7 Memorable Sitcom Character Replacements (Part 1)

In the television industry, turnover is sometimes unavoidable.

 

Whether due to contract dispute, illness, death or some other factor, cast members can and will depart. Many times a TV sitcom will set up a replacement cast member. Audience reaction ends up highly positive or negative.

In this series, we’re going to look back on TV sitcom replacements in multiple parts. Below, you’ll see some popular (and not-so-popular) TV sitcom substitutions of departed characters with new names and faces. The series will start here and continue on The Cold Slither Podcast site.

 

The Dukes of Hazzard

(although not a sitcom, Coy and Vance are the epitome of TV subs, and headline our list)

The Originals

Bo and Luke Duke were “just some good ole boys, never meanin’ no harm…” rippin and runnin’ throughout Hazzard County evading Roscoe P. Coltrane and Boss Hogg and helping their Uncle Jesse run his illegal moonshine operation, all while getting support from 90′s freaknik fashion trendsetter Daisy Duke and keeping gynecologic-ally named mechanic Cooter in business. The perfect blend of action, titillation, country music, racist emblems, slapstick comedy and cars doing wicked sweet jumps over stuff! But then…

The Replacements

In spring of 1982, a contract dispute between CBS and series stars Tom Wopat and John Schneider delayed production. Coy Duke and Vance Duke were introduced as never-before-mentioned nephews of Uncle Jesse who arrived at the farm to replace Bo and Duke while they went racing on the NASCAR circuit. Check this super-lame explanation by Uncle Jesse on the matter.

Played by actors Byron Cherry and Christopher Mayer, Coy and Vance lasted 17 episodes and were highly unpopular, signaling the show’s definitive “Jump the Shark” moment. All was right again when Bo and Luke returned, actor contracts in order and apparently NASCAR put on hold.

Verdict: EPIC FAIL!

The season premiere comes on and every viewer basically said some variation of “WTF?!!” Uncle Jesse’s wack explanation aside, Coy and Vance were NOT accepted as members of the Dukes. In fact, the problem was they were TOO MUCH like the Duke boys.

Many viewers complained that these secondhand knock-off clones of Bo and Luke weren’t even close to the originals. What made matters worse was that Catherine Bach almost walked out during the contract disputes as well, but was convinced by Wopat and Schneider to stay. Imagine a Dukes of Hazzard with no Bo, Luke NOR Daisy? Nah man, eff that. I grew up watchin them Dukes ditch cops in the General Lee and no switcheroo was gonna keep me glued to the set. Coy and Vance were the Pete Myers of TV sitcom history.

 

Saved By The Bell

(I’m at the corner just in time to see the bus fly by!)

The Originals

Look, in the 90′s, EVERYONE watched Saved By The Bell. Sure, there was the switcheroo from Good Morning, Miss Bliss to the 1989 debut of Zack Morris and Principal Belding with an all new cast at Bayside High in California, but that pretty much gave us the cast we all know and love: A.C. Slater, Screech Powers, Lisa Turtle and the two romantic interests of Zack and Slater: Kelly Kapowski and Jessie Spano. Played by Tiffani-Amber Thiessen and a pre-Showgirls Elizabeth Berkley respectively, Kelly and Jessie were part of the Bayside crew and involved in all of the episodes. And then contract disputes came into play before the final season…

The Replacement

Cue the final season, senior year at Bayside High, and right as the opening credits roll there’s no Kelly nor Jesse, we get “Leanna Creel as Tori”. Wait, what?? Replacing two wildly popular and attractive young ladies on the show was a tough-talking, leather jacket-wearing, frizzy-haired biker chick who was only mildly as easy on the eyes? In any case, Tori hung out with Lisa and became the object of affection and competition for Zack and Slater. Tori eventually dates Zack and maintains a peripheral role on the show, however she disappears right near the end and is never heard from again, not even during the eventual The College Years spin-off and wedding special.

Verdict: One thumb kinda up, at a 65 degree angle.

Tori obviously got a negative reaction from viewers at first, but eventually she grew on a lot of them. She kept the wit and one-liners going on the show, which by no means was any kind of comedic vanguard to begin with, and in hindsight was a serviceable substitution. Working against Tori, however, was she was packaged as this tough, no-nonsense biker chick but ended up being just as soft and subject to the charms of Zack Morris as Kelly was, not to mention Jessie and Lisa for one episode each! (Who didn’t Zack get with on that show? Screech won’t ask, won’t tell!) What softened the blow was the return of Kelly during The College Years. Also, after the SBTB cast departed that final season, the entire franchise was repackaged with “The New Class”, which saw cast changes almost every season. Similar cast overhauls took place on companion NBC Teen shows California Dreams, Hang Time and City Guys, so there’s also that.

