When an actor lands a TV show, it can be a huge commitment. If everything goes according to plan playing a major TV show character, even a minor one, can mean years of work.
However, it’s rare that everything goes to plan. The show could never make it to the air, it could be cancelled after a few episodes, or the decision could be made that a role needs to be entirely recast.
While losing out a role through recasting is almost always bad for the actor, it can be to the benefit of the audience. It’s true that it’s very easy to get attached to an actor’s portrayal of a certain character, especially if there are episodes upon episodes of them in the role. A recasting can just feel wrong. Sometimes though a recasting can revitalize a character and bring something new that the other actor didn’t or couldn’t even imagine.
Recasting in TV happens rather often, especially before or during the pilot stage of a series. So it’s worth looking at when those recasting decisions worked and when they failed.
This isn't a comprehensive list of every major TV recasting ever. It’s not even about which actor is better in each entry. It is about determining which actor was best for the certain role they were cast in, regardless of whether or not they were original in the role.
So with that in mind, here are the 8 Times TV Recast Roles For The Better (And 7 Times It Was Way Worse).
15 Better: Caity Lotz as Sara Lance on Arrow
There are many things in the Arrowverse that can be considered incredible achievements for fans. The success of Sara Lance is most impressive and surprising. As Sara Lance, Lotz has taken a character who was literally killed off and disposed of and made her impossible to ignore. It’s all the more impressive as Caity Lotz isn’t the first Sara.
In the pilot and appearing throughout the first season, Sara Lance was played by actress Jacqueline MacInnes Wood. Wood’s Sara exists to die on-screen. However, when it came to “resurrecting” Sara for the first time in an involved role for season 2, Lotz was brought into play the character.
It’s all because of Lotz’ performance that Sara had endured, getting her own spin-off. Sara was intended to be stepping stone in her sister’s rise to Black Canary. Through Lotz, Sara has become her own hero and a headliner of the Arrowverse.
14 Worst: Sean Maguire as Robin Hood on Once Upon a Time
Every Once Upon a Time fan pictures the show’s version of Robin Hood as Sean Maguire. Yet Maguire wasn’t the first actor to play Robin Hood in Once Upon a Time’s convoluted fairy tale. In his first ever appearance back in season 2, Robin Hood was played by Tom Ellis.
However, when the decision was made to bring Robin back as a series regular in season 3, Ellis was unavailable. Maguire was brought on board and did make the role his own. Hardly anyone remembers that Ellis was on Once Upon a Time, let alone that he played Robin Hood.
While Maguire did a fine job, Ellis does seem like the better actor for the job. Maguire’s Robin was just a little too gentle for a former scroundel. Meanwhile Tom Ellis manages to exude dastardly charm almost effortlessly. There’s a reason he’s able to flawlessly play The Devil on Lucifer.
13 Better: Michiel Huisman as Daario on Game of Thrones
Game of Thrones has seen a surprising number of recastings-- both in terms of large roles like, Tommen Baratheon, and minor ones, like The Mountain.
One of the most notable recastings occurred between seasons 3 and 4. When he first popped up Daeneyrs’ eventual lover and ally, Daario Naharis. was played by Ed Skrien. At the start of season 4, however, the role was recast with Michiel Huisman, who looks radically different from Skrien.
The reason for why Skrien left is a left murky. However, it end up working for the benefit of the series. Skrien was just a little too swarmy as Daario, making it seem like Dany was an idiot for falling for him. Huisman, meanwhile, gave Daario a mercenary edge but there was also a kindness to him.
Not being Daario also allowed Skrein to appear in Deadpool as the main villain, a far better use of his talents.
12 Worst: All the Catwomen on Batman ‘66
The Batman series from the '60s with Adam West didn't run for all that long. A lot of episodes were produced and the pop culture cache of the series is remarkable. However, Batman only really ran for three years and had one movie produced. Somehow, though, Batman managed to cast three Catwomen, all playing the same role but being very different actresses.
In the series, Catwoman was played by Julie Newmar and Eartha Kitt. In the movie, Catwoman was recast again as Lee Meriwether. It’s not that any of the various Catwomen were horrendous in their roles. They were all over-the-top, especially Eartha Kitt’s version. However, that’s the whole point of the '60s Batman show.
It’s just that the show never really settled on a look or personality for Catwoman. It was jarring and weirdly dismissive.
