen of the Andals and the First Men, Protector of the Seven Kingdoms, the Khaleesi of the Great Grass Sea ... or put simply, Emilia Clarke. As Daenerys, Clarke's diminutive frame (she's 5'2) hid the presence and aura of, well, the Mother of Dragons. So it's hard to believe Daenerys was originally played by Tamzin Merchant in the pilot. Merchant lost her job for undisclosed reasons, but given showrunners D.B. Weiss and David Benioff re-shot 90% of the pilot, she shouldn't take it too personally. 

And honestly, it was probably for the best. Can you imagine anyone else walking through flames, commanding dragons, and leading armies with such strength, resilience, and confidence? As a result, Clarke's work earned her four Emmy nominations, but her most remarkable achievement was how she connected with millions. In addition to top-lining one of the biggest shows ever — nearly 20 million people (hate)watched Game of Thrones' finale on paid cable channel HBO — Daenerys inspired hundreds of parents, too. According to Buzzfeed, nearly 600 children were named some variant of Khaleesi in 2018, while 163 were named Daenerys. In other words, HBO should never recast Emilia Clarke in any GOT spinoff.

AMC would have to be mad to recast Jon Hamm

"What is happiness? It is the moment before you need more happiness." 

Imagine anyone else saying Don Draper's lines — it sounds like the tired, edge-lord cynicism you read on Reddit. From Jon Hamm, it sounds as smooth as a $250 bottle of scotch. For seven seasons, Hamm wore the role of Draper like a finely tailored gray flannel suit, playing it almost as well as Dick Whitman, the character's real name, who disguised himself as Draper to hide his shady, impoverished past. Hamm's (and Whitman's) Don Draper was meant to be a made-up caricature of 1960s all-American manhood, but ironically, he was adopted by a culture genuinely starved for the kind of raw, suave, old-school masculinity Draper represented. We were wandering the cultural desert; Hamm didn't hand us water but an Old Fashioned. 

Man Men's cultural impact punched way above its mediocre ratings, and Don Draper was the main reason why. Amazingly, Hamm says he almost didn't get the part, telling Marc Maron on his WTF Podcast (as reported by Screen Rant) that Thomas Jane was up for Draper. Hamm's Mad Men castmate, John Slattery, also auditioned for the part, though it's equally hard to imagine anyone but Slattery dropping Roger Sterling's quips. Despite Hamm's non-existent name recognition at the time, show creator Matthew Weiner got his Don Draper, and pop culture got its icon.

Leslie Knope was one of TV's most upbeat characters

We live in a cynical age. Upbeat, good-natured (or even mildly optimistic) people are usually mocked. But for seven seasons, Amy Poehler had us in stitches over Leslie Knope's cheery and, at times, naive disposition, and at the same time, we were also admiring her for her kindness, pleasantness, and abiding sense of right and wrong. Knope was kinda like the Golden Era Superman, except she didn't wear red and blue tights. Instead, she donned a gray suit, and her only power was continuing to inspire the people around her to do the right thing, even when they preferred doing the wrong things. It's the kind of conflict that creates great comedy and a great protagonist. 

As a comedian with exceptional talents, Poehler could've made Knope the butt of the joke. It would've been the easy — and expected — thing to do. Instead, she and Parks and Recreation's showrunners crafted a comedic character to laugh at and look up to, not down on. Parks and Rec ended its run in 2015, but it came back for A Parks and Recreation Special on April 30, 2020. Given it premiered in the middle of a pandemic, the cast reunited to cheer people up safely via Zoom. Just what Leslie Knope would do.

Nobody but Bryan Cranston can play 'the one who knocks'

Breaking Bad showrunner Vince Gilligan wanted to chart one man's descent "from Mr. Chips to Scarface." The only actor up for the job? The dad from Malcolm in the Middle. Sounds crazy, which is exactly what TV execs thought about Bryan Cranston playing Walter White. In the mid-2000s Cranston was mostly known as Malcolm's Hal Wilkerson or Jerry Seinfeld's dentist, Dr. Tim Whatley. Gilligan knew Cranston had the chops, but he had to consider a revolving door of alternatives for Heisenberg, including Matthew Broderick and John Cusack. 

