TV Characters Who Were Recast After The Pilot EpisodePublished on February 21, 2018. Updated April 9, 2021
When a network picks up a pilot, execs are free to keep what they like and get rid of what they don’t, which can lead to script rewrites and characters being recast. While we don’t always hear about this sort of thing, it’s more common than people realize. Here are some popular television characters that were recast after the pilot episode:
27. Charmed – Phoebe
In the unaired pilot for Charmed, the character, Phoebe, isn’t played by Ayssa Milano! She’s played by actress Lori Rom. The tabloids reported that Rom left because she and her co-star Shannen Doherty were bitter enemies (which both women deny) and there were other rumors that she quit the role because of her religion; however, she has always insisted that her departure from the series was due to “personal reasons.” After she left, Aaron Spelling then contacted Milano and the rest is history!
26. 21 Jump Street – Tom Hanson
Back in the late ’80s, iconic actor Johnny Depp was just getting his start, and it was his role in the series 21 Jump Street that really gave him his big break, even though at first he didn’t want it. Since he wanted to be a movie star, Depp initially refused the role of cop Tom Hanson, which let Jeff Yagher step into the role for the pilot. After Platoon didn’t lead to as many offers as Depp had hoped, he went back and accepted the role of Tom Hanson and producers were more than happy to have him. They ended up having to fire Yagher and go back and reshoot the pilot episode scenes with the character with Depp in the role of Hanson instead.
25. Roseanne – D.J.
Michael Fishman wasn’t the original actor cast in the role of D.J. on Roseanne. Sal Barone played D.J. in the pilot, but the part had to be recast. Reports indicate that he and Sara Gilbert didn’t get along and when he had a growth spurt following the pilot producers became worried that he would outgrow his two older on-screen sisters, so he was recast with Fishman.
24. Home Improvement – Al Borland
With eight seasons from 1991 to 1999, Home Improvement is one of the most iconic family sitcoms of the ’90s, and it could have looked a lot different. It turns out beloved actor Richard Karn who played the role of Tim “The Toolman” Taylor’s calm and collected best friend Al Borland wasn’t the original actor in the role. Stephen Tobolowsky was the first to be cast as Tim’s sidekick, but couldn’t make the filming for the pilot episode due to a filming conflict with another project. Producers had Richard Karn step in just as a substitute but quickly found that Karn and Allen’s chemistry was way better than with Tobolowsky. As a result, when the pilot was picked up, ABC let Tobolowsly go and hired Karn in the role full time.
23. Game of Thrones – Catelyn Stark
The Game of Thrones’ character Catelyn Stark was played by Jennifer Ehle in the unaired pilot but left the role before the series before it was picked up. She reportedly left the show because she felt it was too soon after the birth of her daughter and she didn’t want to commit to such a long-running role while also raising a young family. The part was recast with Michelle Fairley.
22. Star Trek – Captain Kirk
William Shatner’s entire career has been built upon his iconic role as Captain James Tiberius Kirk in the original Star Trek, but the original pilot for the series didn’t include the actor. In 1964, NBC commissioned the first pilot for the series and called the episode “The Cage,” after seeing it however they decided they didn’t like it but saw the potential and asked for a second pilot with a different script. Actor Jeffrey Hunter who had appeared as Captain Christopher Pike in “The Cage” wasn’t interested in taking on the role for the second pilot, and instead Captain Kirk was created and William Shatner was given the role of captain of the Enterprise.
21. Lost – Jack Shepard
Now that the show has come and gone it’s hard to picture it, but Michael Keaton was supposed to play the role of Dr. Jack Shepard in Lost. He was the original actor cast in the role, but he dropped out after it was decided that Shepard wasn’t going to be killed off in the pilot. It was the network who decided the character stay on longer because they thought it would make the show better, thus more profitable. Unfortunately, this was a deal breaker for Keaton. When he left, Matthew Fox took on the role.
20. Nancy Drew – Carson Drew
With the success of its teen series, The CW revived an iconic book character when it ordered a season of Nancy Drew based on the teen sleuth. When the network ordered a pilot for the series, fans were ecstatic by the news that beloved hearrthrob Freddie Prinze Jr. had been cast as Nancy’s dad Carson Drew. It seems Prinze Jr. wasn’t quite ready to make such a big commitment to acting again however, and after the pilot was ordered to series, the actor left and was replaced with another former heartthrob, Party of Five’s Scott Wolf. It is unclear how far into the process Prinze Jr. got and if the pilot was already filmed with him before he exited.