11 Better: Melissa McCarthy as Sookie on Gilmore Girls
Before she went on to be in every R-Rated female comedy ever, Melissa McCarthy was on TV. As Lorelai Gilmore’s best friend, Sookie, Melissa McCarthy was a lovely and kindly presence on an already rather warm and fuzzy show.
There’s probably no Gilmore Girls fan who doesn’t want their own Sookie. While McCarthy did play Sookie throughout the show’s run, she wasn’t cast as the character in the pilot.
Originally Sookie was played by Alex Borstein, who is probably best known for the voice of Lois Griffin on Family Guy. Borstein would’ve become the Sookie, but she had a contract with sketch show MADtv and couldn’t commit to Gilmore Girls.
McCarthy was casted instead and Borstein became various comedic side characters. It’s the right move as Borstein is very funny but a little too intense to be the cute and cuddly Sookie.
10 Worst: Sarah Chalke as Becky on Roseanne
The case of Becky on Roseanne is one of the more infamous examples of TV recasting. This is for very good reason. For five seasons on the show, Lecy Goranson, played the oldest Conner Family daughter, Becky.
Yet when Goranson left the show to pursue an education, Roseanne decided to recast the long-running character with a new actress. Sarah Chalke was cast as Becky instead and things got very confusing, very quickly.
Chalke is a fantastic comedic actress but she didn’t feel right as Becky, by any measure. The character looked completely different and acted that way too. Worst of all, Goranson was eventually brought back for season 8 and the actress traded off the role in alternating episodes.
The casting is something that people making Roseanne obviously had a lot of fun with in front and behind the camera. For viewers and fans, though, it was just a mess.
9 Better: Alyson Hannigan as Willow on Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Sarah Michelle Gellar is the undisputed star of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Alyson Hannigan as Willow comes in a very close second. SMG as Buffy is why people watched the show, while Hannigan as Willow is why people fell in love with the series.
Hannigan has had many TV roles throughout her career but Willow is arguably the most iconic. However, it’s a part she didn’t have when the series began.
In all the “official” episodes, Hannigan plays Willow. However, in the unaired pilot Willow was instead played by Riff Regan. Unlike Hannigan, who was bubbly and delightful as Willow, Regan’s portrayal was a bit sour. The show tried to make the actress look as dumpy as possible and Willow just was far more charismatic, being an edgy loner.
Thankfully, everyone realized that Willow needed to be a bright light and things were recast accordingly.
8 Worst: Christina Moore as Laurie on That 70’s Show
The story and reasoning behind Laurie Foreman being recast on That 70’s Show is terribly sad. Lisa Robin Kelly played Eric Foreman’s sister for five seasons. Yet in season 6, Christina Moore was brought in with little explanation. The new actress was only the show for about a dozen episodes before the character was retired entirely.
The reason for the sister shuffle, reportedly, is that Lisa Robin Kelly had a severe drug problem that affected her performance. After being removed from the show, the actress struggled with her addiction for years before tragically dying in 2013. The whole thing is a shame because Robin Kelly wasn’t just very young, she was also incredibly talented.
As the acerbic Laurie, the first actress was far quicker and had much better timing than her eventual replacement. Christina Moore was passable but she never came anywhere close to Lisa Robin Kelly’s energy.
7 Better: Mae Whitman as Ann Veal on Arrested Development
The point of George Michael’s girlfriend, Ann, on Arrested Development was that she was forgettable. Michael never seemed to remember she existed, even when Ann was standing right in front of her.
Ann was supposed to be as bland as possible, but Mae Whitman still managed to give one of the funniest performances in the show by committing to always looking utterly miserable.
Yet Mae Whitman was the second actress to play Ann. In her first appearance, Ann was played by Alessandra Torresani. The original joke was that in every appearance Ann was going to have a different actress playing her, to reinforce the idea that was she was utterly ordinary.
In that case, Torresani did a great job. Her appearance as Ann is barely a blip on the radar. This is opposed to Mae Whitman who took a purposely nothing role and made it hilarious.
6 Worst: Dick Sargent as Darrin on Bewitched
The two Darrin's is one of the earliest examples of TV recasting gone awry. Bewitched isn’t among the greatest sitcoms of all time. It did, however, do plenty of great things first and has been copied in various forms. Darrin Stephens is the ultimate example of the exasperated spouse and straight man.
Darrin’s role on the show was to react to his magical wife, Sam, and the wacky adventures she caused. He was also played by two actors, one of which was far more grating than the other.
