While our favorite TV shows will always have a place in our hearts, there comes a time for every good program to bite the dust. Once in a while we can even sense it coming, like when plotlines just start to seem ridiculous after a while. Many fans will stick around for good characters out of loyalty even when the plot of a previously great show is tanking, but if the actors people tune in to see exit stage left for good, shows can really suffer.
In lots of cases, popular TV shows kick the bucket when a beloved character leaves the show, whether out of the actor’s own volition, medical reasons, or even death. Tragedies become doubly sad when the world loses both a talented actor or actress as well as a well-loved TV show. Even when remaining talented cast members continue on without big stars, sometimes it just isn’t enough to sustain a show and it ultimately gets canceled.
Here are 17 Shows That Flopped After They Lost Big Stars.
Community was one of the most beloved comedy shows in recent history. The NBC program that looped a group of community college students together for a surprisingly fresh, irreverent 30 minutes of laughs lost Chevy Chase and never recovered.
Chase abandoned ship before season 4 even stopped filming, which wasn’t a huge surprise given his infamous rifts with the program’s creator, Dan Harmon. The loss of Chase wasn’t the only thing that sent the show to the cleaners. Donald Glover, who played Troy Barnes on the show, also left, leaving a series of sad notes explaining why on social media. Yvette Nicole Brown and Dan Harman himself also departed, and the show was canceled soon after, finishing out with a final sixth season on Yahoo!Screen.
15. Chico and the Man
It may have only aired for four seasons, but the NBC sitcom Chico and the Man was one of the earliest examples of a multicultural program bridging gaps between Americans of different backgrounds. It was far from without problems, but the show was popular due to Freddie Prinze’s portrayal of Chico Rodriguez. Prinze, who had Puerto Rican and Hungarian heritage, was a charismatic and funny actor as well as the father of modern actor Freddie Prinze, Jr.
Sadly, Prinze was also deeply depressed and struggled with addiction problems throughout his life. He shot and killed himself after filming an episode of the show at age 22. While writers attempted to continue the show without him, it flopped miserably when they replaced his character with a tween boy whom the Man (Jack Albertson) refers to as “Chico,” saying that “You’re all Chicos to me.” It was one of the show’s lowest blows.
14. The O.C.
Broadcast in 50 countries worldwide and considered a very popular pop culture phenomenon, Fox’s The O.C. was such a well-loved show that over 700,000 fans signed a petition against canceling the show in 2007. Viewers were intrigued by the rich lifestyles in Orange County and dramatic tension in the show, but the drama became so wildly outrageous with drug abuse and over-the-top scenarios that it had to be wrapped up with something dark.
The teen drama plummeted off a cliff when writers killed off Mischa Barton at the end of the third season and was never able to climb back up again.
Plenty of fans hated Barton’s character Marissa by the season finale, but that wasn’t shown in the ratings, which were in the toilet at this point. Despite the outpouring of love from fans who begged for the series to continue, low ratings ultimately resulted in the show getting canned.
Ryan Murphy’s “It’s not a karaoke show!” Glee was an enormous hit at first, luring fans in with the promise of awesome music, dramatic comedy and “Losers like me” getting both the glory and the Slurpee to the face.
Although Glee provided its fans with hours of fun, the untimely death of Cory Monteith, one of the show’s leads, served as a catalyst for its death. While fans grieved his loss, they also didn’t take well to the loss of the other Glee Club members who moved on, going to college and paving the way for new stars to take the stage.
The show even aired a reality show competition to keep excitement going about who the next star of Glee would be, but even that couldn’t keep fans interested when they’d grown to love the New Directions they knew and loved.
12. Top Gear
As beloved as Matt LeBlanc was during his Friends years, he simply wasn’t able to rescue Top Gear. After Jeremy Clarkson was fired from the show over a physical fight with a producer, his co-stars, Richard Hammond and James May, followed him to start a new show on Amazon.com called The Grand Tour.
Top Gear show never recovered, even after Matt LeBlanc joined the team. LeBlanc and Chris Evans (not that one!) seemed determined to gank the show, constantly fighting and not doing the show any favors. After Evans faced a sexual assault investigation, Top Gear was pretty much done for.
Given that the British show, one of the most popular factual programs ever watched, was a reboot anyway, there’s always a possibility of a comeback in later years. Come on, it’s British. Doesn’t everything British regenerate eventually?
11. That ’70s Show
It was the perfect blend of ’70s nostalgia and bright ’90s faces. The Fox sitcom That ’70s Show made fans laugh for seven seasons before its lead actors decided to leave and try their chances at making it big on the big screen. To be fair, they didn’t fail, but the joke was sort of on them since today’s TV series seem to be much more popular than films. Topher Grace took his exit first, followed by Ashton Kutcher.
When Josh Meyers came aboard as a new friend in the group, he just couldn’t live up to either of the actors that left the show, and it only lasted for one more season before it was canceled for good. Kutcher and Grace did treat friends to one last episode for the series finale.
He may have won a Golden Globe for his role, but the ever-talented John Lithgow rendered himself dead to fans of Dexter when he murdered Julie Benz’s character, Rita Bennet, during the fourth season.
It was one of the most shocking moments of television, and not only surprised its own actors but started the downhill snowball that ultimately ended the series. Benz says that her ending was a poetic one, even if she was another dead wife in a bathtub.
