TV.com Top 10: TV's Best Replacement Characters

By Stefanie Lee

Jun 24, 2009

It happens. Contracts end, actors move on, people die, or maybe it's just time for a change. No matter the cause, in the course of producing popular TV shows, it sometimes becomes necessary to replace beloved characters with new talent. Executing a character transfusion is a delicate procedure, but when it works, replacement characters can give old shows new vitality. It's not that the originals were bad; it's just that the replacements are sometimes even better.

Of course, we couldn't cover all the replacement characters ever to be on television (Mr. Furley on Three's Company ranked a close #11), but we think our list is pretty comprehensive. Who could possibly outrank these guys?

10. LAW & ORDER: CRIMINAL INTENT
Original: Det. Mike Logan (Chris Noth)
Replacement: Det. Zach Nichols (Jeff Goldblum)
Why He Rocked: Let's face it. Chris Noth is a great actor, but for the rest of his career, he'll be Mr. Big whether he likes it or not. It's too bad he left Law & Order: Criminal Intent, but the show gained another reliable star. Det. Zach Nichols gives the show a fresh storyline, as Det. Mike Logan was always outspoken and had a troubled past. Noth had also been fired from the original cast of Law & Order, only to revive his role as Logan, so maybe it was time for a break, anyway.

9. CHARLIE'S ANGELS
Original: Jill Munroe (Farrah Fawcett)
Replacement: Kris Munroe (Cheryl Ladd)
Why She Rocked: Cheryl Ladd was left to fill some pretty big shoes (hair?) when Farrah Fawcett exited Charlie's Angels after just one season, but Ladd proved to be a fan favorite as Jill Munroe's younger sister Kris. Known for her outgoing personality and penchant for cover-up, she brought a new, youthful attitude to the show and stayed on for four years, even with Fawcett's intermittent guest spots as Jill. Not bad for a little sis, eh?

8. THE AVENGERS
Original: Cathy Gale (Honor Blackman)
Replacement: Emma Peel (Diana Rigg)
Why She Rocked: When Honor Blackman was replaced by Diana Rigg on the popular British secret agent show The Avengers, the show instantly went from sleek to sexy. The show's humor lightened and its characters became trendsetters; most notably, Rigg's Emma Peel became known for her psychadelically-patterned outfits and her leather catsuit. Though Blackman's character, Cathy Gale, was strong, sleek and well-dressed, she didn't have the sex appeal that the writers wanted. Emma Peel was created explicitly for that reason and became the frontrunner in a new era of primetime television -- an era that included sex.

7. M*A*S*H
Original: Henry Blake (McLean Stevenson)
Replacement: Col. Sherman Potter (Harry Morgan)
Why He Rocked: In possibly one of the most dramatic and controversial leave-taking scenes on television, McLean Stevenson's character Henry Blake was killed off on M*A*S*H when his plane was shot down. Col. Sherman Potter emerged as camp commander and, as a longstanding character on a show bridging the comedy-drama gap, he developed complex, memorable relationships with many of the other characters.

6. CHEERS
Original: Ernie "Coach" Pantusso (Nicholas Colasanto)
Replacement: Woody Boyd (Woody Harrelson)
Why He Rocked: If Coach was the fun-loving father figure of the Cheers bar, then Woody -- full name: Huckleberry Woodrow Tiberius Boyd -- was definitely the mischevious grandson. Following the death of actor Nicholas Colasanto, Woody Harrelson joined the cast as another charmingly dim-witted character, though Woody's signature errors in judgment were more attributed to plain stupidity than old age. Harrelson came at a time when the show was in dire need of a pick-me up, and he provided it perfectly. After all, who could resist a tune like the Kelly song?

5. NYPD BLUE
Original: John Kelly (David Caruso)
Replacement: Bobby Simone (Jimmy Smits)
Why He Rocked: David Caruso left NYPD Blue after just over one season to pursue a film career, but it was probably for the better, anyway. As Det. Simone, Smits brought a certain dark ruggedness and a mysterious past to the show that Kelly never came close to, thanks in part to Caruso's glamorous facade. Even after Simone died and Rick Schroder came in as Det. Danny Sorensen, the show wasn't quite the same. Simone and Sgt. Andy Sipowicz (Dennis Franz) were two peas in a squad car.

