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

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.

Comments (60)
Submit
Sort: Latest | Popular
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).
Reply
Flag
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.
Reply
Flag
I completely agree with you that Cheryl was better than Farrah and brought much more to the show overall.
Reply
Flag
What about Charlie Sheen replacing Michael J. Fox on Spin City?
Reply
Flag
Emma Peel (Diana Rigg) is my #1 replacement. And I strongly disagree with MASH replacements. Original characters were way better.
1
Reply
Flag
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.
Reply
Flag
make a list Worst replacement " fresh prince THE AUNT!! "
by the way great replacement in the list
Reply
Flag
Leno!??? No way!
1
Reply
Flag
Ziva replacing Kate in NCIS should atleast be in Top 3.
Reply
Flag
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
Reply
Flag
add a comment
Reply
Flag
Where's Will Bailey (Josh Malina) replacing Sam Seaborn (Rob Lowe) on the West Wing?!
Reply
Flag
After reading the comments I had to respond. I hate hearing people b*tch about how Jon Lovitz sucked on News Radio and blame him for the show ending. The show didn't end because of Jon Lovitz, it ended because Phil Hartman was murdered and no one could get over it. Yes, Phil Hartman was amazing on News Radio and yeah it was sad not having him around, but Jon Lovitz's character was unique, funny, and worked well on the show. You can't say a new character sucked just because he wasn't the exact same character he was brought in to replace.
Reply
Flag
My all time favorite replacement certainly is Jon Stewart taking over from Craig Kilborn at 'The Daily Show". In fact they are worlds apart with the brilliance heavily weighing down on Stewart's side. He made just another slightly funny talky show into a stellar comedy news program, being entertaining, goofing around and still highlighting serous issues. He and his "correspondents" are simply the best.
Reply
Flag
Rebecca Howe and Bill McNeal. Some of the greatest characters in TV history.
Reply
Flag
While others are on Law and Order replacements, why not mention Jerry Orbach replacing Paul Sorvino? Orbach was a great partner to Chris Noth for many years. May he Rest in peace
Reply
Flag
NO way was Jon Lovitz a great replacment character. I belongs on a list of Worst replacement characters. It was Lovitz that caused me to stop watching the show way back then. I tried to watch an episode from the Lovitz era on hulu, and had to turn it off. Oh BTW, the real replacment for Johnny Carson was Dave Letterman when he moved to 11:30. Jay Leno was and still is a hack
Reply
Flag
How about Paul Picerni for Anthony George on The Untouchables? Don't forget Paul Burke either. He replaced James Franciscus on Naked City and Robert Lansing on Twelve O'Clock High.
Reply
Flag
i totally agree with you montanagrl987! (:
Reply
Flag
I don't agree with either one of the MASH replacements, especially Henry. Henry was the best! And I really like Goldblum on Criminal Intent. I would have also added Ziva David replacing Kate Todd on NCIS and Natalie Teeger replacing Sharona on Monk. Natalie is way better than Sharona was even on her best episode.
Reply
Flag
@CrasMacKenzie - I think Michael Moriarty was ADA before Waterston. He was good, but you're right, Sam Waterston makes that show.
Reply
Flag
This list needs Valerie Malone.
Reply
Flag
Sam Waterston from Law & Order should be #1. I don't recall who was before him, but Waterston was the best thing that ever happened to that show.
Reply
Flag
They did all the replacements in the old times.
Reply
Flag
Jay Leno is awesome!!
Reply
Flag

No way does Jay Leno belong on this list. Personally, I think they should have put this one somewhere on the list.

X: Stargate SG-1

Original: Col. Jack O'Neill (Richard Dean Anderson)

Replacement: Lt. Col. Cameron Mitchell (Ben Browder)

Why He Rocked: In the first few seasons of SG-1, I thought Col. O'Neill was awesome (still is). But as time went on, his character just seemed to get dumber by the season, partly due to the fact that he would wait a moment before answering people half the time. (this of course is probably because Anderson would ad-lib a lot of his lines, but my point still stands) When Anderson left SG-1 after it's eighth season, the powers that be called in Ben Browder to play Col. O'Neill's replacement character, Lt. Col. Cameron Mitchell. Rather than attempting to make him a carbon copy of O'Neill (unlike Maj. Sheppard in the first season of Stargate Atlantis), they gave him his own personality. He was a more serious character, but he was still able to joke around now and then. Adding to this the fact that he didn't act dumb nearly as often as his predecessor, I found myself not missing O'Neill that much at all. (still wish O'Neill was on the show in seasons 9-10, but I didn't seem to care when I was watching it)

