Television stars are generally perceived to have solid job security. Unless they’re starring on a show like The Walking Dead, where anyone can die at any moment, TV actors can be expected to have steady work for as long as the show remains successful. Eventually, once they’ve completed their arc, they’ll be written off the show, or, if they’re really lucky, land their own spinoff.
Occasionally, however, a character sticks around, but the actor is let go. Sometimes the networks are unwilling to pay as much money as the actor demands, or there may be some sort of conflict with fellow cast and crew members, or perhaps they just needed to take a break from acting. For better or worse, the characters remained on the show, but were brought to life by completely new performers, and these unique cases are the subject of this list. Here are 15 TV Actors Who Were Shockingly Recast.
15. Darrin on Bewitched
For eight seasons, Elizabeth Montgomery starred on the beloved fantasy sitcom, Bewitched, about Samantha, a faithful wife with a secret: she’s a powerful witch, skilled in sorcery and magic! For the first five seasons, Samantha’s husband Darrin was played by Dick York. Unfortunately, York had a secret as well; while shooting the 1959 western, They Came to Cordura, York had seriously injured his back, and the pain gradually grew to unmanageable levels. As early as season 3, his injury was interfering with his ability to star on the show, forcing stories to be retooled to minimize Darrin’s role. After an incident in which York collapsed on set and had to be hospitalized, it was decided that he had to be let go.
For the final three seasons of Bewitched, Dick Sargent stepped in to fill the role of Darrin. Audiences are divided over which of the Dicks they prefer; some fans like the impeccable comic timing of York, while others appreciate the warmer maturity of Sargent. As for Dick York, it took him many years, but he eventually recovered from his injury and crippling addiction to painkillers. In the end, it was his cigarette habit which did him in. York died in 1992 from complications due to emphysema.
14. Morgan on Boy Meets World
Boy Meets World gets a lot of credit for being one of the smartest shows on ABC’s legendary 1990s block, TGIF. In addition to zany high-school antics in the vein of Saved By The Bell, it also tackled increasingly mature themes as the characters grew up. Cory Matthews and company slowly progressed from middle school to full-on adulthood in front of the television audience.
As is the case with many long-running shows, a handful of characters were inevitably recast as the series went on. First, there’s Cory’s sister, Morgan. In the first two seasons, she was played by Lily Nicksay, but the character disappeared at the start of season 3. However, midway through, she popped up, suddenly played by new actress Lindsay Ridgeway, who held on to the role for the rest of the series. In the upcoming second season finale of the revival series, Girl Meets World, both actresses are scheduled to appear as Morgan. We’re not quite sure what to expect from this episode, entitled “Girl Meets Goodbye,” but we;re betting on a solid helping of family-friendly hijinks.
13. Aunt Viv on The Fresh Prince of Bel- Air
Before he was one of the biggest movie stars on the planet, Will Smith was a charismatic young rapper with a television series, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, about a young kid from Philly who “got in one little fight and mom got scared.” Subsequently, Will is sent to live with his “auntie and uncle in Bel-Air.”
Aunt Vivian was played by Janet Hubert for the first three years of the series, but legend has it that she was not getting along with star Will Smith, in addition to being unhappy with her contract at NBC. She was promptly dropped from the series, and actress Daphne Maxwell Reid was brought in to play a new version of Aunt Viv, who was much more passive and less involved in family decisions than the original iteration of the character. Many inside jokes were made to the new appearance of the character, usually at the expense of the original actress. In true 1990s sitcom fashion, these wisecracks were often accompanied by winks and nods towards the camera.
12. Lois Lane on The Adventures of Superman
1948’s matinee serial, Superman, was the first adaptation of the character to live-action, and it was a spectacular success, leading to a sequel, Atom Man vs Superman. These projects starred Kirk Alyn as the Man of Steel, and Noel Neill as Lois Lane, intrepid female reporter. Several years later, the Man of Steel made a splash on television, with the groundbreaking series, The Adventures of Superman, starring the iconic George Reeves as Clark Kent/Superman and Phyllis Coates as Lois.
While Coates’ version of the character is one of the most iconic and revered versions of the tough-as-nails journalist, Coates opted not to return for a second season of the show. Rather than seek out a brand new actress for the role, however, the producers recruited Noel Neill, who had already played Lois in the serials. Thanks to the 1950s style of the time, it can be tricky to tell Coates and Neill apart, though the two thespians certainly approached Lois from different angles. Coates’s Lois was always taking the lead, dragging Clark along on dangerous assignments, while Neil was more of an old-fashioned feminine figure — and more overtly infatuated with Superman.
11. Mandy on Shameless
Shameless is Showtime’s brutally unfiltered take on the domestic family drama, featuring an ensemble cast led by William H. Macy. Despite the cast being full of dysfunctional characters, few can approach the epic “hot mess” status of Mandy Milkovich. For her original arc, in five episodes of the first season, Mandy was played by Jane Levy, though she left the show after that to headline the ABC sitcom, Suburgatory, which ran for three underappreciated seasons.
