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Actor Replacements That Totally Ruined The Show

Writers, directors, producers... these are all important pieces of the puzzle when it comes to putting together a successful television show. But it doesn't matter how good the folks are behind the cameras, because it will all be for naught if you don't have the right people in front of them. That's why having the right performer can absolutely make a show... and having the wrong one can break it just as easily.

Having the right actor or actress is an integral part of the formula for any successful television endeavor. In fact, this has proven to be so true that when that actor or actress leaves for different opportunities (or maybe to just get away from a blue, animated dog), sometimes the show just can't go on, despite how it might try with a new star playing a new character. Here are a few major TV shows that just couldn't recover from the loss and replacement of a major star.


Community never had a huge audience during its five-year run on NBC, never attracting more than the 4.99 million viewers it averaged during its rookie year of 2009–2010, which placed it just below the Friday night average of NBC's disastrous primetime The Jay Leno Show. Nevertheless, NBC kept renewing the critically-acclaimed comedy about the disparate people who comprise a Colorado community college study group, even after difficulties with Community creator and showrunner Dan Harmon, who was temporarily fired from the series.

Five seasons was ultimately NBC's limit, but internet giant Yahoo! stepped in and renewed Community for a sixth season, intending to position the comedy as a premiere offering on its streaming service Yahoo! Screen. Original regulars Joel McHale, Gillian Jacobs, Danny Pudi, Ken Jeong, and Alison Brie followed the series to Yahoo!, but the show had been losing cast members, and kept losing them as it transitioned to streaming.

Chevy Chase, Donald Glover, and Yvette Nicole Brown were not part of the regular cast of Community's sixth season. New actors were added, including Keith David and Paget Brewster. But it just didn't work out, and there was no seventh season of Community on Yahoo! Screen. Not enough people tuned in and the show didn't generate as much advertising revenue as Yahoo! had hoped. The revenue was so small that it effectively led to the complete shutdown of Yahoo! Screen. Yahoo! CFO Ken Goldman said on an earnings call that the company lost $42 million because of Community and its two other original series.


This comedy-laced-with-drama about medical interns desperately trying to figure out what they were doing as they worked in a hospital was a critically-acclaimed, Emmy-nominated hit over its first few seasons on NBC. The network dropped Scrubs after seven seasons in 2008, only to see ABC pick it up. The show's writers and cast prepared a true series finale at the end of the year, only for ABC to unexpectedly renew the series for season 9. Star Zach Braff, the focus of the show as young doctor John Dorian (as well as the show's narrator) was ready to move on to other things. So the show was retooled and rebooted, no longer taking place at a teaching hospital but at a medical school. Doctor Cox (John C. McGinley) and Doctor Turk (Donald Faison) were now teachers instead of active surgeons. Replacing Dorian/Braff as the center of the show and narrator was Dr. Lucy Bennett (portrayed by Kerry Bishé, later of Halt and Catch Fire). The big changes were too much to take, and the ninth season of Scrubs was its last.

The X-Files

For six seasons of investigating paranormal events and dealing with alien abductions and far-reaching government conspiracies, The X-Files was a massive hit for Fox. It made huge stars out of its lead actors, David Duchovny (as FBI investigator Fox Mulder) and Gillian Anderson (as Mulder's partner, Dana Scully). But prior to the start of the series' seventh season in 1999, Duchovny sued 20th Century Fox, claiming that it had sold rights to reruns of the show at a discount to its own affiliates, thus cheating him and other actors out of profits they otherwise would have earned. While the lawsuit was eventually settled, it was filed right when Duchovny was negotiating working on future seasons of the show, and neither he nor Fox were keen to continue working together.

An agreement was reached: Duchovny's character, Fox Mulder, would mysteriously disappear at the end of season 7, and would only appear in a handful of episodes in season 8. To fill the role of paranormal investigator, producers auditioned dozens of actors, eventually settling on Robert Patrick (Terminator 2) as FBI agent John Doggett to team up with both Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) and another new agent, Monica Reyes (Annabeth Gish), hired on in case Anderson also decided to leave the show after season 8. It didn't much matter, because without Duchovny, or the chemistry between Duchovny and Anderson, viewers tuned out. From a high of 17.1 million viewers and a rank of #11 in 1997-98, ratings slipped down to #67 and about half as many viewers in 2001-02. The X-Files disappeared from TV at that point.

