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The Real Reasons These Sitcom Roles Were Recast

For decades now, sitcoms have been one of the most successful television formats. The best sitcoms are relatable, clever, and, above all else, funny. Yet, even the most popular shows can't last forever, and often face a multitude of challenges to stay on the air. One of the most common issues is the recasting of important characters.

Although viewers might not like it, recasting is a frequent TV practice in general. There's a wide array of reasons why an actor might need to be replaced in a series. They might have quit to pursue other roles, or had a conflict with the show's writers. In some cases, an actor might have been too sick to keep filming, while other parts might be recast because the producers wanted to go in a different direction.

We're here to cut through the rumors and provide the real reasons why some beloved sitcom characters — from Aunt Viv from "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air to Charlie Sheen's character in "Two and a Half Men" — were recast.

Aunt Viv in The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air

For three seasons of NBC's "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air," Janet Hubert portrayed Aunt Viv, Will Smith's aunt and the wife of Philip Banks (James Avery). She was on the show from 1990 until 1993 and was nominated for an NAACP Image Award for her performance. It is arguably her biggest part, and certainly the one that she is best known for. Yet, she was ultimately replaced for the remaining three seasons of the show, with Daphne Maxwell Reid taking over the role.

Hubert's reason for departing "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air" has only been recently revealed, although there were plenty of rumors. During the reunion show on HBO Max in 2020, the pair sat down and discussed the exit. According to Hubert, her home life was not great after the third season, and she turned down a deal from the studio as it didn't allow her to do any other work. The producers then moved to recast the character rather than negotiate the contract further. According to a Variety article about the reunion, Hubert claimed the move also made it more difficult for the actor to get subsequent jobs in Hollywood.

Darrin Stephens in Bewitched

Dick York portrayed Darrin Stephens in "Bewitched" — at least for the first five seasons. The show, which ran throughout the 1960s and early 1970s on ABC, features Stephens and his magical wife Samantha attempting to live a normal life while other witches and warlocks interfere. When Season 6 started, fans were met with Dick Sargent playing Stephens rather than York, with no explanation. This led to rumors that the actor had fallen out with the show's creators.

The truth was rather more mundane than that. York had suffered a serious back injury while working on the 1959 film "They Came to Cordura." Forced to rely on painkillers to work, he had become addicted to his medication by the time he was filming "Bewitched." According to Biography.com, the problem got so bad that he passed out during production of one episode. While in the hospital, York spoke to director William Asher and asked to quit, as he knew that his pain and addiction were too serious to continue working. Dick Sargent was then approached for the role that he had previously turned down in favor of appearing on another television series.

Becky in Roseanne

For four full seasons of the ABC sitcom "Roseanne," Lecy Goranson played the family's oldest daughter, Becky. First introduced as a preteen when the show began, the character aged alongside the actor and developed into an important element of the series. Goranson would appear in a few episodes in Season 5, but was soon written out of the show, with the explanation that she had eloped to Minneapolis with her boyfriend Mark. When the character returned in Season 6, she was played by future "Scrubs" cast member Sarah Chalke.

This wasn't due to some kind of disagreement between Goranson and the studio. Rather, according to Closer, the actor had simply reached 18 years of age and wanted to attend college. When her schedule became too busy, she was unable to appear in "Roseanne." However, the producers wanted the character to return and recast the part with Chalke, although Goranson would return for Season 8.

The two would switch often for the remaining two seasons, with Chalke filling in for Goranson whenever her school classes conflicted with the show's filming. The revival references this when a new character played by Chalke, named Andrea, meets Becky and mentions how much they look alike.

Morgan Matthews in Boy Meets World

"Boy Meets World" first aired in 1993 and featured Cory Matthews learning life lessons along with his friends and family. Lily Gibson played Cory's younger sister Morgan Matthews, a cute and innocent youngster who loved nothing more than playing with dolls. This version of the character did not exist for long, though, as Lindsay Ridgeway took on the role from Season 3 forward after a sudden, unexplained departure by Gibson. With the new actor came a shift in personality for Morgan, who became more tomboyish and cheeky.

Gibson, now known as Lily Nicksay, has spoken about her role on "Boy Meets World" in recent years. In a 2013 piece about the series in Entertainment Weekly, the actor says she abruptly left the show after her parents and producers made a "mutual decision." Gibson's young age might have had something to do with the decision, as she was just four when the pilot was filmed.

Laurie in That '70s Show

Lisa Robin Kelly played Laurie on the hit Fox sitcom "That '70s Show" from Season 1 up until Season 5, with the character's role growing in prominence during the second and third seasons. Lori was Eric's older sister, who was known to manipulate him and have a string of relationships with different men. But the character suddenly disappeared at the end of Season 3, and wouldn't reappear until the fifth season. The following year, Kelly was replaced by Christina Moore before the role was written out of the show entirely.

In an interview with ABC, Kelly explained that her unexpected exit came about due to her alcohol abuse problem. The addiction emerged after she suffered a miscarriage and was unable to deal with the trauma. Although she made a brief return, her personal issues meant that she wasn't able to stay on the show. Kelly would later run into a number of legal issues, including driving under the influence, and had few other roles on television or in movies. She passed away in 2013 following an accidental overdose while in rehab just months after being arrested for a suspected DUI charge.

If you or anyone you know is struggling with addiction issues, help is available. Visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website or contact SAMHSA's National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

Mandy in Last Man Standing

Molly Ephraim appeared in "Last Man Standing" as series regular Mandy Baxter, the daughter of protagonist Mike Baxter (Tim Allen). She played Mandy for six seasons. To the dismay of many viewers, ABC canceled the series in 2017. It was later revived by Fox in May of 2018, but Ephraim didn't return for Season 7, with the role going to Molly McCook instead. McCook continued to play Mandy through to the ninth and final season in 2021.

