TV shows are becoming ever more complex, with dense mythologies and long cast lists. It’s got to the point where you have to have the Game of Thrones wiki open on your phone in order to remind yourself of who half the people on screen are.
But you know what makes keeping up with a show’s many characters even harder? When they’re not even played by the same actors from one season to the next. Cast changes can happen for a variety of reasons – maybe an actor gets a better paying job elsewhere, maybe they fall out with producers or co-stars, or maybe it’s just decided that they’re not very good at their job.
Whatever the reason, it doesn’t make it any less annoying for viewers. Sometimes, however, a show’s production team gets away with a recast; with more minor characters, you may not even notice they’ve changed, or you may be thankful that they’ve finally got someone who can act.
Here are fifteen casting changes that producers managed (or didn’t manage) to slip under the radar...
15 Once Upon a Time (Robin Hood)
With reality meeting fairy tale in Once Upon a Time’s town of Storybrooke, Maine, it was inevitable that the charming thief Robin Hood would show his face eventually. He first appeared in the show’s second season, played by guest star Tom Ellis. The episode was well received by fans and so the producers decided to bring Robin back into the story in a larger role.
Ellis, however, was unavailable to continue the role due to scheduling conflicts, and so the role of Robin Hood was instead taken over by Sean Maguire. This turned out to be quite a lucrative gig for Maguire, as Robin’s appearances became more frequent, and he was even promoted to series regular for the fifth season – by which point most viewers had probably forgotten all about that Tom Ellis version!
14 Family Guy (Meg)
It’s easier to get away with recasts when your show is an animation, but a change in voice can still be noticeable. That’s certainly the case with Meg Griffin in Family Guy.
For the first season, broadcast way back in 1999 (yes, it was that long ago), Peter and Lois’ self-conscious teen daughter was voiced by Lacey Chalbert. But Chalbert became busy with her role in Party of Five and being an actual school-going student on the side, so she had to be replaced for the second season.
The replacement came along in the form of Mila Kunis, who won the role partly due to her performance on That ‘70s Show. She soon became seen as the definitive Meg, with creator Seth MacFarlane finding her a better fit for the character than Chalbert. In fact, she still voices the character to this day, despite being way past her own teen years!
13 Game of Thrones (Daario Naharis, Tommen, the Mountain...)
For a show with so passionate a fanbase and so dense a continuity, it’s a surprise that Game of Thrones has gotten away with recasting several of its characters. To be fair, some of these recasts aren’t that easy to spot.
The Mountain, for example, was never that major a character in the first two seasons, and he wore a helmet for much of his screen time, so it didn’t really jar when he was replaced between Seasons 1 and 2 and then again when he showed up for Season 4. Tommen also took Season 3 off, and when the young character returned with a different face, no one really noticed.
But the recasting of Daario Naharis was rather more noticeable. Ed Skrein stepped down after appearing as the dashing swordsman in Season 3, due to having been offered the lead role in The Transporter Refueled (that turned out well for him...), and he was replaced by Michael Huisman from then on. Interestingly, the new actor went for a totally different look, with shorter hair and some serious beard action. Not a well hidden switch, then.
12 Friends (Carol, Mindy)
Ross’s ex-wife Carol, who divorced him after coming out as gay, is a recurring character throughout Friends, but she first appeared way back in the show’s second ever episode, “The One With The Sonogram At The End”. It may come as a surprise to anyone looking back on this episode, however, that it guest stars Anita Barone as Carol.
This is because, from Carol’s second appearance just seven episodes later, she’s played by a different actress – Jane Sibbett. Barone had originally auditioned for one of the lead roles and was unsatisfied with being an occasional guest star, so she left the show in favor of a more full-time gig.
Given that Carol ended up appearing in fifteen episodes across the whole run of Friends, and just how popular and often repeated the show turned out to be, Barone may well regret her decision today. At least she wasn’t the only one to make that mistake – Rachel’s best friend Mindy also changed actors between her first and second appearances, from Jennifer Grey to Jana Marie Hupp.
11 Batman (Catwoman)
The sneaky practice of recasting characters dates way back on the small screen. Back in the 1960s, viewers of the wonderfully camp Batman TV series may have gotten used to Adam West as the Caped Crusader and Burt Ward as Robin, but they had to adjust to not two, but three different incarnations of Catwoman.
In the first two seasons, the feline-themed femme fatale was played by Julie Newmar. However, Newmar was unavailable for either the tie-in film produced after Season 1 or for Season 3. Thankfully, the show was a massive hit at the time, and stars were lining up to replace her. Lee Meriwether donned the catsuit for the film, and singer Eartha Kitt took over the role for the third and final season.
