When it comes to sitcoms, there has been a longstanding tradition of recasting characters during a series run. Whether this happened immediately, mid-series, or in a show’s final season, it’s been an occurring theme in television since the early days of black and white programming. On some occasions, TV shows never fully recovered from a character’s recasting. Other times, the show soldiered on despite an actor’s notable absence. Surprisingly, in some cases, audiences never even noticed the switch.
The reasons behind these unexpected changes are vast. There are many instances of an actor not getting along with their co-stars and proving themselves difficult to work with. Sometimes, the replacements came because of a child who wasn’t interested in having a job at such a young age. In the infamous case of the two Beckys on Roseanne, Lecy Goranson simply wanted to go to college. In other instances, the transition is still a mystery.
Whatever the reason for the outcome, the recasting of sitcom characters still happens today, which is shocking considering how public behind-the-scenes drama is in the era of social media. It seems showrunners just become attached to their characters and would rather see an acting shift than starting from scratch…
Here are 8 Iconic Sitcom Characters Fans Barely Noticed Were Recast (And 12 Way Too Obvious).
20 Obvious: Aunt Viv (The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air)
The Aunt Viv switch has a long and ugly history, which is unfortunate considering Janet Hubert is the obvious fan favorite. After three seasons, she left the role and was replaced by Daphne Maxwell Reid.
Unfortunately, Will Smith and Hubert have had a long-standing feud over the replacement, both with drastically different ideas of what went wrong. Other actors on the show, including Alfonso Ribeiro (Carlton Banks), have claimed that she was difficult on set.
While the cast loved working with Reid, audiences agreed she never lived up to Hubert’s standard. When the actors reunited recently without Hubert, the drama resurfaced, proving the tension has yet to fade.
19 Barely Noticed: Morgan (Boy Meets World)
When it comes to the Matthews children, Morgan was an undeniable cutie but she was often overshadowed by the other kids on the show. Lily Nicksay (now Gibson) portrayed the character for the first two seasons of the series.
Lindsay Ridgeway, the face you’re probably more familiar with, took over the role in season three and continued until the series ended after season seven. According to Rider Strong (Shawn Hunter), Nicksay was too young and uninterested in working.
Despite the fact that Ridgeway was three years older than Nicksay, the change didn’t make much of an impact on the show.
In a cheeky movie, both actors appeared in the series finale of the show’s spin-off, Girl Meets World.
18 Barely Noticed: Lily (Modern Family)
Lily, the adorable adopted daughter of Cam and Mitchell, was originally played by Ella and Jaden Hiller, who were mere babies at the time. They were replaced by Aubrey Anderson-Emmons in season three.
The switch was no secret, but if it didn’t happen during the internet age, the change probably would have gone completely unnoticed.
Babies change so much that it never really feels like a different actress took over the part.
Anderson-Emmons was only four when she was cast and audiences have watched her grow for the last seven years. She’s often praised for her deadpan delivery and sarcastic take on the character.
17 Obvious: Ann (Arrested Development)
Originally, the part of Ann Veal (George Michael’s painfully plain and dull girlfriend) was meant to be played by a different actress in every episode. However, Mae Whitman stuck around after replacing Alessandra Torresani in season two.
Torresani only played Egg, uh, Ann for one episode so the change wasn’t considered a big deal by fans. In fact, the switch probably would have gone unnoticed if it wasn’t for Whitman’s longstanding career in Hollywood.
By the time she joined Arrested Development in 2003, Whitman had already appeared in over 30 films and television shows, including Independence Day. Since Whitman was such a well-known face, the recasting of Ann Veal was much more obvious than it needed to be.
16 Obvious: Carol (Friends)
The role of Carol Willick-Bunch was only played by Anita Barone is the series’ second episode, but the switch to Jane Sibbett was still glaringly obvious.
This was due to the fact that the two women looked absolutely nothing alike.
Sibbet also dove in and portrayed Carol with great energy, comedic timing, and likability. Of course, Barone cannot be blamed for not matching up considering she wasn’t given the same opportunity to explore the character.
However, it will always be a shame that audiences missed the opportunity to watch Sibbet be the one to break Carol’s pregnancy news to Ross.
15 Barely Noticed: Claire Tanner (Full House)
Every Full House fan loves the third season episode when Doris Roberts shows up as Danny’s mom. However, Alice Hirson played the part of Claire Tanner twice in the first season, including the series’ pilot.
By the time Roberts made her appearance, enough time had passed that audiences probably forget they’d ever met the character before, which was lucky considering how drastically different the actors portrayed the role.
