When we talk about situational comedies, or “sitcoms,” we’re talking about shows designed to make us laugh. Iconic sitcoms contain equal parts stellar casting, memorable characters, laugh out loud writing, and high energy physical humor.
Technically, all sitcoms follow a very similar formula “Sitcoms... are typically 22 minutes long [with] a script of 25-40 pages. Every sitcom episode has a main plot (story A), as well as one or two subplots (stories B and C)... There are three main acts... with 3-5 scenes per act. “
However, even if a sitcom follows this formula exactly, some aspects are not an exact science.
Another staple of iconic sitcoms is that “the protagonists frequently fail, and we often want them to.” Imagine if Ross and Rachel had gotten together in the first few episodes of Friends, who would we have rooted for throughout the next decade? Or, if Ted had met the mother of his children in season 1 of HIMYM, what story would he tell for the next nine years?
The success of a sitcom can boil down to whether the characters succeed, whether they are likable, or whether the jokes make us laugh.
However, more often than not, a sitcom will survive where others have failed because of last-minute changes to the cast, script, or timing, and vice versa.
With that said, here are the 8 Last-Minute Changes That Hurt Iconic Sitcoms (And 12 That Saved Them).
20 Hurt: The 9th Season (Scrubs)
Season 8 of Scrubs was supposed to be its last season. However, in May 2009 in a last minute turn of events, ABC announced that Scrubs had been renewed for an additional 13 episodes.
While this may seem like it was good news for the sitcom, it was not.
Season 9 of Scrubs felt much more like a lazy spin-off than a continuation of the beloved series.
The unexpected season ended up being Scrubs last. Most fans refuse to even acknowledge season 9, and like to think of the season 8 finale as the “real” series finale.
Even the show’s star Zach Braff acknowledges this opinion. In a response to a question about how many seasons of his new sitcom, Alex Inc, there would be, Braff tweeted “9, but we will only acknowledge the first 8."
19 Saved: Casting The Right Penny (The Big Bang Theory)
The Big Bang Theory’s Kaley Cuoco was not the first choice to play Penny.
The female lead on The Big Bang Theory was originally supposed to be a character named Katie. She was originally played by a Canadian actress named Amanda Walsh in the show’s unaired pilot episode.
The character of Katie was written as a more sarcastic woman with a tougher exterior than the Penny we know now.
Unfortunately for Walsh, test audiences did not respond positively to her Katie character. Audiences thought that she was too mean and didn’t like that she openly mocked Sheldon and Leonard.
The directors opted to rewrite and recast the role.
Kaley Cuoco actually auditioned twice for The Big Bang Theory, but it wasn’t until the show required a last-minute rewrite that Cuoco was cast on her third try.
18 Saved: Replacing Rachel Dratch (30 Rock)
Jenna Maroney is the star of The Girlie Show and Jane Krakowski is the star of 30 Rock. Krakowski was the perfect choice to play “aging star” Jenna Maroney.
Every line delivery is pure gold and everything from her looks, to singing voice, to the way she “lives theatrically in normal life” is spot on.
In the original unaired pilot of 30 Rock, Jenna Maroney is named Jenna DeCarlo and is played by none other than SNL vet Rachel Dratch.
The Maroney character was rewritten at the last minute before filming the aired pilot and Dratch was replaced.
Dratch talks about this in her memoir. She has been quoted as saying the media blew the whole recasting out of proportion, and that she was happy being asked to play multiple character roles on the show.
17 Hurt: The Finale (How I Met Your Mother)
After nine seasons of HIMYM, viewers around the world expected a big payoff. However, the long-awaited series finale aired on March 31, 2014, and was immediately and widely panned.
The finale was frustrating to viewers for many reasons, but mostly because it seemed to contradict previous plot points, and also felt disrespectful to both the titular mother character and to long-time fans of the series.
There could have been a last minute change that may have saved the show’s reputation.
Creator Carter Bays said “we were in the HIMYM edit room, trying to decide between two very different endings. We only shot one script, but through edit room magic we had two possible outcomes for the series. We chose the ending we chose and we stand by it.”
This alternate ending can now be seen on the DVD extras.
16 Saved: Making Topanga A Main Character (Boy Meets World)
Boy Meets World was a pillar of the '90s. It was a show about growing up, with lessons and laughs that stand the test of time.
Boy Meets World definitely wouldn’t have been the same without its three lead characters: Cory, Shawn, and of course, Topanga. Topanga is a fan favorite as a core member of the group and for her long-standing relationship with Cory. Danielle Fishel as Topanga Lawrence is iconic.
However, it turns out that Topanga was not even supposed to be a main character on the show.
In fact, the role of Topanga originally went to another actress. However, once the producers realized that the original actress wasn’t working, they recast the role with Danielle Fishel.
The character became so popular that she became a series regular.
15 Saved: Six Friends Are Better Than Four (Friends)
They’ll be there for you. However, originally, only four out of the six Friends would have been there for you.
When the iconic sitcom was first written, the script only focused on four friends: Joey, Ross, Monica, and Rachel.
