The new series, House Of The Dragon, is notable for many reasons, but one of the most remarkable is its casting. Rather than keeping the same central cast throughout its first season, a new slate of actors will step in halfway through in order to depict how its two female leads, Rhaenyra and Alicent, grow up.
However, the HBO series isn’t the first television show to have to contend with the complexities created by a cast shake-up. Indeed, TV history is filled with examples of this phenomenon although, as the users of Reddit are quick to point out, some handled their cast changes better than others.
Friday Night Lights (2006 – 2011)
Stream On Peacock
During its run, Friday Night Lights established itself as one of the best sports dramas. While obviously much of the series’ attention is on the characters, it uses their various dramas, as well as its small-town setting, to address many other issues that were pertinent during its release. Just as importantly, it also saw some notable cast changes, with an entirely new raft of characters stepping in for its final two seasons.
It handled this change with remarkable finesse, as sayhellotojen describes: “Friday Night Lights integrated almost a completely new cast for seasons 4 and 5 very well, and is one of the very few “high school” shows to execute the transition from HS to college well for their main cast members.” Though some shows struggle to achieve this balance, it’s to Friday Night Lights’ credit that it was able to do so.
House (2004 – 2012)
Stream On Peacock
House, with its grouchy antihero, is widely regarded as one of the best medical dramas. It is also one that saw its fair share of cast turnover, particularly once it made it through its first several seasons. Though obviously, House remained, many of the other doctors on his staff left for one reason or another.
In fact, the series built the cast change into its own story arc, which is something that has pleased many Reddit users. Dailywack3r puts it this way: “It’s easily the best arc in a show filled with amazing story arcs and memorable characters.” Sometimes, a series just needs to incorporate these major changes, rather than pretending they don’t exist.
M*A*S*H (1972 – 1983)
Stream On Hulu
M*A*S*H is rightly regarded as one of the best television shows ever made. Set at a field hospital during the Korean War, it managed to explore not only the deep personal lives of its characters but also issues of pressing political and philosophical importance — all of this, in addition to seeing several of its main characters leave and be replaced by new actors.
In some ways, the replacement members of the cast were even better than the originals, and the series seemed to mature as it went on. It’s no wonder, then, that Parabolicnoun says: “I’d say MASH is the gold standard.”
Parks And Recreation (2009 – 2015)
Stream On Hulu
Parks and Recreation is a widely beloved show, in large part because it is such a good example of the feel-good phenomenon. Leslie Knope and her friends at the Parks Department are the kind of people that viewers can cheer for. However, the series endured its fair share of cast turnover, often for the better, as the replacements gelled better with the rest of the cast.
LutzExpertTera writes: “Parks and Rec. Mark Brendanaquitz was originally the leading man and they phased him out seamlessly for the major additions of Adam Scott/Rob Lowe.” Indeed, the addition of Ben and Chris was to the show’s benefit, as they each became fan favorites.
Spartacus (2010 – 2013)
Stream On Starz
Spartacus is one of the most unique shows to have emerged from Starz. Following the title character as he goes from being a gladiator to a warrior who nearly topples Rome, it was noted for having a major cast change when its lead actor, Andy Whitfield, passed away between the first and second seasons. His replacement, Liam McIntyre took the character in some new directions, while also staying true to his essence.
LaxSagacity explains why this works so well: “The main reason this works is that there’s a definitive change in the character due to the plot events. The character was reborn in a sense which made the actor transition work better.” McIntyre would go on to play the role for the rest of the series’ run.
The Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air (1990 – 1996)
Stream On HBO Max
The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air is one of the most beloved sitcoms from the 1990s. With Will Smith in the title role, it has a charm that has managed to endure through the decades. Its success is all the more remarkable in that it had to recast a major member of its ensemble when the role of Aunt Viv passed from Janet Hubert to Daphne Maxwell Reid.
As jeajello points out, part of what makes it work is “Will breaking the fourth wall with Jazzy Jeff’s hilarious one-liner about Aunt Viv looking different.” As is so often the case with television, part of what can often make a cast change work is building it into the actual series’ universe itself.
Roseanne (1988 – 2018)
Stream On Peacock
Roseanne was, during its run, one of the most popular sitcoms on television. This stemmed both from its willingness to take on real-world issues – an essential part of its appeal since it focused on the trials of a blue-collar family – but also because of the dynamic relationships among the cast. As with so many other shows, however, it also had to contend with a major cast change, in this case involving the main character, Becky.
NyxRedbird says: “They made a joke of it and didn’t try to act like anything had changed.” By letting the audience in on the joke, Roseanne ensured that the viewer was still invited into the fictional world that the show created.
Cheers (1982 – 1993)
Stream On Peacock
There’s no question that Cheers was, in its heyday, one of the most popular series on television. With its classic sitcom setup of a bar, its employees, and its denizens, it knew just how to provide audiences more of what they wanted to see. It also featured a very notable cast change. When Diane left and was replaced by Rebecca, it could have spelled the end.
Instead, the show got even better. As MonolithJones says: “Cheers is the gold standard. The show successfully replaced the lead actress and also a popular supporting with what ended being a more popular character in my opinion.” The series demonstrated that a cast change can actually allow a series to grow and change, rather than remain the same.
Night Court (1984 – 1992)
Stream On Prime Video
Few sitcoms were quite as quirky as Night Court. As its title suggests, it focuses on the various goings-on that take place during the night shift of a municipal court in Manhattan. It features the usual sort of zany characters one would expect from a sitcom of this particular era, most notably Marsha Warfield as the bailiff. However, she wasn’t the first one to occupy this role, for all that she became one of the series’ most beloved and memorable characters.
EMPulseKC says: “Roz was such a great foil to the rest of the cast that it was almost like she was always there, but the older episodes with Selma and Flo were great too.” It’s a testament to the series’ writing and its casting that it was so easily able to incorporate a new cast member.
Three’s Company (1976 – 1984)
Stream On Fubo
Three’s Company is widely seen as one of the best sitcoms of the 1970s. The original trio of John Ritter, Suzanne Somers, and Joyce DeWitt had a unique charm but, after Somers left, the series ended up having a variety of actresses fit into the role.
TJ_McWeaksauce had this to say: “The show’s about roommates, and sometimes roommates leave. Makes sense. And although Chrissy was a popular character, the rest of the cast was plenty talented and could keep the show going strong without her.” The series also had another notable replacement when Don Knotts stepped in, yet another case in which the casting only improved.
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