19. Full House – Danny Tanner
In the original pilot for Full House, it wasn’t Bob Saget playing Danny Tanner – it was actor John Posey! He didn’t see his recasting coming. ABC had picked up the series with Posey when producers decided to test Saget in the role. They had originally wanted Saget, but he was busy, at the time, so when his schedule cleared up, they recast him in the role and then reshot the pilot.
18. Growing Pains – Carol Seaver
Tracey Gold will forever be associated with her role as Carol Seaver on the sitcom Growing Pains, but she wasn’t the first actress cast in the part! Elizabeth Ward was originally cast and appeared in the pilot episode for the series, but after the pilot, the show decided to go in a different direction with casting, and Gold ended up getting the part.
17. Frasier – Roz Doyle
Before landing her life-changing role as Phoebe Buffay on Friends, actress Lisa Kudrow landed another dream role, the part of Roz Doyle on Frasier. While the role was written with actress Peri Gilpin in mind, when Lisa Kudrow auditioned, she got the most laughs out of any actresses who read for the part and she was hired. Unfortunately, two days into filming the pilot, Kudrow’s performance wasn’t exactly what they expected and they let her go and finally brought in Gilpin for the role she was intended for.
16. Cheers – Sam Malone
Speaking of Frasier — the series that started it all also made some casting moves before finding the right fit. Ted Danson’s portrayal of Sam Malone through eleven seasons of Cheers is a part of TV history, but before he was an ex-baseball player, Sam Malone was a very different person. In the original pilot for the series, Sam Malone was a former wide-receiver for the New England Patriots and was played by former football player Fred Dryer. Unfortunately, the pilot didn’t resonate with executives because of the lack of chemistry between Dryer and the female lead Shelley Long. Danson was called back after being in the top three for the role, and his chemistry with Long solidified his role.
15. Buffy the Vampire Slayer – Principal Flutie
Actor Stephen Tobolowsky was in the unaired pilot for Buffy the Vampire Slayer playing Principal Flutie. The reason the part was recast with Ken Lerner was because Tobolowsky was under contract with ABC for another series, The Pretender. Joss Whedon convinced him to do the pilot, but then he wasn’t available after that. It sounds like he regrets how things turned out! “Well, the series for ABC, I believe, lasted for nine shows, whereas Buffy The Vampire Slayer lasted for years. It could have made life so much sweeter through difficult times to have a steady paycheck, but that’s the way the chips roll,” he told The A.V. Club.
14. Game of Thrones – Daenerys Targaryen
Tamzin Merchant – who played Catherine Howard in The Tudors – was the first actress cast in the part of Daenerys Targaryen on Game of Thrones. She was in the unaired pilot but was recast after showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss were forced to reshoot the episode after the original received negative feedback. Merchant was then replaced with Emilia Clarke.
13. The Catch – Benjamin Jones
Damon Dayoub was set to play the male lead in The Catch, but was let go after the series was ordered in May 2015 and Peter Krause from Parenthood was brought in to replace him. Dayoub wasn’t the only actor who was recast. One Tree Hill’s Bethany Joy Lenz was originally cast as Zoe, but was replaced with actress Sonya Walger after the pilot.
12. Home Improvement – Jill Taylor
Richard Karn isn’t the only star who almost missed out on the success of Home Improvement. Although producers loved Patricia Richardson, it was actually actress Frances Fisher who was cast as the iconic television matriarch of the Taylor household, but things went south fairly quickly when Fisher proved to have no chemistry with Tim Allen. Producers were so sure that Patricia Richardson was the perfect woman for the part that they made a deal with her despite the fact she had recently given birth to twins and was still on their breastfeeding schedule.
11. Gloria and Michael – All in the Family
All in the Family made its mark on television history with an incredible cast and a fresh take on family sitcoms, and while Carol O’Connor and Jean Stapleton were always Archie and Edith Bunker, there was a bit more difficulty finding the right people for the part of the younger cast. Conception for the series began when Norman Lear read about the British sitcom Til Death Do Us Part, prompting him to buy the rights for the show and incorporate his own experiences to create an American version. Lear called his original pilot for the series “Justice For All,” which was a pilot for ABC, and starred Kelly Jean Peters as Gloria and Tim McIntire as her husband, Richard. While ABC liked it, they ordered a second pilot called “Those Were the Days” and instead cast Candice Azzara as Gloria and Chip Oliver as Richard. After ABC passed entirely on the show, CBS picked it up and finally Sally Struthers was cast as Gloria and Rob Reiner was cast as her husband Michael “Meathead” Stivic for what was finally called All in the Family.
