For a TV show to be successful over a long period of time, a lot of factors have to fall into place. From the cast to the writing, most shows don’t have that extra something to become really iconic. Unfortunately, great shows can also be quickly ruined when important cast members decide to leave.
Even when you’re on one of the longest-running shows, sometimes the temptations of a movie career or a new show are too much to resist. Some of these characters were given big sendoffs, while others were barely mentioned. Either way, these cast departures ruined their respective shows for good.
34. CSI: Crime Scene Investigation
The original CSI ran for an insane 15 seasons on CBS, and naturally, most of the original cast wasn’t in it for that long of a haul. The show survived many departures, but there were a few that hit harder than most. The main supervisor Gil Grissom, played by William Petersen, left after season nine, and the whole dynamic had to be reshuffled to compensate for his absence. While the show lasted seven more seasons, it was never quite right. Add to that the departure of Marg Helgenberger after the twelfth season and the show was really just hanging on by a thread.
33. Sonny With a Chance
As fun as Disney Channel shows are, they always have a very limited lifespan. The whole idea centers on young, innocent stars, and of course these young women grow up and don’t want to be tied to this ideal anymore. Demi Lovato had enough of Sonny With a Chance after two seasons, and she left to deal with her addiction and mental health problems. It was a smart decision for her, but the show was left in shambles. The already-filmed third season was edited and broadcast as a spin-off, So Random! but it just missed the mark. Luckily Demi made it out the other side of her struggles, but her Disney Channel show was over for good.
32. Spin City
Michael J. Fox brought every bit of his infectious, charismatic energy to Spin City, and he was the driving force behind the first few seasons of the show. Unfortunately, as his Parkinson’s Disease progressed, it became too difficult for him to continue filming. He exited the show after season four and was replaced with Charlie Sheen. Sheen wasn’t tragic by any means, but the show never really regained its footing. The location changed from New York to Los Angeles, and some other key actors also left. The mix of factors was just too much to overcome.
31. Two and a Half Men
Two and a Half Men was one of the highest-rated shows on TV for several seasons, but then Charlie Sheen had to go and lose his mind. His meltdown was very public and well-documented, and there was no way the show could steer clear. He was fired after multiple disputes with the producers, and they had to scramble to save the show. Ashton Kutcher stepped in to replace Sheen, and they were able to eke out another four seasons. It could’ve been worse, but it also could’ve been a heck of a lot better.
30. Laverne & Shirley
Most shows have a tough time staying afloat without one of their title characters. Case in point: Laverne & Shirley’s effort to make it, despite the lack of a Shirley. Cindy Williams left the show of her own accord, but there was some shady business behind the decision. Word was that Williams heard the producers were talking about firing her after she became pregnant, so she decided to leave on her own terms. I respect that, but I’m not so sure about the producers wanting to continue with the show. The popular show was canceled after just one more season without Shirley, which is pretty unsurprising.
ER is another classic example of a long-running show that suffered little by little as the OG cast left the show. The most famous members of the original cast were George Clooney and Julianna Margulies, both of whom had amazing careers waiting for them after the show. Clooney left after five seasons, becoming one of the first main cast members to step away from the hit show. Margulies followed him one season later, and from there the show just didn’t have the same spark. It lasted an incredible 15 seasons, but there’s something to be said for quality over quantity.
28. One Tree Hill
There were lots of storylines to get invested in over the years on One Tree Hill, but nothing could hold a candle to Lucas and Peyton’s relationship. Chad Michael Murray was a total heartthrob, and Hilarie Burton was completely adorable. Unfortunately, they both chose to move on from the show after season six, leaving a gaping hole to be filled. There were new characters added and old ones brought to the forefront, but nothing could replace Lucas and Peyton. For the final three seasons, we really just wanted them back.
ABC decided it was done with Nashville after four seasons, but fans’ prayers were answered when CMT picked it up for another season. Apparently, star Connie Britton was pretty okay with the initial cancellation because she only stayed with the show for nine more episodes. Her character Rayna was tragically killed in a car accident, and fans mourned the loss like she was one of their own family members. The show has carried on, and added Rachel Bilson as a replacement, but there’s no denying Britton was a big part of the show’s initial appeal. It remains to be seen how long Nashville will stay around, but a lot of the fanbase fell off when Connie left.