More+
Reply
Flag
Some are good replacements but David Caruso was awsome



XO XO



:):):):)
Reply
Flag
I made an account just to voice my displeasure. Jeff Goldblum is terrible, and the character doesn't work well with Goren. Chris Noth's character was the jelly to Vincent Dinafero's peanut butter. Leno couldn't kiss Carson's shoes.
Reply
Flag
I totally disagree with #1. There's no way Jay Leno was better than Carson. I didn't watch Newsradio after Hartman left, but I agree with the rest of your choices. As Opus88kd suggested, you should have added Ziva David in for Kate Todd, though I've liked them both.
1
Reply
Flag
I'm not sure about Jon Lovitz replacing Phil Hartman on News Radio--the show only lasted one more season with him. And as for NYPD Blue, I prefer David Caruso. And how about the ones who replace Chris Noth on Law & Order. Or how about Sam Waterson replacing Michael Moriarty. How about Robert Prosky replacing Michael Conrad on Hill Street Blues? How about Ken Curtis replacing Dennis Weaver on Gunsmoke. How about Merlin Olsen replacing Victor French on Little House. How about Kevin Dobson replacing Don Murray on Knots Landing. How about Jo Anderson replacing Julianne Phillips on Sisters, who would later be replaced by Sheila Kelley.How about Robert Downey Jr. replacing Gil Bellows on Ally McBeal too bad his personal problems led to his termination. I would like to point out that when Jeff McKay left Magnum P.I. his role was more or replaced by the character of Maggie played by Jean Bruce Scott. And if want to include Leno replacing Carson why also include Dan Rather replacing Walter Cronkite or Drew Carey replacing Bob Barker on The Price is Right or the people who replace Howard Cosell on Monday Night Football.
Reply
Flag
Kara "Starbuck" Thrace (who was a man in the original 1970s series that started it all) from Battlestar Galactica. Starbuck, played by Dirk Benedict, in the 1978.
Replacement: Katee Sackhoff yay!
Reply
Flag
@KOKOKATIE i agree she made an awesome replacement and i liked how they weaned the cast into liking her instead she's there and bare with it like most shows do.



oh and what about them getting rid of prudence on charmed and replacing her with paige. i thought that was the best thing to ever happen to the show dont get me wrong pru was nice and all but she needed to go.



i can bet that fishburn will never get on a list like this lmao he's the worst replacement for grissom since he has no training whatsoever and yet somehow got the job. they really should of tried harder. and they still need to hire someone to replace warrick.
Reply
Flag
Also: Star Trek: Checkov for Rand. McCoy for Piper. Voyager: Seven of Nine for Kes. DS9: Ezri for Jadzia. TNG: Dr. Crusher who thankfully returned replacing Dr. Polaski, who replaced Crusher in the first place.
Reply
Flag
Also M*A*S*H : Larry Linville (Burns) leaving and David Ogden Stiers (Winchester) taking over. A two-dimensional, bumbling idiot for a three-dimensional, brilliant but immodest, snooty snob.
Reply
Flag
Not sure if one would call it a replacement, but from the Highlander franchise you got Adrian Paul replacing Chris Lambert as the main Highlander. Def a great move.
Reply
Flag
And don't get me started on CHiPs!!!
Reply
Flag
Eartha Kitt, Lee Merriwether, Julie Newmar as Catwoman on Batman?



Stuck in the 60's!
Reply
Flag
What about Dick Sargent replacing Dick York as Darrin Stevens on Bewitched?
Reply
Flag
Ok, John Lovitz couldnt hold a candle to Phil Hartman, and dont even get me started on Jay Leno. Like Jay, but Johnny was the man. He was the one that set the standard for all others to follow as far as late night talk shows went. He wasnt just a host, he was a legend.
Reply
Flag
I don't quite know if it counts, but David Tennant replacing Christopher Eccelston is possibly the best replacement in history. Also, Cote de Pablo makes a fantastic replacement for Sasha Alexander in NCIS
Reply
Flag
Siiiigggghhhhh.... Of all the photos of Harry Morgan you could have used, you chose the ONE episode where he was a guest star playing the role of General Steele; a slightly off-his-rocker senior officer who was making an inspection of the 4077th and eventually tried to court-martial Hawkeye when he told the general -- and I quote -- "You're nuts!" For the record, a colonel would have an eagle on his lapels and his cap. A general has one to five stars.
Reply
Flag
Jeff on Law and Order is really hilarious!
Reply
Flag
No love for JAG? Andrea Parker: 2 episodes. Tracy Needham: 20 episodes. Catherine Bell: 205 episodes.
Reply
Flag
Don't know the actress' or character's name, but the original female agent on NCIS had great chemistry with the Tony DiNozzo character. Couldn't imagine a decent replacement, but Ziva David (character's name) has been a terrific addition with possibly even better chemistry with the entire team. Well done, NCIS!
Reply
Flag
add mahone replacing bellick
Reply
Flag
I really like Jeff Goldblum on CI!
Reply
Flag
I'd add:
Rose McGowan's Paige for Shannon Doherty's Prue

&
Ali Larter's Tracy for Ali Larter's Niki. (lol)
Reply
Flag
And how about Jeff McKay replacing himself on Magnum P.I.?
Reply
Flag
Pretty good article, but I can think of quite a few characters I would have placed before Jay Leno or Jon Lovitz: Sam Waterston replacing Michael Moriarty and Jerry Orbach replacing Paul Sorvino on Law & Order; Peter Graves replacing Steven Hill on Mission: Impossible; and Edward James Olmos replacing Gregory Sierra on Miami Vice, for example.
Reply
Flag
I agree totally with the Charlie's Angels replacement. Farrah was only there for the first season while Cheryl was great throughout her 4 years on the show. Always did seem unfair to me that whenever the media referred to the Charlie's Angels, Cheryl was never included in that. Rose McGowan replacing Shannen Doherty in Charmed is a personal favourite of mine.
Reply
Flag
Really Jay Leno! No way he is a hack. There is no way he could ever fill Johnny Carson's shoes.
Reply
Flag
Load More Comments

Like TV.com on Facebook