Look Who's Leaving, Too: Stars Who Left Hit TV Shows
By Dino Sossi Posted Jul 5th 2010 02:00PM
Nothing lasts forever. (Except cellulite.) But when it comes to celluloid, not even the best shows can hang on indefinitely.
Steve Carell is leaving 'The Office' after next season, Larry King will switch off the mic this fall and Oprah will step down from her daytime TV throne next year -- so how will these shows (or the holes they leave in their timeslots) fare without their star attractions? Before we get to that answer, let's saunter down memory lane and examine what happened to old hit shows when their head honcho or honchette, leading lady or proverbial King of the World, left for lives outside the magical box of television.
'ER' -- George Clooney
George Clooney is the model for transitioning from the small screen to the big one. After appearing in an unfortunate number of failed TV pilots, Clooney finally shot to television superstardom as maverick doctor Doug Ross on 'ER.' He parlayed his summer vacations into a fledgling movie career until he had enough cachet to become as big as, well, the George Clooney we know today. 'ER' stayed atop the Nielsen ratings for years, despite the departures of not only Clooney but also Eriq La Salle (Dr. Peter Benton), Anthony Edwards (Dr. Mark Greene) and even the show's longest-running star, Noah Wyle (Dr. John Carter).
'Law & Order' -- Chris Noth, Michael Moriarty, Jerry Orbach
'L&O' is the king of television cast turnover. It feels like everyone who has ever been an actor in New York has been on, and then not on, 'L&O.' Some went big, literally -- Chris Noth (Det. Mike Logan) portrayed Mr. Big in 'Sex and the City.' Others went small -- Michael Moriarty (District Attorney Ben Stone) puttered around in minor roles until winning an Emmy in 'Jimmy Dean.' Others went to a brighter, happier stage in the sky -- Jerry Orbach, who played the wickedly acerbic Lennie Briscoe, died in 2004 after a long run on 'L&O' and even longer run on Broadway in such shows as 'The Fantasticks.' While it was recently canceled, the show held on strong for years, spawning successful spin-offs in the process.
'Saturday Night Live' -- Chevy Chase (and pretty much every other funny person in Hollywood)
'SNL' is the pipeline for Hollywood comedic acting. One of the show's earliest crises was the loss of its first breakout star, Chevy ('Weekend Update') Chase. But the series was the little engine that could and kept right on chugging, losing talent almost as fast as it birthed it. After Chase, the show's losses became Hollywood's gain. John Belushi. Bill Murray. Dan Aykroyd. Eddie Murphy. Julia Louis-Dreyfus. Robert Downey Jr. Will Ferrell. Jimmy Fallon. Tina Fey. Whew -- that's just some of the names!
'House' -- Jesse Spencer, Jennifer Morrison, Omar Epps and Kal Penn
This show literally cleared house after season three, as the Vicodin-popping doctor banished Dr. Robert Chase (Jesse Spencer) while Dr. Allison Cameron (Jennifer Morrison) and Dr. Eric Foreman (Omar Epps) resigned in protest; however, each returned. After recruiting a new diagnostic team the following season, replacement doctor Lawrence Kutner (Kal Penn) was eventually written out of the show to accommodate Penn's political aspirations. He was named Barack Obama's associate director of public engagement. After the chopping block at the end of season three, 'House' went from No. 7 in the Nielsen ratings to No. 8 the following year, and has remained in the high teens ever since.
'CSI' -- William Petersen
'CSI' is the poster child for smooth transitions between major characters. After losing the cool professionalism of William "Grissom" Petersen, 'CSI' was able to entice an even bigger name into the fold -- the bassy gravitas of Laurence "Ray Langston" Fishburne (Morpheus from 'The Matrix'). The show has seen some signs of ratings decline (ending the year at No. 4 in the Nielsen ratings during the transition from Petersen to Fishburne, and No. 8 this past year), but this long-running ratings hit still has some life left in it.
'M*A*S*H' -- McLean Stevenson, Wayne Rogers, Larry Linville
'M*A*S*H' benefited from having its anchor, star Alan "Hawkeye Pierce" Alda, for its entire run. And despite the loss of its former commanding officer, Colonel Henry Blake (McLean Stevenson), Swamp-mate Trapper John (Wayne Rogers) and comedic foil Frank Burns (Larry Linville), Mobile Army Surgical Hospital #4077 just kept administering laugh after laugh, culminating in the highest Nielsen rating ever for a show finale until it was surpassed by Super Bowl XLIV in 2010.
'Cheers' -- Nicholas Colasanto, Shelley Long
Similar to 'M*A*S*H,' which was able to replace like-with-like, 'Cheers' kept its Nielsen ratings up by replacing older characters with similar new ones. Hot-headed blonde Diane (Shelley Long) Chambers' saucy attitude was followed by the raven-haired Rebecca (Kirstie Alley) Howe. The untimely death of dimwitted older barkeep Nicholas (Ernie "Coach" Pantusso) Colasanto was offset by the dimwitted younger barkeep Woody (Woody Boyd) Harrelson. After making it to its fourth season, the show remained in the Nielsen top 10 until last call in season 11.
'All in the Family' -- Rob Reiner and Sally Struthers
Rob Reiner wasn't producer Norman Lear's only choice to portray Mike "Meathead" Stivic, the left-leaning counterweight to Archie Bunker's outrageousness. There also was Academy Award winner Richard Dreyfuss. But when combined with Gloria (as portrayed by Sally Struthers), they provided a little ying to Archie's yang. When they left, the show was bereft of some of Archie's fatherly love.
'Who Wants to Be a Millionaire' -- Regis Philbin
Is there a more popular name in television than Regis Philbin? From 'The Joey Bishop Show' (1967 to 1969) to 'Live with Regis and Kathie Lee,' the first season of 'America's Got Talent' to his late night appearances on 'Letterman,' the man is everywhere on the small screen. According to the Guinness World Book of Records, the Reeg has spent more time in front of a television camera than any other person in history -- including Ron Burgundy. But when a syndicated daytime version of the show was announced and Regis left 'Millionaire,' Meredith Vieira took over the new one and neither she, nor the series, has looked back, though it became a slightly different animal.
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