It's getting to be the end of this year's cycle of tv seasons and there have been a few shake-ups announced on some shows.

Both Sleepy Hollow and Castle were built on the pairing of a couple and now they have announced that one of the co-stars will not be returning for the next season. While the ratings for both shows have been low this year, at this time, neither have been cancelled. I'd think breaking up the pair would be detrimental to any show.

What was the first tv show where the main characters were a duo or couple that lost one of its lead co-stars but survived more seasons on air?

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    – Ankit Sharma
    Apr 20, 2016 at 5:34
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    Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased)? Oh wait, wrong kind of loss... I'll get my coat.
    – Kaithar
    Apr 20, 2016 at 21:47
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    Don Knotts left The Andy Griffith Show after 5 seasons and only came back a few times for guest appearances. The show continued for 3 more years and did very well in the ratings. I think Knotts was officially in a supporting role instead of co-star, but they felt like co-stars to me.
    – James
    Apr 21, 2016 at 0:48
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    While not exclusively stated in the question, I'd be more interested to know which shows lost the character all-together (which is what I thought the question asked). The 2 highest ranked answers don't answer that question. Apr 21, 2016 at 14:55

10 Answers 10


There's a case to be made for Bewitched (1964 - 1972), which continued for three seasons after the co-star Dick York was replaced by Dick Sargent in the same role of Darrin Stephens. The main character, Samantha Stephens, was married to Darrin, so they definitely qualify as a couple/duo.

Watching syndicated re-runs of Bewitched as a kid, I actually didn't even notice there were two different actors playing Darrin.

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    Relevant: tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/TheOtherDarrin
    – Tin Wizard
    Apr 19, 2016 at 19:57
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    Dr Who's change of lead was before the Darrin change, and change of companion even earlier. However, Bewitched has a better claim to being duo-focussed.
    – OrangeDog
    Apr 19, 2016 at 21:25
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    @OrangeDog - right. While a lot of more modern Doctor Who has the Doctor and a single companion, the early series had an ensemble cast: starting with Doctor + 3 companions in the beginning, and dropping down to 2 companions after a while ... not until the 4th Doctor in the mid/late 70s did we see the Doctor + single companion format.
    – Jules
    Apr 20, 2016 at 13:55
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    I never noticed the change in Darrins watching as a kid either. I wonder what I was looking at instead...
    – T.E.D.
    Apr 20, 2016 at 14:08
  • @Jules You're very close. The third Doctor only had a single companion for his entire run (not counting UNIT personnel, even though the Brigadier was Watson to the Doctor's Holmes). Dr. Elizabeth Shaw (1 year, played by Caroline Johns), Jo Grant (3 years, played by Katy Mannings) and Sarah Jane Smith (1 year, played by Elisabeth Sladen, continued with the fourth Doctor). The UNIT personnel were more like recurring characters than companions.
    – CJ Dennis
    Apr 22, 2016 at 9:57

Yes it has happened.

An early example is Doctor Who. Every few seasons either The Doctor regenerates and begins to be played by a new actor, or he switches his companion and gets a new one, again played by a new actor. It has been running for ages and is still successful.

As @KutuluMike noted, the success or failure of losing actors or getting new ones is determined by the strength of the replacement character. In Doctor Who, the character does not need to be replaced, because he merely regenerates, with an entirely new body that can be played by a different actor.

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    Well, the OP did say "co-actor" and not "character", so I guess that counts :)
    – Walt
    Apr 19, 2016 at 17:21
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    @KutuluMike If we forget about The Doctor, the companions also change out, and those are entirely different characters. Apr 19, 2016 at 18:39
  • @KutuluMike The question was about stars not characters. OP probably didn't realize their could be a difference as Doctor Who is fairly unique in this regard. Apr 19, 2016 at 19:15
  • OP isn't asking whether it has happened. they're asking for the first occurrence. is doctor who the first occurrence?
    – user428517
    Apr 20, 2016 at 18:18
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    @RichardRoe - Doctor Who may be relatively unique in terms of television franchises, but in the film world, James Bond would be another similar example. The continuity between films may not be as strong as between 'Who episodes, but George Lazenby (the first official post-Sean Connery Bond) even made reference to his predecessor in his first on-screen appearance. Apr 20, 2016 at 19:17

(Historical note: This answer was written before the question was edited to ask for "the first". I'm not changing it because I think it's more informative the way it is.)

Yes, it has happened, though it's rare. The trick seems to be how strong of a replacement character they can get to fill the void, and how well the show's supporting cast is at holding it together in the mean time.

A good example of a success would be Cheers. Though it was technically an ensemble show, for all intents and purposes, the stars of Cheers were Ted Danson and Shelley Long. Long left in the fifth season and was replaced by Kirstie Alley and the show would continue to be successful for another six seasons. This is largely due to the fact that Danson and Alley also developed a good on-screen chemistry, while the rest of the cast was strong enough to keep the show around while that happened.

Two And A Half Men is another example, though one could argue that losing Charlie Sheen and replacing him with Ashton Kutcher doesn't count as "successfully continuing"; the show did OK for the first two seasons post-Sheen but plummeted in the ratings after that. Again, the presence of Angus T. Jones is likely what help keep the show around (after he left, the show did tank in the ratings and get cancelled).

There is also a fairly large list of cases where a show loses it's lead actor, but the character s/he plays remains on the show. This is less common in modern TV than is used to be, and usually happens to bit parts or recurring characters, but it has been done with lead roles. The two "trope namers" (which may not be the earliest examples, but are by far the most well-known) are Bewitched, which swapped out Dick York for Dick Sargent in the lead role of Darrin, and Doctor Who, which made replacement of the actor playing The Doctor a key plot element from very early in the show's run.