10. Beverly Hills, 90210 – Jim Walsh
James Eckhouse wasn’t the first actor cast to played Brenda and Brendon’s dad. Lyman Ward – who played Ferris Bueller’s dad in the movie Ferris Bueller’s Day Off – was originally cast in the role. The studio didn’t think he was right for the part, so the role was recast with Eckhouse and all of Lyman’s scenes in the pilot were cut and re-shot.
9. 30 Rock – Jenna
Saturday Night Live alum Rachel Dratch was originally cast as Jenna DeCarlo on 30 Rock before the role was recast with Jane Krakowski and the character’s name was changed to Jenna Maloney. Dratch didn’t take her firing personally and went on to play multiple characters on the show, including that of a cat wrangler in the aired pilot.
8. Firefly – Inara
Rebecca Gayheart was originally cast as Inara on Firefly, but was fired after just one day of filming. Creator Joss Whedon reportedly said that there wasn’t enough chemistry there between her and the other cast members, so Morena Baccarin was cast in the role a couple of days later and began filming the same day she was hired.
7. Pretty Little Liars – Toby Cavanaugh
During Pretty Little Liars’ pilot episode, James Neate was playing Toby Cavanaugh, but during the third episode of the first season, Neate was gone and it was Keegan Allen in the role. That wasn’t the only thing that changed about the Toby character – with Neate, Toby’s last name was the same as Jenna’s, Marshall. With Allen, Toby got a new last name, Cavanaugh. This was probably changed to make the relationship between Toby and Jenna seem a little less incestuous.
6. Buffy the Vampire Slayer – Willow
In the unaired pilot for Buffy, actress Riff Regan portrayed Willow Rosenberg, but the network recast the role with Alyson Hannigan. The way Regan portrayed Willow as more of a sweet doormat — she didn’t have the neurotic, eager-to-please quality that Alyson Hannigan brought to the part.
5. Gilmore Girls – Sookie
In the original, unaired pilot for Gilmore Girls, Alex Borstein played Sookie St. James, but her MADtv contract prevented her from taking a main cast role, so the role was recast with Melissa McCarthy. Borstein did make several appearances during the show’s seven-season run as the harpist Drella, then as Miss Celine and Doris. The Sookie role wasn’t the only one that was recast. During the first pilot, Dean Forester was played by Nathan Wetherington, but then was recast with Jared Padalecki!
4. Gossip Girl – Eleanor Waldorf
A different actress played Blair Waldorf’s mother Eleanor in Gossip Girl’s pilot. Her name is Florencia Lozano, but she was replaced when the show was put into full production with Margaret Colin, who made her small screen debut on the show in episode four. The part was reportedly cast because Lozano looked too young to play Blair’s mother.
3. Parenthood – Sarah Braverman
Maura Tierney was originally cast as Sarah Braverman on Parenthood, but she had to withdraw from the role so that she could recover from breast cancer surgery. Initially, production tried to accommodate her treatment by temporarily halting production, but her treatment plan conflicted with the series’ filming schedule. A few months later, Lauren Graham was cast in the part.
2. The Big Bang Theory – Penny
When The Big Bang Theory first aired in 2007, it immediately became a hit, thanks in large part to the incredible chemistry of the entire cast. It may be hard to believe, but in the beginning, that cast didn’t include Kaley Cuoco as Penny. In the unaired pilot for the series, there were no Howard or Raj characters at all, and the main female character was a whole lot different! The character was instead called Katie and was played by actress Amanda Walsh. Katie was envisioned as “a street-hardened, tough-as-nails woman with a vulnerable interior.”
“In the first pilot, the character of [Katie] was not as appealing as that proverbial girl next door,” president and chief content officer at Warner Bros. Television Group Peter Roth said. “It was not the actress [Amanda Walsh] but rather the conceit of the character.”
The pilot wasn’t picked up, but the series got another shot to try again. The character Katie was replaced by a new character named Penny. Cuoco, who had originally auditioned for Katie got a call back, and became Penny.
1. Bonus: Friends – Carol Willick
While the character of Carol Willick didn’t appear in the pilot episode of Friends, Ross’s wife leaving him because she was a lesbian while, was a major storyline in the first episode for the character. When the character did appear in the second episode of the series to also tell Ross she is pregnant with his baby, Carol Willick was portrayed by Anita Barone. Carol wasn’t seen again until several episodes later, and when she reappeared she was played by Jane Sibbett instead. It turns out Barone left the role because she didn’t think it was big enough and wanted to pursue something more full-time.