Thursday, March 16, 2017

TV Shows That Lost Major Stars

With the recent death of Bill Paxton and him having a new TV series in its first season leaving the future of the show questionable, and now with with CBS having moved the show to a Saturday night timeslot very probably signaling its demise, I wondered what other shows have lost a major character/cast member, and what affect that had on the shows.

Not all TV shows that lost major characters were due to the actor playing that character dying. Sometimes they just quit the show, due to problems on the set or due to illness.

Make Room for Daddy/The Danny Thomas Show (1953-1964)

At the end of its 3rd year on the air Make Room for Daddy was faced with a dilemma, I mean other than its low ratings. Jean Hagen who played the mother on the show had reached the end of her 3 year contract and decided not to renew. Well, shows at that time didn't have divorcees and they decided to take a risky move and have the mother die off-screen and they changed the name to The Danny Thomas Show.

Inarguably the move that saved the show was the end of I Love Lucy. ABC had cancelled The Danny Thomas Show at the end of its 4th year, and losing the I Love Lucy show CBS picked it up to put in the timeslot vacated by I Love Lucy. The Danny Thomas Show got a ratings boost from the move and in total lasted for 11 years on the air.

Bewitched (1964-1972)

Bewitched was, almost a pun, a cursed show throughout its run, and then some.

Alice Pearce played the Stephens' nosy neighbor Gladys Kravitz until her death during the second year from ovarian cancer, being replaced from the third year on by Sandra Gould. Marion Lorne played the absent minded and adorable Aunt Clara until her death from a heart attack in 1968, being replaced by the similarly absent minded Esmeralda played by Alice Ghostley.

The most memorable change in the series though was what is known as the two Darrins. Dick York played the role of Darrin Stephens from 1964 to 1969 until an increasingly debilitating back injury, suffered during the filming of They Came to Cordura (1959) and re-aggravated by a fall on the set of Bewitched forced him to leave the show; he was actually carried off the set unconscious in his last episode. Dick Sargent took over the role of Darrin from 1969 to 1972. Though the series lasted for 3 more years, the ratings dropped considerably after the departure of Dick York.

Doctor Who (1963-1989, original run)

Doctor Who took the loss of its main actor and turned it into a plot gimmick which allowed the show to continue with great, perhaps unequaled, success through many subsequent changes in its main actor.

William Hartnell was the original Doctor. He began the role in 1963, but as the show progressed in a time where they worked 48 weeks out of the year on production, his health deteriorated causing him to have trouble learning his lines. Faced with losing their main star, the shows producers came up with the idea that since The Doctor was an alien he could change his appearance. Hartnell left the show in 1966 with the setup that he had undergone a 'renewal' when the new actor, Patrick Troughton, had replaced him. Troughton's Doctor then underwent a 'change of appearance' when he left the show to be replaced by Jon Pertwee. From then on The Doctor would go through a regeneration, brought about by a catastrophic occurrence to his previous incarnation, when a new actor was brought on to play him.

M*A*S*H (1972-1983)

In one fell swoop at the end of its 3rd year, M*A*S*H lost 2 of its main stars, McLean Stevenson and Wayne Rogers. It's tough enough replacing one major cast member at the beginning of a new season, but two main cast members probably had some of the cast and crew checking the want ads. Especially since an arrogant killing off of a beloved character by vengeful producers so an option for returning to the show was not open, was not popular with its audience at the time. Yet, in a creative 2-part opening to its fourth year they were able to keep the audience and even continue for 8 more years. Larry Linville later left the show at the end of the 5th year and was replaced by David Ogden Stiers.

One of the things, if not the thing, that made the new cast changes successful is that the new characters were not carbon copies of the characters they replaced. B.J. Hunnicutt, played by Mike Farrell, was more reserved than Trapper John, and most especially faithful to his wife, something Trapper John never was. Colonel Sherman T. Potter, played by Harry Morgan, was more military and came with the backbone his predecessor Lt. Colonel Henry Blake was missing, not to mention that unlike Henry Blake, Potter was also faithful to his wife. David Ogden Stiers' character of Major Charles Emerson Winchester, tha thiiird, was arrogant and even more snobbish that his predecessor, Major Frank Burns, but unlike Burns he was compassionate and more than an equal to spar with Pierce, played by Alan Alda, and Hunnicutt.

Good Times (1974-1979)

Aside from the two Darrins on Bewitched, Good Times may well be the most notable, if not infamous cast change.

John Amos played the father on the show for the first 3 years. Like other shows Norman Lear produced Good Times dealt with social issues of the time, this one dealing with African Americans in the ghetto, and in particular dealing with poverty and inequality. Or at least that was the intended focus.

With the rising popularity of the J.J. character and his goofiness, mainly with young viewers, the producers focused more on him and this caused conflict between the producers and other cast members who felt the producers were creating a negative stereotype. Keep in mind this conflict was between cast and producers and not between the cast and Jimmie Walker whom they adored.

The most vocal of the cast members conflicting with producers was John Amos, and by the end of the 3rd year he was fired. At the beginning of the 4th year his character was out of state where he had gotten a good job and the family was looking forward to his return and relocating, but they received an unfortunate phone call that James Evans Sr. was killed in a car accident.

Well, this was not the end of the producers' problem as Esther Rolle was also dissatisfied with the show, especially the producers getting her character to date again so quickly and end up marrying, which she felt her character would not do, so she left at the end of the 4th year with the explanation that she would be moving away with Carl, to whom she is now engaged, to Arizona because of his recently diagnosed lung cancer.