 

Three’s Company

(where the kisses are hers & hers & his…)

The Original

Before she was the 90′s version of Carol Brady on Step by Step and before she sold millions of ThighMasters, actress Suzanne Somers rose to fame as Chrissy Snow, the aloof blonde member of the roommate trio on Three’s Company. Sharing the Santa Monica apartment with Jack Tripper (the late John Ritter) and Janet Wood (Joyce DeWitt) for five seasons, Chrissy (whose real name was “Christmas Snow“) eventually left the show due to a contract dispute between Somers and show executives. On the show, Chrissy was written out by returning to Fresno to care for her sick mother.

The Replacements

In season six, Chrissy’s cousin Cindy Snow (Jenilee Harrison) joined the cast. Cindy moved in and maintained a similar blonde, ditzy and then even more clumsy role that Chrissy had in the apartment. However, Cindy didn’t last the full season, eventually moving out to go to veterinary school.

Enter Terri Alden (Priscilla Barnes), a sharp, witty registered nurse who moves in and stays on from seasons six until the series finale in season eight.

Verdict: Cindy, one thumb up… Terri, two thumbs way up!!!

Chrissy’s departure, although a bit of a blow to the show, wasn’t the death knell she might have figured it would be. Three’s Company was mostly about Jack Tripper and continued story-lines around him as the central character. Cousin Cindy provided much of what Chrissy did during seasons prior, but as much as she had in common, similar to Coy and Vance she just wasn’t the same.

Viewers stayed with the show, but considered Cindy highly forgettable. Now when Terri appeared, a blonde who was more like Janet than like Chrissy or Cindy, the dynamic of two women doting over their goofball male roommate kept the show interesting and active for a few more seasons. We liked Terri, and she helped what could have been a true Jump the Shark moment with Chrissy leaving actually make Three’s Company leap back over that shark to relevance.

 

Diff’rent Strokes

(the show that made Gary Coleman, Todd Bridges and Alan Thicke’s vocal stylings household names)

The Originals

As we brought out all the way back in Episode 3: Sitcomspiracy Theory, rich tycoon Phillip Drummond had several maids in his employ, starting with Mrs. Jackson, Arnold & Willis’ mother who died just prior to the show’s pilot. As the Jackson kids move in, we meet the resident maid Mrs. Edna Garrett (Charlotte Rae), who kept the penthouse apartment clean and made with the funny wisecracks for the first season of the show. After the roaring success of Mrs. Garrett, she moved to Peekskill, NY and became the house mother for The Eastland School for Girls in the spin-off series The Facts of Life. Hence Mr. Drummond brought in a new housekeeper, Adelaide Brubaker (Nedra Volz), who was much older, but still made with the wisecracks and was extra bright and cheery. Adelaide was a regular character but was never given credits in the opening title, so she only stayed on from Seasons 2-4, departing in 1982.

The Replacement

Pearl Gallagher, played by Mary Jo Catlett, arrived for Season 5 of Diff’rent Strokes, staying on the show all the way until its end in 1986. She was equally as sharp with the wit and comedic timing as Mrs. Garrett and Adelaide were, but much younger in age and saw the cast of characters through some of their most sweeping changes on the show, including a wedding, a new stepchild, a kidnapping, bulimia, drug abuse and the time-honored sitcom wife-swap.

Pearl met all of the Drummond household shenanigans with a smile and kept the fam happy with her highly touted cooking.

Verdict

Mrs. Garrett is considered the first and the best of the on-screen Drummond housekeepers, but she was only there from 1978-79 and is better known for The Facts of Life. Adelaide was serviceable as an immediate fill-in, but Pearl held things steady on the show. Although not a pivotal character in the series, she gets an A for her effort and two thumbs up for her tender victuals.

 

The Three Stooges

(slapstick comedy, not situation, but Shemp is an all-time bench player)


The Original & The Replacement

Here’s where it gets tricky… The all-time most popular Stooges line-up was Moe, Larry and Curley, with Curley Howard being the one with most of the recognizable catchphrases (“Nyuk, nyuk, nyuk!!” and “Why, Soitenly!“). But the original Three Stooges comedy troupe had Moe Howard, Larry Fine and Shemp Howard. Back when they were known as “Ted Healy and his Stooges” in the 1920′s vaudeville circuit, the team of Moe, Larry and Shemp acted as bumbling assistants to Ted Healy during his comedy and singing act.

It was after The Stooges signed with Columbia Pictures and eventually made their way to the big, then later small, screens that the all-star line-up with Curley was in place.

Shemp had quit early on, but was called back into Stooges action in the 1940′s after a stroke forced Curley into retirement. So technically, you could call Curley the replacement, but for all intents and purposes, we’ll say it’s Shemp for this article.