Sleepy Hollow

Fox's supernatural cop drama was always a little bit different than other cop shows — particularly how one of its main characters was Ichabod Crane (Tom Mison) from Washington Irving's 1820 short story "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" who comes back to life in the present day after having died 200-something years prior. (That element is inspired by Irving's other most famous story, "Rip Van Winkle," about a man who wakes up after sleeping for 20 years.)

Crane subsequently helps crimefighters fight crime and supernatural menace, particularly alongside police lieutenant and FBI agent Abbie Mills (Nicole Beharie). Over three seasons, Sleepy Hollow settled into its role as a quirky police procedural, and then it did the unthinkable — Abbie died and Beharie left the series.

Despite a steep loss of viewers from season 1 to season 3 (the show fell from #38 in the ratings down to #99), Sleepy Hollow returned for a fourth season, sans Abbie. Ichabod was now partnered with a Homeland Security agent named Diana Thomas (played by new cast addition Janina Gavankar). The cast reboot didn't do Sleepy Hollow any favors — it fell to #123 in the ratings and was canceled.

That '70s Show

After seven seasons of the hit nostalgic Fox sitcom, Topher Grace (who played Eric Foreman) decided to leave That '70s Show in order to more fiercely pursue his blossoming film career. And so did the show's other biggest star, Ashton Kutcher (who played Kelso), although he did stick around for a few episodes in season 8 to explain his character's departure. (Eric had moved to Africa; Kelso moved to Chicago.)

To replace two very big holes in its cast, producers hired just one actor, Mad TV veteran Josh Meyers. His character, Randy, gets a job at Hyde's (Danny Masterson) record store Grooves and has a brief relationship with Donna (Laura Prepon), Eric's old girlfriend. Neither Randy nor Meyers had much time to mesh with the ensemble, because the decimated cast may have had something to do with the show's diminished popularity — and ending. The eighth season of That '70s Show would be its last.

Step by Step

Step by Step was an ABC sitcom about the Lamberts, a blended family that resulted when Carol (Suzanne Somers) married Frank (Patrick Duffy). In addition to all their kids, Frank's nephew Cody lived in a van outside the house — a good-natured, air-headed California dude, a family sitcom version of Ted, the character Keanu Reeves played in Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure.

Affable and enthusiastic acting by Sasha Mitchell made the character a fan favorite — until 1995, when Mitchell was arrested for spousal assault. He was convicted later that year, and sentenced to three years of probation and spousal abuse counseling. Mitchell wound up behind bars for violating his parole: He skipped town, missed too many counseling courses, and reportedly attacked his wife again, this time while she was holding their baby.

At the beginning of the 1996-97 season of Step by Step, Cody — and Mitchell — were gone. Filling the Cody-sized hole of goofiness was Jean-Luc, a hairdresser colleague of Carol's who was excitable and had a heavy accent. Playing Jean-Luc: Bronson Pinchot, best known for playing the excitable, heavily-accented Balki on Perfect Strangers and the excitable, heavily-accented Serge in Beverly Hills Cop. The new blood didn't work — ABC canceled Step by Step at the end of the season. The show then moved to CBS for a final year — without Pinchot — and a single guest appearance from Mitchell.

Head of the Class

The high school sitcom Head of the Class debuted on ABC in 1986. It explored the relationships between a diverse group of highly advanced Manhattan students and their history teacher/mentor Charlie Moore, played by Howard Hesseman (WKRP in Cincinnati). A big part of why Head of the Class worked is that it was ensemble-powered — the various kids had personal and academic problems, and Mr. Moore helped them sort things out. Hesseman portrayed Moore with understatement and subtlety, letting his younger co-stars take center stage.

