February 18, 2007

Best (and worst) TV show "replacements"

Most of our favorite shows have had these instances -- a star usually gets a big head (rightly or wrongly) and decides to bolt a successful TV show, leaving the show's creators scrambling to find just the right "replacement(s)." Here are some of the best -- and worst -- replacements for hit (and not-so-hit) small screen offerings:

WELCOME BACK KOTTER. The show that propelled John Travolta to stardom, he was replaced by a dude named Steven Shortridge who played the ridiculously named Beau De Labarre. Naturally, sans Vinnie Barbarino, the show didn't last much longer. The Sweathogs culling some cajun-appellationed dude into their cadre was almost as bad as "Grease 2's" accepting Maxwell Caulfield into the T-Bird's realm. GRADE: D-.

THE DUKES OF HAZZARD. For one season during the 1979-1985 run of the "Dukes," a contract dispute between Tom Wopat and John Schneider (Luke and Bo Duke) led to them vamoosing the show. In came Coy and Vance Duke played by Byron Cherry and Christopher Mayer. The acting surely was never a staple of "Dukes;" now it was non-existent. GRADE: D.

M*A*S*H*. After the first three awesome seasons of what for me is the best TV show of all time, McLean Stevenson (Col. Henry Blake) got a big head, and left the show for greener pastures. The problem for Stevenson, however, is that those pastures were full of manure. (Anyone actually remember "Hello, Larry"?) Wayne Rogers (Trapper John McIntyre) also bolted, but both his and Stevenson's replacements were pretty much up to the [big] task of carrying on the show's success. Uber-liberal Mike "Free Mumia" Farrell took Rogers' place, while Harry Morgan (who had actually played nutball General Steele in an early season 3 episode) assumed command of the hospital in Stevenson's place. The writers did a terrific job up until Larry Linville (Frank Burns) decided to cut out. Then the show began to descend into mediocrity. I couldn't stand William Ogden Stiers' Charles Winchester. GRADE: B.

CHEERS. In my opinion, one of the best instances of replacements working -- and making the show better. I didn't much like Nick Colasanto's "Coach;" Woody Harrelson's "Woody Boyd" was supposed to be pretty much the same, but he was hipper and funnier. The tit-for-tat between Ted Danson's Sam Malone and Shelley Long's Diana Chambers was hilarious, but when Kirstie Alley came along to replace Long, the show didn't miss a beat. GRADE: A.

THE THREE STOOGES. Guys love 'em, girls hate 'em. The Stooges lost the best Stooge of all, Curly, to a stroke in the mid-40s, so his older brother Shemp took his spot. Shemp's a lot better than people give him credit for; indeed, I'd say he's only a tad less funny than Curly and that's only 'cause he was thin and had hair! After Shemp, however, it's all downhill. Joe Besser was pathetic as the whiny Joe, and similarly with Joe DeRita as Curly Joe. GRADE (Curly to Shemp): B+; (Shemp to the Joes): D.

STAR TREK: VOYAGER. Perhaps not actually a replacement, but Jeri Ryan's joining the cast of the displaced Voyager crew in the Delta Quadrant sure upped the ... sex quotient. (I suppose it could be argued that Ryan replaced Martha Hackett's "Seska.") Ryan played the Borg "Seven of Nine" and the potential for storylines with this addition was pretty much fully explored. As was the skin-tight outfits that Ryan was always clad in! GRADE: A.

THREE'S COMPANY. John Ritter's physical comedy made this show a hit in the late 70s; not only that, but the fact that he lived with Suzanne Somers sure helped viewership! Somers was the first to get the swelled head, and she was replaced by former Rams (!!) cheerleader Jenilee Harrison. In a word, she was awful. Great to look at, sure, but her "acting" ability was about on par with William Hung's vocal skills. At about the same time, Norman Fell and Audra Lindley (Mr. and Mrs. Roper) got their own (short-lived) TV show, so Don Knotts came aboard. He didn't do that badly, but the usual [non] sexual banter between the Ropers was certainly missed. After the vacuous Ms. Harrison, Priscilla Barnes came on, but by then the show was on its downward spiral. To this day I still can't believe that Jack Tripper never scored with any of his roommates. GRADE: C.

BEVERLY HILLS 90210. I know what you're thinkin' -- "Hube, WTF??" Yep, this was my guilty of guiltiest pleasures of the 1990s, I'm here to tell 'ya. I take in pride in that I always amazed my wife by laying out the entire plot of each episode in the show's first two minutes! (She's easily impressed.) At any rate, the show's first big exit was firecracker Shannen Dougherty (Brenda); Tiffany Amber Theissen (Valerie) "replaced" her. Other exits (in no particular order) were Gabrielle Carteris (Andrea), Luke Perry (Dylan) and James Eckhouse/Carol Potter (Mr. and Mrs. Walsh). Perry's career must've been not doing too well because he eventually came back as a "special guest." Notables who "replaced" some of the above were Academy Award winner Hilary Swank as Carly Reynolds (can you believe it? She must cringe every time she thinks about this), Vanessa Marcil as Gina (yowsah!), Vincent Young as Noah (his favorite line: "Hey, I'm tryin' here, OK?"), and Lindsay Price as Janet. GRADE: B.

L.A. LAW. This was one of my favorite staples of the late 80s-early 90s. Star Harry Hamlin successfully shrugged off his "gay aura" following "Making Love" as high-powered lawyer Michael Kuzak. But Hamlin was one of the first stars to bolt the show, to be "sort of replaced" by John Spencer's Tommy Mullaney. Other newcomers were Blair Underwood (Jonathan Rollins), Amanda Donohoe (CJ Lamb) and Diana Muldaur as the hated Rosalind Shays. Jimmy Smits (Victor Sifuentes) was the next noted departure. By the time heavy hitters Hamlin and Smits boogied, the show was on its way out. But most of the newcomers did a decent job, especially the superb Spencer. GRADE: B.

