I watch a lot of TV. I love some shows so much that I also grew to love the networks that aired them. But I’ve always had a tough time with shows replacing characters — like, come on man, just make a new show! I’ve been wrong about character-swaps, though! Sometimes that’s exactly what a show needs. Go easy on me, I’m not a fortuneteller. Anyway, here are some good examples of all the possible situations when a TV show tries to replace it’s main character(s) with someone new.
Depending on how old you are, you may only know Michael J. Fox as the star of beloved ’80s films like Teen Wolf and Back to The Future, or as the face of Parkinson’s research. But he also headlined Spin City, a moderately popular sitcom in the ’90s that he unfortunately had to leave because of his illness. Who was he replaced by? Charlie Sheen! And that’s pretty ironic, when you look at our next example…
Two And a Half Men
There was a long period of time where CBS’ Two and a Half Men was the most popular sitcom on television (it was also unbelievably bad, but that’s not what we’re here to talk about). What was also-bad on the show were the relations between star Charlie Sheen and the show’s creator/guiding creative voice, Chuck Lorre. It got so bad that they fired Sheen, killed his character off (which was later retconned for the final episode) and replaced him with Ashton Kutcher. It was as bad as it sounds.
The Daily Show
Originally starting off as an enjoyable-but-not-loved mean-spirited show taking digs at political and pop culture news, The Daily Show was hosted by Craig Kilborn until Jon Stewart took over and molded it into the near-institution it’s become. But now Jon Stewart’s ridden off into the sunset as well, and Trevor Noah had to replace him. It’s been a rockier road for Noah, as it almost was guaranteed to be when you’re a mostly unknown quantity taking over for a beloved comedic and political figure.
Always intended to be an anthology series starring different actors each season, it wasn’t totally expected for the second season of True Detective to feature brand new characters. But people did not initially know that the show would also lose the director of every single first season episode, Cary Fukunaga, and replace him with a rotating group of directors of varying prestige. Guess what? It was a flop. Fans complained about the show lacking a singular visual style (among other things). When people rave and rave about your visual style, you should probably work harder to make sure your director sticks around.
Cheers brought us maybe the most famous example of character-swapping. Shelley Long and Ted Danson’s characters were set up to grow old together — it’s how the pilot ends, for Pete’s sake. But after a few seasons, Shelley Long decided to set out on her own to become a movie star, as opposed to starring in a critically-acclaimed and highly successful TV show. So the show’s producers replaced her with Kirstie Alley, whose character was essentially the exact opposite of Long’s. Originally trying to make her Danson’s new love interest, the writers smartly realized that wouldn’t work, so they just made her another member of the cast. There’s probably no way Cheers would have lasted as long as it did without injecting some new blood, so sometimes these things that seem like a disaster can actually work out for you.
Both ER and CSI initially had strong ensemble casts, but over the years, people grew to love the format more than anything else. The casts for both shows turned over almost 100 percent. ER in particular had cast change after cast change, and managed to remain one of the most popular shows on television. Plus, George Clooney got his start on ER, which seems like impossibly ancient history at this point.
If you are unfamiliar with Spartacus (which is very likely, given that Starz struggles to get people to watch their shockingly high quality television), just know that it’s kind of like that movie Gladiator, but… sexy (*lowers sunglasses*). Unfortunately, Sparticus had to get a new lead (and essentially became a prequel) after the first series’ star got cancer that he’d eventually pass away from (a bummer, I know). Sometimes these things happen not because of behind the scenes difficulty, but because of illness and injury.
The Man Show
Here’s a case of a bad show getting even worse — The Man Show was either a parody, or a straight up earnest version, of a talk show “for men”. Beer! Women jumping on trampolines! Ragging on chick flicks! But the original hosts, Jimmy Kimmel and Adam Carolla, left after a few seasons and were replaced by Doug Stanhope and Joe Rogan. They took the show from lighthearted misogyny to… some pretty dark territory. And people hated it, which means the show was quickly cancelled. On one of his stand-up specials, Stanhope has acknowledged that he did ruin The Man Show, and that he was paid so much money for it, that he would ruin the show twice as bad for half the money.
Do you recall any shows trying in vain to remain on the air without one of its key characters? What about a show that did it successfully? Give us a shout on Twitter @Smosh!!