Ranked: TV Character ReplacementsPublished on July 17, 2019. Updated June 22, 2020
Even the most successful television series run into trouble with casting. From dramatic exits, unexpected deaths, and characters being written out, many long-running series have seen major changes when it comes to its main characters and while some series have been as bold as to keep a character and simply replace the actor or actress, others take the safer route by bringing in a whole new character. Most of the time, fans aren’t so easily convinced to love a brand new character, but there have been times it has worked! Here are the best and worst TV character replacements on some of television’s most popular series:
20. Worst: Cindy Snow – Three’s Company
Three’s Company is one of TV’s most iconic sitcoms. At the time it premiered in 1977, the storyline of one man and two women living together was definitely risque, but John Ritter, Joyce DeWitt and Suzanne Somers were hard not love. The show was thrown into turmoil in season five however after Somers left because of a salary dispute, but the void was quickly filled with Jenilee Harrison in the role of Chrissy Snow’s cousin Cindy Snow. The character swap did not sit well with fans and it did not help that the writers didn’t even bother to create new material for Harrison’s Cindy Snow and simply used storylines and scripts that were meant for Somers and Chrissy. It wasn’t surprising then when Cindy Snow was quickly removed from the series and was replaced by the character of Terri Alden for seasons six, seven and eight, but the damage was done and the show never recovered from the poorly conceived character swap of Chrissy to Cindy.
19. Best: Valerie Malone – Beverly Hills, 90210
It is no secret that Shannen Doherty’s time on Beverly Hills, 90210 was tumultuous, and after one incident went too far the actress was removed from the series which left producers scrambling to decide what to do with her character Brenda Walsh. Thankfully, they decided not to go the tricky route of recasting the same character with a different actress and simply replaced the hole that Brenda left with a brand new character. Tiffani Thiessen was brought in to play Valerie Malone, a troublemaker to shake things up in contradiction to “good girl” Brenda Walsh. While fans were sad to see Brenda go, they quickly enjoyed the new drama that Valerie brought and while Brenda was only featured for four seasons, Valerie went on to star in five and return for a sixth as guest star.
18. Worst: Roger Phillips – Happy Days
Ron Howard had an interesting run on Happy Days because although his character was central, Richie Cunningham was actually supposed to outshine “The Fonz” but that isn’t exactly what happened. Despite the fact that Henry Winkler’s Arthur “Fonzie” Fonzarelli became the star of the show, Howard as Cunningham hung on for seven great seasons. When he left, the character was replaced with Roger Phillips, played by Ted McGinley, and unfortunately the character (and McGinley) were blamed for the slow downturn of the show. While Happy Days went on for four more seasons with Roger, it most definitely was not the same and eventually McGinley became known as a show killer because he continually joined popular series including Married…With Children and The Love Boat while they were already winding down and were cancelled soon after he joined the cast.
17. Best: Oliver and Lois – Smallville
Over the course of 10 seasons, many characters came and went on Smallville, but two had the most dramatic impact on shifting the series. After enduring a neverending “will they or won’t they” between Clark and Lana, the show finally introduced Lois Lane in season four. When it came to Smallville making the transition from the Clark Kent story to the Superman story, the show needed Lois Lane, and by the time of Kristen Kreuk’s exit as Lana in season seven, Lois had already become a fan favorite to carry on the series. Additionally, with Michael Rosenbaum’s Lex Luthor leaving the series after season seven, Justin Hartley as Oliver Queen/Green Arrow was the perfect male lead replacement. Thanks in large part to those two characters, Smallville was almost a completely different series in its last half of seasons as they helped guide it from a teen high school drama to a full fledged superhero series.
16. Worst: Wesley Cole – Lethal Weapon
Fans of Seann William Scott were waiting for what seemed like a very long time for the star’s major comeback, but it didn’t happen in the way anyone expected. After major behind-the-scenes drama on Fox’s Lethal Weapon series, star Clayne Crawford was fired, and while many weren’t sure that Lethal Weapon could carry on without key character Martin Riggs, Fox went right ahead with a replacement. Seann William Scott was brought in as Roger Murtaugh’s new partner Wesley Cole and while the character could have worked for any buddy-cop series, he was not an adequate replacement for Martin Riggs. The fact Riggs was no longer a part of Lethal Weapon combined with the fact many fans did not agree with Crawford’s firing means that the replacement character has not gone over well.
15. Best: East Dillon – Friday Night Lights
Friday Night Lights may have been critically acclaimed, but the show inexplicably suffered and came close to cancellation a few times. Already in a precarious situation, the show took a huge risk when it removed Coach Eric Taylor from West Dillon and the Panthers to instead coach at East Dillon. With many of the teenage characters of the first three seasons taking a back seat, fans then had to become accustomed to a whole new set of players, their friends and their families, and it worked! Before long, audiences became just as invested in Vince, Luke, Becky, Jess and more and season four became one of the most entertaining seasons. Although the series would only last for one more season afterward, the new cast of season four livened up the series in a big way.
