Poor Shailene Woodley. 🙁
It’s always sad when a character leaves a TV show, whether their character is killed off or simply leaves town. Usually though, it fits the story…but sometimes, an actor/their character is abruptly booted off the show.
Sometimes, they were fired, or the actor didn’t show up to set (or didn’t get called back to set). Sometimes, they were recast, so their character remained. And sometimes, their character just disappeared into thin air.
Here are 17 times characters were unceremoniously killed or booted off a show, to the detriment of the plot/continuity.
Brooke Smith joined the Grey’s Anatomy cast back in late Season 2 as Dr. Erica Hahn, and later became one half of the show’s first significant lesbian pairing: Callica (Callie and Erica).
However, she was let go in Season 5, reportedly because the network didn’t like the direction the couple was taking or Hahn’s character. Smith said of her dismissal, “They just suddenly told me that they couldn’t write for my character anymore. … I don’t think I’m ever going to know [why this really happened].” Her character was last seen walking to her car, and it was revealed she quit the next episode.
Erica’s untimely departure was explained by the show’s executive producer, Shonda Rhimes, who explained, “Unfortunately, we did not find that the magic and chemistry with Brooke’s character would sustain in the long run. The impact of the Callie/Erica relationship will be felt and played out in a story for Callie.”
Another character on Grey’s who left abruptly was Izzie. There was a lot of controversy around Katherine Heigl’s departure from the show, with some claiming she simply hadn’t showed up to work in Season 7. In reality, Heigl said she was on family leave, and decided she wanted to focus more time on being a mom. Before she was due back, she said she talked to Shonda and “waited at home until I was given the formal OK that I was off the show.”
Her last episode was Season 6, Episode 12. Her character did leave town in the episode, but it wasn’t expected that she’d never come back on the show.
Charlie Sheen suffered a pretty public fall from grace back in 2011, and was thus fired from his TV show Two and a Half Men. At the time, Sheen was the highest-paid actor on US TV.
The remainder of the season was cancelled, and the next season began with his character’s funeral after dying offscreen (though, in the series finale, he was revealed to be alive; before promptly dying again).
To revitalize the show, Ashton Kutcher was brought in as the second lead. The show ran for four more seasons, but many fans felt it wasn’t the same.
Danny was a fan favorite character on Teen Wolf, and he got a bigger role when he began a relationship with new character Ethan in Season 3.
At the end of the season, they broke up, and Ethan left town, and Danny revealed he knew all about werewolves. So naturally…fans were expecting this to influence the plot, and Danny’s plotline to continue.
But Danny just…never returned. Not even for the finale, for which Ethan returned (now dating Jackson), even though showrunner Jeff Davis had assured us we hadn’t seen the last of Danny. For actor Keahu Kahuanui’s part, he joked about the situation with this video suggesting Danny had showed up to school one day and it was locked.
Shannen Doherty was one of three main characters on Charmed for the first three seasons — and then suddenly, her character was killed off. This was especially unexpected considering the entire premise of the show was around the power of three — basically, the Halliwell sisters’ power revolved around there being three of them.
To rectify this, the show had to introduce a long-lost sister to again complete the trio, played by Rose McGowan. Prue’s death wasn’t in the original plan of the show — it was Doherty’s choice to leave. She said, “There was too much drama on the set and not enough passion for the work” (which many assumed was referring to costar Alyssa Milano, with whom there’d been rumors of drama). Milano and McGowan also ended up having drama.
Doherty’s character’s death wasn’t even clear in the episode it happened, and came across as a bit random and abrupt. (She’s really just killed by falling through a wall, just like Piper was — but Piper was fine?) Fans weren’t the only ones divided on her character’s abrupt exit — costar Holly Marie Combs said, ”We should have had an opportunity to have her character, Prue, make a graceful exit and have our story writers properly plan for that.”
Doherty had also left Beverly Hills, 90210 under less-than-ideal circumstances.
