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Five Successful (and Unsuccessful) Replacement Characters

Lethal Weapon made headlines earlier this year when star Clayne Crawford, who played troubled cop Martin Riggs, was fired for being a right Mel Gibson on set. Not long after it was announced that Seann William Scott would be replacing him (and Riggs) for the show's third season. Replacing actors (and their characters) is not uncommon in television, but it's always a risky venture and can either make or break a show.

Here are some of times when it did (and didn't) work.

Warning: Spoilers Below


Who Did They Replace: Cathy Gale
Were They Successful: Completely.

A rare case of a successful replacement being replaced by an even more successful replacement. Honor Blackman took over as John Steed's partner when original star Ian Hendry left after season one. Two seasons later, Blackman herself left and was replaced by Diana Rigg as Emma Peel. Mrs. Peel was an instant hit with audiences and the show's popularity skyrocketed during her tenure.


Who Did They Replace: Daniel Jackson
Were They Successful: No.

Michael Shanks broke many hearts in 2002 when he quit playing Daniel Jackson, SG-1's resident history buff and unlikely heart-throb. Jackson was killed off/ascended to god status (don't ask) at the end of the show's fifth season. At the same time, Corin Nemec was introduced as Jonas Quinn, another good looking history nerd. He joined the team for season six, but was kinda bland and forgettable. So when Shanks returned to the show full time at the start of season seven, Quinn was quickly shoved back through the stargate.


Who Did They Replace: Phil Cerreta
Were They Successful: Unquestionably.

Law & Order really struggled to hold on to a senior detective during its first three seasons. George Dzundza quit after season one and his character, Max Greevey, was killed off at the start of season two. He was replaced by Paul Sorvino as Phil Cerreta, but he left nine episodes into season three. Fortunately, it was third time the charm when Jerry Orbach replaced him as Lennie Briscoe. Not only would Briscoe go on to become one of the series' longest serving characters, but he is undeniably the definitive Law & Order detective.


Who Did They Replace: Beverly Crusher.
Were They Successful: Nope.

Gates McFadden was fired from Next Gen at the end of the first season because head writer Maurice Hurley "had a bone to pick with her". At the start of season two it was revealed that Dr. Crusher had been reassigned and replaced with Diana Muldaur's Katherine Pulaski. A blatant McCoy rip-off who was constantly mean to fan favourite Data, Pulaski was deeply unpopular with pretty much everyone. After just one season, Pulaski was dropped off on planet Mandyville and (with Hurley also gone) McFadden was brought back as Crusher.


Who Did They replace: Prue Halliwell
Were They successful: Yes.

After reportedly fighting with co-star Alyssa Milano, Shannen Doherty left Charmed at the end of season three. Her character, eldest sister Prue, died off-screen and Rose McGowan was introduced in season four as long lost half-sister Paige. She didn't fight with Alyssa Milano and remained with the show for the rest of its eight season run.


Who Did They Replace: Angel
Were They Successful: Hell no.

David Boreanaz's brooding vampire with a soul left Sunnydale at the end of season three, relocating to LA to star in his own show. So for season four Buffy got a new love interest in the form of Marc Blucas as Riley, a college TA who was secretly a demon hunting soldier. Riley was pitched as the Superman to Angel’s Batman, but no one liked him and after only a season and a bit he was shipped out of town via airmail.


Who Did They Replace: Jeffrey Sinclair
Were They Successful: Absolutely.

Original lead Michael O'Hare departed the series after one season due to ill health. Tron star Bruce Boxleitner was brought in at the start of season two as the station new commander, Captain John Sheridan, and he fitted in so well that you’d be forgiven for thinking he’d been there the whole time.


Who Did They Replace: Sam Seaborn
Were They Successful: Not really.

When Rob Lowe left during season four, Joshua Malina was brought in to play Will Bailey, the new Deputy Communications Director. Despite Malina being a Aaron Sorkin vet and able to walk and talk with the best of them, Will always felt like a poor substitute for the charismatic Sam and never really escape his "new boy" statues. And once Sorkin left, it quickly became clear that show's new bosses had no idea what to do with the character, constantly moving him from one job to the next.


Who Did They Replace: John Kelly
Were They Successful: Yes.

David Caruso bailed on Steven Bochco and David Milch's hit crime show after just one season. He foolishly thought that a successful movie career awaited him. It did not. Anyway, the producers wasted in time in bringing in LA Law vet Jimmy Smits to replace him as Bobby Simone, Andy Sipowicz's new partner. The Sipowicz/Simone partnership was an instant hit with fans and Smits would remain with the show until his own departure in season six.


Who Did They Replace: Fox Mulder and Dana Scully
Were They Successful: No.

