Despite leading a show like The Walking Dead, in which any character can die at any time, Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) has survived for nine years. But now that Lincoln has left the show — and will star in his own series of The Walking Dead movies — Daryl (Norman Reedus) is stepping up and a whole new crew of survivors is populating the post-apocalyptic world. An older, Walker-wise Judith Grimes (Cailey Fleming) and new characters Magna (Nadia Hilker), Yamiko (Eleanor Matsuura), Connie (Lauren Ridloff), Kelly (Angel Theory), and Luke (Dan Fogler) are among the new blood the series has brought in to fill TWD‘s Rick Grimes–shaped void.
The Walking Dead is only the latest show that has had to move on in the wake of a major cast member departure. Throughout TV history, shows have dealt with losing their stars for various reasons — and in some cases the shows grew stronger with the new cast. Not all benefitted from a cast swap, however — there are certainly some duds on Rotten Tomatoes’ list of the most famous television replacements. Read on to find out who was replaced and why, along with how their departure was explained on screen.
Outgoing Character: Brenda Walsh (Shannen Doherty, pictured right)
The Replacement: Valerie Malone (Tiffani Amber Thiessen, pictured left)
The Explanation: Brenda left for drama school in London. Valerie Malone, a bad girl from Minnesota, came to live with the Walshes for seasons 5 through 10 of 90210. In 1994, Thiessen told press on the set she thought she was cast because “they heard I had a reputation for being easy to work with.”
Outgoing Character: Prue Halliwell (Doherty)
The Replacement: Paige (Rose McGowan)
The Reason: According to the New York Daily News, Alyssa Milano gave producers of the original WB show (not to be confused with the 2018 reboot) an ultimatum: It was either her or Doherty. The show’s producers said Doherty wanted to leave, and they let her.
The Explanation: Prue is killed by demons, and, shortly thereafter, the Halliwells discover a long-lost fourth sister, Paige, who ended up sticking around from season 4 through the show’s remaining eight seasons. There’s no bad blood on McGowan’s part, however: The actress wrote to Doherty via Instagram when Doherty underwent cancer treatment: “The men & brainwashed women in our business made it so we couldn’t be friends. I regret that.”
Outgoing Character: C.J. Parker (Pamela Anderson, pictured)
The Replacements: Donna Marco (Donna D’Errico) and Lani McKenzie (Carmen Electra)
The Explanation: C.J. Parker got married off the show, and it took two new lifeguards to fill her sandy footprints. While Carmen Electra told Esquire, “I don’t think I was hired as a replacement,” costar Kelly Packard recalled auditions for “a room of Pamela Anderson–looking women” and Traci Bingham said Donna “thought she was Pamela.” Electra was only on the series for one season and D’Errico for two, but the casting proved that a rotating roster of lifeguards could survive long into syndication.
Outgoing Character: Kate Wales (Selma Blair)
The Replacement: Dr. Jordan Denby (Laura Bell Bundy, pictured)
The Reason: TMZ reported that Blair complained to the producers about Sheen’s unprofessional behavior, and Sheen demanded she be fired. Sheen told Jay Leno that Blair was written out because viewers expected the show to be about their relationship.
The Explanation: Charlie Goodson (Sheen) stopped seeing Kate for anger management therapy, but went into business with Dr. Denby. Reviews for Anger Management were never all that Fresh (season 1 has a 23% score on 35 reviews), so the switch didn’t seem to change much on the series — except perhaps, given season 2’s three meager reviews, that most critics stopped paying attention.
Outgoing Character: Martin Riggs (Clayne Crawford)
The Replacement: Wesley Cole (Sean William Scott, pictured)
The Explanation: The character of Riggs survived four films and a perma-rumored fifth, but on TV he was shot and killed. Scott told EW, “For a lot of fans that are upset that they’re not going to see Riggs, which I totally understand, I really believe they’re going to feel ‘OK, they handled it in a way that’s really respectful to that character and what he means to the show.’”
Outgoing Character: Jason Gideon (Mandy Patinkin)
The Replacement: David Rossi (Joe Mantegna, pictured)
The Reason: Patinkin said that the violent subject matter of the murder-centric series was “destructive to my soul.”
The Explanation: Mirroring Patinkin’s own experience, Gideon also left the Behavioral Analysis Unit due to emotional distress. His former partner Rossi has filled in ever since and continues to lead the show in its 14th season.
Outgoing Character: Dr. Jeffrey Geiger (Mandy Patinkin)
The Replacement: Dr. Kate Austin (Christine Lahti, pictured)
The Reason: Patinkin wanted to be with his family in New York, while Hope filmed in Los Angeles.
