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TV Roles That Were Recast After The Pilot

TV pilots are a tricky business, and one of the key elements in whether or not they're successful is casting. Finding the perfect actor for each part is hard, and sometimes it takes more than one try to get it right, which is why main roles sometimes end up getting switched around for the rest of the show's run. Here are the stories behind some big TV roles that were recast after the pilot. 

Daenerys Targaryen in Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones is one of the most watched shows on TV, and Emilia Clarke's Daenerys Targaryen is one of the show's most popular characters. Clarke's performance has earned her three Emmy Award nominations and a slew of other honors, but, as it turns out, she wasn't the first actor brought on to play the part. That honor instead went to Tamzin Merchant, an English actress then known for her appearances in Pride and Prejudice and The Tudors

Game of Thrones showrunners Dan Weiss and David Benioff have been pretty open in their discussions about the original Game of Thrones pilot, 90 percent of which was ultimately re-shot before making it to air. The pair pair said that watching their friends watch the pilot was "a deeply humiliating, painful experience," and although they have not mentioned anything specific about Merchant's performance, it seems that she just didn't fit what they were looking for.

No official reason was ever given for Merchant's departure, but casting director Nina Gold has said that it was "terrible to disappoint" her by letting her go after the pilot. Merchant did have one big fan in George R.R. Martin, the author of the books on which Game of Thrones is based. He wrote on his website at the time of her casting that he was a fan of her work on The Tudors and thought she would be "marvelous" in the part.

Sookie St. James in Gilmore Girls

Melissa McCarthy is one of the world's most famous movie stars, but, as it turns out, the role that first launched her to fame almost slipped out of her grasp. McCarthy is well-known for playing Sookie St. James on Gilmore Girls, but in the show's unaired pilot, the part actually went to comedian Alex Borstein. 

Borstein was brought on board because creator Amy Sherman-Palladino's husband, Dan Palladino, was a showrunner on Family Guy, where she voices Lois. She said that she "loved" the script when she read it and flew to Toronto to shoot the pilot, but she ended up having to drop out of the role because she was still under contract with MADtv and thus couldn't work on both shows.

Borstein still made her impact on the Stars Hollow world though. She was brought back in season one to play Drella, the harpist at the Independence Inn, and later went on to start playing the family's stylist Miss Celine. Borstein's then-husband, Jackson Douglas, was also brought on board for the role of Sookie's love interest, Jackson.

Although she ended up losing out on the role, Borstein called McCarthy "amazing" in the part.

McCarthy, of course, went on to earn an Oscar nomination for Bridesmaids and Emmy wins for Mike and Molly and Saturday Night LiveBorstein has also continued to build on her career working with the Palladinos, joining Sherman-Palladino's Amazon show The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel in a series regular role, and, of course, she still voices Lois and other characters on the long-running Family Guy.

Jenna Maroney in 30 Rock

Jane Krakowski earned four Emmy Award nominations for her role as 30 Rock's resident diva Jenna Maroney, but it turns out that the character was originally conceived in a very different way. Creator Tina Fey originally cast her former Saturday Night Live co-star Rachel Dratch in the role, but the part was recast after the network saw the show's un-aired pilot. 

Dratch's version of the character was called Jenna DeCarlo, but like Jenna Maroney, she was still Liz's best friend and the star of The Girlie Show. Reports at the time said that the character was dropped because the focus of the show was moving more toward the relationship between Fey's Liz, Alec Baldwin's Jack, and Tracy Morgan's Tracy, although that was clearly not the case, as Jenna remained a prominent figure in the series. 

The show, according to Dratch was initially set to focus heavily on sketches, but she was told that the switch came about because the series style was moving more toward that of a sitcom, meaning that they needed an actress who could fit that bill. Although she says she was upset about the decision, Dratch did go on to hold a number of other roles on the show, including the overwhelmed cat wrangler Greta Johanssen, the Happy Days-obsessed cleaning lady Maria, and the imaginary Blue Man.  

Catelyn Stark in Game of Thrones

Clarke's Daenerys wasn't the only Game of Thrones role to be recast after the pilot. Jennifer Ehle was initially set to play Stark family matriarch Catelyn, but she ended up dropping out of the role, which eventually went to Michelle Fairley. Fairley earned a few different award nominations throughout her brief run on the show, including an Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror Films nod and Gold Derby Awards nod. 

