Second Best

Top 10 Sitcom Replacements

Monday’s new ‘Two and a Half Men’ with Ashton Kutcher had viewers hooked. See more shows that recast leads!

CBS; AP Photo

CBS; AP Photo

Two and a Half Men

When Charlie Sheen was fired from Two and a Half Men after overdosing on a drug called Charlie Sheen, the race to replace him heated up faster than the 2012 election. Though Hugh Grant was reportedly ready to sign at the 11th hour, the deal fell apart and the former That '70s Show star Ashton Kutcher was announced as the new Man. Sheen eventually tweeted a gracious concession speech and the two bonded at the 2011 Emmy Awards on the even of Kutcher's first episode. When it came time for Sheen to present the award for Best Lead Actor in a Comedy, he told the world he wished "nothing but the best for this upcoming season. We spent eight wonderful years together, and I know you will continue to make great television." The tiger-blooded actor's wishes came true. The debut of Two and a Half Men with Kutcher lived up to the hype, drawing in an impressive 27.7 million viewers for its season nine premiere on Monday.

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After practically inventing the will-they-or-won't-they storyline on sitcoms, Cheers had to confront the loss of Sam Malone's love interest, Diana Chambers, in its fifth year when Emmy winner Shelley Long left the series to pursue a movie career. ( Cheers had already proved it could replace a member of the bar family when "Coach" actor Nicholas Colasanto died in the middle of season three. The next year, there was a new beloved bartender in the lineup—Woody Harrelson's Woody Boyd.) That same season, Kirstie Alley was introduced as Sam's new foil Rebecca Howe, a role that also won her an Emmy, and kept the series going for six more years.

AP Photo


Like Cheers, NewsRadio had to cope with the unexpected death of a cast member when Phil Hartman was murdered by his wife in 1998, between the fourth and fifth seasons. The series explained that Hartman's character, Bill McNeal, had died of a sudden heart attack, and former Saturday Night Live costar Jon Lovitz was introduced at the start of season five to replace him. "I'm doing this for Phil," Lovitz said of the NewsRadio gig. "There's nothing more to say." After an awkward fifth season, the series was canceled.

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Happy Days

Having already replaced Pat Morita's Arnold with Al Molinaro's Al in season four, Happy Days faced a true casting crisis after its seventh season when Ron Howard left the show to pursue his directing career. His character, Richie Cunningham, was written out of the series to join the Army—which was considerably more graceful an exit than that of Richie's older brother, Chuck, who was simply erased from the family in season two—but by then the show that inspired the phrase "jumping the shark" had already jumped it. The next year, Richie's cousin Roger Phillips (played by Ted McGinley) was introduced to fill Howard's high tops, but Happy Days was never quite the same. The series continued for four more years and McGinley would go on to be (unfairly) known as a sitcom killer, when he was also brought in as a replacement character on Married With Children in 1989.

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Spin City

When Parkinson's disease forced Michael J. Fox to leave Spin City in 2000 after four seasons, the creators gave him a fitting sendoff—his character, Mike Flaherty, went to work as a Washington lobbyist and met a senator there named Alex P. Keaton (Fox's Family Ties character). The next year, a new deputy mayor was introduced—womanizing bad boy Charlie Crawford, played by Charlie Sheen. Though Sheen won a Golden Globe for the role, the series was canceled after two more seasons, and the following year he was given his own sitcom— Two and a Half Men.

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In the history of sitcoms, perhaps no actor's replacement caused more punchlines than when Dick Sargent was substituted for Dick York's Darrin Stephens on Bewitched in 1969. No explanation was ever given to viewers, although considering that the series was about a witch married to a mortal, it was conceivable that Elizabeth Montgomery's Samantha just put a spell on her husband. (In reality, York had a debilitating back injury that forced him to leave the show after five seasons.) Bewitched continued for another four seasons—a casting switcheroo that was later topped on Roseanne, where Lecy Goranson and Sarah Chalke traded portraying Becky Connor in seasons six through nine.

Everett Collection

Designing Women

After its fifth season, Designing Women faced a double dilemma when two main cast members announced they were leaving the show. Delta Burke's drama-queen character Suzanne Sugarbaker moved to Japan and sold her share of the business to her cousin Allison (played by Julia Duffy), and Jean Smart's ditzy Charlene went off to England, only to be replaced by her ditzier sister, Carlene (Jan Hooks). Duffy's character never quite caught on with the audience and was written out after a year, and by the time original star Annie Potts announced she was leaving after season seven, there was no need to replace her— Designing Women was canceled.

Everett Collection


In television, even having your name in the title is no guarantee that you won't be replaced. In 1987, after two years with a hit series for star Valerie Harper, the producers of Valerie decided they wanted to focus on the show's younger stars—particularly Jason Bateman. Harper disagreed with the creative choice, and one fatal car accident later, she was written out of her own show (which was renamed Valerie's Family: The Hogans and later The Hogan Family) and replaced by Sandy Duncan. The Harper-less series ran for three more seasons on NBC and then it did what few shows ever attempt, jumping networks to CBS—where it was canceled after a year.

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Three's Company

Much like Two and a Half Men, Three's Company had to replace one of its title characters after the fifth season, when star Suzanne Somers got into a contract battle with the network. (Two years earlier, the show had survived the loss of landlords Stanley and Helen Roper, who got a spin-off and were replaced by Don Knotts' Mr. Furley.) To fill Somers' role as Chrissy Snow, the show brought in Jenilee Harrison as Chrissy's even dumber cousin Cindy. And after two years, Priscilla Barnes became the third roommate until John Ritter's Jack Tripper fell in love, got married, and received his own spin-off as a wedding gift.

Everett Collection


When a sitcom is set during the Korean War, there are bound to be some casualties. The first to go on M*A*S*H was Wayne Rogers' Trapper John McIntyre, who was written out of the series after a contract dispute in season three and replaced with Mike Farrell's B. J. Hunnicutt, who remained until its final season. But perhaps no loss was as shocking as when McLean Stevenson left the unit to return home in season three—only to have his plane shot down before making it back. (Stevenson's Colonel Blake was replaced by Harry Morgan's Colonel Potter the following year.) Two years after that, Larry Linville's Frank Burns got his marching orders and was replaced by David Ogden Stiers' pompous surgeon Charles Emerson Winchester III. With Stiers' arrival, the tone of M*A*S*H shifted from pure sitcom to dramedy, which sustained the series six more years, until its 1983 finale—which held the record for 28 years as the most watched episode in television history.