Recasting actors happens due to a myriad of reasons: a storyline isn’t working so the writers and producers have to change the character; an actor urgently requires personal time off, salary and contract disputes, or an actor is not jibing with the rest of the cast and crew.
With the television machine having to plough on ahead regardless of circumstances, switching things up on the fly is hardly ever elegant or gracefully done. At best, a character will make a flippant, nearly fourth-wall breaking comment and then that’ll be that. However, these are the breaks for regularly scheduled entertainment.
So, for whatever the reasons for a recast to occur, it’s bound to have an irrevocable impact on the show, be it positively or negatively. It’s undoubtedly a seismic shift.
Even recastings for the low-stress and easy-viewing genre of the sitcom, perhaps the most enduring television genre, can provoke strong responses.
This is most particularly the case in later seasons, when viewers consider certain characters to almost be like a weekly friend. Changing this up can be the end for a sitcom or its salvation.
With that said, here are the 4 Actor Recastings That Hurt Iconic Sitcoms (And 16 That Saved Them).
20 Saved: Ashton Kutcher in Two and a Half Men
From 2003 to 2011, Two and a Half Men was riding high, with mega-star Charlie Sheen making easy money and charming viewers around the world.
However, most are aware that Sheen flamed out quite spectacularly in 2011 due to a host of personal issues and a megalomaniacal grudge against Chuck Lorre.
He was given the boot and Ashton Kutcher was brought in; not to replace Charlie’s character, but to fill the void as an altogether less evil character, though one who could still bounce off well against Jon Cryer’s Alan.
Oddly enough, Sheen’s fire-and-brimstone exit and Kutcher’s entrance helped to generate even more buzz for the show.
The first post-Charlie Sheen season garnered 13 percent more viewers and it was smooth sailings until its finale in 2015.
19 Saved: Jane Sibbett in Friends
In terms of recasts, this one surely ranks among the quicker ones. Anita Barone portrayed Carol, Ross’ ex-wife, for exactly one episode, her debut episode, before she was replaced by Jane Sibbett.
Carol and Ross' relationship was unique for television at the time in that Carol didn’t leave Ross for another man but for another woman. They also conceived a child just before their divorce was finalized, which meant co-parenting under what could be considered to be strained circumstances to say the least.
However, despite this, their platonic relationship stayed strong. It was kind of endearing in a quiet way.
Anita Barone didn’t last long enough to make an impression as Carol, as Barone quickly left the show to pursue a full-time acting gig.
However, Jane Sibbett handled the secondary character with aplomb.
18 Saved: Mila Kunis in Family Guy
It’s weird to remember that Mila Kunis wasn’t the original voice actor for Meg. That was actually Lacey Chabert, of Mean Girls fame.
However, it was only for the first season, years before Family Guy became a bona fide hit.
The history of Meg’s voice actors is fraught, though. Before even Chabert was Meg, Cree Summer was meant to be a lock for the role. However, Cree wasn’t enthused about the gig, rightfully calling Meg a “thankless” character to play. It didn't click and she was fired before she got started.
Since Meg seemed like a cursed character, creator Seth MacFarlane was relieved that Mila Kunis was such a perfect fit for the part.
“There was something natural about Mila. She was 15 when she started, so you were listening to an actual 15 year old,” MacFarlane said.
17 Saved: Jane Krakowski in 30 Rock
Centring on the head writer of a sketch show named Liz Lemon, 30 Rock was a sharp and well-crafted satire of show business. One of its consistently funniest characters was Jenna Maroney.
Jane Krakowski zoomed in on Jenna Maroney’s vanity and taste for theatrical histrionics with such careful and expert comedic timing that the very idea anybody else could play this character is sacrilege.
The fact that Krakowski is also naturally glamorously good-looking also enhanced the comedic qualities of Jenna’s flaws.
So it’s surprising that Krakowski wasn’t the first choice to play Liz Lemmon’s best friend. Rachel Dratch, an SNL alum, was originally cast to be Jenna.
However, as 30 Rock evolved from a sketch show to a sitcom, it was decided that a sitcom actress, rather than a character actress, would be more suitable for the role.