Phoebe Buffay and Chandler Bing were envisioned to be supporting characters who only popped in on the group every few episodes.
The series also had a different name back then. It was going to be called Insomnia Cafe. Thank goodness for last minute changes.
Changing the title to Friends and adding Phoebe and Chandler as main characters definitely saved the show and helped it skyrocket to become one of the most iconic sitcoms of all time.
14 Hurt: Serious Plots (Blossom)
Blossom was a family sitcom that debuted in 1990 on NBC. It starred Mayim Bialik as Blossom Russo and enjoyed a five-season run before meeting its end on May 22, 1995.
The reason for Blossom’s demise? It ended because the show was abruptly changed to have a much darker tone.
The most notable example was “The Date” episode in which Blossom faces a violent attack from a boy she is on a date with. This episode aired around the time of the OJ Simpson trial.
The producers thought it was timely and relevant, and would help teach young viewers that “no means no,” and that victim blaming is never ok.
Blossom had done issue based episodes before and the writers and producers wanted to continue to explore serious topics. However, NBC received immediate backlash and the show was canceled.
13 Saved: Casting Jack (Will & Grace)
A last-minute casting decision totally changed (and saved) Will & Grace. Sean Hayes revealed in an interview that he was originally asked to read for the lead role of Will in Will & Grace.
Hayes was at Sundance when an NBC exec asked him to come to LA to audition. Hayes was flattered, but by the time he arrived at the auditions back in LA, the producers had just discovered Eric McCormack and offered him the role of Will.
Hayes was then brought in to read for “the other guy” instead, and the rest is history.
While it must have been disappointing for Hayes to miss out on the title role, we’re glad he did because we’re pretty sure just Sean Hayes could be "Just Jack."
12 Saved: Finding A New Sookie (Gilmore Girls)
While not technically a sitcom, Gilmore Girls is funny and dear to fan’s hearts. Gilmore Girls aired from 2000 until 2007, and all of our favorites returned for the “revival” in 2016-- even Sookie.
However, it turns out that Sookie wasn’t always our Sookie.
The part of the quirky and passionate chef originally went to actress Alex Borstein who was also starring on MADtv at the time.
When Gilmore Girls was picked up, MADtv announced that they were unwilling to let Borstein go, and so they had to recast Sookie.
Melissa McCarthy auditioned as the last minute replacement and became the Sookie we all know and love. Borstein actually returned later in the series as Drella the harp player and as Miss Celine.
Gilmore Girls helped launch McCarthy’s now thriving career, so the casting switch was mutually beneficial.
11 Hurt: The New Aunt Vivian (Fresh Prince of Bel-Air)
About halfway through the six seasons of Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, actress Janet Hubert, who played Aunt Vivian, was abruptly replaced by a new Aun Vivian.
There is a lot of speculation over how it all really went down, but the consensus is that it boiled down to a contract dispute involving both Hubert and Will Smith.
The change truly hurt the overall integrity of the show. Aunt Vivian was not just recast, but her character was noticeably changed.
She was less fierce, her wardrobe less fashion forward, and her career not really mentioned as often, if ever.
The character was made less essential to the Banks family, which was a disappointment to the majority of fans who liked the original actress and appreciated the strong female character.
10 Saved: The New Carol (Friends)
In season 1 episode 2 of Friends, we meet Ross’s ex-wife Carol for the first time. In episode 9, we see Carol again, but this time, it’s a totally different Carol.
Why was Carol recast at the last minute after only one episode? It turns out that Anita Barone had originally auditioned for a female lead on Friends and was cast in the smaller role of Carol instead.
She quit Friends after only one episode in order to continue to pursue larger roles.
While Barone was good in that first episode, viewers grew to love the dynamic between the new Carol Jane Sibbett and Jessica Hect as Susan, and the pair became an essential part of Friends history.
9 Saved: The Janitor Is Real (Scrubs)
Everyone has their favorite Scrubs character. One popular recurring character, known only as "Janitor," was played by Neil Flynn and remains one of the most beloved characters since Scrubs finished its run over 8 years ago.
Flynn was a guest star through all of season 1 and was upgraded to series regular during season 2.
Because of the outrageous stories about his past, and the often harsh pranks he pulls against JD, it seems sometimes that Janitor is not a very realistic person. Perhaps this is in some part due to the fact that originally, he was not supposed to be.
The Janitor was originally written to be a figment of JD’s imagination.
However, this was changed at the last minute and quickly he became a core character who interacted with everyone
8 Hurt: Her? (Arrested Development)
Arrested Development has so many recurring jokes working for it. The stair car, chicken impressions, and the meaning of “Hermano” to name a few. However, if not for this last minute change, they could have had another great one.
Ann Veal, lovingly referred to as “Egg,” “Bland,” and “her?" was originally played by Alessandra Torresani. The next time we see Ann, she is played by Mae Whitman. This recast was completely intentional.
Ann Veal was meant to be recast with a new actor in every episode she appears in, to reinforce the joke that she is forgettable.
However, at the last minute, the producers decided to keep the same actress for all of the remaining Ann appearances.
