Major TV shows that kept on trucking without their lead stars
Despite the recent cancellation of the Roseanne reboot following a racist Tweet posted by Roseanne Barr, it appears the resurrected show may go on in the form of anew series that lives on without her character. And while both Andrew Lincoln and Lauren Cohan are reportedly leaving The Walking Deadhalfway through the next season, the series will apparently continue for the foreseeable future.
Can these shows survive without their major stars? Maybe. While it sounds unlikely, plenty of series have found clever ways to truck on after major stars exited stage left. In some cases, it was just for a little while. In others, the show continued for several seasons as a new cast member, or members, took over and made things work.
Two and a Half Men
It was (somehow) the most popular sitcom on television, making Charlie Sheen the highest paid TV actorat the time for his role as free spirit Charlie living with his divorced brother Alan (Jon Cryer) and nephew Jake (Angus T. Jones). But controversies and Sheen’s rants led to him being removed from the series after its eighth season. Viewers thought for sure this meant the end. Instead, producers killed off his lead character and replaced him with Ashton Kutcher, playing a billionaire who bought Charlie’s house and, oddly, allowed Alan to continue living in it. (Jones had already switched to appearing only in a recurring role.) The series continued for another two seasons, and the attention of the high profile lead actor swap led to a growth in viewer numbers.
House of Cards
Following sexual assault allegations and the subsequent firing of Kevin Spacey from the series, viewers were sure that would be the end of the story for the show about the sneaky, power-hungry presidential hopeful Frank Underwood (Spacey) and his wife Claire (Robin Wright). But Netflix confirmed last December that the show would proceed with a sixth and final season with Wright in the lead role, set for release later this year.
Having run for four successful seasons on Amazon, with Jeffrey Tambor starring as trans woman Maura Pfefferman (and racking up several awards for the role), it seems impossible for this show to continue without him. But after Tambor’s announcement that he would be leaving the series following his own sexual misconduct allegations, Amazon confirmed the show will continue for one last season, focused on Maura’s loved ones instead.
Fans were shocked when Connie Britton’s character left in dramatic fashion in the fifth season of this music-based drama, which ran on ABC before moving to CMT. But the story about aspiring country music artists continued through to a sixth season, shifting focus to rising star Maddie Conrad (Lennon Stella) and Juliette Barnes (Hayden Panettiere), the artist now fading in popularity.
Speculation about who could possibly replace Steve Carell as Michael Scott, the bumbling regional manager at Dunder Mifflin Paper Company, was rampant once the actor announced he would be leaving this hilarious American reboot after season 7. Will Ferrell joined the cast as Scott’s replacement just before Carell’s departure, but he was a red herring. The role of lead bumbler was then shared/handed off, with characters like James Spader’s Robert California, the new CEO of Dunder Mifflin/Sabre in season 8, and Ed Helms’ character, Andy, who was promoted to regional manager. The series ended after season 9 with Dwight (Rainn Wilson) finally getting his shot as Regional Manager (again). The show’s long and successful run, both with Carell and without, helped raise the profiles of actors like Wilson, John Krasinski, Jenna Fischer, and Mindy Kaling.
Fans might argue that the bromance between Dr. John “J.D.” Dorian (Zach Braff) and his best friend and surgeon Christopher Turk (Donald Faison) is what made this series. Yet, though Braff was technically part of the series through its entire nine-season run on NBC (and later ABC), he left to pursue other avenues after six episodes of season 9, while primary players in Elliott (Sara Chalke), Carla (Judy Reyes), and Dr. Kelso (Ken Jenkins) all left after season 8.
Alongside Dan Harmon’s incredible talent for wit and meta-entertainment analysis, one of the coolest things about this creative comedy was that it bred a ton of talent. The bad thing? Tons of stars left over its topsy-turvy final seasons. The cast of characters attending Greendale Community College was led by Joel McHale as former lawyer Jeff Winger. Yvette Nicole Brown left as a main cast member after season 5, though she appeared in a recurring role for season 6; and megastar/producer/rapper Donald Glover departed during the fifth season as well. Chevy Chase left after season 4 in controversy but did appear as a guest star on season 5.
While it was Charlie Sheen who was replaced on Two and a Half Men, a decade earlier, it was he who stepped in to fill the shoes of Michael J. Fox after the actor left in season 4 to deal with his battle with Parkinson’s disease. Charlie would assume the lead role of Deputy Mayor of New York Charlie Crawford for the show’s final two seasons before it was canceled due to low ratings.
The replacement of Shelley Long’s character Diane Chambers by Kirstie Alley as Rebecca Howe proved that, with the right casting, an ensemble show can easily go on without one of its leads. Long played an upper-class graduate student and the on-again-off-again love interest of bartender Sam Malone (Ted Danson) for the first five seasons of the NBC show. When she left, they brought in Alley to play the bar manager, and Sam’s new foil for the remaining six seasons. Cheers continued to be one of the most popular series on TV, and its series finale was the second most watched in the U.S. behind only M*A*S*H. (It has since dropped to the third position behind the Roots miniseries.) Long did return to appear in the final episode.
This iconic ‘70s/’80s ABC comedy starred the late John Ritter as Jack, Joyce DeWitt as Janet, and Suzanne Somers as Chrissy. The three played roommates pretending that Ritter is gay to avoid issues with the landlord, played by Norman Fell — who was later replaced by Don Knotts. And that was just the beginning. After Somers, who played the dimwitted blonde beauty, left the series after the fifth season, she was replaced by the equally dimwitted character Cindy (Jenilee Harrison), playing Chrissy’s first cousin. After just two seasons, Harrison was, once again, replaced by Priscilla Barnes, who played another new roommate, Terri Alden, through to the series end in season 8.
CSI: Crime Scene Investigation
While serious fans may remember him as the first Will Graham on the big screen in Manhunter,William Petersen was a relative unknown when he was introduced as graveyard shift CSI supervisor Gil Grissom on CSI. He played the character so beautifully, though, it came as a shock to fans when he announced he’d be moving on from the role after the ninth season. Who could fill his shoes? First Laurence Fishburne appeared as Dr. Raymond “Ray” Langston for seasons 9-11, followed by Ted Danson as new supervisor D.B. Russell from seasons 12 until the final 15th season, alongside Elisabeth Shue as assistant supervisor Julie Finlay. Petersen did, however, come back as a guest star a few times.
A Different World
As a spin-off of The Cosby Show that was to follow Denise Huxtable’s (Lisa Bonet) college years, A Different Worldseemed doomed when Bonet left after the first season once she became pregnant. But the series continued, with Bonet’s character being replaced by a new student, Southern belle Whitley Gilbert (Jasmine Guy). It apparently worked, as the comedy, which also starred Kadeem Hardison as math nerd Dwayne Wayne and Sinbad as Coach Walter Oakes, continued its run for another five seasons.