That '70s Show

10 shows that lost a lead actor

Henry Cavill leaving 'The Witcher' may have stung, but it's also nothing new.

It can be difficult for a TV show to lose one of its leads. It’s not an unheard-of scenario: an actor, for whatever reason, exits a series, radically altering the chemistry and make-up of the show. While some shows have done this successfully and gone on to have a long run, many more shows buckle under the weight of such a loss.

Of course, television is as subjective as any art form, so your mileage may vary. Some might consider the loss of a lead actor to be the death of a show entirely, while others are more forgiving. Regardless, there’s a reason for that cliche, “The show must go on.” With Henry Cavill’s departure from The Witcher fresh on everyone’s minds, it’s time to explore other projects that lost their lead.

1. Charmed (1998 – 2006)

Image via Warner Bros.

Charmed premiered on The WB back in 1998. For the first three seasons of the show, the series starred Shannen Doherty, Holly Marie Combs, and Alyssa Milano as Prue, Piper, and Phoebe Halliwell. The three sisters discover that they’re destined to be the three strongest witches of all time — the Charmed Ones. Doherty’s Prue was the eldest and most powerful; the focus of the series was always on the sisters as a whole, but Prue Halliwell was a natural focal point for the family to rally around.

The full story about what went down on the set of Charmed might never be known, but rumors spread that the relationship between Doherty and Milano had grown increasingly acrimonious over the years, causing tension. Season three’s finale, “All Hell Breaks Loose” (which was also directed by Doherty), ended on a cliffhanger, with both Prue and Phoebe in imminent mortal peril. Over the summer hiatus that followed, Doherty was let go from her contract. Prue Halliwell was killed off-screen after having been knocked unconscious at the end of the last season.

The show opted to work Prue’s death into the plot: a fourth, previously-unknown half-sister, Paige Matthews (Rose McGowan) was introduced, and Combs’ Piper became the new eldest sister and most powerful character, with most storylines centering around her, her family, and her growth. Doherty’s image was never used again on the show, though characters did refer to Prue and their grief over her loss. The character would later come back for a story arc in the dubiously-canon Zenescope Entertainment continuation comics, though her appearance was radically altered due to licensing issues with Doherty’s image (in-universe, it was explained through magical means).

2. Two and a Half Men (2003-2015)

Two and a Half Men kills off Charlie Sheen.
Image via CBS

One of the most infamous behind-the-scenes television incidents in recent history occurred back in 2011, when Charlie Sheen took to the press to denounce Two and a Half Men creator Chuck Lorre. The actor had been in a tumultuous, months-long period of bizarre public behavior, and this proved to be the final straw for Lorre and the network. In the season 9 premiere, “Nice to Meet You, Walden Schmidt”, Sheen’s character was killed off in a rather brutal and callous manner.

Ashton Kutcher was brought in as Alan’s (Jon Cryer) new, wealthy roommate, Walden Schmidt. Sheen’s character was referred to occasionally, and in the final episode of the series, it was revealed that he had faked his death. Right when he’s about to open the front door of his family home, however, he’s killed by a random, falling piano from the sky. In a vanity card after the episode, Lorre wrote that Sheen had been offered to come back, but had turned down the opportunity.

The series also lost its original half man, Angus T. Jones, who played Jake Harper for 10 seasons. Jones began to grow morally opposed to the content of the show, and decided to depart after giving several critical statements about the show to the media. He did return for the series finale, but the show continued to try and fill Jones’ role with a few new characters.

3. New Girl (2011 – 2018)

New Girl
Image via 20th Century Television

Damon Wayans, Jr. starred as Coach in the pilot of New Girl, only for fans of the Wayans brother to be disappointed when the character moved out in the second episode of the series, being replaced by Winston (Lamorne Morris). There was no drama behind Wayans’ departure, though: at the time, he had been starring in Happy Endings, which he had expected to be cancelled. When it was renewed, he was unable to film both series at the same time, and the pilot would have had to have been majorly reshot.

Coach would later return to New Girl in season 3, when it was revealed that he had broken up with the girlfriend he had moved in with. The character moved back in with the gang, and would stick around until season 4, when he departed for New York. Wayans would continue to make scattered appearances throughout seasons 5-7 of the series.

4. Three’s Company (1977 – 1984)

Suzanne Somers in Three's Company.
Image via ABC

Another one of the most infamous cases of behind-the-scenes drama. Three’s Company was a sitcom that was considered quite daring for its era. John Ritter, Joyce DeWitt, and Suzanne Somers starred as Jack Tripper, Janet Wood, and Chrissy Snow, three mixed-gender roommates who often get into compromising situations. Somers’ bubbly, naive portrayal of Chrissy Snow became a sensation.

Somers’ contract negotiations became a point of contention after she had asked for a substantial raise. When denied, she went on strike, which reportedly led to tensions on set. Believing the show would suffer without Somers, the studio eventually compromised with the actress. For the rest of her contract, however, Somers would only appear in one-minute tags at the end of certain episodes. She never interacted with the main cast, and the explanation given was that Chrissy had moved back to her hometown of Fresno for a while to take care of her ailing mother. Partway through the season, the character was dropped with little explanation.

The third roommate role would be filled by Jenilee Harrison, who played Chrissy’s cousin Cindy. Eventually, Cindy was written out as well, and Priscilla Barnes took over as roommate Terri Alden. The series also lost its original, fan-favorite landlords the Ropers (Audra Lindley as Helen, Norman Fell as Stanley) when the two were given their own spin-off, which was cancelled after two seasons. They were replaced by Don Knotts as Ralph Furley.