While the show was still a success with fans, it could have added at least one more hilarious, recurring gag to its repertoire.
7 Saved: In With Ashton Out With Charlie (Two And A Half Men)
Two And A Half Men originally starred Charlie Sheen, Jon Cryer, and Angus T. Jones. Fast forward nine seasons and viewers would see Ashton Kutcher in the lead role instead of Sheen.
Charlie Sheen, who had been the highest paid actor on television and led the show for 8 seasons, was fired. His poor behavior and substance and alcohol issues were sighted as just some of the reasoning behind the huge casting change for the hit series.
Kutcher was brought in to lead the sitcom and many fans believe that he was a great new addition and saved the show.
The ratings echoed this sentiment. Kutcher’s first episode pulled in almost 28 million viewers compared to a high of 24 million and low of 14.5 million viewers when Sheen led the charge.
6 Saved: Recalibrating The Tone (Parks and Recreation)
When Parks and Recreation first premiered in 2009, viewers and critics dismissed it as a less-funny clone of The Office. Seven seasons later, it became known as one of the most iconic and funny mockumentary-style shows ever on TV. So what changed?
Initial test audiences were very underwhelmed by Parks and Rec. They didn’t like Leslie, and they didn’t like the pacing.
The writers were forced to rethink and change the whole tone of the show. “In season two, the writers turned down the snark… Leslie was still overly enthusiastic, but beneath all that energy was a core of competence.’”
The other characters changed for the better, too. The Mark Brendanawicz character was written off, and Rob Lowe and Adam Scott were introduced into the cast.
Recalibrating the tone completely saved the series.
5 Hurt: Inconsistent scheduling (Freaks and Geeks)
Freaks and Geeks, a sitcom often listed on “greatest TV shows of all time” roundups, unfortunately only lasted one season.
Despite great writing and a stellar cast of future Hollywood stars, it was the constant last minute and inconsistent scheduling changes that really hurt the series.
First broadcast on a Saturday at 8pm, the second episode aired a week later, and then there was a three-week gap before the next episode aired.
Then, “episode 5 landed in mid-November – but was put on hold until early January, aired once in February, twice in March, and was subsequently canceled, with the two final episodes airing in July.”
The producers of the show even created a website to help fans keep track of the erratic scheduling, but unfortunately, it couldn’t save the series.
4 Saved: Gunther Speaks (Friends)
Everybody’s favorite barista with hair brighter than the sun was Gunther. The iconic sitcom Friends wouldn’t have been the same without him.
However, Gunther was not originally supposed to have a speaking part on Friends.
The actor who plays Gunther, James Michael Tyler, was cast as a background extra at the coffee shop because he knew how to work an espresso machine. However, Tyler was upgraded to a recurring role after the first few episodes.
Tyler has said “You know, I honestly always thought my Masters in fine arts would get me further in the acting world than knowing how to work an espresso machine! That was a happy accident and I'm very, very grateful to have had that skill."
3 Hurt: A New Timeslot (Happy Endings)
Happy Endings tells the story of six best friends living in Chicago. After the couple who introduced them all breaks up, they have to choose sides and figure out how to remain friends. Hilarity ensues.
It has a truly delightful script and many devoted fans. Rolling Stone once called Happy Endings “the most underrated, under-watched series on TV”
The series was unfortunately canceled after only 3 seasons in May 2013.
So why did Happy Endings end up with such an unhappy ending?
In a last minute scheduling change, Happy Endings was abruptly moved to a new time slot (also known as the Friday night grave slot).
It was subsequently received lower ratings and viewership numbers, leading to its demise.
2 Saved: Rebuilding The 4th Wall (Sex And The City)
We couldn’t help but wonder how to write an iconic sitcom list without including Sex and the City, one of television’s most iconic shows.
Known for its fashion, well-crafted relationships, and of course, intimacy, Sex and the City aired from 1998-2004 and fans loved every minute of it.
If you rewatch the first season, you’ll notice a few key differences compared to later episodes. One difference, in particular, was enacted after just a few episodes and helped save the structure of the show.
In season one, Sex and the City played with a storytelling technique of speaking directly to camera and breaking the 4th wall.
The producers did away with that style in the subsequent seasons, saying that they gave up Carrie talking to camera because it breaks viewers out of the story.
1 Hurt: JTT Goes To College (Home Improvement)
With a total of 204 episodes over 8 seasons, Home Improvement was a staple of early '90s television sitcoms. The series starred Tim Allen as Tim Taylor, and launched the career of teen heartthrob Jonathan Taylor Thomas.
However, as popular as the show was, it couldn’t survive without its core cast. In a last-minute twist that ultimately hurt the show, Thomas announced that he was leaving Home Improvement in order to pursue a college degree.
“I’d been going nonstop since I was 8-years-old,” the 31-year-old former Home Improvement star said. "I wanted to go to school, to travel and have a bit of a break.”
Fans were sad to see the show end when its finale aired on May 25th, 1999.
Can you think of any other last minute changes that hurt or saved iconic sitcoms? Let us know in the comments!