However, the actor hated Head of the Class. In 1989, he told a reporter that he thought the show didn't have much worth, and that he was "not doing the show that I was led to believe I'd do, and it's difficult for me to get off that." Unsurprisingly, Hesseman left the show in 1990. In his place was Scottish comedian Billy Connolly as a teacher named Billy McGregor, and while Connolly is a gifted and frenetic comedian, that style didn't mesh with Head of the Class. All of a sudden, a show about high school kids' problems was a show about wacky Mr. McGregor. ABC seemed to realize that, too — in 1991, the network canceled Head of the Class and quickly ordered up a new show called Billy. Connolly still played McGregor, except he was no longer a teacher in Manhattan, but living as a boarder in a California single mother's house. Billy lasted just 13 episodes.

The Facts of Life

The Facts of Life went through a lot of changes. After the first season (1979-1980), the number of main characters was cut from 10 to just five: Eastland boarding school housemother Mrs. Garrett (Charlotte Rae) and four female students. After those four graduated in the fourth season, Mrs. Garrett opened a gourmet shop and she hired "her girls." And after season seven, Rae left the show. She thought it was time to move on, later telling Entertainment Weekly that she felt she "really wasn't needed that much," as Mrs. Garrett had helped the girls transition into adulthood, and that the show could continue on without her.

But producers loved the show's dynamic — wise older woman doles out advice to young women — so they created the role of Mrs. Garrett's sister Beverly Ann, and cast Cloris Leachman of The Mary Tyler Moore Show and Young Frankenstein. But according to frequent episode director John Bowab, Leachman "just never had the connection with the girls that Charlotte had," suggesting that maybe the series was "past the point of the girls being given advice to." The ninth season, the second with Leachman, would be the last for The Facts of Life.

American Idol

American Idol has created a number of stars, such as Kelly Clarkson, Jennifer Hudson, Adam Lambert... and most of all, Simon Cowell. Audiences couldn't get enough of the show's "mean judge," a veteran of the U.K. music industry (he'd guided the careers of pop groups like Westlife, Five, and Robson & Jerome) who was brutally and hilariously honest with contestants.

Cowell was the biggest star of the series, which was the most-watched show on TV for an unprecedented eight straight seasons. But in 2010, after nine seasons, he moved on, in part to develop the American version of his British talent series The X Factor. Idol producers had a hard time replacing Cowell, as well as fellow original judge Paula Abdul. The Idol judges' table saw a lot of stars take a stab at it, including Steven Tyler, Mariah Carey, Nicki Minaj, and Keith Urban, but actual singers just couldn't fill the void left by the music industry guy who criticizes singers. By the time Fox pulled the plug on American Idol in 2016, it had slipped out of the top 20 most-viewed shows.

The Office

Steve Carell was a well-known comic force from The Daily Show and Anchorman before he had a big breakout year in 2005. In the spring of that year, he debuted on The Office, an American-produced version of Ricky Gervais's hit BBC sitcom; a few months later, he starred in Judd Apatow's smash hit film The 40-Year-Old Virgin. All of a sudden, Carell was in demand as a movie star, but he stayed on with The Office as intolerable Dunder Mifflin Paper boss Michael Scott. During hiatuses, he kept up his film career, starring in films as varied as Little Miss Sunshine, Dan in Real Life, Date Night, Get Smart, and The Way Way Back. But in 2013, Carell's contract with The Office was up, and he opted to walk away from the series while it was still a critical and ratings hit for NBC (it had even won the Emmy Award for Outstanding Comedy Series).

The awkward, lovelorn Michael Scott finally found love with HR director Holly, and they moved away to Colorado. But Dunder Mifflin still needed a boss, and that came in the form of oily, unsettling Robert California, CEO of Dunder Mifflin parent company Sabre (portrayed by James Spader). Barely into the reign of California/Spader, half the characters were shipped to Florida to open a Sabre store, where they fell under the direction of a new boss, Nellie Bertram (Catherine Tate). By the end of the season, both new bosses were out, and so was the Sabre plotline with old Dunder Mifflin executive David Wallace (Andy Buckley) buying back the company. It was the first time since the show's truncated, poorly-reviewed first season that it didn't receive any major Emmy nominations. For the ninth and final season, the focus was back on the ensemble of paper company employees inside the office, with longtime cast member Ed Helms (as salesman Andy Bernard) ostensibly serving as the boss.


