Tuesday, July 12, 2011

The 5 Best TV Series Star Replacements

When a regular leaves a TV series, the producers are left with three options: (1) write the character out of the show; (2) recast the same character with a new performer; or (3) cast a new performer as a new character. All three options have been tried—some with great success and other with disastrous results. When Dick York left Bewitched, the role of Darren was recast with Dick Sargent and the show hardly skipped a beat. In contrast, Dallas viewers never accepted Donna Reed when she replaced Barbara Bel Geddes as Miss Ellie. After a year away from Dallas, Reed was out and Bel Geddes rejoined the show. Below are the five most successful replacements of a TV series star:

1. Diana Rigg, The Avengers. British audiences loved Honor Blackman as Dr. Cathy Gale, the high-kicking partner to Patrick Macnee’s dapper gentleman investigator. When she left in 1964 after two seasons, Rigg joined the show as Mrs. Emma Peel and her chemistry with Macnee was even better. The Rigg episodes were the first ones shown in the U.S., so for many years, most American viewers didn’t even know Steed had an earlier partner (actually several…he worked with others before Cathy).

2. Peter Graves, Mission: Impossible. During the series’ first season, Steven Hill played the Impossible Mission Force’s (IMF) intense leader Dan Briggs. Hill, who was an Orthodox Jew, experienced challenges with the show’s demanding shooting schedule. He left the series and was replaced by Peter Graves, whose Jim Phelps was a more laidback IMF leader. Although the transition from Briggs to Phelps was never explained, audiences accepted Phelps immediately and Mission: Impossible continued to be a ratings hit. During its initial seven-year run, Mission: Impossible replaced numerous stars, proving that the format was what appealed most to viewers—a lesson learned later by Law and Order.

3. Harry Morgan, M*A*S*H. The role of Henry Blake, the easygoing commander of the 4077th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital, propelled MacLean Stevenson to TV stardom. However, during the third season of M*A*S*H, he became dissatisfied with his amount of screen time and asked to leave the series. As a result, Henry Blake was shot down in a helicopter and eventually replaced by the much more rigid, but fatherly, Colonel Sherman T. Potter. Viewers embraced Morgan’s character quickly and M*A*S*H continued for eight more seasons. Stevenson starred in four sitcoms between 1976 and 1983, with none of them lasting longer than a season.

4. Ken Curtis, Gunsmoke. For nine years, Dennis Weaver played Marshal Matt Dillon’s trusty sidekick, Chester, who walked with a stiff right leg (the reason was never given). Though still very popular, Weaver left his most famous role after the 1964 season to star in his own series, Kentucky Jones. It only lasted one season, but Weaver had a moderate hit in the 1970s with McCloud. Ken Curtis first appeared as Festus Haggen in a 1962 episode of Gunsmoke. He joined the cast as a full-time regular in 1964 and subsequently became Matt’s only official deputy (Chester was never deputized!). He appeared on Gunsmoke for 11 years.

5. Dick Sargent, Bewitched. After five years of playing Darrin Stephens, husband to the charming witch Samantha, Dick York had to leave to the show due to a severe back condition. Dick Sargent, who actually bore a slight resemblance to York, stepped in quickly and went on to play Darrin for the final three seasons of Bewitched.


  1. Great idea for a list -- and great list! I know Linda Thorson wasn't as popular as Dame Diana Rigg, but I think she grows on you, and Tara King is a likeable character. I really liked Steven Hill, but Peter Graves was a memorable team leader, and I can't imagine anyone else in that role. I suspect DOCTOR WHO fans must learn to accept new blood. The 2005 update is already on its third actor, but despite David Tennant's popularity, I feel that fans have embraced the latest incarnation played by Matt Smith. For series replacements, I've always been partial to Cheryl Ladd, who essentially replaced Farrah Fawcett in CHARLIE'S ANGELS and whom I believe was much better than her fictional sister.

  2. It only took Harry Morgan one scene to fit right into the cast of MASH:

    "Oh, and Klinger."
    "Yes sir?"
    "Nice outfit."
    "Thank you, sir! It's from the Shirley Temple collection."

  3. Your idea for the 5 Best theme has been a great one, Rick. This was unusual and fun. I'm one who never knew Diana Rigg wasn't the first, but boy, I don't see how anybody could rival her! Steven Hill's inability to stay with MI is a very interesting bit - I can see that someone who has to keep Sabbath and high holidays could not fit into a TV shooting schedule. But Peter Graves was a good replacement. In Mash, MacLean Stevenson was better as the original movie commander in his portrayal, but Harry Morgan's different take on the character was wonderful. My confession for the day -- I never liked Festus. He was too whiny. I missed Chester! And as for Bewitched, they could have replaced Darrin with a robot and the character would have been the same! LOL!

  4. Okay, here's where Becky and I come to blows. I adore Festus. Festus could be funny and could be counted on in a fight. Too much Chester is bad for my nerves. He was always clucking like an old woman and you never knew - change that - you always knew some bad guy was going to get the drop on him.

    Showed my kid "A Quiet Day in Dodge". When Festus started cleaning those catfish while Matt was trying to sleep, she asked "So is this the episode where Matt kills Festus?"

    I never felt Dick Sargent as Darren. He seemed too uptight. I could imagine a witch wanting to change her whole life for Dick York.

    When it comes to recasts, nothing tops "Doctor Who" where it became a built-in premise.

  5. This is a great idea and well thought-out. The casting of Diana Rigg, Peter Graves, and Harry Morgan was excellent. They all brought renewed interest to their shows, along with well-developed, interesting characters. I didn't watch "Gunsmoke" so can't comment on it. But "Bewitched," the only show in the list of five to replace the character with a new actor, may have worked because Darrin wasn't that likable anyway. I could never understand his reluctance to let his wife be who she was. Of course the show wouldn't have been the same had he not been that way. You were spot on about the recast of Miss Ellie on "Dallas." Great blog, Rick!

  6. Ooooh, CaftanWoman, I've got the boxing gloves and spit buckets ready! As with the Twilight crowd, I'm on Team Chester and you are Team Festus. Even the name Festus has a yucky sound! (Well, Chester isn't a lot better, but at least it doesn't remind you of a boil.) Chester might not have been the brightest bulb in the chandelier, but he did not whine "M-a-r-s-h-a-l D-i-l-l-o-n" 10 times an episode. You are on girl! Who wants to referee?

  7. Becky, you don't like the name Festus?! I wanted to call my first-born Festus, and she's a girl. Hubby chose "Janet" and every so often she gives her dad a hug and a thanks, and glares at me.

    What did Chester do for a living anyway? He wasn't a deputy. He couldn't even make good coffee. Seems to me all he did was borrow money.

    Team Festus rules!

  8. Chester was probably on disability for his wooden leg. Your poor daughter - thank goodness for Dad! This has been fun, and for Rick's sake, I believe we should continue our debate elsewhere. Hey everybody! Please visit Caftan Woman's blog for her latest in-depth post on the Team Chester and Team Festus stand-off. I'm sure she will provide sexy posters for each team..MUWAHAHAHAHA

  9. We're locked in an eternal struggle like Frank Gorshin and Lou Antonio on that preachy Star Trek episode. Thing is, when we both get thirsty we'll have to get Doc to stand us a beer.

  10. Great post, Rick, but gotta pass on Darrin #2. I think that Endora just put a spell on Samantha, hoping she, Tabitha & Larry Tate just would not notice!

  11. Woody Harrelson replacing Ted Danson on Cheers, Jimmy Smits replacing David Caruso then Rick Schroder replacing Jimmy Smits on NYPD Blue