16 Hurt: Josh Meyers in That '70s Show
Topher Grace’s dryly humorous performance as the awkward and geeky teenager Eric Forman was such a fundamental part of That '70s Show’s essence that when Grace left the final season to move on with his career, the show suffered a noticeable decline.
Josh Meyers was then cast to replace Topher Grace as the ostensible lead of That '70s Show.
It was written that Eric would be teaching in Africa while his girlfriend Donna would find interest in a new man, Randy, who was portrayed by Josh Meyers.
However, Randy proved to be a poor replacement.
Not only was the character half-heartedly defined, but Meyers was too bland to be part of the friend’s circle, never mind Donna’s love interest.
The onus was on Meyers to keep the show going, but at this point, That '70s Show barely resembled itself during its peak.
15 Saved: Patricia Velasquez in Arrested Development
Leonor Varela only portrayed Spanish soap actress Marta for two episodes of Arrested Development. This was due not to any problems between the actors and producers, but due to run-of-the-mill scheduling issues.
However, in this case, it might’ve been a blessing in disguise. Not to disparage Varela’s performance, but the character of Marta didn’t really come into her own until after she left the show.
Venezuelan model and actress Patricia Velasquez was cast to be Marta (or as fans like to call her, Marta 2.0).
As Michael and Gob’s love interest, Velasquez got to sink her teeth into some more comedic lines which Varela didn't get to enough.
Also, combined with a depth, warmth, and maturity that Velasquez naturally exuded as a performer, this ensured that Marta 2.0 remains the most beloved Marta of all of them.
14 Saved: Ursula Parker in Louie
Much like Seinfeld, Louie revolved around a New York City comedian and his mundane misadventures – usually of the socially awkward variety. The difference is that while Seinfeld was single and a serial dater, Louie was a divorcée and dad.
Also, unlike the zippy, clockwork precision of Seinfeld, Louie had an experimental structure that created an uneasy atmosphere of an anxious man marinating in his malaise.
This unique feel allowed for unexpected gems to emerge as the show found its identity.
For example, Louie’s daughter Jane was played by Ursula Parker. Introduced quite early on, around episode 5, Jane was a marvellous little oddball and a musical prodigy – much like Ursula Parker herself.
However, Parker wasn't originally cast in the role of Jane.
13 Saved: Daphne Maxwell-Reid in The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air
The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, the sitcom that launched Will Smith into superstardom, had a fabulous run of 140 plus episodes, with few bumps along the way.
Then there was the recasting of Aunt Vivian. Janet Hubert was apparently quite hard to deal with on the set of Fresh Prince.
Despite her considerable acting chops, life became tense and miserable for the rest of the cast and crew – and Hubert seemed to hold the most disdain towards Will Smith.
The situation got to be so intolerable that Hubert was fired.
Daphne Maxwell-Reid was brought on board, and she proved to be a far better co-worker.
Old Vivian vs. new Vivian is a point of contention among fans, but it’s unquestionably true that simply being a pleasant person to work with can actually save an entire show.
12 Saved: Matt McCoy in Seinfeld
Although a relatively minor character, Matt McCoy nevertheless made the most of his meagre screen time as George Costanza’s nemesis Lloyd Braun.
Peter Keleghan first portrayed Lloyd in “The Non-Fat Yoghurt”, the first time we see a mentally stable and classically handsome – and consequently, not very interesting or funny – version of Lloyd.
Following a nervous breakdown from the events of that episode, the character returned a couple of seasons later, this time played by Matt McCoy.
Matt McCoy’s quirky and slightly sinister screen presence proved to be a much better fit within the often inexplicably petty and malicious world of Seinfeld.
His final appearance in the classic episode “The Serenity Now” was perhaps his best work, with his eyes popping madly as he calmly warns George, “Serenity now… insanity later.”
11 Hurt: Jennifer Freeman in My Wife and Kids
As the brainchild of actor/comedian Damon Wayans, My Wife and Kids had a short but memorable run. It wasn’t the most biting or risqué sitcom, but My Wife and Kids had enough amiability and good humor that it managed to develop a respectable following.
The premise is simple. Michael Kyle (Damon Wayans) is the patriarch of a middle-class family and his unique parenting style fuels much of the show’s outlandish and comedic scenarios.