The first Darrin was played by actor Dick York. However, York suffered from debilitating back pain and had to quit the show. In his stead, actor Dick Sargent was brought on board.
While York managed to be charming as Darrin grew more exasperated, Sargent just felt mean and whiny. It was hard to understand why Sam would’ve stay married to him.
5 Better: Ted Danson as Sam Malone on Cheers
Ted Danson is a legendarily funny actor and can make just about any joke work. However, Danson’s career might not have existed at all if it weren’t for his break-out role as Sam Malone on Cheers. In many viewers’ minds, Danson is Sam. Oddly, the role nearly didn’t belong to the actor.
In the backstory of Sam Malone’s character, he was a professional baseball player. Yet originally Sam was going to be a retired football player and his actor would have the exact same career. Former football-player-turned-actor Fred Dryer was first cast as Sam. While Dryer is not a terrible actor, he is no Ted Danson.
Luckily, it was decided that Sam would be better off as a baseball player. Dryer was swapped for Danson and everything worked out for the best.
4 Worst: Liam McIntyre as Spartacus on Spartacus: Vengeance
Starz’ Spartacus is one of the biggest hidden gems of modern TV. While the show was very bloody and had a surrealistic visual style, it also managed to be very deep and emotional.
A lot of that was due to the show’s leading man, Andy Whitfield, in the title role. Whitfield not only had the physical presence of Spartacus, he managed to play the quiet moments of emotion with incredible ease.
Sadly after season 1 aired, Whitfield became ill with non-Hodgkin lymphoma. The disease eventually took his life. As a result, Spartacus had to be recast with Liam McIntyre. McIntyre was fighting an uphill battle the entire time on the show, both in character and behind-the-scenes. While he did a passable job, he never rose to Whitfield’s heights.
Spartacus wasn’t a bad show with McIntyre as the lead. It just never reached the heights it could’ve if Whitfield had lived.
3 Better: Jane Krakowski as Jenna on 30 Rock
In a cast of insane characters, Jenna Maroney stood out on 30 Rock. Jenna was a self-absorbed maniac but she was still an undeniable scene stealer. Actress Jane Krakowski is the reason that Jenna was lovable and ridiculous, rather than detestable and annoying. However, he role didn’t always belong to her.
When 30 Rock was first being developed, Tina Fey had her friend Rachel Dratch cast in the role of Jenna. Jenna was even partially based on Dratch, as Tina and Rachel entered the industry together, like Jenna and Liz Lemon. During the pilot, NBC stepped in and decided a more conventionally pretty actress needed to play Jenna.
It’s a cruel way to lose a job but it does seem to be the right decision. Dratch is a severely underrated comedic actress but it would’ve felt strange having her as the very vain Jenna.
2 Worst: Daphne Maxwell Reid as Aunt Viv on Fresh Prince of Bel-Air
It’s no surprise that the role of Aunt Viv was recast on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. The animosity between the original actress, Janet Louise Hubert, and star Will Smith exists to this day. Neither of them like each other at all, and it’s probably a large reason why Hubert was recast in the first place.
Yet it’s a shame because the second Aunt Viv was a big disappointment compared to the first. Daphne Maxwell Reid isn’t a bad actress and she didn’t do a terrible job playing Will’s fictional surrogate mother. The second Aunt Viv happens a completely different person.
While Hubert’s Vivian was feisty and formidable as her husband, Reid’s Aunt Viv was relatively demure. She had her moments of intense energy but she was a much quieter and a lot less funny.
1 Better: Jane Sibbett as Carol on Friends
Ross’ ex-wife on Friends isn’t a huge role. This is especially true in the latter seasons, when Ross’ first wife and his own son pretty much disappear from the show in favor of angst about Rachel’s own pregnancy. In the first couple of seasons, Carol was a tiny but important part… played by two different actresses.
In her first appearance, in the second-ever episode of Friends, Carol was played Anita Barone. Barone wasn’t terrible, but she was just a bit too sweet. Barone’s Carol was soft-spoken and lovely but entirely boring and, worse of all, not that funny.
When Carol reappeared in “The One Where Underdog Gets Away”, she was played by Jane Sibbet, who took over the role for the rest of the series. Sibbet gave Carol much more energy and gumption-- something that was necessary for the jokes and in order to deal with Ross.
What are some of your favorite and most hated TV recastings? Did we miss any major examples? Sound off in the comments!