26. The Office
The last two seasons of The Office are actually pretty decent, but they had an impossibly high standard to live up to. Steve Carell is one of our most gifted comedians, and for seven seasons he made us laugh, cry, and cringe (a lot) as Michael Scott. When Michael left, there was just no way that The Office could be the same. Luckily, we still had Jim, Pam, Dwight, and the whole gang, so there were just enough positives to not totally tank the show. I’m glad those last two seasons exist, sure, but it was time for the show to end.
25. The O.C.
The O.C. was a pop culture phenomenon of the early 2000s, but it just wasn’t meant to last. Teens loved the drama between the wealthy teenagers in the beautiful southern California locale, but the producers just had to mess up a good thing. Mischa Barton‘s character Marissa was killed off at the end of season three when the actress decided she was done with the show, and things went south from there. Ratings dropped drastically during the fourth season, and the show got the chop in 2007. Passionate fans signed a petition to stop the cancellation, but it was way too late. No Marissa, no show. Plus, acting like Ryan Atwood had any other soul mate was basically blasphemous.
Dexter didn’t die off right away after killing one of its main characters, but it was never quite the same. Fans were outraged at the decision to kill Rita in season four, and even the cast was surprised at the plot development. Actress Julie Benz kept her cool about the decision, saying that Rita’s death was “poetic,” but fans were unconvinced. The show was always meant to be a long story, so there were four more seasons after Rita’s death, but ratings dropped and many fans became detached from the show. The series finale of Dexter was famously bad, which probably serves as karma for what they did to Rita.
23. Chico and the Man
When Chico and the Man premiered on NBC in 1974, it was a groundbreaking show. It was the first US show set in a Mexican American neighborhood, and it was one of the earliest shows to focus on different groups coming together. The most popular aspect of the show was Freddie Prinze as Chico Rodriguez. Sadly, Prinze suffered from depression and took his own life in the middle of filming the show. The producers tried a variety of tactics to keep the show from falling apart in the wake of this tragedy, but it just wasn’t meant to be.
Scrubs is kind of a unique situation. Because the show revolved around medical interns, the creators claimed that the cast was always meant to be rotating. But fans, who grew attached to their favorite characters, didn’t want to hear it. The show lost Zach Braff and most of the original cast, and it was on life support from there on out. After getting canceled at NBC, ABC inexplicably picked up the ailing show, but it was dead after one more season. I’m not sure what ABC thought was going to happen here, but nobody won big with that last season.
21. The X-Files
Few shows have enjoyed a fanbase as dedicated as The X-Files did, but diehard fans have high expectations. They were largely disappointed when David Duchovny left the show after season seven. The show followed the dynamic duo of Scully and Mulder, so losing Mulder was a fatal blow. The original series had two final seasons, but Duchovny’s replacement wasn’t what audiences wanted to see. The show has since enjoyed a popular revival, which puts the original stars back together, where they belong.
20. The Vampire Diaries
Say what you want about The Vampire Diaries, but the show was nothing without Nina Dobrev. After she left the series at the end of season six, it was just a matter of time. Season seven was pretty rough, and stars Kat Graham and Ian Somerhalder initially announced they would also be leaving at the end of that season, too. Ultimately, they came to an agreement to do one last season. Season eight was no better, and the show ended pretty unceremoniously for a CW classic.
The problem with a high school show is that the characters have to grow up at some point. While Glee was highly entertaining for the first few seasons, things started to decline after the main characters graduated from high school. Then, Cory Monteith tragically died, forcing fan-favorite character Finn to be written off the show. As heartbreaking as the death was, both on the show and off, it didn’t do anything great for Glee‘s future. Cory’s death just sped up the inevitable end of the series.
18. Parks & Recreation
I’m not going to lie, I was pretty heartbroken when Parks & Recreation came to an end. Leslie, Ann, and the Pawnee gang truly felt like family, so it was a bitter pill to swallow. What made it even harder was that Ann left the party early. Ann and Chris moved away midway through the final season, and while it helped stagger the final goodbyes, it was pretty miserable. It’s never easy to say goodbye to a beloved show, but it’s at least nice when the characters are still together in their fantasy world.