Jazz Raycole portrayed middle-child Claire Marie Kyle in the first season. She went through the growing pains typical of most 12 year olds, but she was sweet-natured.
Claire was retooled as a vapid teenager in the next season, however, when Jennifer Freeman was cast in the role.
The change was so drastic that it could’ve been a different, and less interesting, character entirely.
10 Saved: Ted Danson in Cheers
Premiering in 1982 and running for 11 seasons, Cheers is still widely considered to be a the pinnacle of the sitcom genre.
Sam Malone, former relief pitcher for the Boston Sox and the owner and bartender of Cheers, the place where everybody knows your name, was immortalized by Ted Danson’s pitch perfect portrayal of a womanizer with a streak of sentimentality.
His sparkling chemistry with the educated and well-bred Diane Chambers (Shelley Long) also undoubtedly contributed to the ratings.
However, the romantic spice that made Cheers a hit was almost not to be. Retired football player Fred Dryer was originally cast as Malone.
Without Danson, the chemistry might not have been there, and Cheers would've then languish for a couple of seasons or so - and fans of quality TV would be all the poorer for it.
9 Saved: Melissa McCarthy in Gilmore Girls
Gilmore Girls was a comedy drama that mixed heartfelt emotions with whip-smart, crackling banter. At the heart of it was one of the all-time great mother/daughter relationships in Lorelai and Rory Gilmore.
Remember the sarcastic and cranky harpist in the early episodes of Gilmore Girls? She was portrayed by Alex Borstein, and was originally meant to portray Lorelai’s confidant and chef Sookie.
However, due to a contract dispute with MAD TV, Borstein couldn’t play the part and it had to be recast.
Luckily, Melissa McCarthy gamely filled the shoes of the goofy chef, and she proved to play an important role in shaping Stars Hollow’s phantasmagoria of small town charm.
Although she rarely got the spotlight in Gilmore Girls, she provided that Gilmore Girls texture that makes the show endlessly re-watchable and comforting.
8 Saved: Jerry Stiller in Seinfeld
Originally portrayed by John Randolph in “The Handicap Spot”, George’s father Frank Costanza was cantankerous enough, but he lacked a certain quality necessary to make his scenes sizzle - although this also could’ve been down to the lacklustre lines he was given.
When Jerry Stiller was asked to do a table read as Frank and replace John Randolph, he didn’t think much of the lines and couldn’t produce the laughs at the time either.
He began to inject a little nutty energy into the dialogue. He was told to bring it back a little, because Estelle Harris was the screeching one and he was meant to play meek.
However, feeling increasingly restricted by the material, Jerry Stiller once again screamed his lines and the results had the crew in hysterics.
Thus, one of the most memorable sitcom dads in television history was born.
7 Hurt: Christina Moore in That '70s Show
Due to a struggle with addiction, Lisa Robin Kelly, Eric Forman’s promiscuous sister Laurie, left That '70s Show after its sixth season.
It was quite a loss because not only did Lisa Robin Kelly have terrific comedic timing, but Laurie had just gotten married to Fez at the end of the fifth season.
Obviously, this would’ve made Laurie more central to the show’s plots. However, sure enough, it was abandoned as quickly as possible just as Kelly left the show.
Christina Moore filled in the gap left by Laurie, but her monotone performance didn’t quite cut it for fans.
Sadly, the recasting in this case was just a reminder of what That '70s Show had lost.
6 Saved: Audrey Meadows in The Honeymooners
The Honeymooners is one of those iconic sitcoms that many fans assume had a good long run. However, surprisingly, it only ran for one season, and for less than a year.
The Jackie Gleason show revolved around Ralph Camden, a New York City bus driver, and his sharp-tongued and disdainful wife Alice.
Usually Ralph would cook up some absurd scheme to boost his sense of worth or bank account, Alice would say something sarcastic, and in the end, Alice would be proven right.
It was a winning formula that was the basis for other sitcoms, most notably The Flintstones.
Pert Kelton was the first to play Alice, but it was Audrey Meadows who rocketed Alice to the pantheon of great comedy wives. Her calm sarcastic demeanour in the face of Ralph’s bluster was always a joy to behold.
