A Brief History of Actors Kicked Off Their Television Shows
Conventional wisdom would tell us that even though Charlie Sheen has been given his walking papers, Two and a Half Men is too lucrative of a commodity for CBS to not at least try to continue. But can it survive after a star of the show has been fired? Television shows in the past have continued on to a varying degree of success after a major cast member has been fired from the show -- though if this list is any indication, the sooner it happens in the series' run, the better. With that, let's take a look at a brief history of television shows that have fired or forced out a major cast member.
Mackenzie Phillips, One Day at a Time
Probably the closest parallel to the Sheen situation, at least when thought of in terms of drug abuse. Phillips -- who played oldest daughter Julie on the popular Indianapolis-based sitcom -- developed a severe cocaine addiction, becoming such a terrible situation that she would often be late for work and couldn't be shot for close-ups because of her frail appearance. During the fifth season, Phillips was told that if she didn't quit, she'd be fired. Phillips, with little option, quit One Day at a Time. Two seasons later, Phillips was allowed back as a frequent guest star -- at least until she collapsed on set during the ninth season and was fired for the second and last time.
Cindy Williams, Laverne & Shirley
Williams played the title character of Shirley Feeney during most of the run of Laverne & Shirley. What some may not realize is that for most of the eighth and final season, there was no Shirley. Cindy Williams had become pregnant, and (allegedly) the show's producers were not exactly happy about the ramifications of this development on the show. Williams' pregnancy was written into the series, but Williams received less and less airtime until, one day, Williams angrily left the set for the final time during the middle of filming. As such, there was never a proper sendoff filmed for the title character (much like our current situation with Two and a half Men). A lawsuit filed by Williams was settled out of court. Without Williams, Laverne & Shirley ended its run at the end of that season. This scene below is a prime example of a Shirley-less episode of Laverne & Shirley.
Suzanne Somers, Three's Company
During the fifth season of Three's Company, Suzanne Somers (on the advice from her husband-manager, Alan Hamel) demanded a 500 percent salary increase plus a percentage of the show's profits in exchange for her continuing to play the role of Chrissy Snow. A power play that alienated her from fellow cast members John Ritter and Joyce Dewitt. When the demands weren't met, Somers often became absent from work. Eventually the producers had enough of her shenanigans and relegated Somers' appearances to an end-of-the-show phone call (in the plot, Chrissy was in Fresno taking care of her mother) from other cast members -- filming her scenes separately from the rest of the cast. Eventually, Somers was open to backing down from her demands, but the damage had been done -- her contract was terminated after the series suffered little ill effects from her absence. Three's Company would continue for three more seasons, followed by an additional season as Three's a Crowd.
Isaiah Washington, Grey's Anatomy
Washington played Dr. Preston Burke for the first three seasons of ABC's popular doctor drama, Grey's Anatomy. In a late 2006 on-set squabble, Washington used a gay slur to describe then fellow co-star T.R. Knight. Knight, a now openly gay actor, wasn't publicly open about that at the time. Because of Washington's indiscretion and the ensuing media controversy, Burke was written out of the show; four years later, Grey's Anatomy remains one of the most popular shows on ABC. Below is the final scene of Washington's last episode, in which Christina (Sandra Oh) discovers his newly abandoned apartment after a called-off wedding. Washington has admitted he wasn't happy about leaving the show and that if ever asked to return, even for a cameo, that he would. Though, he admits, "I don't really see that happening."
Damon Wayans, Saturday Night Live
Over the history of Saturday Night Live, many, many cast members have been fired. That's just how the show works. But no one has been fired in such glorious fashion as Damon Wayans, who was a featured player during the ill-fated 1985-1986 season and was upset about being regulated to supporting roles and not being to show off his flair, if you will. That changed in a sketch called "Mr. Monopoly" in which Wayans played a police officer. Somewhere between dress rehearsal and the live show, Wayans decided that this character needed to be played as a very flamboyant gay man. Lorne Michaels was not amused. According to the writer of that sketch, Andy Breckman, in Tom Shales' Live From New York, Lorne turned to Breckman at that very moment offstage and said, "That's it. I've got to fire him." Wayans would return as host in 1995.
Lisa Bonet, A Different World
After three seasons on the most popular show on television, The Cosby Show, Lisa Bonet's Denise Huxtable was spun off into a new series that aired directly after Cosby, A Different World. After the first season, Bonet, with then husband Lenny Kravitz, became pregnant. The producers of A Different World did not feel that having a pregnant Denise was "wholesome" enough for their viewers, so instead she was jettisoned from the show. Denise returned to The Cosby Show before traveling to Africa when Bonet's pregnancy started to show, returning after Zoe Kravitz was born. A Different World would last five more seasons with Jasmine Guy and Kadeem Hardison taking over as the lead characters.
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