From Coy and Vance Duke to Bobby Ewing: A Brief History of Lead Actors Leaving Their Television Series
As producers of The Office told anyone who would listen at the NBC TCA party in Pasadena on Thursday night, Steve Carell is leaving the hit series before the season even ends. (Which is earlier than we had even expected.) Faced with the loss of its lead character after seven seasons, the future of The Office may be in doubt. Or, maybe not. Let's take a look at the brief history of when a male or female lead left a popular television show, and the impact their departure had on future seasons.
Shelley Long on Cheers
For five seasons, the on-again, off-again romance between Sam Malone (Ted Danson) and Diane Chambers (Shelley Long) drove most of the narrative flow on Cheers. Shelley Long -- who had some initial success in feature film -- opted not to return for a sixth season, a decision that would drastically change the overall tone of the show for the rest of its run. In this case, however, that was a good thing. Cheers started focusing more on its characters -- Frasier, for one, became less of an arrogant know-it-all and more of a flawed human that the audience actually started to like. Long was replaced not with another love interest (though, the idea was toyed with in a few episodes), but with a cold, calculating executive -- at least, as we soon find out, only on the surface -- Rebecca Howe (Kirstie Alley), who is put in charge of the bar after Sam sold it off. Cheers would last for six more seasons after Long's departure and only shut its doors for good after Ted Danson decided he didn't want to do a twelfth season. Even Cheers wasn't going to try and replace a lead twice. Below is a clip from the first post-Diane Chambers episode of Cheers.
John Schneider and Tom Wopat on The Dukes of Hazzard
As you'll remember, but it's worth noting again: Schneider and Wopat played Bo and Luke Duke, who smuggled moonshine in an orange car with the Confederate flag painted on the top of it. This was, at one point, one of the most popular shows in the world. Schneider and Wopat, knowing this, tried to renegotiate their contracts before the fifth season. Instead of renegotiating, though, the producers told them to take a hike and brought in two actors (Byron Cherry and Christopher Mayer) to play Bo and Luke's even more conniving cousins, Coy and Vance. In their first episode, while Bo and Luke were off as NASCAR drivers (NASCAR often recruits drivers based on their efficiency in smuggling moonshine), Boss Hogg drove this point home to viewers by declaring that, "Bo and Luke were angles compared to Coy and Vance." Viewers (including a very confused young me) were not impressed with Coy and Vance. No matter how many times we were subjected to watching these two chop wood with their shirts off, they never caught on with audiences and were replaced with Schneider and Wopat before the season ended. The Dukes of Hazzard never quite recovered from this season and only lasted two more before ending. Below are the opening credits featuring Coy and Vance.
David Caruso on NYPD Blue
People forget, but David Caruso wasn't always a punch line. I firmly believe that if Caruso would have stayed on NYPD Blue, it would be ranked as one of the top-ten television shows of all-time. Not to say that NYPD Blue didn't have a good run without him, but this show was on an entirely different level when Det. John Kelly was the focal point. Unfortunately for everyone, Caruso vastly overvalued his worth to the producers and left the show early in the second season to make movies. He did, they sucked, and his career floundered until CSI: Miami came along. This was the second major character defection (Sherry Stringfield left immediately after the first season to take a role on something called ER) that led to what amounted to a revolving door policy of characters over the course of 12 seasons. The story of the show quickly changed to a now-sober Andy Sipowicz -- who, being the main character, had to quickly curb a lot of his vices such as booze and hookers. After Caruso, the show found some stability with Jimmy Smits as Sipowicz's partner, but he lacked the raw rage and charisma that Caruso used to make NYPD Blue seem like a show with limitless possibilities. Smits would later leave the show and be replaced by Rich Schroder and Mark-Paul Gosselaar.
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