While it's hard to imagine why anyone would turn down the chance to be a part of such a potentially huge show, Ehle had good reason to step back: She revealed in an interview in 2016 that she convinced the producers to let her out of her seven-year contract because her daughter, Talulah, was only a few months old. The producers ended up having Fairley redo Ehle's shots

Willow Rosenberg in Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Unlike many of the shows on this list, Buffy the Vampire Slayer's original pilot has actually surfaced online, allowing viewers to see the performance of Riff Regan as the original Willow. Although Alyson Hannigan would famously go on to take over the part, Regan held the role in a short pilot presentation that creator Joss Whedon made for the network in a bid to get the show picked up.

The network had a few issues with the pilot, and one of the big points was Regan, who played a much more quiet and subdued version of the character, despite her own "self-confident [and] sexy" real-life personality. Hannigan, known mostly for character roles in various TV series prior, was eventually given a shot and played the part as a more optimistic version of the character. 

Regan hasn't quite gone on to have the Hollywood success Hannigan has experienced, with just a few credits after Buffy—the film Just Friends, guest appearances on TV series Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman and L.A. Doctors, plus a TV movie entitled The Theory of Everything. Hannigan, meanwhile, went on to have starring roles in the American Pie films and TV series How I Met Your Mother.

Sarah Braverman in Parenthood

Lauren Graham is TV's favorite 21st century mom, playing both Lorelai on Gilmore Girls and Sarah Braverman on NBC's Parenthood. However, as it turns out, she wasn't the first to lead the Braverman clan on the tear-jerking NBC show, with the role initially going to ER actress Maura Tierney.

Tierney had a tragic reason for pulling out of the show—after filming the pilot, she learned that she had breast cancer. The show's producers tried to accommodate her treatments by pushing back production and sending the show's premiere to mid-season, but, in the end, it was too much for her and she had to drop out.

Graham was brought on the next month to take over the part, which ended up earning her Prism Award and Teen Choice Award nominations. Tierney, meanwhile, recovered from her cancer and landed a role on Showtime's critically acclaimed series The Affair, which won her a Golden Globe in 2016. 

Danny Tanner in Full House

Full House almost had a different dad. John Posey was initially brought on to play the role of Danny Tanner on the popular sitcom, but he was replaced by comedian Bob Saget after filming the pilot. Posey, who had just two credits to his name when he signed on for the pilot, said he was actually on his way from Atlanta to Los Angeles for the series when he got the call saying he had been replaced.

Posey was apparently discovered by an exec from ABC while performing with his comedy group Comedia in Atlanta. The network was initially looking at Saget and Paul Reiser, but neither was available, leading to a country-wide search. Posey wound up filming the pilot and all seemed well, but he was alerted a month after the pick-up that he wouldn't end up being the final guy in the role. They redid the pilot shot-for-shot with Saget even wearing the same outfits as Posey did.

Saget has said that he thought Posey was "really good" in the pilot and that he felt bad for replacing him. Posey still went on to have a very successful career, guest-starring on shows like How to Get Away with Murder, 24, Seinfeld, and Cheers. He's also the father to Teen Wolf star Tyler Posey, and he joined his son on his MTV series for a recurring guest arc that went on throughout the show's run. 

The Hulk in The Incredible Hulk

Lou Ferrigno has had incredible success in his role as the Hulk, playing the part in the character's 1970s TV series and continuing to voice the giant throughout his many film appearances in the 2000s. However, Ferrigno was not actually the first actor cast in the role—it initially went to future James Bond villain Richard Kiel. 

Kiel, who passed away in 2014, was hired to film two movies of the week that were to serve as the pilot for the proposed series. However, Kiel, who was blind out of one eye, was uncomfortable in the full contact lenses that the part required, which he said interfered with his vision even after taking them out. He also didn't like the green body paint and was unsure if he would be able to wear both uncomfortable pieces consistently for the show. 

The producers also felt that Kiel didn't fit perfectly in the part. Kiel, who was over seven-feet tall, fit with the character's immense size, but he was less of a "body builder muscle man" than the folks at Marvel Comics wanted for the part. A producer offered to pay him for the pilot and recast the role, which Kiel was "delighted" about. Most of his scenes were removed from the finished product, although you can still catch him briefly in the scene in which Hulk saves a young girl from drowning.  