4. NEWSRADIO
Original: Bill McNeal (Phil Hartman)
Replacement: Max Lewis (Jon Lovitz)
Why He Rocked: When Phil Hartman was tragically murdered by his wife in 1998, the eight-year veteran of Saturday Night Live had revived his career just three years prior by playing the loathsome Bill McNeal on NBC's underappreciated sitcom NewsRadio, which only ran for five seasons. The loss of Bill, an alpha male and the fictional station's star on-air personality, created a huge hole in the cast until Hartman's friend and fellow SNL alum Jon Lovitz stepped up to the plate. His character, Max, was almost nothing like Bill, but Lovitz made Max loathsome in his own quirky way, perhaps the most fitting tribute of all to one of comedy's most fortunate sons.

3. M*A*S*H
Original: Dr. John "Trapper" McIntyre (Wayne Rogers)
Replacement: Dr. B.J. Hunnicut (Mike Farrell)
Why He Rocked: As was the case in #7, Farrell's character was a longstanding one, lasting though many more seasons than his predecessor, who was Hawkeye's original tentmate. Upon Farrell's entry, M*A*S*H had transitioned from a comedy to a comedy with dramatic elements, and Hunnicut's wholesomeness complemented this change. McIntyre had been known to work in tandem with Dr. Benjamin "Hawkeye" Pierce (Alan Alda) to seduce women (and perform surgery), but when Hunnicut entered Pierce's tent, he helped to soften some of Pierce's crude, hard edges.

2. CHEERS
Original: Diane Chambers (Shelley Long)
Replacement: Rebecca Howe (Kirstie Alley)
Why She Rocked: Kirstie Alley's career may have taken a rather obnoxious turn lately, what with the tabloid headlines and fizzle of Fat Actress, but when the gorgeous brunette stormed into Boston's Cheers bar back in 1987, it was clear that the workplace dynamic would change drastically. Though she never quite stole Sam Malone's (Ted Danson) heart like Diane did, Rebecca's nasally whine and myriad neuroses were equally, if not more, annoying to the other characters than Diane's dainty pretentiousness. And that made for good comedy, plain and simple.

1. THE TONIGHT SHOW
Original: Johnny Carson (host)
Replacement: Jay Leno (host)
Why He Rocked: Okay, so Johnny Carson wasn't exactly a television character. Neither is Jay Leno, for that matter. Technicalities aside, the replacement was an absolute necessity. Carson was about to retire (a well-deserved break after 30 years on air) and the desk needed to be filled. Leno, 25 years Carson's junior, had not earned the same "legendary" status that befit Carson by the end of his run, but audiences gave him a chance. Instead of imitating Carson, an easy fallback move, Leno carried The Tonight Show from 1992 to 2009 by simply being himself. Conan O'Brien looks like he's on the right track, too. Let's hope he stays there.

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  • OmarCayenne Jan 24, 2012

    I liked Farrah and Cheryl Ladd equally. They were both great at what they did...even though the roles were quite a bit different (Farrah a kinda campy sex kitten and Cheryl a kinda campy--and even slightly goofy--kid-sister girl-next-door).

  • Fallon97 Nov 23, 2011

    I think the transition from Farrah Fawcett to Cheryl Ladd was probably the best and smoothest transition in history. Cheryl Ladd was actually better than Farrah Fawcett, in my opinion. I also thought she had better chemistry with Kate Jackson, Jaclyn Smith and David Doyle than Farrah Fawcett as well. I also think it's really unfair how Cheryl is always shunned for Farrah who only was on the show for a year. I felt that Cheryl brought a lot more depth to her character as Kris, and was more believable as a detective.

  • pisceandreams Dec 16, 2011

    I completely agree with you that Cheryl was better than Farrah and brought much more to the show overall.

  • hyperion82 Jan 11, 2010

    What about Charlie Sheen replacing Michael J. Fox on Spin City?

  • angeland8 Aug 23, 2009

    Emma Peel (Diana Rigg) is my #1 replacement. And I strongly disagree with MASH replacements. Original characters were way better.

  • MLionhart2 Aug 11, 2009

    What about Jefferson Darcy on Married With Children replacing Steve Rhoades? By the way, am I the only one whose page scrolls to the top whenever the comment entry part of this page is clicked? This is very weird.

  • bos3ayed Aug 11, 2009

    make a list Worst replacement " fresh prince THE AUNT!! "
    by the way great replacement in the list

  • Goldenbarba Aug 11, 2009

    Leno!??? No way!

  • mn1203 Aug 10, 2009

    Ziva replacing Kate in NCIS should atleast be in Top 3.

  • mattiejo900 Aug 08, 2009

    I could think of so many others that could be on this list. Anya Jenkins replacing Cordelia on Buffy, Illyria replacing Fred on Angel (even though they were played by the same actress), Paige Matthews replaced Pru Haliwell on Charmed...I could go on and on

  • chavez66 Aug 08, 2009

    add a comment

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