The Explanation: Geiger resigned after he couldn’t save Alan Birch (Peter MacNicol) from a gunshot wound, although the show insisted Dr. Austin was not replacing him. Unlike Criminal Minds, Patinkin did return for guest appearances on Chicago Hope.
The Character: Rayna James (Connie Britton)
The Reason: When the series was canceled by ABC and moved to CMT, Britton decided to leave the show, working with the writers to give Rayna a dramatic finale.
The Explanation: Rayna died in the hospital from injuries sustained in an automobile accident. Doubleday’s singer/songwriter Jessie Craine and Bilson’s Highway 65 record label exec Alyssa Greene joined the cast in the series’ fifth season, with Bilson leaving at the end of that season and Doubleday staying on through the sixth and final year.
Doubleday prepared for the worst when she entered the show, she told The Boot: “If everyone hates me, it doesn’t matter. It’s a paycheck. I’ve felt pretty at home since the day I got here.”
Interestingly, Britton left 9-1-1 after only one season, and Jennifer Love Hewitt stepped in as a new call center operator. She also appeared in only the first of eight seasons of Ryan Murphy‘s American Horror Story anthology series, while other stars from season 1, like Sarah Paulson, Evan Peters, and Jessica Lange, formed something like a troupe and continued with the show.
Outgoing Character: Jill Munroe (Farrah Fawcett, pictured left)
The Replacement: Kris Munroe (Cheryl Ladd, pictured right)
The Reason: When Fawcett left the show, she said it was because it prevented her from growing as an actor. Producer Aaron Spelling sued her for $7 million.
The Explanation: Jill resigned from the Angels to become a race-car driver, and — wouldn’t you know it? — she also has a sister named Kris who’s fresh out of the police academy. Ratings held steady enough with Ladd, but dwindled when other new Angels started to rotate in during the final seasons, including Shelly Hack replacing Kate Jackson, and then Tanya Roberts replacing Hack.
Outgoing Character: Catherine (Linda Hamilton, pictured)
The Replacement: Diana (Jo Anderson)
The Reason: Hamilton left the series, which ran from 1987 to 1990, when she was pregnant.
The Explanation: Catherine was killed, leaving her love, Vincent (Ron Perlman), heartbroken. Diana offered a potential new love interest, but many fans felt the magic left with Hamilton. Game of Thrones creator George R.R. Martin wrote for the show and told THR, “You can’t do two seasons of telling the world, ‘This is a love story for the ages, this is Romeo and Juliet,’ and then suddenly third seasons say, ‘Juliet? Forget Juliet. It’s Romeo and Harriet.'”
Outgoing Character: Valerie Hogan (Valerie Harper, pictured)
The Replacement: Sandy Hogan (Sandy Duncan)
The Reason: Wrongful termination, as Harper was vindicated in court.
The Explanation: You would think star Valerie Harper would be safe playing Valerie Hogan on a show called Valerie, but Valerie Hogan died in an automobile accident. Michael Hogan’s (Josh Taylor) sister Sandy came to live with Valerie’s Family, later renamed (again) The Hogan Family.
At the time, Duncan told UPI she didn’t know there was any controversy: “The story I got before I agreed to do the show was that Valerie had left the series. Valerie and I have known each other for years. And while we were never friends, we were friendly. And I’m relieved to know she has told people the dispute is not my problem. I refuse to be on the hot seat.”
Despite Harper’s victory, the show lasted four more seasons, including one on CBS, without her.
Outgoing Character: Henry Blake (McLean Stevenson)
The Replacement: Sherman Potter (Harry Morgan, pictured)
The Explanation: Blake was tragically shot down while returning home. Sherman Potter joined the M.A.S.H. unit for the rest of its eight seasons, and its spinoff AfterMASH. Morgan had impressed the producers when he guest-starred as a different character in the third season premiere.
Outgoing Character: Chrissy Snow (Suzanne Somers, pictured)
The Replacement: Cindy Snow (Jenilee Harrison)
The Explanation: Chrissy also had a sister we’d never met before. The show went on for eight total seasons and a spinoff, Three’s a Crowd.
Outgoing Character: Mike Flaherty (Michael J. Fox)
The Replacement: Charlie Crawford (Charlie Sheen)
The Reason: Fox’s real-life battle with Parkinson’s.
The Explanation: Mike became an environmental lobbyist for senator Alex P. Keaton (if only we’d gotten a scene of them together!), and Mayor Winston (Barry Bostwick) got a new deputy, Charlie Crawford (Sheen). Sheen earned the show a younger audience, according to The New York Times. Sheen told the paper, “I’m just glad people are responding. I can’t comment on what they’re responding to.” Spin City went two more seasons and Fox returned as a guest star.