Hirson had a sweet yet stern demeanor whereas Roberts brought her classic boisterous nature to the role. It’s a shame she never came back after that first appearance.
14 Obvious: Laurie (That '70s Show)
The Forman’s eldest child isn’t the first character that comes to mind when you reminisce on That '70s Show, but Lisa Robin Kelly’s portray of Laurie Forman was excellent.
Kelly left the show during the third season and wasn’t mentioned again until she briefly returned in season five.
Her return only lasted four episodes, however, and she was ultimately replaced by Christina Moore in season six. While Moore definitely had the Laurie look down, she couldn’t match up to Kelly’s comedic timing and only lasted six episodes.
Perhaps if Kelly hadn’t returned for the brief period, the transition between actors wouldn’t have been so glaringly obvious. Sadly, the character never returned during the show’s final two seasons and Kelly passed away in 2013, leaving Laurie Forman as her legacy.
13 Barely Noticed: Frank (Seinfeld)
Jerry Stiller was so iconic as George Costanza’s father, it’s hard to believe anyone else ever dared take on the role. John Randolph, known for many classic films, played Frank in one episode during season four before Stiller claimed the role.
In retrospect, it’s more surprising to think that Seinfeld ran for so long before introducing the hilarious Constanzas in season four. Stiller remained a member of the Seinfeld family from seasons five to nine and is considered one of the funniest recurring characters of the series.
In fact, John Randolph’s scenes were eventually reshot by Stiller for syndication, so there’s a good chance you’ve never even seen Randolph’s appearance.
12 Obvious: Becky (Roseanne)
The Becky swap is perhaps one of the most memorable changes in sitcom history because the show chose to have fun with it. After five seasons of Lecy Goranson playing the eldest Connor child, there was no way to replace her without turning a few heads.
Goranson left the show to attend college and the creators weren’t prepared to let the character go, so they brought in Sarah Chalke. The girls look fairly similar, which later led to a very catchy “Identical Beckys” jingle.
Goranson returned to the show in season six and in a rare move, the two actors shared the role.
This became a running gag on the series until Chalke took the part over completely during the final season. Both women returned to the short-lived Roseanne reboot, with Goranson playing Becky and Chalke portraying a brand new character.
11 Barely Noticed: Marta (Arrested Development)
Leonor Varela, aka Marta 1.0, only appeared on the show for two episodes before leaving to film a movie. She was replaced by Patricia Velasquez, aka Marta 2.0, who played the character for the rest of season one.
The fight over Marta was one of the first big conflicts between GOB and Michael, but the change happened quickly, the switch didn’t make much of an impact on the series.
The character never returned after season one. A Marta 3.0 was featured in the show’s third season, but whether or not she was supposed to be the Marta was unclear.
10 Obvious: Mindy (Friends)
In another case of “this would have gone unnoticed if one actor wasn’t famous,” Jennifer Grey originated the role of Rachel’s pre-Friends best friend, Mindy.
In season one, Rachel starts seeing her ex Barry again, despite the fact that he’s engaged to Mindy. This is a serious breach of girl code, obviously. Then, in the season two finale, the character returns for the big wedding.
Jana Marie Hupp played the bride in one of the show’s saddest episodes (we love you, Richard) and she did just fine, but audiences were definitely disappointed that Grey didn’t make another appearance on the show.
9 Obvious: Ryan (Last Man Standing)
During the first season of the Tim Allen’s latest sitcom, Last Man Standing, the character Ryan was portrayed by Nick Jonas. He gets Kristen pregnant in high school, skips town, and returns in season two as a completely different actor, Jordan Masterson.
The two men do look similar, but you can’t exactly replace a Jonas Brother without ruffling a few feathers.
Considering the whole concept of the character is that he’s a “sissy Democrat vegan,” it’s no surprise Nick Jonas moved on to bigger and better things.
Masterson is expected to return now that the show has been un-canceled by Fox.
8 Barely Noticed: Chuck (Happy Days)
The disappearance of Chuck on Happy Days was so odd it sparked an entire TV trope called the “Chuck Cunningham Syndrome”. This, of course, is when a television character disappears and is never mentioned again.
Not only was Chuck an infamous forgotten character, but in his short life, he was played by two different actors.
Richie’s older brother was originally portrayed by Gavan O’Herlihy during the first ten episodes. Randolph Roberts replaced him in the second season, showed up for two episodes, and then was never to be seen again. At least he avoided jumping the shark, like Fonzie did!
7 Obvious: Darrin (Bewitched)
The story of Samantha the witch and her normal husband, Darrin, was incredibly charming and popular, but took a serious hit when they replaced the latter.