THE X-FILES. The monotone-voiced David Duchovny vacated the hit show to former T-1000 liquid metal robot Robert Patrick in 2000. Since Patrick is a much better actor than Duchovny, it didn't matter much to me that the latter skeedaddled; however, by 2000 I had given up on attempting to figure out just what in the hell this show was about. Duchovny popped up here and there for some nebulous (and pointless) cameos after he quit, but who cared? GRADE: B.

Feel free to add your own best/worst in the comments. I know I've left out plenty of shows, but I dealt with those that I either watched or those with which I have a nostalgic interest. Have fun!

Posted by Hube at February 18, 2007 01:19 PM | TrackBack

Comments  (We reserve the right to edit and/or delete any comments. If your comment is blocked or won't post, e-mail us and we'll post it for you.)

Coach was funnie than Woody. The show did get better after Coach's death, but I think it was due to the writers kicking it up a notch, more than any strength of the character of Woody. And it's Diane Chambers. Her character was superior to Rebecca as well, especially after Rebecca descended from driven career to woman to whiny scrweup. Diane was the only one who could ever really put Sam in his place. Well, other than Gary of Gary's Old Towne Tavern.

I always preferred Priscilla Barnes on Three's Company. Her character, being much more intelligent, was much more interesting.

90210? Dude, I'm so disappointed.

Bad replacement: Roger replacing Richie on Happy Days. He had no personality and seemed useless to the show, which was largely driven by Fonzie at that point anyway.

Posted by: Paul Smith at February 18, 2007 02:53 PM

Paul: Was Roger played by Ted McGinley of "Married With Children" fame? If so, great call there.

I still like Woody better than Coach. And I never said Rebecca was better than Diane, just that the show didn't miss Diane when she left.

Posted by: Hube at February 18, 2007 03:25 PM

Yes, Roger was indeed played by the patron saint of Jump The Shark, Roger McGinley.

Posted by: Paul Smith at February 18, 2007 05:11 PM

I'd argue that Jeri Ryan as 7 of 9 essentially replaced Jennifer Lien's Kes. There was a few episodes where both were on Voyager, but... I prefer 7 of 9 by a lot, she was hot and she brought internal dynamic tension back into the series which was a good thing.

I liked Coach and I liked Woody. They were different flavors of stupid and I have no real preference. Besides Coach "left" because Nick Colasanto died. It isn't like it was a contract dispute or something. I didn't like the series revamp after Shelly Long left.

Other replacements? Diana Muldaur replacing Gates McFadden on Star Trek: TNG for season two. Muldaur's character was largely a retread of Bones McCoy and I was glad Gates came back for Season 3.

Valerie Harper leaving Valerie after Season 1. She was replaced by Sandy Duncan for Season 2 when the show was renamed the Hogan Family. It was never very good before or after, but it was also the only thing on at 5pm for a while.

Posted by: Jeff the Baptist at February 18, 2007 06:40 PM

1) I'm not sure if this counts as a "replacement," exactly, since the characters were already on the show, but when Ron Howard bolted happy days, and it focused more on Joanie and Chachi, it didn't work anymore. Yes, HD was a cheesy sitcom, but the program basically *was* the chemistry between Howard and Winkler, and when the former left, the show fell apart.

2) I risk the wrath of the Internet Spuffys, but Angel never recovered from the departure of Cordelia, and James Marsters' Spike was a pale, pale replacement (to pardon the pun). Sorry, BlondieBear fans, but while Marsters is a fine actor, the character never fit on that show.

3) A Tale of Two Robs: Josh Malina taking over for Rob Lowe on the west wing (just in time to watch sorkin depart a few months later) and Rob Morrow being replaced on Northern Exposure by an actor so bad and bland I can't even remember his name.

4) And of course, the one-episode addition of "Roy" to the Simpson family on the Simpsons. Yes, he eventually moved out to live with "two lovely ladies!," but his slacker patois was a blow from which Springfield would not soon recover.

Posted by: Brian at February 18, 2007 11:23 PM

Not technically a replacement, but Robert Mitchum held down the fort for Edward Woodward for a few episodes of The Equalizer (one of my favorite shows), while Woodward was recuperating from a real-life heart attack.

Posted by: anon at February 19, 2007 08:18 AM

I thought Shemp was the original, who was then replaced by Curly... who was then replaced again (briefly) by Shemp...

Posted by: Charlton Hawking at February 19, 2007 06:15 PM

Charlton: Technically you're correct; however, Shemp had left before the Stooges began their legendary film shorts.

Posted by: Hube at February 19, 2007 06:29 PM

Angel never did click after Cordelia left. Whedon claimed it was because her story was done, but from the timing of everything, it seemed like he was more upset about the actress getting pregnant. Again, she was the only one who could really keep Angel in line without being annoying about it.

I never really liked Dr Crusher, but she was far better than Dr Pulaski.

Since replacing characters is the topic and Ted McGinley has come up, what about the one show where he wasn't the kiss of death? I liked his character far more than the guy he replaced.

Posted by: Paul Smith at February 20, 2007 08:23 AM

That's so weird, I had a conversation just this Sunday (during the Daytona 500, natch) about the replacement Bo and Luke fiasco. Anyway, remember when Farrah Fawcett left Charlie's Angels and was replaced by Cheryl Ladd, who was supposed to be Jill's little sister Kris? I was stunned! Of course, the reason Cheryl was available was that she'd just been replaced by Meredith Baxter Birney as Nancy on some show called Family. Definitely a downgrade there.

Posted by: G Rex at February 20, 2007 09:48 AM

Curly was the man.

Posted by: Jack at February 21, 2007 11:59 AM