7 TV Shows That Continued After Losing Lead Stars

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Charlie's Angels - Jaclyn Smith, Farrah Fawcett, Kate Jackson
ABC/Retna Ltd

Farrah Fawcett, Charlie’s Angels

What happens when a star gets bigger than the show that launched him or her? That was the case of Farrah Fawcett, who became an international star when Charlie’s Angels premiered on ABC in 1976. (Fawcett, center, with co-stars Jaclyn Smith, l, and Kate Jackson, r).

After the show’s first season, Fawcett chose to leave for what looked to be a promising movie career. While she’d return to the show for a few episodes (as part of her departure agreement), Fawcett ended up striking out on the big screen and Charlie’s Angels would stay on the air for four more seasons. As for Farrah, we all know that everyone loves a comeback and TV welcomed her back when she wow’d critics and audiences with her performance in NBC’s 1984 TV movie, The Burning Bed. Fawcett died in 2009 of cancer.

Valerie Harper and Jason Bateman in Valerie
Frank Carroll/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank/Getty Images

Valerie Harper, Valerie

Money, money, money! Thanks to her role of Rhoda Morgenstern on The Mary Tyler Moore Show and Rhoda, Valerie Harper was a big star, so coming to NBC in 1986 for a new sitcom, Valerie, was a huge deal.

The show was a hit, but Harper made too much noise about wanting more money so she was fired from her own show after its second season. Her character was killed off (ouch!) and the show’s title changed to Valerie’s Family then to The Hogans and, finally, to The Hogan Family. The show ran for six seasons total (the final season on CBS) and made a star of Jason Bateman (pictured with Harper).

James Burrows - Cheers

Shelley Long, Cheers

Everyone was an unknown when NBC premiered Cheers in 1982, but after a slow start, the show became a hit and made stars of Ted Danson and Shelley Long. The actress, however, was also making films, and once she had a few hits such as The Money Pit with Tom Hanks and Outrageous Fortune with Bette Midler, she departed her Emmy-winning role in the NBC series.

The show, of course, brought on Kirstie Alley and survived well beyond Long’s tenure, running a total of 11 seasons. Any hard feelings over her exit softened over time as Long returned for the Cheers series finale in 1993 and made several appearances on the spinoff, Frasier.

Two and a Half Men - Charlie Sheen, Jon Cryer

Charlie Sheen, Two and a Half Men

Charlie Sheen had it all. Oodles of money, fame and a lead role in CBS’s powerhouse sitcom Two and a Half Men. However, in 2010, Sheen entered drug rehab for the first of what would be three times in the span of 12 months, the show was put on indefinite hiatus and, to make matters worst, Sheen eventually got around to verbally denouncing series creator Chuck Lorre.

By spring 2011, Sheen’s contract was terminated and he was off the show. CBS and Lorre brought in Ashton Kutcher, Sheen’s character was killed off and the show maintained its popularity and stayed on the air for four more seasons.

NYPD Blue - David Caruso, Dennis Franz
20th Century Fox Film Corp. All rights reserved.

David Caruso, NYPD Blue

While no Farrah Fawcett, David Caruso was an instant TV star when ABC’s NYPD Blue premiered in the fall of 1993. However, wanting a raise and not getting what he felt he deserved, Caruso, who won a Golden Globe for his role, left the series four episodes into its second season.

A movie career never materialized too much for Caruso, but Steven Bocho’s crime drama thrived, airing 12 seasons and winning 84 Emmys. Caruso failed at his first TV return (anyone remember Michael Hayes ?) but found ratings gold for ten years as Lt.. Horatio Caine on CBS’s CSI: Miami.

8 Simple Rules - John Ritter

John Ritter, 8 Simple Rules For Dating My Teenage Daughter

While many TV characters died as a result of their portrayers leaving their shows, John Ritter’s sudden death during the third season of ABC’s sitcom 8 Simple Rules for Dating My Teenage Daughter was a shock. The Three’s Company star suffered a fatal heart attack in September 2003, and ABC announced shortly after his death that the show, which also starred a young Kaley Cuoco and Katey Sagal, would go on.

While the show did address Ritter’s character’s death and paid tribute to the beloved actor, the show never fully recovered from his absence on the sitcom and it was canceled after its third season in 2005.

Law & Order: Special Victims Unit
Will Hart/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images

Christopher Meloni, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit

Who would ever think that NBC’s Law & Order: Special Victims Unit could survive without one of its two leads. The series, a spin-off of the long-running Law & Order, was popular for its ripped-from-the-headline cases but also for the star power of Christopher Meloni and Mariska Hargitay.

When contract negotiations broke down after season 12 in 2011, Meloni announced he would not be returning for season 13. As we all know, the show continues to this day (season 19!) with Hargitay still in the lead role and with no end in sight. Meloni returned to his comedy roots with roles in series like Wet Hot American Summer and the upcoming Syfy comedy Happy!.

Transparent - Jeffrey Tambor, Amy Landecker, Tim Bagley, Judith Light
Jennifer Clasen/Amazon Studios

Jeffrey Tambor, Transparent (Future Unknown)

When allegations came up recently against Jeffrey Tambor from a former assistant/transgender actress and Transparent recurring actor Trace Lysette, the actor (above with Amy Landecker, Tim Bagley and Judith Light) decided to depart the series, saying “what has become clear over the past weeks, however, is that this is no longer the job I signed up for four years ago.” No word yet on if (and how) the show could continue.

House of Cards -- Frank Underwood
© 2017 Pete Souza

Kevin Spacey, House of Cards (Future Unknown)

When actor Anthony Rapp (Star Trek: Discovery revealed in a Buzzfeed interview last month that Spacey made sexual advances towards him when Spacey was 26 and Rapp was 14, it was a shock that came with big consequences. While Spacey (above with Michael Kelly) addressed the accusations by apologizing, blaming his actions on alcohol and also coming out via Twitter, Netflix soon thereafter cut all ties with him. Time will tell if House of Cards will continue in some way but, according to a publicist for Spacey, the Academy Award and Golden Globe-winner is seeking treatment.

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Money disputes, sexual harassment allegations, untimely deaths. Shooting a television series is a lot like life in that outside the scripts that tell a story week in and week out, sometimes life just gets in the way and a show has to drastically change course.

With recent sexual harassment accusations made against A-listers like Kevin Spacey (Netflix’s House of Cards) and Jeffrey Tambor (Amazon’s Transparent), both award-winning shows face uncertain futures. House of Cards, which was going into its sixth and final season, is now without its star, which makes going forward a challenge since Spacey’s Frank Underwood has been at the core of the series from day one. (The show may spin-off and away from the Underwoods but nothing has been announced yet).

It’s a similar situation over at Transparent as it was heading into a fifth season. What is the Pfefferman family without Tambor’s transgender character Maura to revolve around?

Unfortunately, this is not the first time a series has had to make drastic changes in hopes the life of the show isn’t cut short. In the gallery above, we’ve gathered some present and past examples of shows that faced surprising changes in the call sheet and how they attempted to move forward.