Top 10 TV Shows that Replaced Characters and Survived

When news broke last week that Ashton Kutcher would be replacing troubled actor Charlie Sheen on CBS’ hit sitcom Two and a Half Men, many saw it as proof positive then Men was done. How can they replace one of the lead actors and expect the show to continue? Well, let’s take a look at that a little more in depth.

The Cast of Two and a Half Men

First, Ashton will not be playing Charlie Harper. We don’t know what role he’ll be playing as of yet, but Ashton has stated he could not, and would not, replace Charlie Sheen. That’s a smart move on Ashton’s part. Say what you want about Charlie Sheen, but before he was known for being crazy, he was known for being a pretty great actor.

The Cast of That 70s Show

Second, Ashton and Charlie have completely different approaches to comedic acting. Charlie is more of a dry comedic actor, while Ashton is more into physical comedy. If you doubt Ashton’s comedic chops, go back and rewatch a few episodes of Ashton as Michael Kelso on That 70’s Show. Charlie Harper he ain’t, but he does know how to get a laugh.

Ashton the eye candy.

Third, Ashton appeals to a younger demographic. He knows the value of social media. He is one of the most popular celebrities on Twitter and finally, you know there are going to be a lot of women tuning in just to drool over Ashton. While Charlie Sheen is attractive in his own way, Ashton is your classic heartthrob. You want to bet plenty of women will be tuning in to see his sexiness on the small screen again.

Jon Cryer and Angus T. Jones are returning.

Fourth, Two and a Half Men was not the Charlie Harper show. I’ve honestly only watched a few episodes here and there, but Jon Cryer, Angus T. Jones and much of the rest of the cast is just as likable as Charlie. While Charlie was the star, the supporting cast is definitely strong enough to keep the show going if the writers use Ashton wisely.

Charlie has played the role of replacement.

Finally, to say a show can’t replace a lead actor and still be successful is just flat out wrong. It has been done and it has been done well. Some television shows have even changed lead actors several times and continued to be successful. Ten of the best examples make up this list. While some suffered slight drops in ratings, all of these shows went on for at least one more season – most lasting longer than that. While the fate of Two and a Half Men remains to be seen, I wouldn’t count it out just yet.

The Cast of Spin City: Before and After

10: Spin City

Before: Michael J. Fox

After: Charlie Sheen

Remember this? When Michael J. Fox had to leave his popular show Spin City due to the worsening symptoms of his Parkinson’s Disease? Who did they bring in to replace him? That’s right – the Warlock himself, Charlie Sheen. While Spin City did lose viewers after the switch, the show still ran for two more seasons, with Sheen even netting a Golden Globe for this work on the show.

The Two Darrins of Bewitched

09: Bewitched

Before: Dick York

After: Dick Sargent

The story of the two Darrins of Bewitched is Hollywood legend. While Dick York portrayed the role of Samantha’s husband Darrin on the beloved show for the first five seasons, a back injury that had gotten progressively worse throughout his time on the show forced him to leave. The show’s producers decided not to just replace the character, but recast the role; bringing in Dick Sargent to play Darrin. Ironically, Sargent had been the first choice for the role of Darrin but producers felt he was ‘too normal’. This might not really be the greatest example of a successful replacement though as the ratings did suffer. Even so, Bewitched stayed on the air for three more seasons with Darrin number 2.

Craig Kilborn and Jon Stewart

08: The Daily Show

Before: Craig Kilborn

After: Jon Stewart

This list wouldn’t be complete without The Daily Show. This is one of the very few examples of a show becoming more successful following the departure of a lead actor. Of course, this one is a bit different than your typical sitcom or drama but it still applies. When Stewart took over for Kilborn after the show’s first three years, the show went in a much different direction. It focused more on political humor which earned it much more prestige and a much larger core audience.