Producers say that the show had always been a seven-series arc and continuing past that point would have only made it stale. While plenty of critics considered Rita to be an annoying character and the show continued for another four seasons before it truly died, ratings continued to drop as fans disliked the show – and it the entire thing ended on a famously bad series finale.
9. Laverne & Shirley
To have a show called Laverne & Shirley, you have to have both a Laverne and a Shirley. The show actually tried to make it without Shirley after Cindy Williams left the show when she felt threatened by producers who may have planned to fire her when she became pregnant, but she also famously clashed with Penny Marshall (Laverne) off and on during filming.
Williams settled a lawsuit out of court regarding the pregnancy and has since revealed that the on-set quarrels with Marshall were, at least in her eyes, the normal kinds of fights that you’d have with family members.
8. The Office
Steve Carell is one of the funniest men of modern TV and film, which makes the fact that The Office pretty much failed without him easier to bear. When Carell left the show when his contract was up, NBC attempted to pump more life into it by casting James Spader, but like most of the shows on this list, it just wasn’t the same without the World’s Best Boss Michael Scott on the show. After two years without Carell, the show called it quits.
Carell went on to make several films a year since his days at The Office, but plenty of show fans will always remember him as their favorite boss. Both Dwight and Andy spin-offs were considered but neither ever made it into production.
7. Two and a Half Men
It would seem that America has a double standard when it comes to jerks. Sure, we don’t want to be friends with them, but man, do we love tuning in to see what ignorant and crass thing they’ll say or do next! You don’t even have to enter the world of politics to test this theory. Look at Two and a Half Men. Say what you will about Charlie Sheen but he kept that show alive as viewers couldn’t help but watch to see what lewdness was in store for them each week.
When Sheen was fired after multiple spats and problems off-air with show runners, Ashton Kutcher joined and kept the program alive for four more years. It may not have had its throat cut by the loss of Sheen like That ’70s Show did when Kutcher left, but the show fizzled out and flopped when it might have survived another few years had Sheen kept his role.
6. Vampire Diaries
Mystic Falls has seen its share of actors call it quits. The popular supernatural CW series The Vampire Diaries didn’t really die, however, until Nina Dobreva, aka Elena and Katerina, left the series after season 6 to pursue other roles.
The show limped through season 7 without the very character who was writing the titular “vampire diaries” before Ian Somerhalder, Kat Graham and other stars announced they would not return for an eighth season. Although co-creator Julie Plec said some vague statements about how the show was ended due to logistical, contractual and other issues, most fans agree that it was the loss of Dobrev that killed the series.
The departure of Zach Braff and most of the rest of the cast after contracts were up sent this series downhill. NBC’s Scrubs had the misfortune of being canceled not once but two times, after ABC picked up the already sinking ship. Executive producer Bill Lawrence explained that the show was never supposed to have a lasting cast. Interns don’t stay interns forever, after all, and the plan had always been to revolve some new, young faces onto the set every couple of years.
Unfortunately fans shared a different opinion of the “ER as a comedy” sitcom and understandably found the show lackluster without the characters they’d come to love over the years. Once four new students became the center of the show and Braff made sporadic guest appearances, the show was canceled after just one season minus the gang.
Gil Grissom truly was the Las Vegas Crime Lab in CBS’s crime drama CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, and no matter how interesting new and supporting characters were, the show simply floundered without him. As compelling as Laurence Fishburne and Ted Danson are in their own right, they simply never measured up to William Petersen’s emotionally stunted entomologist.
Although the series continued for seven years following his departure, it was never the same and sank to a slow death, especially as it lost key actors like Gary Dourdan, Jorja Fox (who later returned) and George Eads. Eventually there was even a time where only Marg Helgenberger remained as the only remaining CSI from the original lineup.
3. Spin City
Through no fault of his own, Michael J. Fox was forced to leave Spin City when his Parkinson’s Disease progressed, making it too difficult to continue filming. The problem was that Spin City producers felt like Charlie Sheen would be a decent replacement for him.
Not only did the fifth season see this huge change in lead character, but also in location, from New York to Los Angeles. Several key actors were lost in this transition in addition to Fox, which also helped the ratings plummet.
Sheen didn’t fare nearly as bad as some other replacement leads in this list, earning himself a Golden Globe for his role as mayor, but he still wasn’t able to save Spin City from being canceled after just one season in the role.
Unlike many series in this list, ER did not die after one major character left the show, but gradually succumbed to its death after many characters left over several years.
The loss of George Clooney served as the show’s first non-medical catastrophe, but Julianna Margulies left not long after Clooney, and it seemed as if a row of ER dominoes just toppled over one another as we saw departures made by Gloria Reubens, Eriq La Salle, Anthony Edwards, Noah Wyle… You get the idea. The ER is a stressful place and it seems as though even actors don’t want to stay there very long.
1. The X-Files
The truth is out there, and the hard truth is that no matter how amazing Gillian Anderson is alone, David Duchovny’s departure from The X-Files pretty much killed the show. What is Mulder and Scully without Mulder, after all?
After seven seasons on the Fox sci-fi drama, Duchovny decided to not renew his contract (and had some money arguments with the network) and fans largely agree that his departure ruined the final two seasons of the series.
Mulder wasn’t completely missing from them, as viewers may remember, but was brought back to life and sent into hiding, and Robert Patrick just didn’t have the same presence, particularly with Anderson, as Duchovny did.
In 2016 a very mix-reviewed tenth season of the show aired and an eleventh season is set to air this year.
Can you think of other shows that never recovered from the loss of big stars? Share in the comments!
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