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Why are some principal characters missing from some TV episodes?

What's even more difficult to understand is when they're even included in a few minutes of the episode, and then they are written out of it. That would seem to imply it wasn't an emergency- or health-related issue on the part of the actor. It would seem to imply that it's a structured way to save money. But even this doesn't quite make sense for the average million dollar TV series.

Just as an example, in the 3rd season of House M.D., in the sixth episode (the one featuring an overweight man), the story includes Dr. Chase for a few minutes. Then, he seems to be written out of the episode for no known reason. He's a principal character, so it seems strange.

For what reasons might this happen?

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This can happen for any number of reasons:

  • the actor has a reason to be away (not necessarily an emergency) so they have less scenes. Sometimes they can prerecord some sub-plot scenes in advance so that the character doesn't mysteriously disappear for many episodes in a row
  • the actor has a reason to want a lower workload for a little while (learning lines or recording scenes) and the show is willing to give it to them
  • the actor has a physical restriction (is wearing a cast, is visibly hugely pregnant, is limping) that the character should not have, and reducing the number of scenes is the easiest way to hide that
  • the particular episode is designed to focus on one or two other characters who get the bulk of the screen time, leaving less for this one
  • the writer of this episode tends not to think of or include this character, so when there's a need for a random conversation between A and anybody, they happen to choose C or D rather than B, meaning B only appears in conversations where nobody else could appear instead
  • two actors are not getting along and don't want to do scenes together, so scenes they would normally both be in feature only one of them at a time, reducing screen time for at least one of them

Calling this "being written out" is inaccurate. Thinking it will save the production money is almost certainly inaccurate too, and even if it did that would not be the reason for it. There is no single reason for it. Things happen. Sometimes characters don't appear for a while, sometimes an actors workload is reduced, sometimes a character's circumstances are changed. The reasons are sometimes obvious (hey, check the huge purse she's carrying! How come she always stands behind counters and desks lately? Oh right, the actor is pregnant but the character isn't) and sometimes they're not. To think there's only one reason is to oversimplify a complicated business.

  • Exactly, instead of being written out, which implies against the actors wish, it's more like not being shoehorned in unnecessarily. – cde Oct 22 '15 at 23:18
  • @cde We don't know if it was or was not against the actor's wish. We just shouldn't assume that it was. Additionally, not the most accurate comparison in your analogy. A principal character is typically listed in the opening promo credits, right next to some pictures or video of him doing something. So, it's strange if he's not in the episode. "Shoehorned in" would be if a non-principal character were awkwardly squeezed into an episode. – user11077 Oct 23 '15 at 21:38

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