The producers actually intended for the Meriwether Catwoman to be the same character as Newmar’s, but for Kitt’s to be a different character altogether. Evidently, their standards allowed for a character to change facial appearance, but not race. Then again, none of this really matters, because as you might expect if you’re familiar with the show, no explanation or backstory is ever given to any of the Catwomen.
10 Mad Men (Bobby Draper… several times)
Casting child actors is a minefield. The Mad Men team struck it lucky when they cast Kiernan Shipka as Don Draper’s daughter Sally; just eight when she started the role, the talented Shipka went on to recur in all seven seasons and build a promising career from it.
With Sally’s brother Bobby, they weren’t so lucky. The role in fact went through four actors, beginning with Maxwell Huckabee in Season 1, who was replaced by Aaron Hart later in the same season. Hart lasted a little longer, being replaced by Jared S. Gilmore in Season 3, and then Mason Vale Cotton took over for Seasons 5 through 7.
So what was the reason for this? Were the young actors aging too quickly, or slowly, for the show’s timeline? Difficulty getting on with the rest of the cast? The answer is more obvious: as co-star John Slattery told one interviewer, "they've had about five Bobby Drapers and they can't seem to find one who doesn't look straight into the lens."
9 Spartacus (Spartacus)
Starz’s historical hit Spartacus was put in serious jeopardy when its lead actor, Andy Whitfield, was diagnosed with cancer between production of the first and second seasons. They put the production on hold and made a prequel miniseries instead, with the intention of Whitfield returning to the show proper once his treatment had been completed. Unfortunately, Whitfield lost his battle in September 2011 and passed away before the show’s production could resume. It wouldn’t be surprising to see Starz decide to pack it in at that point, but they instead decided to recast, choosing Liam McIntyre to take over the role of the slave rebellion leader.
Despite the tragic loss of Whitfield still hanging over the production, the bold move paid off, and McIntyre proved himself to be a solid replacement. Spartacus continued for two more seasons and only became more of a success in that time.
8 Shameless (Mandy)
A remake of the British series of the same name, Showtime’s Shameless is exactly what its title suggests – a no-holds-barred look at a seriously dysfunctional family, the Gallaghers. Head of the Gallagher household is William H. Macy’s alcoholic Frank, but the show tells us the stories of all his children and their friends and partners, too.
In the first season, broadcast back in 2011, Jane Levy recurs as Mandy Milkovich, the sister of Ian Gallagher’s boyfriend Mickey. Though she only appears in five episodes, the promiscuous and aggressive bad girl leaves quite an impression.
After this season, however, Levy dropped out to star in the ABC sitcom Surburgatory – possibly a good decision on her part, as she’s landed a lead role in that. She was replaced as Mandy by Emma Greenwell; this was actually Greenwell’s first ever acting job, but it worked out well for her, with Mandy being promoted to main character status for the next two seasons.
7 Pretty Little Liars (Toby, Jason)
Sometimes, it becomes obvious pretty early on that an actor isn’t the right fit for a role, or that they aren’t going to be able to stick around. That must have been the case with the character of Toby in ABC Family’s mystery thriller series Pretty Little Liars.
The character was played by James Neate in the show’s pilot episode, but was then replaced by Keegan Allen. Weirdly, the producers also changed the character’s surname – he was originally Toby Marshall, with the same surname as his stepsister Jenna, but maybe that was just one bit too weird, and he became Toby Cavanaugh.
He’s not the only Pretty Little Liars character to get the recasting treatment, though – Jason DiLaurentis was played by Parker Bagley in the first season and then replaced by Drew Van Acker from Season 2 onwards. A change for the better, most fans agree; Bagley always seemed a little too old to convince as the teen hunk he was meant to be portraying.
6 The Adventures of Superman (Lois)
The oldest entry on our list, The Adventures of Superman predates even the Batman series; it aired from 1952 to 1958 and starred George Reeves as the Man of Steel. Drawing on the success of the character from DC Comics and the film serials that predated it, the show presented Superman’s adventures in an exciting and movie-like manner.
But what use is Superman without Lois Lane? Cast as the Daily Planet reporter was popular B-movie actress Phyllis Coates, who created a sharp and pragmatic version of the character, able to take the lead in storylines and stick up for herself. So strong was her performance that Reeves asked that Coates receive equal billing with him.
However, Coates decided not to return for the second season, having committed to another project, and so producers recast the role, giving it to Noel Neill. Neill had actually played Lane before (in some ‘40s film serials) though her performance was a step backward – this version of Lois was less independent and more gratingly smitten with Supes. Lois also lost her equal billing.