Steve Allen and Jay Leno

07: The Tonight Show

Before: Steve Allen

After: Johnny Carson, Jay Leno, Conan O’Brien (briefly), Jay Leno

If I’m including The Daily Show I have to include The Tonight Show. Sure The Tonight Show comes with a built in audience of loyalists, but that doesn’t make the task of taking over for a popular host any easier. Jay Leno did it well. Of course, things have changed a little bit with the whole Conan debacle, but this show remains a great example to show that if people like the premise, they’ll tune in no matter who is filling out the cast.

The Cast of Charmed: Before and After

06: Charmed

Before: Shannen Doherty

After: Rose McGowan

When Shannen Doherty left the cast of Charmed at the end of season three, she was replaced by Rose McGowan. Perhaps some die-hard Doherty fans were upset, but if they were, it didn’t make much of a difference in the ratings. The show remained successful after Shannen’s departure and ran for five more seasons.

The Cast of Charlie's Angels: Before and After

05: Charlie’s Angels

Before: Farrah Fawcett, Kate Jackson and Jaclyn Smith

After: Cheryl Ladd, Shelley Hack and Tonya Roberts

Of the three original angels, only Jaclyn Smith stayed with the show through it’s five season run. First Farrah left at the end of the first season and was replaced by Cheryl Ladd. Farrah returned throughout seasons three and four, but more cast changes followed with the departure of original Kate Jackson. Despite the ever changing cast, Charlie’s Angels remained popular through the majority of their five season run.

Lisa Bonet and Jasmine Guy

04: A Different World

Before: Lisa Bonet

After: Jasmine Guy

Originally created as a spin off of The Cosby Show, A Different World took a different direction when Lisa Bonet left the show due to her pregnancy at the end of the first season. Considering the show centered about Lisa’s character Denise, things needed to be seriously retooled to suit the change. Jasmine Guy was brought in and the focus was put more on the supporting cast as a whole. Following Lisa’s maternity leave, she returned to The Cosby Show. A Different World, on the other hand, went on to be fairly successful for a few more seasons before the ratings dropped and it was eventually cancelled.

The Cast of NYPD Blue: Before and After

03: NYPD Blue

Before: David Caruso

After: Jimmy Smits, Rick Schroder, Mark-Paul Gosselaar

David Caruso’s John Kelly was the lead character on NYPD Blue when the show began so when Caruso left at the end of the first season, people were a little interested to see where the show would go. Instead of outright replacing Caruso, the writers focused on bringing Dennis Franz to the forefront. As the show progressed, new characters were brought in to take over for Caruso, each with a fairly high success rate. Caruso later returned to television crime dramas as Lieutenant Horatio Caine on CSI: Miami.

The Cast of Cheers: Before and After

02: Cheers

Before: Shelly Long

After: Kirstie Alley

Cheers is one of the best examples of how to wisely replace lead actors without destroying the show.  First, following the death of Nicholas Colasanto who played Ernie ‘Coach’ Pantusso, the show brought in Woody Harrelson to portray dim-witted farm boy Woody Boyd. Two years later, at the conclusion of season five, Shelly Long chose to leave Cheers to focus on her film career. While many at the time questioned how Cheers would go on without Long considering the relationship between Long’s Diane and Ted Danson’s Sam was a focal point of the show, those questions were put to rest when season six premiered with fiery Kirstie Alley’s Rebecca. The show went on to run for six more wildly successful seasons.

The Cast of ER: Before and After

01: ER

Before: Pretty much the entire cast (George Clooney, Noah Wiley, Eriq La Salle, Julianna Marguilles, Sherry Stingfield

After: A whole lot of people including Linda Cardellini and John Stamos

ER is one of the best examples of a show surviving major casting changes. It survived losing Clooney. After that, it could pretty much survive anything. While the ratings dipped in later season, it lasted an impressive fifteen seasons making it the longest running primetime medical drama in American television history. With an incredible 124 Emmy nominations and 23 wins, ER did pretty well for itself, even with its revolving door cast.


So what does all this mean for Two and a Half Men and Charlie Sheen’s post sitcom career? Do you think he’s going to get another job in television? Sound off in the comments section below.