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Making the Television Grade: 5 of the Best and Worst TV Show Replacements Ever
In Hollywood, there's an unwritten rule that television show recasts don't often guarantee success. There's the risk of insulting fans of the previous star who departed on either good terms or from lousy circumstances. Soap operas often recast fan favorites on a daily basis with some gaining more sucess than others (Peter Bergman as Y&R's Jack and Erika Slezak as OLTL's Viki). On an established show, recasts are usually brought in to allow a long running series to gracefully retire and to also get a few additional seasons out of it.
On a newer series, a new addition allows the audience to get to see another side of a show plagued with a major leading man problem that sometimes works. Of course, there are a fair share of recasts that don't simply work from the start and are just pure disaster. Here are a list of five television replacements that were successful and five that didn't for various reasons. Read on to find out if you agree or disagree with the list.
The Gold Standard
Ted Danson (CSI: Crime Scene Investigation)- Sure, he's no William Petersen, but he's still a vast improvement from Laurence Fishburne's depressing portrayal of Ray Langston. Danson's addition to the cast has added a sense of quirky humor that the series needed for its 12th season. His chemistry with departing star Marg Helgenberger is interesting but bittersweet with her pending exit. If the series utilized Danson in the right way, his D.B. Russell could be on a lot longer than Fishburne ever was.
Jimmy Smits (NYPD Blue)- Smits was tasked to replace David Caruso in the middle of season two of the series after his bitter departure from the show. His Bobby Simone was filled enough vulnerability and his genuine chemistry with co-star Kim Delaney made audiences root for him. Simone's tragic death ultimately left a huge void that Dennis Franz's later partners (Mark-Paul Gosselaar and Rick Schroder) could never fill. It's still hard not to tear up when thinking of Smits' final scenes as Simone. It's a feeling that has never been duplicated in his starring roles on the failed Cane and Outlaw.
Sam Waterston/Jerry Orbach (Law & Order)- Waterston and Orbach's arrivals to the NBC show was part of a large cast reshuffling effort that continued through its 20 season run. Orbach's arrival in the middle of the third season as the gruff but lovable Det. Lennie Briscoe left such an impact on the show that his departure after the 14th season was felt for the remainder of the series. His replacements never truly captured his multi-faceted portrayal of a flawed cop who loved his job, even though it wrecked his personal life. Waterston's arrival in the fifth season made his DA Jack McCoy the polar opposite of Michael Moriarity's Ben Stone. McCoy was ruthless, unethical and unpredictable in the court room. It also helped that his onscreen chemistry with former costar Jill Hennessy and his rapport with Linus Roache kept things interesting even when the story quality took a nose dive in the last few seasons.
Catherine Bell (JAG)- Despite a few false casting starts and a network change, Bell's nine season run as Lt. Col Sarah "Mac" MacKenzie was a successful in terms of recast standards. Her genuine chemistry with co-star David James Elliott also helped the transition a smooth one. It's just a shame that the last season left Elliott partially absent from the action with a substitute that just didn't work. Oh well, seasons two through nine are still worth watching nonetheless.
James Spader (The Practice and The Office)- Do you need to replace a departing nice guy star with someone darker? James Spader has become the go-to smug guy character to do the job. His Alan Shore made the final season of The Practice worth watching and gave him a spin-off in Boston Legal. His recent addition to The Office has given the show some much needed bite, but the show made the mistake of not giving him Steve Carrell's former position. Hopefully, that will be fixed soon.
Sandy Duncan (The Hogan Family)- What happens when you're asked to replace an established television star (Valerie Harper) on their sitcom that had their name in the title (1986's Valerie)? In the case of Harper's bitter departure with NBC over her salary, Duncan had to try her hardest to fill the void left by Harper who had one of the worst exits ever. Her character was killed off and Duncan came in as someone else to help the Hogan family cope. Sadly, her efforts and a few title changes (Valerie's Family and The Hogan Family) couldn't erase the sting left by Harper's exit. The show lasted until 1991, but it was never the same after the first season.
Ashton Kutcher (Two and a Half Men)- In terms of bitter exits, former Two and a Half Men star Charlie Sheen's was the worst. His exit after eight successful seasons was based on a personal and public implosion based on his own "winning" design. CBS was right in firing Sheen for burning down all of his goodwill bridges with the network that paid him so generously. Sheen's character was written off in a hasty death that seemed like a mix of karma for his bad boy behavior on and off camera. Kutcher's addition to the show gave the show a different tone as a naive playboy who didn't know his own appeal. The ninth season has had some funny moments, but it's no longer the same Men it once was. Hopefully, the ninth season will be its last.
Dick Sargent (Bewitched)- When Bewitched began its sitcom run in 1964, Dick York was Samantha's stressed out ordinary husband Darrin. Suddenly, York is out due to health problems and Dick Sargent replaced him in 1969 until the series concluded in 1972. It's a shame because York's quirky Darrin fared better than Sargent's straight man version. Watch the 1964-1969 years instead of Bewitched, because they are the best.
Sela Ward (CSI: NY)- When Ward replaced Melina Kanakaredes for season seven, she was initially a breath of fresh air who shook things up a little bit. Now that her character Jo Danville has become part of the canvas, she has become a little one note and could use something to shake up her character and the show to the core. Sooner rather than later.
Scrubs' Final Season- When a show switches networks and gets rid of most its cast members, it's not a stretch to believe that it won't survive for very long. Replacing Dave Franco for Zac Braff didn't help matters much either. Season nine was sadly the long running show's final season. The network should've ended at season eight when most of the original cast was still intact. That way it would've ended on a graceful note.
In the end, most television recasts are more of a miss than anything else. Let's the face that most recasts almost never make the audience forget about their predecessors. It just leaves a gigantic hole on the small screen that can't ever be fulfilled. When Michael J. Fox left Spin City, many believed that the show would sink without him. Charlie Sheen stepped into replace him as a very different character for two seasons, but the series was never the same without Fox.
It ultimately depends on how devoted to a television show you are and the original cast members. For procedural shows, it's best to keep in mind that cast members are often expendable. CSI Miami had Kim Delaney on for a blink and miss portion of the first season. She was never replaced, but she wasn't entirely missed either. Just keep an open mind when watching a television show, because someone could be leaving before you know it.