This past spring semester, because I’m a communication student (and have no gen ed requirements, and have an advisor that teaches really awesome classes), I took a class about the evolution of the sitcom. Why yes, I did get to watch TV in class and write papers about it. But the super-coolness of my homework assignments aside, this class exposed me to some pretty interesting stuff about the small screen. TV is a very different beast now than it was even a decade ago, and is constantly growing and changing. But something that happened just recently had me thinking… “Well, maybe it hasn’t changed THAT much.”
On the season six finale of How I Met Your Mother, Marshall’s potential new boss was played by Dave Foley. However, the pilot for Foley’s new show has been picked up, leaving him unable to return to HIMYM. So in season seven, Marshall’s new boss is going to be played by Martin Short.
Back in the day, TV shows used to recast roles all the time, bringing in new actors to play the same (often rather large) part. Though the casting change on HIMYM doesn’t seem to be that big a deal, since the boss only showed up once before the actor changed, it got me thinking about some other roles that have been recast.
Darrin, on Bewitched
I distinctly remember my professor mentioning this instance in particular. Dick Sargent took over the portrayal of Darrin from Dick York after the show’s fifth season ended and didn’t look, act, or sound like his predecessor. This switch was extremely high profile (hello, he was only married to the witch!), and demanded a ton of suspension of disbelief from their audience. They didn’t get it, and the show ended after three more seasons of declining ratings.
Aunt Viv, on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air
“Originally a strict, aggressive, outspoken, highly educated career woman,” Aunt Viv was originally played by Janet Hubert-Whitten, who left the show amidst rumors that she didn’t get along with Will Smith after season three. Daphne Maxwell Reid came in to continue the character, who then became “a stay-at-home mom, quieter and more easygoing, indulgent of her kids, and, not by coincidence, with far less screen time.” Smart move decreasing Viv’s screen time, but why bother changing the character?
Laurie, on That ’70s Show
Oh Laurie, always the excuse for a good slut joke. Played by Lisa Robin Kelly, Laurie disappeared after season two. She returned suddenly in season five, and was equally as suddenly played by Christina Moore in season six. Well, at least they didn’t replace Topher Grace when he left! Though having Eric return from Africa “a changed man” would’ve been hilarious.
Becky, on Roseanne
If you’re going to recast a role, at least be willing to make fun of the situation! That’s what the folks at Roseanne did, swapping Lecy Goranson and Sarah Chalke in the role of Roseanne’s eldest daughter for several seasons. Goranson left to attend college and Chalke stepped in, with Goranson reprising her role as her schedule allowed. The show made a gag of it, even having the rest of the cast repeatedly ask “where the hell have you been?” when Goranson returned in season eight after a long stretch away. I’m not a big fan of the show, but THIS is how it should be done! So funny!
Cagney, on Cagney and Lacey
Wait, seriously? They recast one of the titular roles? Um, apparently. In the original TV movie, Loretta Swit played Cagney, followed by Meg Foster for the show’s first six episodes. But get this: Foster was given the boot because, according to an “unnamed CBS suit,” “These women on Cagney & Lacey seemed more intent on fighting the system than doing police work. We perceived them as dykes.” So the “too tough” Foster was replaced with “softer” Sharon Gless. I wish you could see the expression on my face right now. Suddenly the HIMYM situation seems laughable.
What do you think of the list (and the practice of recasting roles)? Are there any big ones I missed?