She was actually fired due to Tori Spelling speaking to her father, who produced the show, about on-set fights and tension between Doherty and other cast members. The last time we saw Brenda on the show, she was spending the night with Dylan before leaving for a year at an acting school. However, the last scene basically involves her promising to come back to Dylan and saying she’ll always love him. Except…she never came back.
Most of the actors/characters on this list had abrupt exits, but they can actually still be unceremoniously ousted slowly. Probably one of the worst examples of this is Charisma Carpenter, who played Cordelia Chase on Buffy the Vampire Slayer and then its spin-off Angel.
After seasons of character development and being a fan favorite, she acted as a villain in Season 4 and basically went against everything she stood for as a character (including sleeping with Connor, her best friend and love interest Angel’s teenage son). It was eventually revealed she had been possessed by an evil force, which the heroes defeated — but Cordelia was still left in a coma at the end of Season 4.
Carpenter says show creator Joss Whedon assured her that she wouldn’t be fired after her character was put in the coma, but later, when the press called her for comment, she discovered she had, in fact, been fired. Carpenter believes she was fired as retaliation for becoming pregnant. Whedon allegedly asked her if she was “going to keep it” and then accused her of sabotaging the show when he found out about her pregnancy.
She did appear for a single episode of Season 5, which was a great swan song for her character, before it was revealed she was dead. Still, the slow ruin of her character and Carpenter’s eventual firing continues to be universally hated by fans.
Danneel Ackles had a similar experience on One Tree Hill. After going from a villain/the popular girl (like Cordelia), she had a great character arc. But then in Season 5, she had a heroin addiction and stole from Brooke, who was only trying to help her. She returned in Season 7 as a villain made out to be even worse than Dan, the show’s main villain.
Ackles has since come out and said that in her mind, Rachel’s story ended much better. In the wake of the allegations against show creator Mark Schwahn, she said of Rachel’s downfall and character assassination: “There have been a lot of things that have come out recently about One Tree Hill, so I’ll let you just kind of decide why you think that happened to her. … Our executive producer and creator kind of had a way of — when he was done with you — making you leave the show the worst possible way.”
One early emotional moment of Avengers: Endgame was when Scott reunited with his daughter after five years in the Quantum Realm (well, for him, five hours), and she was now a teenager.
The role was played by Emma Fuhrmann. But then, for the third Ant-Man movie, Fuhrmann was ousted and replaced with Kathryn Newton for seemingly no reason. Taking to Twitter, Fuhrmann seemingly implied she’d learned the news online at the same time as everyone else, when Newton’s casting was announced. For Marvel’s part, they never gave a reason for the recast.
Speaking of the MCU…there have been two major character recasts: Bruce Banner and James Rhodes. Let’s start with Bruce, who was originally played by Ed Norton in 2008’s The Incredible Hulk.
But by 2012’s The Avengers, he’d been replaced by Mark Ruffalo. The Incredible Hulk left Bruce on the run/working on his transformations in British Columbia. The Avengers picked up with him working in Calcutta. There’s nothing to suggest they’re not the same Bruce, but they reference very little from The Incredible Hulk.
Explanations for Norton’s ousting have varied. At first, Norton maintained that he “sincerely hoped it could happen and be great for everyone,” but that it hadn’t “turned out as we all hoped.” But later, he suggested he’d been the reason for the recast, saying he’d done all he wanted with the role and didn’t want to continue the large obligation to continue to appear in the franchise. Marvel’s explanation was that they needed “an actor who embodies the creativity and collaborative spirit of our other talented cast members” and who could thrive as part of an ensemble.
Terrence Howard was also replaced after appearing in one MCU film: Iron Man. Howard said that he was replaced because Marvel refused to pay him what they had originally promised for the second film, as set out in their three-picture deal. “It turns out that the person I helped become Iron Man … when it was time to re-up for the second one, (he) took the money that was supposed to go to me and pushed me out,” Howard said, presumably referring to Downey Jr.