NBC's critically-acclaimed but low-watched comedy had no plans to replace one of its characters and best-known star, but tragedy forced the producers' hand. Between the show's fourth and fifth season, star Phil Hartman was shot by his wife as part of a horrific murder-suicide. Partly in order to complete enough episodes to sell the show into syndication, NewsRadio was picked up for another season anyway. In the season premiere, it was explained that Hartman's character, pompous radio newsreader Bill McNeal, died of a sudden heart attack. Replacing him at the newsreader's desk was a new character, Max Louis. Weird, insecure, and wholly unqualified for the position, he was portrayed by Hartman's friend and Saturday Night Live costar Jon Lovitz. While Lovitz is a great comic actor, he just couldn't overcome the sadness of looming over NewsRadio. Lovitz's first season would be the show's last.

8 Simple Rules for Dating My Teenage Daughter

This ABC sitcom was also forced to reformat after the unexpected death of its star. 8 Simple Rules was built around Three's Company vet John Ritter, who starred as cranky suburban dad Paul Hennessy, desperately trying to rein in his wild teenage children. Filming had just begun on the second season of the series in September 2003 when Ritter fell ill on the set and sought medical treatment. He died later that day of a heart defect that had never been diagnosed. Ritter was only 54 years old.

ABC announced that 8 Simple Rules would go on — and it did, with some necessary changes. No longer a show about a cranky dad, it became one about a family trying to pick up the pieces after the death of its patriarch (Paul was said to have died of a sudden heart attack). Two new stars joined the cast to fill the void left by Ritter: cousin C.J. (David Spade) and Grandpa Jim (James Garner). In its first season (2002-03), 8 Simple Rules fared a respectable #46 in the TV ratings. Without Ritter, by season three, the show moved to Friday nights and finished in 91st place. 8 Simple Rules was not renewed for a fourth season.

Blue's Clues

Actor/musician Steve Burns beat out roughly 1,000 other actors in 1996 for the only human role on Blue's Clues, Nickelodeon's interactive, animation/live action hybrid show for preschoolers. Burns played the striped-shirted host and owner of the cartoon dog named Blue — he'd talk directly to the young viewers at home, urging them to help him solve each episode's riddle or mystery by yelling things at their screens.

In 2002, after about 100 episodes, Burns decided it was time to leave the series. He wanted to take on other roles (before he could get typecast) as well as perform music (he's collaborated with the Flaming Lips, among other acts), and also, as he joked, "I knew I wasn't gonna be doing children's television all my life, mostly because I refused to lose my hair on a kid's TV show, and it was happening. Fast." Nickelodeon hired actor Donovan Patton to be the new host of Blue's Clues, a character named Joe. So as not to traumatize or confuse the show's very young viewers, the transition from Steve to Joe occurred with a primetime special. Steve carefully explained that he was leaving for college, and "Joe" would be looking after Blue. Patton as Joe proved to be the gentle and able host Blue's Clues needed, but he just couldn't replace someone so closely associated with the role to an army of toddlers. After around 50 episodes with Patton as Joe, Blue's Clues was canceled.

Spin City

In 1996, Michael J. Fox returned to regular series television for the first time since the end of Family Ties with Spin City. On the ABC sitcom, he played a wheeler-dealer for a New York City deputy mayor named Michael Flaherty. Two years later, Fox announced that he had been battling Parkinson's disease and in 2000, Fox left the show, in part to spend more time raising funds for Parkinson's research. His character left New York to become a lobbyist in Washington, D.C. Replacing him as deputy mayor was a guy named Charlie Crawford, portrayed by Charlie Sheen. With Fox out, the show became more of a romantic comedy surrounding Sheen and Locklear's characters. The Fox-free show didn't quite work. Fox left in the fourth year, when the show had 8.7 million viewers. The next year, they were down to 7.1 million. In 2001-2002, they dropped to just over 5 million. At that point, ABC canceled Spin City.

Designing Women

Delta Burke had not been happy on the set of Designing Women for years. In 1990, she told the Orlando Sentinel that the show was "not a good workplace, not a good environment." She even claimed that producer Harry Thomason routinely screamed at cast members and told them they were expendable and even criticized Burke when she gained weight. CBS grew so tired of Burke lashing out at the show's producers and the network in the press that they fired her from Designing Women in 1991. Weary of a tense workplace, cast member Jean Smart (scatterbrained Charlene) also left the series after the 1990-91 season.

