Just kidding….sort of. I admire him leaving before the quality drops any further, but part of me really wants to see him run that thing into the ground, “Simpsons” style. Either way, he’s not the first to prematurely say adios to a role. Some of TV’s most popular shows have had actors walk away while the ratings were still high. Here are nine such examples.
In the forth season of the popular ABC sitcom, “Spin City,” producers were forced to
shake change things up when the show’s star, Michael J. Fox, was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease. His character, Mike Flaherty, left his position as deputy mayor after taking the fall in a mafia scandal. Flaherty went on to become an environmental lobbyist in D.C., working along side Senator Alex P. Keaton, Fox’s character from “Family Ties.” He was later replaced by a new character, played by Charlie Sheen. Things ended poorly two seasons later.
In the pilot episode of “Cheers,” the character of Diane Chambers is abandoned at a bar, Cheers, by her boy friend, a married man named Sumner Sloan. Devastated by the experience, she accepts a job at the bar in order to begin rebuilding her life. In the fifth season of the show, Sumner Sloan returns and offers Diane the chance to finish writing her book, “Jocasta’s Conundrum.” She ends up leaving her job and lover, Sam Malone to pursue the opportunity. The character was written out of the show at the behest of actress Shelly Long, whose decision to leave is widely considered one of the biggest blunders in television history.
When Colonel Henry Blake was discharged from the army and sent home at the end of “M.A.S.H.’s third season, viewers were probably expecting a tearful good bye. But they probably weren’t expecting to have their hearts ripped out of their chests. Writers surprised everyone by having the character killed off in a plane crash during his flight home. They did so after actor McLean Stevenson left the show. He felt his character was becoming a second fiddle to Hunnicut and Pierce.
When Ron Howard decided to leave his role as the star of “Happy Days,” at least he had a good reason. He was launching his career as a director. But removing the main character of a show about the mid-50’s and early 60’s proved easy enough, and writers shipped his character, Richie Cunningham, off to the army.
Eric Forman was the glue that held “That 70’s Show” together. His basement was the meeting place for all of the other characters, including his parents. So when Topher Grace decided to leave the show, it seemed like a stretch to keep the show in production. It was. After Forman left to teach in Africa, it lasted only one season.
After four years on the initial “Law and Order,” District Attorney Ben Stone was written off the show, resigning his post after a key witness was murdered while under his protection. Actor Michael Moriarty claims he left the show to protest what he perceived as a government attempt to censor violence in the show. Producers told a different story, involving Moriarty’s “erratic behavior.” Either way, “Law and Order” never missed a beat, and continued for another 16 seasons.
Dr. Mark Greene was the first character introduced on the hit medical drama, “ER.” But after eight seasons and no end in site, actor Anthony Edwards wanted to move on. Writers decided to kill off the character with a good old-fashioned case of brain cancer. Despite the loss of such an iconic character, the show lasted another seven seasons.
The character of Lawrence Kutner was probably the greatest Indian-American Doctor with brutally murdered adoptive Jewish parents in the history of television. That’s why everyone was so bummed when the writers decided to kill him off via suicide. The reason they did so was because actor Kal Penn had accepted a liaison position at White House. Based on the method of his departure from the show, I’m assuming the writers were McCain supporters.
“The X-Files” was a wildly popular sci-fi drama that helped bring conspiracy theories into the main stream. Agent Fox Mulder was the heart and soul of the show. After seven seasons of exploring the paranormal, actor David Duchovny walked away after contentious contract negotiations. Writers decided to tie up loose ends in a fitting manner: by having Mulder abducted by aliens. However, his character did return sporadically for the remainder of the series.