Verdict: Shemp: A+

Although Curley was comedic gold, The Stooges were always about the interaction with the full trio. Slapstick comedy at its finest, The Stooges are a time-honored tradition among men. He of course Curley gets an A++, but let’s not overlook the contribution of O.G. Stooge Shemp. Supplying equally funny one-liners and physical comedy as Moe and Larry, Shemp was a solid and adequate substitution in the line-up, helping the Stooges ride off into the sunset. His episodes usually appear on repeats and in DVD boxed sets and are considered just as vital as Curley’s run. No one will ever put Shemp above Curley, but he’s a lot closer in second than most give him credit for.

 

Night Court

(highly underrated show AND theme song)


The Originals

When Night Court first aired, the cast went through some immediate turnover right off the bat from seasons 1-4, but the roles of the cast were clearly defined: Judge Harry T. Stone, male Bailiff “Bull” Shannon, Prosecutor Dan Fielding… and then you had three other roles that were eventually recast. The original Court Clerk in season 1 was Lana Wagner, who also served as the first romantic interest for Judge Stone.

The female Bailiff who stood alongside Bull changed several times, the first being Selma Hacker in seasons 1-2, then Florence Kleiner in season 3. Both were elderly, and the actresses who played each died shortly after their last season on the show.

Finally, the Public Defender was the most rotated position in the lineup, with Sheila Gardner only appearing in the pilot, followed by Liz Williams in season 1 and the more memorably named Billie Young (played by great trivia question answer Ellen Foley) in season 2. Clearly this comedy hadn’t reached a stable group until around the middle of its nine season run.

The Replacements

As soon as Night Court hit its second season, Lana Wagner was gone, replaced as court clerk by Macintosh “Mac” Robinson, played by Charles Robinson (no relation to referee Charles Robinson, a.k.a. Lil’ Natche), an affable Vietnam vet who had a preference for wearing colorful cardigans.

In season 3, we were introduced to new public defender Christine Sullivan, played by 80′s foxy lady Markie Post, who arrived fresh off co-starring on ABC’s The Fall Guy with Lee Majors. Christine became the off-again/on-again love interest for Judge Stone, all the while rejecting the salacious advances of Dan Fielding. Finally, in season 4 the last piece of the puzzle, Roz Russell joins the cast as the female bailiff replacing the departed Florence. Played by Marsha Warfield, Roz is a much younger, tough-talkin, take-no-nonsense complement to the dopey and kind Bull Shannon.

Verdict: Overall, straight A’s for all three!

Night Court was a consistent Top 30 hit much of its run in the late 80s/early 90s. Most would agree that all substitutions in cast were for the better, as the show made household names of the cast and featured several recurring guest stars, including Yakov Smirnoff and the the late, great Mel Torme. Mac turned out to be Harry’s right hand man, always ready with the docket for the proceedings. Christine was the clear cut leading lady of the show, her on-again/off-again relationship with Harry moving the show along. And Roz was so popular that Marsha Warfield continued on after Night Court was canceled to join the cast of the hit Golden Girls spin-off Empty Nest.

 

Happy Days

(The weekend comes! The cycle hums! Ready to race to youuuuu… er… sorry)

The Original

The show centered around Richie Cunningham, played by future Oscar-winning director (and father to Gwen Stacy) Ron Howard, and his pals growing up and hanging out in Milwaukee. For seven long seasons we were all accustomed to Richie, Potsie, Ralph Malph, Joanie, Mr. & Mrs. C and The Fonz. And then…

The Replacement

Howard left the show in 1980 to pursue his burgeoning directorial career. In comes the patron saint of Jump The Shark himself, Ted McGinley.

Starting with season 8, McGinley playedRoger Phillips, the new coach and phys ed teacher at Jefferson HS and nephew to the Cunninghams. Roger literally took Richie’s place in the household and in the show, acting as the new straight man to the wild antics of Fonzie and company. Roger stayed on for the rest of the series, which ended in 1984.

Verdict: One of the least liked characters in Happy Days history, sadly Roger gets an F (E for effort, though!)

Although the term “Jump The Shark” was literally defined by Fonzie doing the deed in season 5, McGinley became pinned with the infamous distinction as the last guy you’d want to see join the cast of a sitcom. Although Roger Phillips stayed on Happy Days for four seasons, his timing couldn’t have been worse. With big shoes to fill and a show shifting its focus from Richie and The Fonz to Joanie and Chachi, McGinley began his storied career as the “grim reaper” of television shows.

 

Want more Replacements? To be continued on The Cold Slither Podcast site!

 

Classick Material is a child of the 80′s. More-so than favorite sitcoms, he enjoys sitcom theme songs. He one day dreams of starting his own cover band so he can perform a live soulful rendition of the theme to Silver Spoons. When he’s not doing that, he writes and co-hosts The Cold Slither Podcast.

 

 

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