Jill Taylor in Home Improvement

It was all the rage in the '80s and '90s to give popular comedians a tailor-made sitcom. Sarcastic "domestic goddess" Roseanne Barr got the blue-collar family comedy Roseanne, and gender role-exploring, macho deconstructionist Tim Allen landed Home Improvement, in which he played Tim Taylor, a buffoonish husband and incompetent host of a DIY TV show. 

Tim's long-suffering, put-upon wife Jill was often left cleaning up her husband's messes and producers required an actress who could play her as both droll and sympathetic. Showrunners cast Frances Fisher, best known today for her roles in very dramatic Best Picture winners Unforgiven (as Strawberry Alice) and Titanic (as society matron Ruth DeWitt Bukater), but at the time known for her stints on soaps Guiding Light and The Edge of Night. Fisher had done very little comedy, and that apparently showed when rehearsals for the pilot taping began. 

"Frances is a great actress, but in this role with Tim, she came off more as a victim to him than his equal," Home Improvement co-star Richard Karn (Al Borland) told Australia's News.com. Producers quickly brought in Patricia Richardson, who nailed the right vibe. "After the first read-through it was a very different thing going on with the same words," Karn said. "Pat was way more of an equal to Tim." Richardson wound up portraying Jill Taylor on Home Improvement from 1991 to 1999, earning four Emmy Award nominations for her trouble.

Andi Burns in Man With A Plan

Matt LeBlanc's wife on his CBS sitcom Man With a Plan was actually played by a different actress in the pilot. The Office's Jenna Fischer originally held the role of Andi Burns, but she was recast after filming the first episode and replaced with Sirens' Liza Snyder. The show would have been Fischer's second regular television role after wrapping up her part as Pam Beasley, following the one-season NBC series You, Me and the Apocalypse

Fischer's departure came due to chemistry issues with LeBlanc, according to CBS entertainment president Glenn Geller. Geller said that Fischer was a "phenomenal" actress who was "wonderful to work with," but ultimately thought he could do better than just the "fine" on-screen relationship between the two leads. Fischer has landed on her feet, signing on to lead the ABC mid-season comedy Splitting Up Together.

Tammy in Transparent

Amazon releases their pilots to subscribers for voting, so everyone got a look at Gillian Vigman in Transparent as daughter Sarah's friend Tammy in the show's first episode. However, Vigman didn't hold onto the role for long; The Office's Melora Hardin eventually took over due to Vigman's pregnancy. With the actress set to give birth during production, scheduling just wouldn't have worked out.

The role was a big get for Hardin, who earned an Emmy nomination for outstanding guest actress in a comedy for the part in 2016. Vigman, meanwhile, went on to have recurring roles on Filthy Preppy Teen$, Divorce, Life in Pieces, Dr. Ken, Lopez, New Girl, and Life Sentence. She also appeared in the films The Detained and The House.

Tara Thornton in True Blood

Rutina Wesley was a fan favorite for her role as Sookie's best friend Tara on HBO's True Blood, but she wasn't the first actress cast in the part. That honor actually went to Brook Kerr, who is best known for her appearances on the soap Passions. Although no official reason was given for her departure, some fans did get a glimpse of her performance after the original pilot leaked online.

Wesley said that "these things happen" when filming pilots, and although she felt bad for Kerr having been on the other side of the equation in the past, she did ultimately take it as a "blessing" that she was able to land the role. Wesley earned Image and Scream Award nominations for her role as Tara and now stars on OWN's Queen Sugar. Kerr, meanwhile, has had guest roles on NCIS: Los Angeles, The Grinder, and Westworld.

Sara Lance in Arrow

Losing Sara Lance was a big part of Oliver Queen's mythology on The CW's Arrow, so it makes sense that the character's apparent death was featured in a flashback in the show's pilot. In the episode, Sara was played by The Bold and the Beautiful actor Jacqueline MacInnes Wood, but when she miraculously came back to life in season two, she was played by Caity Lotz. 

The CW brass have never given an official reason for why Wood was replaced with Lotz, although the intense physical demands on the character, who became a superhero, may have warranted looking for a new actress who could live up to her masked persona. Wood was also still committed to The Bold and the Beautiful, which earned her Daytime Emmy Award nominations in 2012 and 2013. 

After joining the show, Lotz ended up reshooting Sara's scenes for flashbacks on other episodes of the series. Lotz's character has since become a staple in The CW's superhero-verse, appearing on The Flash and eventually landing a lead in the spin-off Legends of Tomorrow, despite her character's apparent death in Arrow's third season.