5. That ‘70s Show (1998 – 2006)

That '70s Show
Image via 20th Century Television

That ‘70s Show is a sitcom centering around a group of ne’er-do-wells in small-town Wisconsin in the titular decade. Topher Grace starred as Eric Forman, leader of the group, for seven of the show’s eight seasons. At the end of season 7, Grace chose to leave the series to pursue his career in the film industry. It was explained that Eric was going away to Africa, as he had joined a scholarship program that was dependent on tutoring in impoverished nations.

Season 8 of the sitcom introduced the widely-disliked Randy (Josh Meyers). The original plan was for Meyers to play Eric upon his return from Africa, with the character undergoing a glow-up there. Instead, Meyer’s Randy was a wholly-unrelated character that had none of Eric’s charm and had little-to-no flaws.

Ashton Kutcher, who starred as Michael Kelso for much of the show, also departed in season 8 for similar reasons to Grace. His role actually was partially taken over by Randy, but because Kelso and Eric are such different characters, it left That ‘70s Show feeling hollow and a little sad without two of its central members. Both Kutcher and Grace would return to play their respective characters in That ‘90s Show, which walks back or downplays some of the events of season 8.

6. Cheers (1982 – 1993)

Image via ABC

Cheers was an American sitcom centering around the patrons of the titular neighborhood bar. Before Friends introduced audiences to Ross (David Schwimmer) and Rachel (Jennifer Aniston), there was Sam (Ted Danson) and Diane (Shelley Long). Their five-season-long courtship eventually culminated in a wedding that was called off, however, with Diane departing the show at the end of the fifth season.

Long would return to Cheers and its spin-off, Frasier, several times, but her on-screen will-they-won’t-they relationship ended with a surprising conclusion: they didn’t. Long had decided to depart to focus on her film career and her family. Long’s Diane was replaced by Kirstie Alley’s Rebecca the following season.

7. Married With Children (1987 – 1997)

Married With Children
Image via 20th Century Television

Married With Children was the show that put Fox on the map, but it wasn’t a huge hit initially. In fact, the series began with the premise that longtime couple Al (Ed O’Neill) and Peggy (Katey Sagal) Bundy would be mentoring newlyweds and next-door neighbors Marcy (Amanda Bearse) and Steve (David Garrison) Rhoades in the ways of marriage. The series quickly became more about the Bundy family in general, however, though Steve and Marcy were still integral parts of the series.

In season 4, Garrison decided to depart the series in order to focus on his theatrical career. Steve and Marcy divorced on the show, and Steve became a park ranger in California. He would return a few times to the show, and Garrison was almost featured in a spin-off, but he never again became a main cast member. The series became cartoonier and whackier with the introduction of Jefferson D’Arcy (Ted McGinley), Marcy’s vain, new husband.

8. The Vampire Diaries (2009 – 2017)

The Vampire Diaries
Image via the CW

The Vampire Diaries is a great distillation of the CW’s 2010s era. The series starred Nina Dobrev as Elena Gilbert, who becomes involved with two vampire brothers, Stefan Salvatore (Paul Wesley) and Damon Salvatore (Ian Somerhalder). Elena’s love triangle with the brothers was a storyline that was explored extensively in the show.

Ultimately, Dobrev departed the series in season 6; she had wanted to focus more on her film career, and also cited personal reasons when she left. She would return for the series finale, where Elena would be reunited with Stefan and Damon. Stefan later dies in the episode, while Elena and Damon go on to live a long life together before reuniting with their families in the afterlife.

9. Batwoman (2019 – 2022)

Image via the CW

Batwoman held a lot of promise when it premiered, but the series quickly hit a snag in production when its lead actress, Ruby Rose, departed the show after one season. Rose had portrayed Kate Kane, a cousin of Bruce Wayne and the eponymous Batwoman. In season 2, it was explained that Kate Kane had gone missing, and the mantle of Batwoman passed to a character created specifically for the show, Ryan Wilder (Javicia Leslie). When Kate Kane later reappeared, she was now played by Wallis Day.

The reasons for Rose’s departure are shrouded in controversy. According to Rose, allegedly unsafe working conditions (alongside a latex allergy) led to her leaving. But according to Camrus Johnson, who played Luke Fox on the series, Rose had allegedly been fired due to poor workplace behavior. Warner Bros. Television later released a statement stating that it was their prerogative not to bring Rose back for season 2, and backed up Johnson’s claims. The series would last for two more seasons after Rose left.

10. The Office (2005 – 2013)

The Office
Image via NBC Television

The Office is ubiquitous at this point, and Steve Carell’s portrayal of Michael Scott has become iconic. The bumbling boss of Dunder Mifflin’s Scranton branch was practically the head of the ensemble cast for most of the show’s history. At the end of the show’s seventh season, fans were saddened to see Carell leave the series.

The character was written off by having him move to Colorado with his fiancé, Holly Flax (Amy Ryan). Though he’d return for the series finale in season 9, Carell’s absence greatly affected the show, with a major plotline in season 8 being the characters trying to find a new boss. Reports about his exit are conflicting: at the time, the official reason that was given was that Carell had wanted to spend more time with his wife and kids. In the years since, however, some sources have claimed that the network simply never contacted Carell about renewing his contract.

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