The network probably thought replacing Dick York with Dick Sargent was clever considering they had the same first name and looked strikingly similar.
Unfortunately, looks aren’t everything. The chemistry between Sargent and Elizabeth Montgomery didn’t even come close to that of her and York.
Sadly, Dick York’s departure was due to a back injury that led to a addiction. After he left Bewitched, he remained on his back for an entire year and fell on hard times for a while. Since audiences never warmed to Sargent, the final three seasons of the show took a major ratings dip.
6 Barely Noticed: Chris (The Partridge Family)
When the wholesome story of a singing family premiered in 1970, the youngest of the clan was played by Jeremy Gelbwaks. According to rumors, he was difficult to work with, and according to David Cassidy, had a “personality conflict” with the entire cast and producing team.
Considering he was only nine at the time, it’s hard to imagine just how difficult he was, but it caused him to be replaced by Brian Forster in the second season. Forster was considered the cuter of the two, a joke that came up often long after the show ended.
However, Gelbwaks and Forster both joined for future Partridge Family reunions, so things must have improved between Gelbwaks and the cast over the years.
5 Obvious: Nanny G (Cheers and Frasier)
In season ten of Cheers, it’s unexpectedly revealed that Frasier was married before Lilith to a famous children’s performer called Nanny G.
This was incredibly bizarre, but the character was played by Emma Thompson, so it worked.
Many years later, during the ninth season of Frasier, the character is seen for the second time in a hallucination in which Frasier is confronted by his past great loves. Dina Waters donned the silly costume this time, although, it would have been iconic to see Thompson again.
Finally, in season eleven of Frasier, we see Nanny G in the flesh for the first time in 14 years. This time, she’s played by Laurie Metcalf. Naturally, Metcalf is spectacular, but the fact that Thompson never returned was disappointing.
4 Obvious: Maggie (Diff'rent Strokes)
Dixie Carter played Maggie McKinney, Drummond’s girlfriend, during seasons six and seven of the hit sitcom Diff'rent Strokes. However, the show's ratings dropped and it was canceled by NBC.
ABC decided to pick the show back up for a final season, but Carter chose not to return, and Mary Ann Mobley took over the role.
Considering the show was on its last legs, a casting change-up only added to the decline.
It was also odd that Mobley had played a different love interest of Drummond’s during an episode in season two. Any eagle-eyed fan would have found this addition strange.
3 Barely Noticed: Marilyn (The Munsters)
Beverley Owen played the “unattractive” Munster cousin for 13 episodes before leaving the ghoulish '60s sitcom The Munsters. She had contractual obligations to remain on the show but allegedly loathed being there. She was reportedly often found crying onset, wishing she could go back to her home in New York.
Eventually, Owen was freed from her contract and was able to return to her home and fiancé, where she started her family and quit acting.
Pat Priest took over the role for the remaining 57 episodes, however, the two looked so similar that many people didn’t even notice the change.
2 Obvious: Marcia (The Bradys)
When The Brady Bunch ended in 1974, the cast probably didn’t think they’d continue playing the iconic roles for another 17 years. Maureen McCormick reprised her role as Marcia for The Brady Bunch Variety Hour, which aired for nine episodes in 1977. She also returned for the television movie The Brady Girls Get Married (1981) and the subsequent spin-off, The Brady Brides, which lasted ten episodes in 1981. In 1988, she reprised the role one last time in the TV movie, A Very Brady Christmas.
The final Brady show, The Bradys (1990), ran for six episodes with Leah Ayres portraying the eldest Brady daughter. While members of the fictional family had been recast before (Geri Reischl played Jan in the Variety Hour and Jennifer Runyon played Cindy in A Very Brady Christmas), the Marcia change was the most notable.
Considering the fact that Ayres looked nothing like McCormick, the change just added to the extreme discomfort of it all.
1 Obvious: Harriet (Family Matters)
The departure of JoMarie Payton as Harriet Winslow was a huge surprise considering Family Matters was created as a spin-off for her character from Perfect Strangers.
She left the show halfway through the final season, which led people to believe that there was drama surrounding her absence.
Rumors circulated over the cast’s distaste for Steve Urkel, who originally showed up in the 12th episode of the series and wasn’t meant to return. Revamping the show around Jaleel White was certainly a shock to the cast, but considering Payton remained on the series for another eight years, it’s safe to say she parted for other reasons. According to the actress, she was just ready to do something new.
Judyann Elder only portrayed Harriet for the final eight episodes, but Payton’s absence made the last days of the show a disappointment.
Did we miss any obvious sitcom recastings? Let us know in the comments!