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15 Shows That Survived Big Cast Changes

February 22, 2021 301 votes 51 voters 1k views15 items

List RulesVote up the shows that continued being good after major characters were added and/or subtracted.

Any show that lasts long enough is inevitably going to be confronted with personnel challenges. When such a shift takes place, we tend to notice. Some shows have transformed the turnover into a feature rather than a bug, some have lived on with inspired new character additions that kept the show fresh, and some have stumbled.

And that's where things get fun! Below you'll find shows with big cast changes that thrived with actors leaving or joining a series well into its established run. We're not talking about pilot recasts; we're talking heavy-duty, Diane-into-Rebecca kind of stuff here, folks. If - for whatever reason - you find yourself thinking about TV shows that replaced entire casts, start your brainstorming session with this very list featuring many, many popular shows that survived major casting shakeups. 

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  • Photo: Fox

    Major Departures: Dr. Allison Cameron (Jennifer Morrison), Dr. Lisa Cuddy (Lisa Edelstein)

    Major Additions: Dr. Remy "Thirteen" Hadley (Olivia Wilde), Dr. Chris Taub (Peter Jacobson), Dr. Lawrence Kutner (Kal Penn), Dr. Amber Volakis (Anne Dudek), Dr. Martha M. Masters (Amber Tamblyn), Dr. Jessica Adams (Odette Annable), Dr. Chi Park (Charlyne Yi)

    How'd They Handle It? At the conclusion of House's third season, the titular eccentric Dr. Gregory House (Hugh Laurie) sees his initial diagnostic team disband. Dr. Eric Foreman (Omar Epps) stays on, but fellow leads Dr. Robert Chase (Jesse Spencer) and Dr. Allison Cameron (Jennifer Morrison) depart the team while working elsewhere around Princeton–Plainsboro Teaching Hospital. The characters would remain on the show beyond the dissolution of the diagnostic team, but new recruits would need to be drafted, too, and so the cast expanded. Morrison would depart the show altogether after the sixth season, returning as a guest star for the show's finale in Season 8, "Everybody Dies."

    New Season 4 diagnostic team members Dr. Remy "Thirteen" Hadley (Olivia Wilde), Dr. Chris Taub (Peter Jacobson), and Dr. Lawrence Kutner (Kal Penn) would quickly endear themselves to audiences. Additional roster churn occurred when Kal Penn left House at the end of Season 5 to work as a staffer in President Barack Obama's administration, and Dr. Kutner was finished off. By the time series lead Dr. Lisa Cuddy (Lisa Edelstein) departed ahead of the show's eighth and final season, the bloom was off the rose. Toward the end of the series, several new team members joined the show. The show's four constants were House himself, Wilson, Dr. Eric Foreman (Omar Epps), and Dr. Robert Chase (Jesse Spencer). The most important element of any new character was ultimately their interplay with House.

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  • Photo: BBC One

    Major Departures: First Doctor (William Hartnell), Susan Foreman (Carole Ann Ford), Barbara Wright (Jacqueline Hill), Ian Chesterton (William Russell)

    Major Additions: Second Doctor (Patrick Troughton), Third Doctor (Jon Pertwee), Fourth Doctor (Tom Baker), Fifth Doctor (Peter Davison), Sixth Doctor (Colin Baker), Seventh Doctor (Sylvester McCoy), Eighth Doctor (Paul McGann - he only appeared as the Doctor in a 1996 television movie, and never in a series season as a lead), Ninth Doctor (Christopher Eccleston), Tenth Doctor (David Tennant), Eleventh Doctor (Matt Smith), Twelfth Doctor (Peter Capaldi), Thirteenth Doctor (Jodie Whittaker)

    How'd They Handle It? Doctor Who incorporated cast departures into its narrative early on. The 58-year-old show has recast everybody's favorite Time Lord 12 times thus far. Essentially, the Doctor shakes off his or her physical form and regenerates once every few seasons. The Doctor's new physical manifestation retains the memories of all prior Doctors, but also has a new personality, allowing the series to fit the evolving personality of its leads much in the same way the James Bond movies have shifted during each recasting. There have also been various re-castings depending on individual storylines (such as when John Hurt portrayed a "War Doctor" iteration of the character during the Matt Smith/Eleventh Doctor era), or earlier Doctor incarnations being unavailable to reappear in later seasons (First Doctor William Hartnell was replaced multiple times when his character reappeared in later episodes), but in terms of the Doctor's casting in the main series (and the one aforementioned TV movie), there have been 13 total Doctors.

