Actors Talk About What It Was Like To Join A Hit Sitcom In The Middle

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Vote up the surprising stories about actors trying to fit in on already-established shows.

There are many reasons why an actor could join a successful television show in the midst of the series' run. One of the original stars could quit. Or be fired. Or (sadly) pass away. Or the producers might want to add a totally new character to move the show in a new direction or just add a new face to the existing cast.

Whatever the reason, joining a successful show mid-run often comes with challenges for the actor. They might be resented by the cast members who have been on the show from the start, they might struggle to connect with their part, or maybe the fans of the show don't warm up to them. Or the actor might face any one of many other challenges. On occasion, the actor may actually fit seamlessly into the cast and crew. 

Below,  actors talk about their experiences when they were cast in a successful sitcom during its run.

  • Woody Harrelson Got Challenged By The Cast Of ‘Cheers’ At Basketball, Arm Wrestling, Etc - But Crushed Them All
    Photo: NBC

    The cast and crew of Cheers were badly shaken when Nicholas Colasanto, who played “Coach,” died from a heart attack in the midst of the show's third season. To replace Colasanto, the network wanted a younger character who was similar to “Coach." As Cheers' co-creator Les Charles explained to The Hollywood Reporter, “We settled on a Tom Sawyer/Huck Finn type from the Midwest. We cast the role and then our casting director said there’s someone you should look at.”

    That someone turned out to be 23-year-old Woody Harrelson. The actor impressed during his audition particularly well - he actually cried when his character was told of “Coach's” death. As Les Charles commented, “Ted [Danson, the series' star] says to me, ‘I know the other guy is on-the-nose but there’s something different about this guy.’ He had this intensity and so he was our guy.”

    But that didn't mean everything went smoothly once Harrelson joined the cast at the beginning of Season 4. As Cheers' co-creator/director James Burrows recalled to GQ, the actor's age and athleticism made some of the other actors get in their feelings: “In the first episode, [Harrelson's character] leaps over the bar, and that p*ssed Teddy [Danson] off: ‘This young whippersnapper…’ Teddy started going to the gym.”

    Danson disagreed, sort of, although he admitted Harrelson had to pass a series of challenges to be accepted:

    I don't know if I went to the gym, [but] Woody is 24, and at that point I was like 37, which is when you realize you're no longer 24. So in walked Woody, who was instantly great, but offstage, it was [all] testosterone. There was a half-court [on the lot], and the guys used to play basketball right before the show. We took him out to give him a lesson, and he kicked our *sses. All right, we'll arm-wrestle. I still have, like, tendinitis in my elbow. He was just wiping the floor with me. John, who has good, strong legs, leg-wrestled him. Woody cleaned everybody's clock in everything. Then we got less physical and went to chess, and he whipped our *sses with chess. I didn't have a brother, so Woody became my brother. And brothers can be incredibly competitive and knock the s*** out of each other, but they know they won't cross a line. I loved him.

  • Mary Tyler Moore Jokingly Threatened To 'Veto' Betty White's Appearance on 'The Mary Tyler Moore Show'
    Photo: CBS

    Betty White may be best remembered for starring in the sitcoms The Golden Girls and Hot in Cleveland, but it was a role in another sitcom that began her ascent from “The First Lady of Game Shows” to comedy legend.

    In 1973, White was cast in the role of the “Happy Homemaker” Sue Ann Nivens on The Mary Tyler Moore Show. Nivens, who was the host of a television cooking show and made no secret about her interest in men and sex, clashed frequently with Moore's news producer Mary Richards.

    The two actors were friends in real life, and in her memoir, If You Ask Me (And Of Course You Won't), White recalled telling Moore about getting a guest spot on the latter's sitcom:

    I dialed Mary’s number and said, “Guess who is coming on your show next week?” When I told her, she said, “Oh, no, you don’t! I may not butt into the show often, but I do have veto power!” With that kind of response, I knew she was just as tickled by the idea as I was.

    The character of the sex-craved Nivens was so popular that White became a series regular for the remainder of the show's run. She ended up winning two Primetime Emmy Awards for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series for her portrayal of Nivens. 

  • Kirstie Alley Showed Up To Her First ‘Cheers’ Cast Meeting Dressed As Shelley Long To Break The Tension
    Photo: NBC

    Although Cheers  boasted an ensemble cast, much of the show revolved around the relationship between the ex-MLB player/bar owner Sam (Ted Danson) and the intellectual, flighty, pretentious waitress Diane (Shelley Long). So when Long decided to leave the show after Season 5, the producers looked to replace Long with a character who would be the opposite of Diane. They asked Kirstie Alley to audition:

    As Alley recalled to GQ:

    I had seen Cheers twice, I think. … When I got the heads-up that they wanted to see me, I was doing a movie with Sidney Poitier, and I was all full of myself: 'I'm a movie star! They'd be lucky to have me.' If I'd been watching the show, I'd probably have been nervous.

    Alley was cast to play Rebecca Howe, who managed the bar for the corporation that bought it from Sam after his breakup with Diane. The character was originally written to be a real jerk, but at the first run-through, it was clear that the character wasn't funny. So, it underwent a rewrite. Or as Alley explained: “They started writing Rebecca more like I am - a little klutzy and self-deprecating. That's why it worked; I fit in with the rest of the losers.”

    The actor was determined to break the ice with her new co-workers. As assistant director Brian Ellis told GQ:

    Kirstie showed up for the first script reading dressed as Shelley, with a blonde wig on. And it was so funny, that kind of [attitude]: “Okay, she can make fun of herself. This is going to be interesting to see.” She fit right in.

  • Kelsey Grammer Got Physically Threatened In Real Life For ‘Trying To Break Up Sam & Diane’ In 'Cheers'
    Photo: NBC

    Kelsey Grammer's performance as the pompous psychiatrist Dr. Frasier Crane on Cheers was so good that it resulted in NBC spinning off the character for his own show, Frasier. The actor ended up winning four Primetime Emmy Awards for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series for his performance in the role.

    The character was introduced on Cheers as a rival to Sam (Ted Danson) for Diane's (Shelley Long) affections. As Cheers' co-creator Les Charles explained to GQ in 2012: “We'd never had a real threat to Sam and Diane's relationship. I think our inspiration [for Frasier] was the role Ralph Bellamy used to play in Cary Grant movies - the guy the lady falls in love with but it isn't real. You just know he doesn't have the sexual dynamism Grant does.”

    Some of the show's fans were not happy about this idea. Glen Charles, another of the show's creators, told GQ:

    Kelsey told me one time [that] after his first season, he was in a bar, and this guy walks up and says, “Are you that pin-d*ck that plays Frasier?” He was actually upset that Frasier was coming between Sam and Diane.

    Les Charles added:

    That was a really common reaction to Kelsey. We'd get horrible fan mail, or anti-fan mail, about Kelsey breaking up Sam and Diane or coming between them.

    Grammer himself noted that the show's creators kept most of that type of viewer response from him, for which he was thankful.