Community was a surprise hit when it debuted in 2009, but there was trouble ahead. The show had an incredibly fun cast, but the producers had trouble keeping everyone happy after the first few seasons. SNL legend Chevy Chase was one of the anchors of the show, but he left in the middle of the fourth season amidst feuds with the show’s creator Dan Harmon. This would have been a big blow to the show all by itself, but that wasn’t the only big departure. Donald Glover and Yvette Nicole Brown soon left too, and the show limped through a sixth season before getting canceled.
16. That ’70s Show
That ’70s Show had a great run of eight seasons, and the full cast almost made it the whole time. Stars like Mila Kunis and Laura Prepon stuck around until the end, but some of their male costars left before the final season. Both Ashton Kutcher and Topher Grace said goodbye at the end of season seven to pursue movie careers. Thus, the farewell season of the show was missing some of the magic that made the earlier ones great. Randy was introduced as a sort of replacement character, but it was way too late in the show for the audience to get invested in a new main character.
15. Three’s Company
On a show called Three’s Company, it really works out best to have all three leads on the show. The producers hit a roadblock with this concept in season five, when Suzanne Somers couldn’t strike a deal for her salary increase. She responded by failing to show up to tapings, and eventually, they decided that she would appear on screen only in 60-second scenes. Yeah, that didn’t work so well. Somers was booted from the show after that season, and she was swiftly replaced. The show carried on for a few more seasons, but the casting drama left things unstable.
14. Top Gear
This British show has been delighting car enthusiasts since its premiere back in 2002, but it’s had some major casting switch-ups over the years. Jeremy Clarkson was popular as one of the original hosts, but producers became worried about some of his behavior. The final straw came in 2015 when he was fired after getting into a physical fight with a producer. When Clarkson left, his two co-stars followed him to The Grand Tour, a new show on Amazon, and Top Gear was left in shambles. It’s still going with new hosts, but it’s just not very good anymore.
Alyssa Milano was the heart of Mistresses for its first two seasons, but logistical issues got in the way. In order to save money, it was decided that the third season would be filmed in Canada. Because she had two young children, Milano chose not to make the move and left the show. The show was never a big critical hit, and without its signature star, it was only a matter of time before it was given the boot. It lasted two more seasons, but ABC pulled the plug back in 2016. It was all Canada’s fault.
CHiPs gained a lot of fans for following two hot highway patrol officers, but the actors in those roles caused some issues. Breakout star Erik Estrada held out for a better contract, forcing him to miss six episodes of the show. In the meantime, he was replaced by none other than Caitlyn Jenner. Though Estrada quickly came back, his costar Larry Wilcox soon decided to leave CHiPs behind. Audiences weren’t happy with the constant changes, and the show only lasted one season after Wilcox’s departure.
11. Step by Step
Step by Step was another sitcom starring Suzanne Somers, but this time she wasn’t the one causing the casting drama. The show focused on a married couple and their children from previous marriages, which was a fresh and realistic scenario. One of the standout characters was Cody, the nephew who lived out back, but the actor who played the part caused some problems. Sasha Mitchell was convicted of spousal assault, and then wound up in jail for violating his probation. Nice guy, right? The character was written off the show, but he had proven to be a big part of the formula for success.
10. Downton Abbey
The melodramatic style of Downton Abbey made it easy to fall in love with the characters, but that was a pretty big risk. The show was also known for its drastic plot twists, which included killing off two of the most major characters in season three. First, it was Lady Sybil, the youngest Crawley daughter, who was always the sweetest one. As if that wasn’t bad enough, they killed Matthew, the lead love interest, in the season finale. Dan Stevens has had plenty of career opportunity since leaving the show, including starring roles in Legion and Beauty and the Beast. Countless fans stopped watching after those gut-punches, and for those who stuck around, it felt like something major was missing.