Meanwhile, on Shameless, actress Emma Greenwell was recruited to take over as Mandy. During her tenure on the show, she was raped by her own father, and beaten up by an evil boyfriend, among other horrors. All told, Emma Greenwell played Mandy through its sixth season before being written off the show, having found the closest thing to happiness which can be reasonably expected from a series as unrelentingly dour as Shameless: she becomes a top earner at an escort service and kills a client, but in self-defense, so she escapes prosecution. It’s not happily ever after, but it’ll do.
10. Becky on Roseanne
One of the most meta examples on this list is Becky, one of the Conner-Healy kids on Roseanne, one of the defining sitcoms of the late ’80s and mid ’90s. Initially portrayed by Lecy Goranson, Becky was written off of the show when the actress wanted to take a break from acting to focus on her education at Vassar College. However, producers eventually decided to bring the character back, and Sarah Chalke (Scrubs, Rick and Morty) was called upon to inhabit the role for seasons 6 and 7.
For season 8, Lecy Goranson opted to return to the show, though her schedule prevented her from appearing in some episodes in which her character was essential. Bizarrely, the show juggled both actresses as the character, with Sarah Chalke appearing as a special guest star for episodes in which Goranson was unavailable, and many jokes were made of this unique situation. Finally, season 9 saw Sarah Chalke step forward as the sole actress to play Becky.
9. Poison Ivy on Gotham
On FOX’s Batman origin story series, Gotham, Ivy Pepper was initially played by the young teen, Clare Foley. She earned praise for her performance as the troubled youth, as well as her adorable freckles and massive mop of red hair. However, at the start of season 3, her character comes into contact with a super-powered person, which causes her to mature to adulthood and develop her own suite of abilities.
As a result of this, Foley was dropped from the show, and a new actress, Maggie Geha, was brought in to play the enhanced Ivy, who is learning how to use her newfound powers and palpable sexuality to force men to bend to her will. This is a case where there was simply no way for Foley to continue in the decidedly more adult role. At just 15 years old, she is more than a full decade younger than Geha, an up-and-coming actress whose credits include small roles in movies like Ted 2 and Winter’s Tale, as well as a stint on the popular soap opera, All My Children.
8. Laurie on That 70’s Show
This should go without saying, but it’s a lesson worth repeating: drug abuse is bad. Alcohol and other substances can ruin lives, destroy friendships, and cause good people to lose their jobs. Such was the case with young Lisa Robin Kelly, who played Eric Foreman’s older sister, Laurie, on the hit FOX comedy, That 70’s Show. Despite being a fan-favorite character and featuring in 50 episodes over the first five years of the series, she had to be let go by producers, seemingly due to her out-of-control substance abuse problems.
A new actress, Christina Moore, was brought in to fill Kelly’s shoes, but the character only appeared in a handful of episodes in season 6 before being written off for good. As for Lisa Robin Kelly, she was troubled by numerous arrests over the next several years, and tragically died of a drug overdose at a rehab clinic in 2013.
7. Jimmy Olsen on Lois & Clark
In Hollywood, being classically handsome is generally considered to be a good thing, but this is one case in which the actor was simply too handsome for the part. On Lois & Clark, the 1990s live-action television version of Superman, cub reporter Jimmy Olsen was played by Michael Landes, but it wasn’t working out. The producers wanted a nerdier version of the character, and Landes was nearly as handsome as star Dean Cain, who played the hunky Man of Steel. After one season, Landes was dropped from the show and replaced with the younger and cuter Justin Whalin, who had adorably chubby cheeks and a more youthful disposition than Landes’ version of the character.
Lois & Clark also featured Phyllis Coates as Lois Lane’s mother, Ellen, in a nod to her role as Lois herself in The Adventures of Superman. However, for all episodes after her initial appearance, Coates was replaced with Beverly Garland. In a case of history repeating itself, Teri Hatcher, star of Lois & Clark, went on to play Ellen Lane in an episode of Smallville.
6. Peter Venkman on The Real Ghostbusters
After the tremendous success of 1984’s Ghostbusters, it didn’t take long for an animated adaptation to debut as Saturday morning family entertainment. The Real Ghostbusters featured characters based on the figures from the movie, but with totally different designs, in an effort to avoid having to license the actors’ likenesses. Because of this, none of the actors from the film returned to voice their characters, though Maurice LaMarche (playing Egon Spengler) did perform his lines in an imitation of Harold Ramis’ voice.
As for Peter Venkman, the legend goes that Bill Murray was displeased that voice actor Lorenzo Music (best known for starring as the eponymous orange cat on the animated series Garfield and Friends) was basically channeling his Garfield voice in his portrayal of Murray’s iconic character. Thus, Music got the boot, and Dave Coulier (Full House) was brought on board to replace him. Perhaps Bill Murray didn’t like his voice being compared to that of Garfield the cat? Either way, this story came back around in a bizarre way when Murray himself starred as the lasagna-loving kitty cat in the big-screen Garfield: The Movie, and its sequel, Garfield: A Tail of Two Kitties.
