Wednesday, March 3, 2010

90s TV Switcheroos: Characters Played by More than One Actor

Oh my gosh, as I was posting this it suddenly hit me--today is my blogaversary! That's right, one year ago today Children of the 90s was born. That's a whole lotta 90s. Lucky for all of you, I won't go the way of this post and suddenly replace myself with a cheap imitation, less credible 90s chronicler...looks like you're stuck with me. Thanks for reading! :)

How many Beckys does it take to complete a series of Roseanne? The answer may surprise you

It's the old Darrin Stevens switcharoo. For one reason or another, the original TV actor exits stage left and is immediately replaced by the next available understudy standing in the wings. Unlike at the theater, though, where they give you the benefit of announcing the replacement, on TV they tend to just proceed with business as usual as if nothing had happened. Never mind the fact that one of our major players was one person one day and someone else the next. All of the other actors simply treat the replacement as if they were the old standard and we're supposed to be immediately convinced that this new actor embodies the character we once knew and loved as another person.

Sometimes there's some brief wink-wink nudge-nudge type of acknowledgment, but for the most part they leave us to fend for ourselves in digesting the adjustment. Imagine if someone in your inner circle of friends came to dinner one night, only it was another person entirely. All of your other friends continue to call the newcomer by the first friend's name and reminisce with him as if he were there all along. The way they're acting, it's enough to make the rest of us have to wonder if we're the crazy ones for not going along with this charade.

The tactic happens more than you might think; sometimes you don't even notice it until you're watching the show in syndication many years later. Whether it's a minor character or a principal player, it definitely requires more than your average level of TV-grade suspension of disbelief. The following are among the most grievous offenders:

Fresh Prince: Vivian Banks

Here is an instance of the most blatant kind of switcheroo: one that occurs with a character who appears in virtually every episode of the series. Vivian (Will's aunt) was initially played by Janet Hubert-Whitten, but she found herself in breach of series contract when she became pregnant. While they wrote the pregnancy into Vivian Banks's storyline, Hubert-Whitten left soon thereafter to stay home with her child. She was replaced by Daphne Maxwell Reid, which might have been fine had the producers possessed the common sense to maintain linearity with the character.

Instead, the new Vivian was starkly different than the original. While Hubert-Whitten's Vivian was career-driven and outspoken, Reid's was a more soft-spoken homemaker. The writers gave a couple of on-screen tongue-in-cheek acknowledgments of the switch ("You know, Mrs. Banks, ever since you had that baby, there's something different about you...") but for the most part the change went unmentioned.

Boy Meets World: Morgan Matthews

The first Morgan Matthews was cute-relief kid sister played by Lily Nicksay. After regular appearances in the first and second seasons, she never appears in the third season, only to reappear in the fourth season played by Lindsay Ridgeway. She was still blonde, but the similarities pretty much ended there. They sought to ease the transition by having her joke, "That was the longest time-out I've ever had!" I guess that time-out made her pretty bitter, because Morgan emerged several times more sarcastic then she had been in the second season.

Friends: Ross's Ex-Wife Carol

Anita Barone was the original Carol, though she appeared in just one episode. All installments of the Ross/Carol saga thereafter played out with Jane Sibbett. Because Barone only appeared in one episode, this switcheroo was able to slip by far more quietly than some of the more blatant offenders.

Roseanne: Becky Connor-Healy

Here's an interesting bait-and-switch tactic: bring in one actress for a fair number of seasons, replace her with a new actor, bring her back, and then finish the series out with the second actress. Talk about confusing. Alicia Goranson was the original Becky, playing Roseanne and Dan's oldest child for the first five seasons. She left to attend college, so the writers started phasing her out in the fifth season based on her decision.

The story, of course, doesn't end there. For some reasons, the writers find it necessary to revive Becky as a series regular, bringing in Sarah Chalke for Becky reinforcement purposes. It's a passable though certainly not entirely excusable switch until Goranson decided she should come back to the show for the eighth season, which she believed would be the final installment. Goranson was not able to fully commit to the role and during the eighth season and she Chalke alternated in the part, leaving the writers grasping at straws writing awkward in-jokes for the obvious switch back and forth. In the ninth and final season, Chalke again took full command of the role and the switch was finally left unmentioned by the cast.

Seinfeld: Frank Costanza, Morty Seinfeld

At least these producers seemed vaguely conscious of the switch: they actually re-filmed some of the Frank Costanza scenes with Jerry Stiller for the syndicated reruns to replace the old shots of John Randolph. At least they're covering their tracks on that one.

The Morty Seinfeld flip-flop was handled differently, as by the time of the switch so many seasons had gone by that Barney Martin was too old to believably fill the role originally cast with Phil Bruns. In the greater context of the Seinfeld universe though, this type of thing was more acceptable. The focus on the minutiae of life left a pretty general disregard for the broader picture, so it wasn't quite the earth-shattering switch we saw in some of the other shows.

Ghostwriter: Gaby

Gaby Fernandez is Alex's little sister, a character whose traits are largely based on the stereotypical kid sister persona. Unfortunately for original Gaby Mayteana Morales, her onset of puberty quickly made her an unlikely fill-in for the tag-along kid sister. The scripts were adapted to portray Gaby as a more mature character, but she was replaced in the midst of the third season by a younger-looking Melissa Gonzalez. The writers clearly breathed a collective sigh of relief that they didn't have to send Gaby out on dates and give her serious adult aspirations, and the new Gaby reverted to the original character mold.

Clueless: Cher Horowitz (TV vs. film)

This one's a little different, as one actress (Alicia Silverstone) portrayed Cher in the film Clueless while another (Rachel Blanchard) took on the role for the eponymous TV series based on the movie. Blanchard wasn't the only newcomer--we also had TV fill-in replacements for the roles of Cher's father and for the character of Josh (Paul Rudd in the film).