The X-Files was long past its best by the time David Duchovny decided to call it quits. Rather than wrap things up, creator Chris Carter instead made the foolish decision to try and continue the show without his iconic duo. Season eight introduced Robert Patrick and Annabeth Gish as Special Agents John Doggett and Monica Reyes, a sort of reverse Mulder and Scully (he was the skeptic, she was the believer). The new pairing took over as the main investigators for season nine, which still featured Gillian Anderson in a seriously reduced capacity, but it quickly became clear that audiences weren't interested in an X-Files without Mulder and barely any Scully. Ratings plummeted and a jittery Fox wasted no time in pulling the plug.
Mark Greig has been writing for Doux Reviews since 2011 More Mark Greig


  1. Way fun. Thanks so much, Mark.

    The two that meant the most to me were Riley Finn (hated him) and John Sheridan (loved him). Riley was the second worst character mistake they made on Buffy. But replacing the lead with Bruce Boxleitner was the smartest thing JMS did on Babylon 5. I doubt we would have gotten five full seasons without him.

  2. I guess the worst character mistake on Buffy was Dawn.

    JMS had to replace O'Hare because he resigned due to mental illness (which was revelead per agreement with JMS only after O'Hare died), but yeah picking up Bruce Boxleitner was the best thing that happened to B5. I still hold that show as my number 1 reason I love TV. (Not Buffy sorry, but that's a close 2nd)

    If I watched SG-1 beyond season 2 I would have an opinion on Jonas Quinn, but he was the trope namer on TV Tropes for a long while. Now the trope is just called SSS - Suspiciously Similar Substitute

  3. I suppose The Doctor from Doctor Who wouldn't really count in this kind of situation since that's really more of recast than a replacement. Perhaps the companions might but with all of the rotation it kind of becomes meaningless after a while.

    I've only gotten to the beginning of SG-1 Season 7 but I kind of liked Jonas Quinn myself. But I suppose it does make a bit more sense to hold on to Jackson when they were able to get him back.

    Billie I suppose the first biggest character mistake rhymes with Yawn?

  4. televisionandotherrantings, you got it in one. :)

  5. Riley might have been a bad replacement, but Buffy had two great replacement characters: Spike (officially replaced Cordelia, eventually replaced Angel) and Anya (spiritually replaced Cordelia). I don't know if they count, because they were introduced before the replaced characters left, but they were great replacements anyway. Also in that category: Taylor from The O.C.

    She didn't fight with Alyssa Milano

    LOL. Great list, Mark.

  6. Great list!!

    This is probably before your time, but for me, the most unsuccessful replacement was on "Alias Smith and Jones" in the early 1970s. After Pete Duel died, they recast his character, Hannibal Heyes, with actor Roger Davis (who had provided the voice-over commentary on the show). The show was cancelled soon thereafter.

    A successful replacement that was way before your time, was on "Wagon Train." After Ward Bond died five years into the show's run, the producers wisely did not recast his character, Major Seth Adams. Instead, they cast John McIntyre as the new wagon master, Christopher Hale, and the show ran for another six years.

  7. One unsuccessful change for me was when they replaced Phil Hartman with John Lovitz on News Radio. I understand that they had no choice with Hartman's death, but he was/is irreplacable.

  8. I really could not stand Dr. Pulaski and the way she constantly insulted Data. I'm glad they brought back Gates McFadden to play Dr. Crusher. I also couldn't watch X-Files without David Duchovny. B5 definitely got better by leaps and bounds with Bruce Boxleitner. I didn't mind the Jonas Quinn character on Stargate, but he was no Daniel Jackson.

    Some other series came to mind for me reading this article. A couple where they recast the actors were Bewitched (I didn't care for the second Darren), and Roseanne, with the Becky character. Others where they replaced characters were Mission Impossible (Martin Landau left and one Leonard Nimoy came aboard), Cheers (still okay post-Diane), CHIPs (not the same without Jon and Ponch as partners, though, looking back, I can't believe I liked the show as much as I did at the time), Beauty and the Beast (definitely not the same without Linda Hamilton), Earth: Final Conflict (totally messed up making cast changes), M*A*S*H (made several cast changes, but I thought all were for the better), and I don't think that Downton Abbey ever fully recovered from two particular main character deaths, though I still watched until the end. The one movie franchise that stands out to me in this category is, of course, the Bond films.

  9. Pulaski was the WORST!!! So annoying...

    And I feel bad for Jonas. I kind of liked the guy, probably could have grown into more if given a chance. But he was definitely no Daniel Jackson. :)

    Great list! :)

  10. CrazyCris! So good to see your name pop up! It's been awhile. :)

    And indeed, Jonas was no Daniel Jackson.

  11. You may or may not believe me but one of my very best friends actually prefer Pulaski to Crusher. ;-)

    (And no not Wesley Crusher.)

  12. Another change that didn't work for me was replacing Roy Scheider with Michael Ironside in SeaQuest. Of course, the plots got progressively more silly as the series went on, so he was probably glad to leave.

  13. Hey Billie! I'm dipping my toes back into the Blogging world. This time it was a rewatch of King Arthur (2004) that got me to my keyboard (always fun dissecting a movie!), and I'm trying to keep the momentum going. ;)

  14. Well, good for King Arthur for getting you back to the blogging world. And here it is!


  15. Thanks for sharing Billie! Hope you liked it. :)

  16. I was a big Charmed fan when Shannen Doherty was in it. Rose McGowan came along and the show deteriorated (not Rose's fault though, the writers/producers got sloppy).

    I kind of liked Jonas Quinn and Riley Finn!! But they had an impossible task to start with...


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