5 Red Dwarf (Kochanski)
By the standards of British sitcoms, Red Dwarf has had an impressively long run. It began way back in 1988, managed eight seasons through the ‘90s, and was recently revived; an eleventh season aired last year, and a twelfth is on the way. Spanning such a long period, it’s impressive that all four lead actors have stayed with the show.
The recurring character of Kristine Kochanski, however, has had to be recast. The ex-girlfriend of useless space bum Dave Lister, Kochanski is supposedly long dead by the time Lister awakes far in the future, though her character shows up throughout early seasons through various time travel, flashback, and alternate timeline kind of episodes, in which she’s played by Clare Grogan.
Later on, in Series 7, an alternate universe version of Kochanski joins the Red Dwarf crew properly, becoming a series regular. Now, however, she’s played by Chloë Annett. It’s kind of noticeable, given she lacks Grogan’s Scottish accent, but the show papers over these cracks just as it did when all the sets changed dramatically – via not really mentioning it.
4 Bewitched (Darrin)
We've got another old classic here. The ‘60s sitcom Bewitched starred Elizabeth Montgomery as Samantha Stevens, a witch trying to live a normal suburban life with her mortal husband Darrin. Episodes would usually revolve around Darrin somehow becoming the victim of a spell, and Elizabeth having to use her abilities to save the day.
Darrin was played by Dick York for the show’s first five seasons. He was a hit with viewers, and the actor was even nominated for an Emmy for his work. But due to a back injury sustained while shooting a 1959 Western, York suffered from an increasing amount of pain, leading to episodes having to be rewritten to reduce his role. By the end of Season 5, it was getting to be too much for York, who in fact collapsed during the shooting of one episode, and soon after dropped out of the show.
The search was on for York’s replacement, and the producers soon picked Dick Sargent. When Bewitched returned for its sixth season, there was a new Darrin in the household, but the magical shenanigans continued on as usual.
3 That ‘70s Show (Laurie)
The manipulative older sister of Eric Forman, Lisa Robin Kelly’s Laurie was one of the highlights of That ‘70s Show's comedic line-up, recurring in the first season before being promoted to a main role for the following two.
But there were problems behind the scenes, as Kelly was struggling with alcoholism and drug addiction. The strained relationship that this led to with the show’s producers meant that she didn’t appear in Season 4; Kelly did return as Laurie in Season 5, but not for long. Still struggling with her addictions, she was replaced by Christina Moore for the sixth season.
Moore didn’t stick around for long either, and Laurie left the show for good by the end of Season 6. Things didn’t get better for Kelly, either; she was arrested multiple times and eventually died in a rehab facility in 2013, aged just 43.
2 The OC (Kaitlin)
Given that Kaitlin Cooper, the younger sister of girl-next-door Marissa, takes the whole of The OC Season 2 off (she’s supposedly away at boarding school), a lot of viewers probably didn’t notice she’d been recast when she did eventually reappear.
Then again, the character had clearly grown up a suspicious amount during that year off! Back in the first season, Kaitlin had been played by eleven year old Shailene Woodley. When the character returned for Season 3, the producers actually re-auditioned Woodley, but as she went through puberty late, they decided that she hadn’t yet grown up enough for the storylines they wanted to take the character through, and instead gave the role over to Willa Holland.
You’d imagine getting removed from a role at such a young age would be a harsh blow for an actress, but Shailene Woodley’s doing alright for herself now, having been the headlining star of the blockbuster Divergent series. Holland, meanwhile, has gone on to star as Thea Queen in Arrow, so this one worked out for pretty much everyone involved.
1 Lois & Clark (Jimmy Olsen)
Our second Superman show of the list is the ‘90s classic Lois and Clark. As the title suggests, ABC’s show focused as much on the relationship between Lois Lane and Clark Kent, and their jobs at the Daily Planet, as it did on Superman’s daring escapades. Well, that side of it is cheaper to film!
Third fiddle in this relationship was Jimmy Olsen, the Daily Planet’s star photographer. In the first season, he was played by Michael Landes, whose handsome charm earned him something of a cult following. But this, ironically enough, was the problem – the producers decided that Landes was too handsome, taking attention away from Dean Cain, who played Clark.
Landes was dropped at the end of the season, then, and replaced by the nerdier-looking Justin Whalin. Landes was upset at the dismissal, as he hadn't expected to be kicked off the show, especially given that the producers had seemed happy with his casting at the start of the season. Still, as far as reasons for being fired go, being too good-looking is one of the better ones.
What other recastings have TV shows tried to slip by their fans? Let us know in the comments.