5. Numerous Game of Thrones Changes
Game of Thrones, HBO’s adaptation of the popular book series by George R.R. Martin, has seen more than its fair share of cast changes. Martin has a knack for introducing characters in minor roles before giving them greater importance much later on, a quirk which extends to the series. Figures like Beric Dondarrion and both Tommen and Myrcella Lannister made their debuts as insignificant extras before having their roles expanded, and their actors subsequently recast.
A more noticeable example would be the character of Daario Naharis, who was originally played by Ed Skrein, better known as Ajax from Deadpool. When Skrein was cast in the ill-fated reboot, The Transporter Refueled, he left the show, and Michiel Huisman was brought in to take over as the character. Skrein’s version of the character had pretty-boy features and angelic locks of long, beautiful hair, while Huisman had a tough-guy beard and a generally more rugged appearance. There’s a Daario for both sides of the sexy spectrum.
4. Sydney on Hope and Faith
Hope and Faith was a decently inoffensive sitcom that aired for three seasons on the ABC network. The show starred Kelly Ripa as Faith, and Faith Ford as Hope (weird, right?), two adult sisters living their lives and having benign sitcom misadventures. Faith is single and ready to mingle, but Hope has already attained domestic bliss with her husband and three children. For the first season, 15-year-old daughter Sydney was played by 26-year-old Nicole Paggi. Perhaps due to her age, she was recast in season 2 with Megan Fox, in one of her earliest roles. Despite being only 20 years old, Fox looked nothing like a teenager, with sleeker features than the adorably round-faced Paggi.
Fun Fact: In the original pilot for the show, several characters were played by different actresses. Sydney was played by Brie Larson, who would go on to win an Oscar for her work in Room, and will soon be seen playing the title character in Captain Marvel.
3. Mary Kay Bergman’s Roles on South Park
In the early days of South Park, nearly all of the female characters on the show were voiced by Mary Kay Bergman, one of the most underappreciated voice actors of our time. Despite her immense success and considerable talent, Bergman suffered from a crippling case of Generalized Anxiety Disorder, a severe form of depression. On November 11, 1999, Bergman tragically committed suicide. All told, Mary Kay Bergman starred in the first two seasons of the show, much of the third season, and the movie, South Park: Bigger, Longer, and Uncut.
Following her death, her roles on South Park were mainly given to actress Eliza Schneider, who then left the show after the seventh season, and was subsequently replaced by April Stewart, who currently plays a majority of the female roles on the show, though some characters (like Sheila Broflovski) have their own dedicated performer.
Fun Fact: The only regularly-appearing female character on the show to have been played by the same actress since her first appearance is Bebe Stevens, who has always been voiced by Jennifer Howell, who was a producer on the show. She’s now a big shot executive at 20th Century Fox, but still takes the time to voice Bebe whenever the character makes an appearance.
2. Alison on ‘Til Death
‘Til Death was something of a non entity for nearly the entirety of its run, a low-rent domestic sitcom starring Brad Garret and Joely Fisher as a tired middle-aged married couple. For its first three years, the show was a harmless bore, and a far cry from being recognized as destination television. Every year, it was nothing short of a miracle that the show wasn’t cancelled with extreme prejudice. When it came time to produce the fourth and final season, the writers decided to dance like nobody was watching, as the saying goes.
Over the years, the role of Alison Stark, the daughter of Garret and Fisher’s characters, was played by four different actresses, from Krysten Ritter to Kate Micucci, but her boyfriend (and eventual husband), Doug, was only ever portrayed by Timm Sharp. During the fourth season, Doug begins to realize that he is actually in a television sitcom, as evidenced by the changing appearance of his wife, the lack of a fourth wall, and numerous other television conventions. It was so bizarre, but so beautiful, that a run-of-the-mill sitcom, knowing that the end was near, chose to go out with a bang rather than a whimper. These wacky creative choices did not save ‘Til Death from cancellation, but they were never supposed to; that fourth season will always be remembered as a gift to fans of sitcom television and all of its quirks.
1. Spartacus on Spartacus
Starz put their best foot forward at securing a presence on the premium cable TV scene with their swords-and-sandals-sploitation epic, Spartacus. The show was a breakthrough success for the network, paving the way for subsequent shows like Black Sails, Da Vinci’s Demons, and Ash vs Evil Dead.
However, the show’s future was in jeopardy when Andy Whitfield, who starred as the eponymous Spartacus, was diagnosed with cancer before the cameras started rolling on season 2. Expecting him to recover, the network moved forward with a short prequel season, Gods of the Arena, sans-Spartacus and Whitfield, so that a proper second season could be produced after the actor received treatment for his ailment. Sadly, Andy Whitfield’s cancer returned, and he died on September 11, 2011.
It’s rare that a series can thrive after recasting its main character, especially when the original actor is lost in such a tragic fashion, but Spartacus somehow managed to succeed, casting a pitch-perfect Liam McIntyre as a replacement for Whitfield. McIntyre would play the character for two seasons before the show was voluntarily brought to an end by the producers, who opted to end the series on a high note.
What do you think? Did any of these casting changes slip past you, or is the average Screen Rant reader eagle-eyed enough to always notice every detail about their favorite shows? Sound off in the comments!