5 Saved: Sarah Chalke in Roseanne
Fans of the classic sitcom Roseanne will be aware of the tale of two Beckys.
For those who need a primer, the sitcom, notable for being one of the first to portray a blue-collar family realistically, centred on Roseanne and Dan and their family’s trials and tribulations.
Their eldest daughter Becky, initially portrayed by Lecy Goranson, was their best and brightest. However, she fell on hard times as the series went on.
Sarah Chalke came in to replace actress Lecy Goranson after the fourth season. Chalke was lively and magnetic, and carried on Becky’s dramatic storylines well.
Strangely enough, however, Lecy Goranson was hired back to be Becky in the Roseanne reboot – and Sarah Chalke played a different character entirely.
Naturally, there’s an in-joke about how much the two resemble one another.
4 Hurt: Dick Sargent in Bewitched
Part fantasy and part sitcom, Bewitched centred on Samantha Stephens (Elizabeth Montgomery), a witch who marries a normal man and lives the life of a fairly typical '60s suburban housewife.
Samantha wasn’t some conjurer hunched over a boiling cauldron, though - she was an attractive young woman who could warp reality with a twitch of her nose.
Dick York was Samantha’s vaguely hapless husband, Darrin. For the first six years of Bewitched, York and Montgomery made quite the comedic duo.
Sadly, York was forced to quit the show after six years due to severe health issues related to an injured back.
Dick Sargent was brought in to replace York as Darrin, and this surely threw loyal viewers for a loop back in 1969, when re-castings for television shows just didn’t happen.
Bewitched was canceled two years later.
3 Saved: Wayne Knight in Seinfeld
Jerry Seinfeld’s arch-nemesis Newman made his first appearance in Seinfeld’s second season - appearance in the loosest possible terms, however, as he was merely a voice provided by co-creator Larry David.
However, the creators of Seinfeld found the perfect Newman in Wayne Knight, and he made his first appearance in season 3.
Mainly used throughout Seinfeld as Kramer’s co-collaborator and friend, his portly figure served as a visually amusing contrast to Kramer’s tall and lean frame.
Wayne Knight’s Newman roughly coincided with Seinfeld’s star rising after struggling for its first two seasons. Knight was certainly a boon to the show - so much so, in fact, that he was asked in a 1998 interview whether he would be up for a Newman centric spinoff.
Knight, understanding that Newman was a spice and not the main course, wisely brushed this off.
2 Saved: Peri Gilpin in Frasier
The wise-cracking and super sarcastic Roz seemed to be the only one intellectually capable of firing back at Frasier and challenging him. Because of this, Peri Gilpin, who portrayed Roz, proved to be the ideal foil.
However, before finding fame as Phoebe on Friends, Lisa Kudrow was cast as Roz, Frasier’s producer, for Frasier’s pilot.
What made Kudrow so popular and beloved on Friends – her kooky spacey vibe – wasn’t such a great fit for Frasier, though. There was a very real sense that Frasier would far too easily walk all over Kudrow’s version of Roz.
If Roz couldn’t hold her ground against Frasier, then there wouldn't be much comedy and conflict to mine from.
Gilpin was brought on board rather quickly, and the next year, Lisa Kudrow was cast in Friends. So thankfully, things worked out for everybody.
1 Saved: Mae Whitman in Arrested Development
This one’s quite ironic. Mae Whitman was cast as George Michael’s bland girlfriend Ann. The recurring joke was that she utterly failed to make an impression on anyone. T
he original plan was for Ann to be constantly recast, to keep with the joke that nobody could remember Ann.
However, apparently Mae Whitman was just too good at… not making an impression.
In an interview, Whitman said, “They were originally going to keep re-casting Ann, so you always had to be on your toes. And they stuck with me, which I feel was a real insult. They were like ‘No, no, no. You’re making this whole not-memorable thing work, we’ll just go with that."
However, Alessandra Torresani was cast in the role of Ann for one episode, “Let them Eat Cake”.
Evidently ,Whitman was just a bit better at playing bland, so she was re-cast in the role soon after.
Are there any other recastings that saved or hurt your favorite sitcoms? Let us know in the comments!