Can a hit television show survive the exit of a major character or star? Look back at television history and you’ll find a number of programs have done just that, Bewitched and MASH just to name a few. In light of the troubles faced by the hit show Two and a Half Men, it might be time to look back at programs that successfully went forward without a few of their stars, without missing a beat.
The most famous switch/exit happened on the 1960s sitcom Bewitched, a show about a mortal man name Darrin Stephens who marries a witch, Samantha. Bewitched premiered in 1964 and would last a total of eight seasons.
At the end of filming season 5, Dick York who had originated the character of Darrin Stephens decided to leave the show due to a chronic illness. York was then replaced with Dick Sargent. For the audience, the swap was instantaneous. Although the show had centered on a witch and her magical mishaps, no explanation was ever given as to why Darrin looked different. Bewitched lasted another three years after the Darrin switch.
In 1975, MASH started its fourth season with the departure of two main characters. After three seasons of playing Henry Blake, McLean Stevenson decided to leave and was killed off in “Abyssinia, Henry" the season finale. Then Trapper John played by Wayne Rogers followed due to contractual issues. He would not return for the start of season four, but was written out of the show in an episode entitled “Welcome to Korea.”
Faced with losing two central cast members, the creators of MASH came up with two replacements to fill the open slots. B.J. Hunnicutt, played by Mike Farrell, filled the hole left by Rogers. And to cover Stevenson’s role as commander of the MASH unit, the show introduced Coronal Sherman T. Potter, played by veteran actor Harry Morgan.
MASH survived eight more seasons after the exit of Rogers and Stevenson’s, and throughout its eleven seasons on the air other actors would exit the show and new character would enter. For MASH, the loss of two of its major character’s was not a nail in its coffin but in fact added to the war time comedy’s realism.
Other programs in television history have survived an exit of a character or actor. Due to his battle with Parkinson disease, Michael J. Fox decided to leave his hit show Spin City. A new character was created, and Charlie Sheen took over. Spin City would last two seasons after Fox’s exit.
Rosanne would pay homage to the Bewitched switch when Lecy Goranson who played Rosanne’s daughter Becky left to go to school. She was then swapped out with Sarah Chalke. Goranson would play Becky again by replacing Chalke in the final seasons.
The problems between Two and a Half Men executives and Charlie Sheen may give the writers an opportunity to create an imaginative exit for Sheen, and to introduce the audience to someone new. We don’t know what will happen, but if Two and a Half Men is to continue they may want to look to the past to solve their problems with Charlie.