With Ephraim never publicly saying anything negative about the show, many fans wondered what caused her to be missing from the series when it moved to Fox. It turns out there's no particularly salacious story here; according to TVLine, the actor simply "opted not to return" to the series. Executive Producer Matt Berry later explained that Ephraim was just too busy to appear. In the time that "Last Man Standing" was in limbo, she had become involved in other projects, which made it difficult for her to find time for the revival. Ephraim has since appeared in a number of movies and television series, such as "Modern Family," "Casual," and "Perry Mason."

Carol Willick-Bunch in Friends

NBC's "Friends" is one of the most successful sitcoms in television history, and had a largely stable cast throughout the 10 years it was on the air. One character that was recast, though, was Ross Geller's (David Schwimmer) first wife Carol Willick. The two characters had a child together. Carol left Ross after coming out as a lesbian. She later enters a relationship with Susan Bunch (Jessica Hecht). In the very first episode of the show, Carol was portrayed by Anita Barone, but was recast with Jane Sibbett from that point on.

The main reason behind the casting change was that Barone quit after filming the first episode, seemingly because she wanted the freedom to pursue larger roles elsewhere (per Digital Spy), which would not have been possible if she remained on "Friends." Carol did play a minor role in the series, especially as it moved forward, so it may not have been a good fit for someone who wanted to star in their own series. In 1995, Barone was a regular in "The Jeff Foxworthy Show," and later appeared frequently in "Daddio," but has otherwise been a guest actor on many different shows.

Maggie McKinney in Diff'rent Strokes

Dixie Carter is a successful television actor who has appeared in many roles. However, she is probably best known for her starring roles in "Designing Women" and "Family Law," although she also had a prominent part in "Desperate Housewives" between 2006 and 2007. Before all of that, she was cast in NBC's "Diff'rent Strokes" as Maggie McKinney during the Season 6 to act as a love interest for Phillip Drummond (Conrad Bain). After playing the character for two seasons, she abruptly left, and was replaced by Mary Ann Mobley.

Speaking in an interview with the Charlotte Observer way back in 1986, Carter revealed exactly why she left the comedy series. According to the actor, she had taken the role on "Diff'rent Strokes" purely for the cash. Once she had gotten her big paycheck, there was little motivation to stick around when she preferred other work.

Harriette Winslow in Family Matters

American actor and singer Jo Marie Payton played Harriette Winslow on "Family Matters" for almost a decade. Before that, she originated the character on the earlier series "Perfect Strangers," and was the main focus of the spin-off, which centered on Winslow living in Chicago with her family. In the ninth and final season, Payton left midway through the run of episodes, and was replaced by Judyann Elder, a veteran theater actor best known on TV from "Martin."

Speaking in a 2010 interview with TV Series Finale, Payton confirmed that she had no regrets about leaving "Family Matters." She also went on to explain exactly why she left the show, revealing there was no big bust-up or controversy. The actor simply wanted to leave the show and move on to new projects. In fact, she had expressed a desire to leave several years previously, but her contract expired after the end of Season 8. When the show moved from ABC to CBS, the producers managed to convince her to film half of the episodes as a way of keeping continuity, but agreed that Payton could leave to pursue other work.

Claire Kyle in My Wife and Kids

"My Wife and Kids" was one of the most popular sitcoms on television in the early 2000s. Created by Damon Wayans and Don Reo, it starred Wayans as Michael Kyle, a father living with his three children and their mother. Jazz Raycole played Claire Kyle, the middle child of Michael and Janet Kyle (Tisha Campbell-Martin). While the show aired for five seasons, Raycole was only involved for the first season, and was replaced by Jennifer Freeman from Season 2 on.

The actor spoke to Christian Post, and explained that she was just too young for the part — the producers decided they wanted an older actor to play Claire with more adult plots. The switch seemed to work out for the best, as it allowed Raycole to move to New York to study dance, which she said allowed her to travel and mature.

Frank Costanza in Seinfeld

When people think back to NBC's "Seinfeld," they often remember the character of Frank Costanza, embodied by Jerry Stiller. However, Stiller was not the first actor to play George's grumpy father. The role was initially taken on by John Randolph when he made his debut during "The Handicap Spot" (Season 4, Episode 22). After this single appearance, the producers brought in Stiller to play the character in a recurring role from Season 5. With the change in actor, Frank Costanza became angrier and less gentle.

Stiller told Esquire that series co-creator Larry David had wanted Stiller to play the role in the first place. Unfortunately, Stiller was busy at the time with other projects, and was unable to take on the character. When Season 5 was set to film, the producers once again asked Stiller if he was available, and this time he said yes. To maintain continuity, the scenes with Randolph from the fourth season were re-shot so that Stiller was in them. Fans can still see the original version of the episodes, which are included on DVD releases.

Charlie Harper in Two and a Half Men

As CBS' "Two and a Half Men" became one of the most successful sitcoms on television, Charlie Sheen became one of the highest-paid actors. By 2010, a deal was reached to extend the series for at least another two seasons, but shortly afterward, the eighth season was put on indefinite hold while Sheen entered rehab for his drug problem. The studio would later terminate Sheen's contract, and bring in Ashton Kutcher as the character Walden Schmidt to replace him.

There were several key reasons why Sheen was fired from the show, and ultimately replaced. The first issue was his continuing drug problems, with the actor entering rehab several times before he was dropped. Show creator Chuck Lorre also confirmed rumors about Sheen's unpredictable on-set behavior, including brandishing knives, in an exclusive interview with TV Guide (via Entertainment Weekly). Given his generally poor behavior, CBS and Warner Bros. decided that it was better to get rid of Sheen before he caused too much damage.