Yes, we'd be interested in Broderick or Cusack in an Elseworlds-kinda tale, but we can also say with absolute certainty that nobody but Bryan Cranston could go from so lovingly pathetic to horrifyingly evil, sometimes in the same scene. Cranston left you wondering, "Did Walter break bad, or was he always bad? Or was he just a sad-sack loser who would do anything to become someone, even if that someone was a monster?" 

Yet as horrible as White became, you never stopped rooting for him, perhaps because we recognized ourselves in him. Cranston earned five Emmys for his performance, while his most famous fanboy, Sir Anthony Hopkins, emailed him to gush, "Your performance as Walter White was the best acting I have seen — ever" (via Vanity Fair). In other words, nobody should ever be recast as Walter White, mainly because nobody else could ever do it right.

Recasting Tiny Fey as Liz Lemon would make us sour

Tina Fey's most famous role is as Governor Sarah Palin, but Julianne Moore also did a good job playing her in HBO's Game Change. However, nobody gets to play Fey's other signature character, Liz Lemon on NBC's 30 Rock. Fey's performance as Lemon is unique on this list, as she's basically playing herself. So when we say nobody else can play Liz Lemon, we mean that literally — Tiny Fey is Liz Lemon. 

Fey became a writer on Saturday Night Live, eventually graduating to on-air talent and, more importantly, the first female head writer in the show's history. She departed from SNL in 2006, and that same year, she created 30 Rock and played Liz Lemon, the head writer of a sketch comedy show patterned after SNL. Despite the SNL connection, there was no guarantee 30 Rock would become a hit. Just ask Aaron Sorkin, whose similar Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip lasted just one season. But thanks to a stellar ensemble cast, including Alec Baldwin (who belongs on this list for his career-defining role of TV exec Jack Donaghy), 30 Rock was a hit show for seven seasons. It's rare for a talent to play a character they created. As Liz Lemon, Tina Fey did exactly that, which is why nobody else can ever play her.

Eleven is one of TV's greatest sci-fi characters

Few TV series have had a stranger cultural impact than Stranger Things. When the first season came out, you didn't feel like you were watching the sci-fi show — you felt like you were discovering it, like finding a cult classic on VHS nobody else knew about. Yet it was that purposefully esoteric approach that made Stranger Things such an immediate mainstream hit when it debuted in 2016, and it's still a lasting pop culture milestone several seasons later. Like Hot Topic, Stranger Things feels underground, but it's tidied itself up for the mainstream. Several actor-character combos are key to the show's success, but the series standout is Millie Bobby Brown as Eleven. 

While we relate to the four boys, with their Dungeons & Dragons obsession and Ghostbusters Halloween costumes, Eleven is intriguing because she isn't relatable. Or hopefully not, at least. A telepathic child torn away from her parents and raised in an underground bunker to do battle with an inter-dimensional supernatural evil isn't most people's childhood experience. But Brown manages to hit the right note with Eleven, playing her as both vulnerable and powerful, a lonely little girl who's as frightened of the evil monsters and men around her as she is confident in her own abilities to fight them. Strangely enough, Brown told Variety she almost gave up acting before landing the part of Eleven. It's a good thing for her career she didn't, and it's a great thing for us as fans.

Recasting Lucy Lawless as Xena would be an epic mistake

It's not often that a spinoff character becomes a bigger pop culture icon than the original main character. But most spinoff characters aren't Lucy Lawless' Xena. Xena first appeared on Hercules: The Legendary Journeys in an episode appropriately titled "The Warrior Princes." Xena was a villain who planned on killing the son of Zeus, but she turned away from her wicked ways and got her own show, too! Xena: Warrior Princess ran for six seasons from 1995 to 2001, for a total of 134 episodes, meaning it ran longer than Hercules! Hercules was a popular fantasy show, but Xena was that and much more. 