That meant that Designing Women, a top 20 show, had lost half of its main cast. Replacing Burke was Julia Duffy, fresh off a seven-year run on CBS's Newhart, as Suzanne's cousin, the equally haughty Allison Sugarbaker. Replacing Jean Smart was Saturday Night Live veteran Jan Hooks as Carlene, Charlene's similarly dumb-dumb sister. Despite ratings on par with previous years, CBS fired Duffy after her sole season on the series, and replaced her with Judith Ivey as a rich Texan widow named B.J. Poteet. It didn't do much good, because CBS moved the show to Friday nights, where it slipped into ratings oblivion — and then cancelation.

The Ren & Stimpy Show

In 1991, Nickelodeon debuted its first three fully original "Nicktoons," including John Kricfalusi's The Ren & Stimpy Show. A subversive delight about a rage-prone Chihuahua and an idiotic cat, it became a cult hit among adults. Before long, Kricfalusi clashed with Nickelodeon over the direction of Ren & Stimpy and he was forced to work with story editor Mitchell Kriegmann. He'd get to a couple of his "really crazy" episode ideas, and then he'd also do a couple of "heart-warming ones."

But the relationship soured, especially as Kricfalusi routinely missed deadlines. In 1992, barely a year after Ren & Stimpy debuted, Nickelodeon forced Kricfalusi out (offering him a "consulting" role, which he declined). The network transferred production of the show from Kricfalusi's Spümcø, Inc. to its own, in-house Games Animation studio, and placed Kricfalusi's old producing partner, Bob Camp, in charge. But not only did the show lose its creator, it also lost a crucial cast member — Kricfalusi provided the voice of Ren.

Amidst the hubbub, Billy West, the voice of Stimpy, told Kricfalusi he was going to leave the show in solidarity, but instead opted to stay and take over the voice of Ren. All that turmoil and change left the show missing that certain something that had once made it the hot, hip new series with some of the best ratings among all children's TV offerings. It plodded along until it quietly fell off the Nickelodeon schedule in 1995, with a final episode airing about a year later.


The formula for the success of CHiPs was pretty simple: two hunky young California Highway Patrol officers zoom around on cool motorcycles, busting criminals and flirting with beautiful Californian women. Of the two leads, Erik Estrada (as Officer Frank "Ponch" Pocherello) and Larry Wilcox (as Officer Jon Baker), Estrada was the breakout star. So much so that during the show's fifth season in 1981, he refused to report to work if he wasn't given a larger share of the lucrative profits generated by syndicated reruns of CHiPs.

While Estrada's people and the producers' people hammered out an agreeable contract, popular Olympic champion and future reality TV star Caitlyn Jenner (then known as Bruce Jenner) was hired to play Officer Steve McLeish, a new partner for Jon. Ultimately, Estrada was back on set after missing six episodes. Then the show faced another personnel crisis, this time with Wilcox.

Apparently wanting to "pursue other creative projects," he opted not to return to CHiPs for its sixth season. He was then replaced by Tom Reilly, portraying Officer Bobby "Hot Dog" Nelson. The revolving door of TV cops only served to damage the show's consistency and popularity. After that sixth, Jon-less season, CHiPs was done.

Lethal Weapon

For the Fox television adaptation of Lethal Weapon, Clayne Crawford took over for Mel Gibson as "loose cannon" Martin Riggs. And if on-set reports published by Variety are any indication, Crawford was even harder to control than his character. In an episode he directed, a special effects explosion went awry, sending a piece of debris at co-star Damon Wayans. When Wayans complained, Crawford called him "the biggest crybaby" he'd ever met. Another time he reportedly swore at a group of children on the set; on yet another occasion, he proved so hard to work with that a director walked off the set in the middle of a shoot. 

In May 2018, after two seasons, producers eliminated what they thought was the root cause of the show's problems and fired Crawford. They rushed to find somebody to replace him, and quickly hired on Seann William Scott to play Wesley Cole, a new partner for Detective Roger Murtaugh (Wayans). (As for Crawford's character? He died offscreen.) The human bandage that was Scott couldn't save the show, however. All that tension didn't totally dissipate, with Wayans announcing he planned to leave the series in the middle of the season. Fox decided to wash their hands of the whole thing in May 2019 and canceled Lethal Weapon.