14. Worst: Luke – The Ranch
One of the qualities that made Netflix’s The Ranch work so well was the chemistry between the three male leads: Ashton Kutcher, Sam Elliott, and Danny Masterson as Colt, Beau and Rooster Bennett. Understandably, fans were devastated when Masterson was fired from the series after after the first half of season three. In a response to the unplanned exit, Dax Shepard was brought in as Luke Matthews, the son of Beau’s late brother, as the show’s replacement for the third male lead. Despite the fact that Shepard is exceedingly funny and has a real-life friendship with Ashton Kutcher, the character didn’t fit in the same way Rooster did. The loss of Rooster changed the entire vibe of the series and the humor and storylines haven’t landed the same way with Luke Matthews in his place.
13. Best: Charlie Crawford – Spin City
It was incredibly unfortunate when Michael J. Fox had to leave the series Spin City after four amazing seasons. Fox was a driving force in Spin City becoming one of the most popular sitcoms on television thanks to his character Mike Flaherty, but when he had to leave because of his increasing battle with Parkinson’s disease, it seemed the series would meet an untimely end. Instead the network rolled the dice and hired Charlie Sheen in the replacement role of Charlie Crawford. The character became a huge and surprising success and along with Heather Locklear, who joined the show in season four as Caitlin Moore to take more focus off of Fox’s character, the two new characters helped carry Spin City through two more seasons even without Fox as Flaherty who was the heart and soul of Spin City.
12. In Between: Walden Schmidt – Two and a Half Men
Fans are torn when it comes to the surprising character replacement on Two and a Half Men. As perhaps one of the most memorable character swaps in TV history, many fans of the show were shocked when instead of the series coming to an end when Charlie Sheen was fired, the simply just introduced Ashton Kutcher as Walden Schmidt. It was seemingly ridiculous that an absurdly rich and good-looking single young guy would buy Charlie Harper’s house as is and agree to have Alan continuing to live there, but in many ways it worked. It came as a huge surprise when Walden Schmidt was able to not only charm fans into continuing to watch the series, but do so for four more seasons!
11. In Between: Clay and Quinn – One Tree Hill
There is still a sore spot in the hearts of One Tree Hill fans when it comes to the exit of Peyton Sawyer and Lucas Scott at the end of season six. It was a bold choice for The CW to carry on with One Tree Hill after the central couple left, but in fact their exit seemed to prove to fans that the series had evolved so much around them that the other characters could easily support the series on their own. To help the transition, two new characters were brought in to even out the storylines with Robert Buckley as Clay Evans and Shantel VanSanten as Quinn James. Before long fans were just as invested in the two and their developing relationship as they were the original characters, and their presence helped to build out new storylines and make One Tree Hill feel new again as it went on for three more seasons. Although many fans still enjoyed One Tree Hill in the absence of Peyton and Lucas and with Clay and Quinn in lead spots, many fans agree that the show could never fully replace the couple.
10. Worst: Beverly Ann – The Facts of Life
The Facts of Life had a great seven seasons before actress Charlotte Rae who starred as Edna Garrett decided she did not want to renew her contract and there was a huge void to fill in the series. In response, the character of Beverly Ann Stickle played by Cloris Leachman was brought in, and the response was not positive. Although the series continued on for two seasons with Beverly Ann in the motherly role, the character was a shock to the system and seemed awkward in terms of chemistry with Tootie, Blair, Natalie and Jo.
9. Best: Jim and CJ – 8 Simple Rules
8 Simple Rules (For Dating My Teenage Daughter) was one of the best family sitcoms on TV in the early 2000s with a perfect cast, but after the shocking and tragic death of main star John Ritter in 2003, many didn’t know how there could be a show without him. Not willing to give up on the fantastic series after the sudden loss, the network scoped out some big names to fill the void, even though fans were skeptical the show could carry on. Legendary actor James Garner ended up taking on the role of Jim Egan, the children’s grandfather, and the results were surprising. It was hard not to love what the addition of Jim brought to the show, and although no one could ever replace Ritter, Garner as Jim and David Spade as CJ were able to save the series from an untimely cancellation.
8. Worst: Lucy Bennett – Scrubs
It is never easy to carry on with a series after the exit of the main character, and after eight seasons it might have made more season for Scrubs to simply come to an end when Zach Braff left the series as Dr. John Michael “J.D.” Dorian. Instead, Lucy Bennett, played by Kerry Bishe, was brought in to become the lead/narrator for the show’s ninth season which would quickly become its last. A lot was changed in season nine, but the biggest complaint was Bennett as the replacement for J.D.