(Historically speaking, by the way, this does not bode well for Castle, but may mean Sleepy Hollow has a chance. Of course, both are doing terrible with both co-leads, so it may be irrelevant.)

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    Nick Colasanto (Coach) passed away between seasons 3 & 4 of Cheers, two years prior to Shelley Long's departure. Woody Harrelson took his spot in the cast as Woody Boyd.
    – alroc
    Apr 19, 2016 at 21:03
  • In the same vein as the comment by @alroc : Hill Street Blues lost Michael Conrad (who played Sgt. Phil Esterhaus) during its fourth season (1983); his death was incorporated into the series.
    – BCdotWEB
    Apr 20, 2016 at 9:10
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    The question is not about shows that have lost a character because tons of shows lose characters. The question is about a show that is focused specifically on a pair of main characters and one of them leaves.
    – KutuluMike
    Apr 20, 2016 at 11:26

The Goldbergs is possibly the earliest example, running from 1949 to 1957, originally starring Phillip Loeb as Jake Goldberg, but the Red Scare forced him off the show and he was replaced by Harold Stone and Robert H. Harris (sources differ as to which was first).

Phillip Loeb, blacklisted on suspicion of being a communist, eventually committed suicide.

Edit: TVGuide.com seems to give a more definite date listing for the cast. Phillip Loeb starred from 1949-1951. Harold J. Stone took over in 1952, and Robert H. Harris replaced him from 1953 onward.

  • What year was the change? The Honeymooners recast Alice Kramden in '55.
    – OrangeDog
    Apr 20, 2016 at 12:36
  • Phillip Loeb died in '55. It looks like the change happened by '53 at the latest. The info on IMDb is spotty. I believe some of the episodes are lost. According to TVGuide.com, Loeb's tenure ended in '51. Good catch on Alice, though. I had forgotten that one. Apr 20, 2016 at 16:27
  • Not to be confused with The Goldbergs (2013 - ...).
    – JoshDM
    Apr 21, 2016 at 20:02

The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show aired October 12, 1950 – September 15, 1958, continued for about 5 years after the last of 3 switches by the actor playing neighbour Harry Morton.

Harry Morton was first portrayed by Hal March (October–December 1950), then John Brown (January–June 1951), and after that, Fred Clark, until 1953 when the role was assumed by Larry Keating.

It's a funny story where the last switch was introduced:

In one famous episode, "Morton Buys Iron Deer/Gracie Thinks George Needs Glasses", George walks on-stage and freezes the scene just before Harry's entrance and explains that Clark has left the show to perform on Broadway. He introduces Larry Keating, who enters, and then calls over Bea Benaderet to introduce the two saying, "This is Larry Keating and he is going to be your husband now". The pair greet and chat briefly, complimenting each other on their previous work. George remarks that if they are going to be so nice to each other, no one will believe they are married. Burns then gives a cue, Blanche resumes her position, and the scene continues where it stopped as if nothing had happened. The new Harry enters and Blanche hits him in the head with a catalog for spending $200 to buy an iron deer.

The entire episode is on YouTube, and George's "stop the camera" bit starts at 8:38.

This is probably the 2nd oldest answer so far, The Goldbergs('49-'57) switch apparently took place after it was dropped from the schedule in June 1951 and picked up for the 1952-53 season

  • Doesn't look like Hal March was a lead co-star. They would be Burns and Allen.
    – OrangeDog
    Apr 20, 2016 at 13:58
  • @OrangeDog Aside from George & Gracie, their neighbours Harry & Blanche Morton appear to be established regular co-stars, they're the only other regular characters mentioned on Wikipedia, aside from George & Gracie's children (Ronnie joined the regular cast in Oct 1955). "Lead" seems like a more debatable subjective term, even the Oscars are vague "the Academy does not make hard rulings on who's Lead versus who's Supporting", so I'd vote they are "leads" ;-) FYI, the question has been changed a fair bit since originally asked, see Revisions
    – Xen2050
    Apr 20, 2016 at 20:50

While it was a sitcom with three main characters rather than a duo, and post-dates the other examples given, the show Game On successfully replaced a Hollywood-bound Ben Chaplin with Neil Stuke after the first season.

It's worth a mention if only for the nice way they addressed the casting change in-show:

  • The video is no longer available.
    – Kenster
    May 18, 2020 at 11:54

It also happened in the show Big Bad Beetleborgs when a young actress was replaced. In the show it was explianed as a transformation from a villain character and in order to hide the transformation from her friends and family she was given a totem (I believe a necklace) that would allow everyone around her to see her original body.

Now that show was about a trio more than a duo but the change didn't really affect the show's performance. (That said I think burnout of the genre and low overall quality did)


One early show that hasn't yet been mentioned is Make Room for Daddy. Co-star Jean Hagen quit the series after three seasons, so her character was killed off (a television first!) and the series continued under the new title The Danny Thomas Show for eight more seasons. Though it wasn't the first to continue without a co-star, it was probably the first to do so without recasting the character, and the most successful in terms of how long the series continued after the change.


The Avengers (UK series 1961-9)

Created as a star vehicle for Ian Hendry, who played Dr David Keel, who fought crime assisted by his enigmatic partner, John Steed.

After the first season, Hendry quit. Steed was promoted to lead character, assisted by Cathy Gale, then Emma Peel, then Tara King. (And a couple of forgettable short-timers)


Not affecting a "pair", but Bugs was a program from the 90's in the UK that ran for four series with four main characters. At the end of the third series the actor playing one of the main characters (Ed) changed. It went from the Australian Craig McLachlan to the Yorkshire-born Steven Houghton. As far as I recall the casting change was not referenced in the show in any way.

The show didn't carry on after the 4th series, but it's not clear whether this was due to the change in actors (as it nearly didn't get renewed after the 3rd series)

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