Outgoing Character: Det. Elliot Stabler (Meloni, pictured)
The Replacement: Det. Nick Amaro (Pino)
The Reason: Meloni and NBC couldn’t come to terms on a new contract.
The Explanation: Stabler retired, so Olivia Benson (Mariska Hargitay) needed a new partner. Nick Amaro was that partner, and stayed on the job for four seasons. SVU has made it to 20 seasons, matching the original Law & Order.
Outgoing Character: DA Benjamin Stone (Michael Moriarty)
The Replacement: DA Jack McCoy (Sam Waterston, pictured)
The Reason: Moriarty claimed he was forced out for speaking out against a meeting Janet Reno had with NBC, believing the Attorney General would impose restrictive laws on television.
The Explanation: Stone resigned and McCoy took over. Now it’s hard to imagine the show without Sam Waterston as DA Jack McCoy, and he’s who you’re most likely to see in a syndicated rerun. In 1995, Waterston was on speaking terms with Moriarty. “I have nothing to say about his reasons for leaving,” Waterston told The New York Times. “But I’ve talked to him since, and I think we’re OK.”
Outgoing Character: Paul Hennessy (Ritter, pictured)
The Reason: Ritter’s sudden death at the age of 54.
The Explanation: In the aftermath of Ritter’s (and his character’s) death, the show added Garner as widow Cate’s (Katey Sagal) father, and then Spade as her nephew who came to live with them. The show completed three seasons with the new cast.
Outgoing Character: Doug Ross (George Clooney, pictured)
The Replacement: Luka Kovac (Goran Visnjic)
The Reason: Clooney fulfilled his five-year contract with ER, even as he ascended to movie stardom.
The Explanation: Ross moved to Seattle after a dispute over being caught helping a mother euthanize her terminal son. The next year, Luka Kovac joined the E.R. an attending physician. Luka even dated Ross’ love, Nurse Hathaway (Julianna Margulies) until the two reunited (with a surprise Clooney cameo) when Margulies left the show too. The series ran for 10 more years, ending after its 15th season (during which Clooney and several other cast members returned).
Outgoing Character: Det. John Kelley (David Caruso)
The Replacement: Det. Bobby Simone (Jimmy Smits, pictured right)
The Explanation: Internal Affairs pushed Kelly off the force, and Simone became Sipowicz’s (Dennis Franz) new partner. Eventually, Rick Schroder joined the cast as well. Once Caruso was on CSI: Miami, he admitted he made a mistake leaving NPYD Blue.
The modest Smits wouldn’t take credit for the ratings bump after he joined the show. “I don’t think I solely am responsible for that,” Smits told SF Gate in 1995. “But the people at the network are happy.”
Outgoing Character: Fox Mulder (David Duchovny, pictured)
The Replacement: John Doggett (Robert Patrick)
The Reason: Duchovny’s contract was up after seven years, and he was also suing Fox for syndication earnings. He would later return full-time in the 10th season.
The Explanation: Mulder got abducted by aliens, of course. Agent Doggett became Scully’s (Gillian Anderson) new partner, but without the seven years of rapport and back story, Patrick’s Dogett just didn’t have the same spark. Some critics, however, are reconsidering his seasons.
In 2017, Patrick told People TV he knew the fans weren’t interested in him at first, but “we won ’em over and we got two seasons out of it.” It worked out for X-Files fans, though: Duchovny and Anderson starred in two feature films and then two additional seasons over a decade later.
Outgoing Character: Charlie Harper (Sheen)
The Replacement: Walden Schmidt (Ashton Kutcher, pictured)
The Reason: Sheen’s public meltdown and lashing out against creator Chuck Lorre.
The Explanation: Charlie was murdered by an ex, and the heartbroken billionaire Walden Schmidt took over his share of the rent. Kutcher said after his arrival that he drew a younger and more international audience to the show.
“The demos for the show have actually started to skew a little bit younger,” Kutcher said in 2012 after half a season. “I can see a reflection of that on on the social media surfaces. You can actually see the international markets that are going to pop with the show. I think we just opened in Germany this week, and it was double.”
Outgoing Character: Diane Chambers (Shelley Long, pictured left)
The Replacement: Rebecca Howe (Kirstie Alley, pictured right)
The Reason: Long wanted to pursue a movie career and left after five seasons.
The Explanation: When Diane left Sam Malone (Ted Danson) before their wedding, he sold the bar to a corporation that put Rebecca Howe in charge, making her Sam’s new romantic foil. It worked. Cheers ran for 11 years total and Alley is arguably even more closely identified with it than Long. The show previously had to fill a void when Nicholas Colosanto died during the third season, which is when Woody Harrelson joined the series.
Did we leave out your favorite replacement? Tell us in the comments.