    Each Doctor is joined in their adventures by a companion character, a (somewhat) relatable everyman figure who operates as the audience's way into the Doctor's extraordinary science fiction universe and is a grounding moral reference point for the occasionally-aloof extraterrestrial Doctor. The dynamic between the Doctor and their companion(s) varies wildly from series to series, and, after the First Doctor, each successive Doctor tends to cycle through multiple companions throughout the course of their travels.

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  • Photo: NBC

    Major Departures: Coach Ernie Pantusso (Nicholas Colasanto), Diane Chambers (Shelley Long)

    Major Additions: Woody Boyd (Woody Harrelson), Dr. Frasier Crane (Kelsey Grammer), Dr. Lilith Sternin (Bebe Neuwirth), Rebecca Howe (Kirstie Alley)

    How'd They Handle It? Cheers grappled with its first big character absence when co-star Nicholas Colasanto, who played the heavily concussed ex-MLB hitting coach Ernie Pantusso, tragically passed in 1985. He was replaced with Woody Boyd (Woody Harrelson), a younger variation on the same lovable dimwit bartender character.

    Lead actor Shelley Long moved on after the fifth season concluded in 1987 to pursue a film career and spend more time with her young daughter. Her pretentious, bookish Diane Chambers was replaced by the no-nonsense corporate manager Rebecca Howe, tasked with running the titular Boston watering hole after its sober owner, ex-baseball pro Sam "Mayday" Malone (Ted Danson), sells Cheers to travel. Invariably, Sam's absence is short-lived, and soon, he returns to the bar... this time, as a mere employee. Both Long and Alley each netted an Emmy for their work as the main foil to Sam Malone.

    Funnily enough, the show ended when Danson wanted to wrap things up in pursuit of other roles himself. 28 years later, Danson has become one of the most beloved mainstays over a series of post-Cheers hit shows.

    Cleverly, the show began to look beyond the venue's employees and examined its degenerate patrons beyond first-season barflies Norm (George Wendt) and Cliff (John Ratzenberger). We met one of the show's best characters this way - egghead psychiatrist Dr. Frasier Crane arrived in the third season as a short-term love interest for Diane. Few could have predicted that a character originally intended for a brief arc would wind up far outpacing Diane's tenure on the show. Frasier stuck around through the rest of the show's entire eleven-season run and then got his own beloved eponymous network spinoff sitcom when Cheers turned off the lights for the last time in 1993. Frasier would reign for 11 Emmy-winning seasons of its own.

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  • Photo: HBO

    Major Departures: Ned Stark (Sean Bean), Robert Baratheon (Mark Addy), Catelyn Stark (Michelle Fairley), Viserys Targaryen (Harry Lloyd), Robb Stark (Richard Madden), Joffrey Baratheon (Jack Gleeson), Jeor Mormont (James Cosmo), Tywin Lannister (Charles Dance), Gendry (Joe Dempsie), Tommen Baratheon (Dean-Charles Chapman)

    Major Additions: Davos Seaworth (Liam Cunningham), Stannis Baratheon (Stephen Dillane), Melisandre (Carice van Houten), Margaery Tyrell (Natalie Dormer), Tormund Giantsbane (Kristofer Hivju), Brienne of Tarth (Gwendoline Christie), Ramsay Bolton (Iwan Rheon), Gilly (Hannah Murray), Daario Naharis (Michiel Huisman), Missandei (Nathalie Emmanuel), Ellaria Sand (Indira Varma), Jaqen H'ghar (Tom Wlaschiha), Roose Bolton (Michael McElhatton), The High Sparrow (Jonathan Pryce), Grey Worm (Jacob Anderson)

    How'd They Handle It? Game of Thrones announced itself loud and clear to TV audiences when the show boldly removed its lead character, House Stark patriarch Ned (Sean Bean), in the stunning penultimate episode of its first season, "Baelor." The rest of Ned's brood, including Ned's presumed bastard son (who turns out not to have been Ned's progeny at all) Jon Snow, quickly became the emotional center of the show, along with Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) - until she took a very late heel turn, anyway. 

    As longform narratives transitioned to a streaming world, Game of Thrones remained a relic of television's recent past, where the biggest shows were must-see TV at their scheduled air time - primo water cooler fodder. Characters are surprisingly (and brutally) slain in a wide variety of memorable methods over and over again as allegiances shift and luck runs out, especially if you belong to the Stark family tree.

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