The Office & Other Shows That Should Have Called It Quits
Four more people are leaving The Office. What happens to a TV show when key cast members leave? Most of the time, it’s nothing good.
By Eric Alt
The Office managed to keep its core cast together for seven seasons before Steve Carell left Dunder Mifflin/Sabre to focus on making movies. The show had already been getting stale — it’s tough to make seven years at a paper company with shockingly low turnover continually interesting — and trying to replace Carell with a revolving door of celebrity guest stars, tired story lines, and James Spaders didn’t do much to change that. Now, show regulars B.J. Novak (Ryan Howard), Mindy Kaling (Kelly Kapoor), James Spader (Robert California), and showrunner Paul Liberstein (Toby Flenderson) all announced they’re leaving Scranton. Despite that, season nine is on the way.
So in honor of The Office trying, um, valiantly to carry on despite the fact that half the cast has left or is leaving, we thought up eight other shows that soldiered on despite losing key cast members.
#8: HAPPY DAYS | 1974 – 1984
For the first seven of its 11 seasons, Happy Days centered on Richie Cunningham, even though Fonzie was the most popular character. So when Ron Howard decided he’d be better served directing movies than playing a goofball who still lived with his folks and said “bucko” all the time, Happy Days execs knew they were in trouble. So they brought in sitcom assassin Ted McGinley in 1980 to play Richie’s cousin. Although the sitcom had already jumped the shark (Literally. The phrase refers to an infamous season-five episode in which Fonzie water ski-jumped over a shark.), Howard’s departure sealed the show’s fate.
Still, what Happy Days did wasn’t as egregious as the stunt its spinoff show Laverne & Shirley pulled, which was to continue to call itself Laverne & Shirley even though there was no longer any Shirley.
#7: TWO AND A HALF MEN | 2003 -
When the show premiered on CBS in fall 2003, it quickly became apparent that Charlie Sheen‘s womanizing Charlie Harper was the straw that stirred the drink (or snorted the powder). So when Sheen got canned in March 2011 for trashing the show and acting like an insane person, some people wondered whether the show — now One and a Half Men — would go on permanent hiatus. Instead, CBS hired Ashton Kutcher as Sheen’s replacement, and used the season premiere to kill Harper off and use Sheen’s star power to snag a few more ratings points. It worked, but it wouldn’t last; the show hit an all-time ratings low later on in the season.
#6: THE X-FILES | 1993 – 2002
X-Files was built on the relationship between Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) and Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson). So one would have assumed that if any part of “Mulder & Scully” left, the show would have ended. But no. After Duchovny split, The X-Files tried to shoehorn in
T-1000 Robert Patrick as a new guy named John Doggett. Needless to say, “Doggett & Scully” did not have the same spark, and viewers were mysteriously abducted. The series finale in 2001 had only 13 million viewers, down almost 50 percent from the viewership in the show’s heyday.
#5: L.A. LAW | 1986 – 1994
Stars Harry “Perseus” Hamlin and Jimmy “The Guy From That One Police Procedural” Smits cashed in their chips five seasons in; Susan “Partridge Family” Dey left in season six. Despite lower ratings, the show carried on for a few more seasons on the back of lone original cast holdout Corbin “Roger Dorn” Bernsen. L.A. Law threw anything it could into the mix to lure back its audience, but when the mentally handicapped office assistant, Benny, was far more interesting than any of the actual lawyers, you knew the show wasn’t going to last.
#4: SPIN CITY| 1996 – 2002
After four seasons as Deputy Mayor Mike Flaherty, Michael J. Fox left the show due to his worsening Parkinson’s Disease symptoms. To keep the show going, Charlie Sheen was cast as the new lead to replace Fox in 2000. During that time the show also moved production from New York to Los Angeles and left behind even more of the cast in the process. Despite big dips in the ratings, the show stuck around for two more seasons, and Sheen even won a Golden Globe for his performance.
#3: A DIFFERENT WORLD | 1987 – 1993
What do you do when you create a spin-off for a character from one of the most popular shows in television history … only to have the actress who plays that character quit? In the case of this Cosby Show spin-off, you throw up your hands and hope the goofy one-dimensional supporting characters, previously there for comic relief, can carry the show. And that’s exactly what they did after original star Lisa Bonet fled after season two — the show lasted four more years.
#2: 8 SIMPLE RULES FOR DATING MY TEENAGE DAUGHTER | 2002 – 2005
With John Ritter (formerly of Three’s Company) and Katey Segal (formerly of Married… With Children) leading the cast, the show found an audience by the end of its first season and got renewed. While taping the second season, however, Ritter suffered from an aortic dissection — a tear in the inner layer of the aorta — and died unexpectedly. Instead of pulling the plug, the show’s producers renamed it 8 Simple Rules and added David Spade and James Garner to the cast. After being moved to a dreaded Friday-night time slot, the show finally ended after its third season.
#1: THAT ’70s SHOW | 1998 – 2006
Yes, it was seriously on for that many years. But after the seventh season, Topher Grace left to pursue a movie career and Ashton Kutcher appeared in only five episodes. In an attempt to inject new blood into the struggling (and by this time, boring) sitcom, Donna (Laura Prepton) began dating smarmy record store clerk Randy Pearson (Josh Meyers), and Hyde (Danny Masterson) married a stripper. Unfortunately, it wasn’t as hilarious as it sounds. Grace and Kutcher returned for the series finale, but Grace’s role was so minor he wasn’t even credited.