One year without Esther Rolle and a new character having been introduced to the show, the ratings fell during the 5th year. Esther Rolle agreed to come back for only one more year, and they concluded everything in a series finale by the end of the 6th year without having been cancelled.

Spin City (1996-2002)

Michael J. Fox was actually diagnosed with Parkinson's Disease before he started on Spin City. He did not come out publicly with it until 1998 as it was progressing. During his 4th year on the show, dealing with Parkinson's and his work schedule were having a toll on him so the producers brought in Heather Locklear as a new character to take some of the workload off of him. Fox left at the end of the 4th year due to the advancing of his Parkinson's and to focus more attention on his Parkinson's foundation, The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research.

Even though the show only lasted for two more years after Fox left, being replaced by Charlie Sheen, I don't believe it was just the main character replacement that brought the show down, though this is just my opinion. With Fox in the lead the show was shot in New York, but when Fox left the venue was changed to Los Angeles. Though this would not change the theme of the show, it did mean a relocation for some of the actors who lived in New York and did not have confidence in the series continuing without Fox enough to relocate. This resulted in the loss of 3 other main characters. A total loss of 4 characters after 4 years is not an update, it's almost a spinoff in its own right. It's my opinion that the show would not have taken the ratings dive it did if they had not changed production venues.

There's more than one way to leave a TV show but death is certainly the most permanent. What follows are TV shows which lost a main character due to the actor playing them having died. Some were successful in continuing, most were not.

Wagon Train (1957-1962, NBC; 1962-1965, ABC)

Perhaps it was the premise of being an anthology show depending more on telling the stories of the guest stars each episode rather than the regulars that allowed it to continue after the death of its main star. Ward Bond played wagon master Major Seth Adams from 1957 until his death from a heart attack in 1961. He was replaced by actor John McIntire as wagon master Christopher Hale midway through the 4th year. The show continued 4 more years after that making it pretty successful despite the loss of its main star.

Bonanza (1959-1973)

Some could say that Bonanza was dead in the water by the time Dan Blocker, who played Hoss Cartwright, died in 1972 from a pulmonary embolism after gall bladder surgery. The show had been on for 13 years already, and you'd figure at some point one of the sons would have gotten laid by then. In an unusual turn for a TV show with such a popular and major character, rather than write his character off as having 'gone out of town' or having moved, the show acknowledged the death of Hoss. There was no joy on the Ponderosa after Blocker's death, and even if the show could have continued without him, it was cancelled, the rest of the cast didn't want to continue without Dan Blocker.

Petticoat Junction (1963-1970)

Bea Benaderet had been a successful and beloved actress for years playing supporting roles in many popular TV show including The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show and as Cousin Pearl on The Beverly Hillbillies. With Petticoat Junction she played the lead as Kate Bradley, owner of the Shady Rest Hotel and mother of the 3 hot chicks in the water tower. Bea Benaderet died of lung cancer and pneumonia in 1968.

The show had previously suffered the death of a cast member in 1967 with the passing of Smiley Burnette who played the engineer of the Cannonball train, and had also been a popular cowboy sidekick in many old westerns. The show also went through many cast changes through the years with only 3 of the original actors from the start of the series making it through to the end of the series.

Oddly the show had intended to end after the 6th year but the network renewed it for a 7th year so they could have 5 full years of color episodes, the first 2 years were black&white, for later syndication of reruns. It was cancelled after the 7th year due to the oncoming and infamous rural purge. The show was actually quite successful despite the number of cast changes, and probably could have continued another year or two.

Though I was never a big fan of Uncle Joe Carson on Petticoat Junction, the actor who played him, Edgar Buchanan, is among my favorite actors.

Chico and the Man (1974-1978)

Freddie Prinze was a promising young comedian of Puerto Rican/German heritage. He was only 20 years old when he started on Chico and the Man playing opposite Jack Albertson's cantankerous old man character. In its third year of production, on January 28, 1977 Freddie Prinze committed suicide at only 22 years of age; Prinze suffered from depression.

During the show's 4th year, it was said that Chico had gone to Mexico to visit his father and they tried to replace his character with a 12 year old boy who is adopted by Jack Albertson's character. In a two-part episode Chico's death is acknowledged. The 4th year was the final year of the show.

The Royal Family (1991-1992)

Redd Foxx starred in the successful Sanford and Son during the early 70s and this was his third attempt at a successful sitcom post Sanford and Son, and unfortunately his last attempt as he died of a massive heart attack on the set of the show only 7 episodes into the first year. The producers brought in a new cast member and reworked the remaining episodes. It was a short lived attempt as the series was cancelled after only 13 of its 15 completed episodes were aired.

Before Foxx's passing, ratings for the early episodes were high. The Royal Family looked to be a hit with viewers but ultimately floundered without Redd Foxx.

8 Simple Rules (2002-2005)

Strangely enough John Ritter's sudden death of an aortic dissection only three episodes into the 2nd year may have actually prolonged the life of the show.

8 Simple Rules just did not have good ratings finishing #46 its first year. With the death of John Ritter so soon into the 2nd year of the show, they brought in James Garner and David Spade as supplemental characters in a creative way to both deal with the death of the character on the show and eventually move the show in a different direction. The show was renewed for a 3rd year and then cancelled.

8 Simple Rules was not strong in ratings. It is just my opinion that the network may well have cancelled the show at the end of the second year without John Ritter's death but after the retooling of the show after his death and that it would have seemed cold to have cancelled it, the network probably let it continue another year, both as a goodwill effort and a genuine hope that the retooling might bring up the ratings.

There are a lot more I could cover which include British shows, shows with a short life and some older shows nobody has probably heard of or seen. Feel free to add your own in the comments.

Toxic Fletch

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