9. Six Feet Under
For a show that was all about death, you’d think they could have handled a main character’s death better. The final season of the show lets us know what happens to all the main characters, but not all of them have the futures we wanted. Nate, the main character, died from some prior health issues, with just a few episodes to go. He made it almost all the way, but the episodes after his death just feel kind of pointless. Ending a show is difficult, but Nate probably should’ve made it to the last episode.
8. The Facts of Life
In the beginning, The Facts of Life was all about young ladies getting advice from their older boarding school headmistress. She helped them navigate tricky situations, and it was a lovely relationship. After they graduated, Mrs. Garrett (played by Charlotte Rae) opened a gourmet store and hired all the main young women to work there. Eventually, Rae felt that the characters had grown out of needing advice, and she left the show. The producers disagreed and hired Cloris Leachman to essentially fill her shoes. The popular show only lasted two more seasons, showing what audiences thought of the replacement.
7. Grey’s Anatomy
So, uh, Meredith Grey must be pretty sick of all her friends disappearing, huh? Ellen Pompeo has stuck with Grey’s Anatomy for more than a decade, but the same can’t be said for most of the original cast. Stars like Katherine Heigl and T.R. Knight departed after the first few seasons, then Sandra Oh followed suit, but some exits have hurt extra hard. In particular, everyone was depressed when Patrick Dempsey was written off the show in season 11. It was a brutal move, and it’s honestly insane that the show is still going without McDreamy.
6. Designing Women
When an actor has public disputes with a producer, it puts a successful show in a tough spot. That was the case with Designing Women. Star Delta Burke publicly aired her grievances with one of the producers, and ultimately, they fired her from the show. Costar Jean Smart left the show at the same time, meaning they had to replace half the original cast. The show lost viewers and was moved to a Friday night slot, where aging shows go to die.
5. Teen Wolf
For a show that lasted six seasons, Teen Wolf had a lot of people coming and going from the cast. For the most part, the show was pretty good at withstanding the whiplash of cast changes, but no show is invincible. When Tyler Hoechlin, who played Derek, left at the end of season four, it set things in motion for the show to come to a close. But it puttered along for more seasons, adding a ton of new characters that no one really needed. Honestly, it’s impressive that an MTV scripted show ran for six seasons, and it really wasn’t terrible for most of that time. Also, Colton Haynes, if you’re reading this, please DM me on Instagram.
4. Sleepy Hollow
Sleepy Hollow was a police procedural that managed to steer clear of a lot of the genre’s clichés. The premise was that Ichabod Crane, AKA the Headless Horseman, came back to life in the present day, and teamed with an FBI agent, Abbie Mills, to solve crimes. The premise worked well, and the cast fell into a solid rhythm over the first three seasons. Then they killed off Abbie. The show was thrown into a tailspin, and a new partner for Crane did nothing to salvage it. The ratings tanked, and it was canceled after season four.
3. 8 Simple Rules
When 8 Simple Rules premiered, it was centered on a middle-aged dad trying to keep his teenage daughters from getting into trouble. Sadly, star John Ritter became ill and passed away at the start of filming for season two. Producers were forced to reorganize the entire show, which is usually a sign of trouble. They added a couple new characters, but nothing really clicked. The show slipped in the ratings and was canceled after just two more seasons.
2. Blue’s Clues
Some duos are just too good to break up. Peanut butter and jelly, Barack and Michelle, and Blue and Steve. Steve Burns starred in around 100 episodes of Blue’s Clues, but decided in 2002 that he wanted to move on. He didn’t want to get old doing a children’s show, which seems like a pretty terrible attitude. They replaced him with a guy named Joe, but let’s be honest, it wasn’t the same. There’s an upcoming revival of the series, so let’s see if they get it right this time.
1. Once Upon a Time
Once Upon a Time isn’t for everyone, but it’s had a passionate group of fans over its seven-season run. At the end of season six, however, there was a major shakeup in store. Not one, not two, but SIX of the main cast members decided to leave the show at the same time. This included the two highest-billed stars, Ginnifer Goodwin and Jennifer Morrison. Most shows would just shut it down at that point, but season seven happened nonetheless. There was a time jump and new characters were introduced, but it’s no surprise that the show wasn’t renewed for the 2018-19 season.