7. Best: David Rossi – Criminal Minds
Writers were left stunned in the early seasons of Criminal Minds when actor Mandy Patinkin decided he no longer wanted to be a part of the series and did not show up for work for the season three premiere table read. While Jason Gideon was a crucial part to the development of the series in its first two seasons, they found the perfect replacement with Joe Mantegna’s David Rossi. The characters themselves were nearly polar opposites, but Rossi’s chemistry with the rest of the BAU worked a lot better in developing the team and their dynamics in those crucial early seasons of the show. While losing Gideon was unfortunate, the show would not have been the same if David Rossi hadn’t replaced him.
6. Worst: Kaitlin Cooper – The O.C.
There was little doubt that The O.C. was going to suffer after the show’s lead character Marissa Cooper was killed in a car accident, but the series didn’t do itself any favors with who it chose to carry the storylines after Barton exited the show and took her character with her. Both Taylor Townsend and Marissa’s little sister Kaitlin Cooper were promoted to lead characters and combined they were more annoying than Marissa ever was, and ratings suffered greatly. It really was not shocking when the series was cancelled in January 2007 one month before the fourth season came to an end.
5. Best: Rebecca Howe – Cheers
When a series runs for eleven incredible seasons, it is common for the cast to see some shakeups. Over the years, the cast of Cheers remained mostly the same, but one character swap has always stood out to fans. Shelley Long starred as Diane Chambers, a well-educated and upper-class woman who is forced to work as a cocktail waitress after a devastating split. Diane became a focal point of the series thanks to her complicated relationship with Sam Malone played by Ted Danson. When the character of Diane left following season five, the female lead was replaced by Kirstie Alley as Rebecca Howe. Fans didn’t realize what the show was missing until Rebecca came along, who was in many ways the opposite of Diane, and she was a breath of fresh air from the toxic relationship that went on far too long between Diane and Sam.
4. Worst: Tiffany Wells – Charlie’s Angels
Although Charlie’s Angels is one of the most iconic series of the ’70s, it had its fair share of casting drama and struggled through five seasons before finally calling it quits. Although it is perhaps Farah Fawcett’s most well-known role she only starred as Jill Munroe on the series for season one, meanwhile it was Kate Jackson as Sabrina Duncan that led the series. After Jackson left following season three, Sabrina Duncan was replaced by Tiffany Welles, played by Shelley Hack, and the series greatly suffered. The character was instantly disliked by fans and Hack was let go before the conclusion of the season. Producers tried to revive the series and the character error by adding Tanya Roberts as Julie Rogers in season five, but unfortunately the damage had been done and the series had lost 40% of its viewership during the time that Tiffany Welles was a lead character in season four.
3. Best: Paige Matthews – Charmed
There is no denying that Prue Halliwell was an integral part of Charmed being such a major success for its first three seasons, but while the show could have easily failed after the character was killed off and Shannen Doherty exited, a brilliant replacement character was brought in instead. Charmed took a big chance by adding Rose McGowan as the Halliwell’s long lost half-sister Paige Matthews in replacement of the older sister Prue and while audiences could have rejected the change in characters, which would have spelled doom for the series, they instead embraced Paige who added more personality to the show and the series went on for five more very successful seasons.
2. Worst: Randy Peterson – That ’70s Show
The end of season seven of That ’70s Show brought major disappointment to fans as both Topher Grace and Ashton Kutcher left the show as Eric Forman and Michael Kelso. Although the series probably should have ended there, producers decided to instead try to replace Eric Forman with a brand new character. In the eighth season audiences were introduced to Randy Peterson, played by Josh Meyers, and it has gone down in television history as one of the worst character replacements of all time. Created as a hybrid between Eric and Kelso, the character really did not make sense and certainly did not fit in with the group who had established so much chemistry. To make matters worse there was a forced romance between Randy and Donna, when every fan knew that it was Donna and Eric that belonged together. It wasn’t a shock when the series finally ended at the end of season eight, and things were made right with Randy being pushed to the background and Kelso and Eric came back to wrap the series up.
1. Best: Emily Prentiss – Criminal Minds
After so many seasons, Criminal Minds has seen many characters come and go, with many returning as special guest stars, but one of the best character replacements came very early on in the series. Many Criminal Minds fans might not remember the early seasons, but the series started out with Lola Glaudini in the lead female role of Elle Greenaway. After Glaudini decided to exit the series in season two however, Paget Brewster was brought in as the replacement character Emily Prentiss, and it was the best decision for the series. Prentiss became a beloved character and integral to several plot developments that have carried the series for nearly 15 seasons. The character became so popular that fans launched a petition when Brewster and A.J. Cook, who plays JJ, were released from their contracts prior to season six and were slotted to be replaced by two new characters. The backlash was so severe that the two stars were reinstated for season seven, and while Brewster officially took her exit after season seven her replacement of Jeanne Tripplehorn as Alex Blake just did not bring the same energy and chemistry with the team that Prentiss had, and she once again became a series regular in season 12.