With Lawless wearing the leather skirt and wielding the chakram, the character touched a nerve with a generation of viewers, to the point that in the US, "Xena" was the 792nd most popular girl's name in 1996 and 806th in 1997. That may not seem that impressive, but considering zero baby girls were named "Xena" from 1910 to 1994, we'd say that's quite the jump. Lawless never won an Emmy or Golden Globe for her role (she was never even nominated, which is ridiculous), but she took home a far rarer prize in 2004, when she was awarded the New Zealand Order of Merit. According to The Hollywood Reporter in 2017, NBC thankfully scrapped a planned reboot of Xena, this time with a new actress in the role. Sorry, but recasting Lucy Lawless as Xena would be an epic mistake

Danai Gurira is a cut above the rest

Few characters had a more memorable entrance than Michonne did on The Walking Dead. Season 2's finale closed with the arrival of a katana-wielding, hooded figure carting two walkers on chains like tamed dogs. But while atmosphere and mystery help create a character, making that character iconic takes an actor of considerable skill (and not just with a sword). The Walking Dead's showrunners found their star in Danai Gurira. Comics creator Robert Kirkman told The Hollywood Reporter in 2012 that "a lot of actresses" auditioned for the part, but Gurira (then known for HBO's Treme) was a cut above the rest, with Kirkman saying that she was "the whole package." 

For seven seasons, Gurira played Michonne with the delicate mix of grace and grit of a master swordsman, all before sheathing her sword for the last time at the end of the tenth season. As Michonne, Gurira had the equally difficult task of graduating from supporting character to series lead. Having a TV show rest on your shoulders (especially one of the most popular cable TV shows of all time) is no simple task. Gurira wasn't just up to challenge, she thrived at it, taking over the lead role following Andrew Lincoln's exit as Rick Grimes in season nine without missing a beat. We're sad to see Michonne go, and we know no other character — and no other actor beside Gurira — could possibly replace her.

Jaleel White made the uncool Urkel cool

You know a spinoff is successful when people forget the show it spun off from. Ever seen an episode of The Tracey Ullman Show? Because every one has seen its spinoff, The Simpsons. And then there's Perfect Strangers, whose eight-season run landed in the dustbin of TV history, hidden behind the mammoth shadow of Family Matters. Based on Perfect Strangers' Harriette Winslow, Family Matters is best remembered for Reginald VelJohnson as Carl Winslow and, especially, Jaleel White as the Winslows' geeky neighbor, Steve Urkel. Even Urkel's name is nerdy, and White was such the quintessential dweeb that the Los Angeles Times once asked, "Is uncool Urkel the '90s answer to the Fonz?" 

Urkel's trademark catchphrase — "Did I do that?" — was always dropped after he obliviously (and obviously) caused tremendous calamity. Goofy, clumsy, and yes, oftentimes irritating, there's no reason Urkel should've taken off like he did. Urkel was The Fresh Prince of Bel Air's Carlton without the posh, an awkward character who looked like he bought his ill-fitting clothes from a toy store. As much as we wanted Carl Winslow to strangle Urkel, we wanted even more to see Winslow hug him. Kudos to White, who turned what was meant to be a one-episode appearance into TV's most adorable dweeb. White can look back on his run and ask, "Did I do that?" Yes, Mr. White. Yes you did.

Nobody but Patrick Stewart should play Jean-Luc Picard

The original crew of the Starship Enterprise was a hard act to follow — the stoic Spock, the volatile Bones, the compelling Uhura, and of course, the insuppressible Captain James Tiberius Kirk. Boisterous, rebellious, and impulsive, William Shatner's Kirk is the guy you date, not the guy you take home to mom, and he's the type of captain who would only be trusted to command a ship on a TV show, never in real life. Kirk casts a big shadow, so to stand out, you need a Star Trek captain who's almost his polar opposite. Enter Patrick Stewart's Jean-Luc Picard. If Shatner's Kirk is an American space cowboy, Stewart's Picard is a Victorian-era English officer of the final frontier. 

You could plug many different actors from across the pond into the part, but it takes a performer of Stewart's talent to balance being sophisticated but not stuffy, stern but not cold, and gallant but not chauvinistic. Stewart wisely played Picard not as your typical sci-fi hero but as character plucked from Rudyard Kipling and placed into outer space. Stewart revealed on This Morning that Ian McKellen encouraged him to turn down the part, advice Stewart thankfully rejected. As iconic as Shatner's Kirk is, many type-A actors can play a hotshot flyboy with the prerequisite aplomb, which Chris Pine proved in the Star Trek reboot and Oscar Isaac showed in the Star Wars sequels. We can't imagine anybody but Patrick Stewart playing Jean-Luc Picard.