A few weeks ago while I was watching an episode of Mad Men, the usually quiet Bobby Draper was thrown a few lines, and I was struck by how different he looked from the previous season. "Oh yeah," I mused, "that's because it's not the same actor." In fact, four different actors have played Bobby Draper now. According to certain sources, January Jones is a tough actress to work with, causing at least the last Bobby's departure.
It is easy to switch out child actors. They naturally change their appearance, so from a long summer break, or in Mad Men's case a decade-long break, a new child actor is not that noticeable. When a grown actor is changed mid-show, it's a little stranger.
There are plenty of television shows over the years that have asked their audiences to suspend disbelief about specific elements to characters. Characters age or don't age with very little explanation, sometimes family members disappear and the audience is just supposed to pretend they never existed. However, when a TV show completely changes the actor of a character and doesn't say boo -- that's just assuming we are very dumb. We are not always that dumb.
Vivian Banks -- The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air
Vivian Banks was the strict but loving Claire Huxtable-type mom on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. She was sassy and sexy and it was always perplexing why she stayed with hubby Philip. From 1990 to 1993 she was played by Janet Hubert-Whitten. Hubert-Whitten became pregnant during the show's run and this was allegedly in violation of her contract. So she got canned. The new mom Banks was played by Daphne Maxwell Reid. She was much nicer, to which, if the physical attributes didn't clue the Banks family in, her completely different personality should have been a tip-off.
Becca Thatcher -- Life Goes On
The show Life Goes On focused on the Thatcher family and their teen children Becca and Corky. As the show progressed, Becca became more of the focus. She was a bright, quirky girl with some serious social awkwardness issues. Kellie Martin, who was unbelievable as a total dork, played Becca. As the show went on, Becca became less nerdy and more popular, and then in season four she became 40 years old and a different person. Pamela Bellwood, better known for her stint on Dynasty, portrayed the new/old Becca. Why the show went in this odd direction is one question, and why they couldn't throw some old-person makeup on Martin is another.
Miss Ellie Ewing -- Dallas
Replacing an actor midstream is always jarring, but how about when a TV show replaces an actress and then hires the original actress back? The lovely Barbara Bel Geddes played the matriarch Ellie Ewing on the hit show Dallas. She was the bedrock of the show and the only cast member to win an Emmy award. In 1983 she had bypass surgery, in real life, and was forced to resign her post. The producers hired actress Donna Reed to fill her large, popular shoes. The ratings sagged, so in 1985 after her recovery, Bel Geddes returned as if nothing had ever happened.
Becky Conner -- Roseanne
One actress replacing another and then returning is one thing. However, in the case of the two Beckys on Roseanne, the role of Becky was more like a ping-pong match. Alicia Linda Goranson played the role for the first five years of the show. When the actress decided to pursue a college career, the producers limited her role to the occasional cameo. However, by season six, they decided to reinstate her character full time with another actress, Sarah Chalke, who is better known for her work on Scrubs. By the eighth season of the show, Goranson's schedule freed up and she was back full time. Another scheduling conflict occurred mid-season, though, and Chalke returned for an episode or two. Goranson officially bowed out of the final season of the show and Chalke took the helm once again. Phew, that was confusing. At least the show had the good sense to make a running gag about the two Beckys.
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Darren Stephens -- Bewitched
Everyone knows the goofy, worrywart Darren Stephens was played by Dick York. York is Darren Stephens. There is no denying that when you recall Samantha the witch's husband, all you see is York exasperatedly waving his arms in the air crying about warlocks. York played the role from 1964 to 1969, but due to a severe back injury was quietly replaced by actor Dick Sargent. They even found an actor with the same first name, possibly hoping that no one would notice anything was up if the credits rolled by really quickly. Nothing to see here, people. Just move along and worry about what types of troubles Samantha's mom will get her into this week.