He was replaced by Don Cheadle in Iron Man 2 and all subsequent films. He even appeared in Falcon and the Winter Soldier, a performance for which he was nominated for an Emmy. Marvel didn’t comment on the switch.
One last MCU actor that disappeared — Natalie Portman, who played Jane Foster in the first two Thor films. She did not reprise her role in the third, later saying, “Obviously, I wasn’t written into [Thor: Ragnarok] because of where it took place. It wasn’t really on Earth, and my character is on Earth.”
But this answer was a bit shady/a bit of a cop-out, considering that there were scenes on Earth where Jane was even mentioned — also, Portman starred in the second film, which largely did not take place on Earth. There had been rumors Portman had been unhappy with director Patty Jenkins’ departure from the second film, and she later said she was “done” with the MCU, as far as she knew.
For their part, Marvel president Kevin Feige said they were looking for someone who was more Thor’s “equal” or even his “superior” for the third film, which was why they cast Tessa Thompson as Valkyrie and made her the female lead instead (though, notably, not a love interest for Thor).
Luckily, director Taika Waititi was able to convince Portman to return to play Jane in a new light (as Lady Thor!) so we will see her in the upcoming Thor: Love and Thunder.
Shailene Woodley is a household name now, but she wasn’t when she appeared as Marissa’s younger sister in The O.C. In fact, it was one of her big roles. However, when the character got a bigger role in Season 3, she’d been replaced by Willa Holland.
Speaking of her ousting, Woodley said, “They needed a girl who had a body.” Despite the fact that she was the same age as Holland, she says she hadn’t gone through puberty yet and was a “late bloomer.”
Another actor who was basically kicked off The O.C. was Olivia Wilde. Wilde’s character Alex was ground-breaking for the time because she was bisexual and had a relationship with Marissa. For these reasons, creator Josh Schwartz says they were made to write the character off.
“They told us, ‘People are worried about this episode and this storyline and blah blah blah,’” Schwartz said. “So we had to write her out way sooner than we expected, so it just became much more rushed.” Their relationship ended rather abruptly and more negatively than people expected, with Alex behaving a bit out of character in her jealousy.
Another teen drama love interest who left pretty abruptly was Aaron Rose, Serena’s boyfriend on Gossip Girl that was basically universally hated by fans.
He appeared in much of the first half of the season, and Serena went to Argentina with him…but then he never returned. Sources from the show stated that the writers didn’t like the direction his character was going in. So…poof. He was gone, even though he’s Blair’s step-brother.
On the topic of teen shows…Dustin Milligan played Ethan, a love interest for Naomi, Annie, and even Silver on 90210’s first season — then he basically just disappeared.
Milligan said that by the time the show started shooting, the description of the character — who was supposed to be more comedic, which was a more comfortable genre for Milligan — had changed. “It was tough ’cause I was, like, constantly trying to force my way into being a funny character,” he said. When the show creators left and new writers were switched in for the second season, they decided to “switch things up,” and Milligan didn’t return. Instead, Liam had a bigger role as the male lead alongside Dixon, and Teddy was also introduced.
Let’s end on one of the most ostentatious examples of characters being unceremoniously booted from a show: Donna on Kevin Can Wait. Erinn Hayes played Donna in the show’s first season, before being fired and replaced with Leah Remini.
And no, I don’t mean her character was recast. I mean her character was abruptly killed, and Leah Remini was brought in to serve as the new female lead, likely to try to recapture the actors’ chemistry on their previous sitcom, King of Queens. Despite Kevin sharing three kids with Donna and her being a main character in Season 1, Donna’s death was only mentioned in passing in Season 2.
Fan reaction was intensely negative, and CBS even admitted they made a mistake. The show was cancelled after Season 2.
Did you miss any of these actors/characters? Let us know in the comments!