Kevin Can Wait

From 1998 to 2007, Kevin James and Leah Remini starred on the popular CBS sitcom King of Queens, with James moving on to star in a string of movies like Grown Ups and Paul Blart: Mall Cop. In 2016, he returned to the weekly CBS laugh-track-assisted-sitcom grind with Kevin Can Wait. James portrayed Kevin Gable, a family man who has to delay retiring from his police job due to family and money issues. Like King of Queens, Kevin Can Wait fell into the "schlubby doofus with smart wife who is out of his league" sitcom subgenre. The big difference between the shows was the female lead, subbing out Leah Remini for Erinn Hayes (as Kevin's wife, Donna Gable). 

At least, that's how it was for the first season. Kevin Can Wait producers revamped the show for season two: They killed off Donna Gable and fired Hayes. "We were literally just running out of ideas," James told the New York Daily News. "I get that people are like 'Whoa, why would you do this?' But it really felt like a thing like this was needed for this show to drive forward." They also brought in a new face, who was really an old face: Remini joined Kevin Can Wait as Kevin's business partner, Vanessa Cellucci. However, the nostalgic retooling couldn't overcome the weird behind-the-scenes shakeup, and ratings actually dropped in season two. After the conclusion of the sitcom's second, ill-fated season, CBS didn't wait to cancel Kevin.

Three's Company

Three's Company could be regarded as a piece of '70s throwaway television, and while it did feature a lot of scantily clad women and silly plots about people misinterpreting things and jumping to conclusions, it also starred a tight ensemble of funny performers with the pratfall-prone John Ritter as Jack Tripper, Joyce DeWitt as voice of reason Janet Wood, and Suzanne Somers as stereotypically bubbly dumb blonde Chrissy Snow. In 1979-1980, the fourth season of Three's Company was the second-most-watched show on TV, and Somers, rightfully believing that she had contributed to that success of, asked for a raise from $30,000 per episode to $150,000 — about the same salary Ritter was getting. 

Producers counter-offered an extra $5,000 a week, prompting Somers to refuse to appear in a couple of Three's Company episodes. When she did return to the show, producers almost completely eliminated Chrissy, reducing Somers to a one-minute appearance at the end of each episode in which she checked in, via telephone, from her parents' house far away. Producers had already brought in Jenilee Harrison to play Cindy Snow — cousin of Chrissy, and also a not-so-bright blonde. By 1981, Somers had been fired altogether, although Harrison ultimately left in 1982, as Somers' shoes (and short shorts) were hard to fill. Priscilla Barnes joined the cast as Terri Alden following Harrison's departure, but the turnover took a toll, and ABC ended it all in 1984.

Northern Exposure

An ensemble dramedy with a culturally diverse cast set in an often surreal rural Alaska, Northern Exposure was radically different from its early '90s contemporaries like Major Dad and Matlock. Rob Morrow starred as Dr. Joel Fleischman, a crabby, snobby New York City doctor who heads north to service the tiny town of Cicely. He enjoys a will-they or won't they with bush pilot Maggie (Janine Turner), makes friends with filmmaker Ed (Darren E. Burrows) and ex-astronaut Maurice (Barry Corbin), and hangs out at a bar run by the elderly Holling (John Cullum) and his free-spirited, much younger wife Shelly (Cynthia Geary). Northern Exposure was a big hit, reaching the top 20 in the ratings and earning four straight Emmy nominations for Outstanding Drama Series, winning the prize in 1992. 

But Dr. Fleischman's desire to leave Alaska never faded, and Morrow wanted to bounce, too. Halfway through the show's sixth season (1994-1995), Morrow fled Northern Exposure, reportedly to pursue new acting challenges and a movie career, and Cicely found itself a new physician: Dr. Phillip Capra, portrayed by Paul Provenza, a respected stand-up comedian who had little acting experience apart from his work on sitcoms like Empty Nest and The Facts of Life. "I don't think it's a radically different show," Provenza told the Chicago Tribune. Audiences and/or CBS disagreed — after just half a season with Provenza at the helm, the network canceled Northern Exposure.