All switcheroos considered, perhaps the most offensive were the plot and character changes that ensued in the shift from movie to television adaptation. Plus, everyone's outfits were significantly less cool in the series. Then again, the budget (especially during the UPN years) was probably to blame on that front.

The Golden Girls: Everybody

These ladies are lucky they're hilarious...otherwise all of the discrepancies would be wholly unforgivable

Had any newbie GG writers ever even seen an episode of the Golden Girls? I'm tempted to venture "no" based on the incredibly blatant inconsistencies in the storylines. The biggest offenders were usually the Girls' respective children, who were not only played by different actors but also frequently were suddenly different ages and had totally different physical traits (see: Michael Zbornak, age 29 vs. 23, or Rebecca Devereux fat and then suddenly inexplicably thin).

The other great Goldren Girls' mystery was why they had the same actor play two different roles, sometimes within the same season. Clearly the writers' and casting agents' faith in the viewership was pretty low, meaning that Harold Gould played two of Rose's boyfriends and Paul Dooley played Rose's blind date Isaac Newton and the doctor next door in the Empty Nest the same season.

Whatever the reasoning, mid-series replacements generally left us with an uneasy feeling. We trusted these people; we considered them our friends and invited them into our lives in half-hour weekly installments. There was some sense of betrayal when the show we'd so trusted pulled the ol' Darrin Stevens on us and replaced one of its actors with a newcomer. Luckily, we were all pretty adaptable in our budding couch-potato state. In some cases, we forgot there was ever another actor in the first place. So long as they kept us entertained, we'd keep eating up whatever it was they were feeding us: believable or not


Christy said...

I actually liked the newer Vivian Banks better than the original. I also never noticed that the little sister in Boy Meets World was a different girl, and I used to watch that show religiously! haha

Literary Crap said...

I'm shocked!
I also never knew that Sarah Chalke got to come back to Roseanne after being kicked off by her original. How awkward to have two actresses sharing a regular role!

Cee said...

The Golden Girls thing really bothered me. Maybe b/c I used to watch it as reruns while I was in HS I noticed all the crazy character switches more. It was out of control!

nikki said...

I liked the second sarcastic Morgan way more than the first.

But, like everyone, I liked the first Aunt Viv 100000 times better. Though I'd always heard that Aunt Viv was replaced because she had a "personality conflict" with Will Smith.

It was definitely better when these switcheroos were handled with a wink and a nod to the camera.

Children of the 90s said...

@nikki I think the personality conflict was a part of it, but the baby explanation was the official PR smoothed-over reason they gave for her departure. I'd love to know about what lofty creative differences went down on the Fresh Prince, though...

Jay said...

Yeah, I remember them shuffling in a new Becky into 'Rosanne'. Totally never thought about how it was Sarah Chalke (who went on to play Eliot on TV's 'Scrubs').

Mr. Condescending said...

You SERIOUSLY deserve bloggers blog of note.

Hey I'm not totally sure, but wasn't the mom on family matters switched at one point? Carls wife, not the old mom.

Melissa said...

This is hilarious! My friends and I talk about the 90s TV switches all the time. Vivien bothered me since I loved the original, but the rest I didn't mind. Boy Meets World's my favorite show EVER, I still watch it all the time, and it just seemed like Morgan grew up so it wasn't too bad. The Seinfeld switches were for the better, and I liked how they made a joke out of Becky on Roseanne (in the Disney World episode, Roseanne tells Sarah Chalke that she's lucky she was there that week).

Love this!

Melissa said...

I forgot to say congrats on a year! Love your blog!

And yes, there was a switch on Family Matters with Harriet. That was the worst switch EVER. Harriet was the best, and once they switched the actress the show ended that next season.

SillyJaime said...

One that bothered me a LOT was the change of actress in Dr Quinn Medicine Woman's Colleen. I liked the first Colleen better than the second, but it's weird the way they filmed it, because when the old Colleen is gone and the new Colleen shows up she's like a completely different person (they could have found someone with a similar acting style at least), but then after a couple of episodes the old Colleen was back because they'd filmed the episodes out of order.

It bothered me.

Sadako said...

Happy blogaversary!

LOVED old Viv Banks. Wished they'd kept her. Did you hear she wrote a tell all memoir in response to Alfonso Ribeiro trashing her? Can't wait to read it.

Andhari said...

Happy bloggiversary, love. :)

ANd Alicia Silverstone can never be replaced in my heart. She's the TRUE CHER!:)

ali said...

Happy blogaversary! I can't believe I never noticed most of these.

Ice Queen said...

I absolutely hate when casting directors do this (even if there's a legit reason). You always want the first actor back.

perfectionishuman said...

I've always wondered why replacement actors never look a thing like the person they're replacing.. food for thought.

Anonymous said...

My all-time favorite moment on Roseanne is on the episode where Lecy Goranson first comes back and Roseanne looks at her and says "Where the hell have you been?!" Pure comic gold! :) Congratulations on the anniversary! You have successfully given me something to look forward to each day. :)

Kim @ The Girl Can't Help It said...

Speaking of Roseanne and the ol' switcheroo, the pilot episode had a totally different "DJ" than the rest of the episodes! (I'm not sure what the reason of the DJ-change was though.)

Side note: When David first appeared on the show, he was called Kevin. (I'm also not sure why they changed his character name.)

bibberly said...

The mother on Parker Lewis was Mary Ellen Trainor (AKA Max and Isabelle's mom on Roswell) for the pilot episode. Then there was a different mother for the rest of season one. Then she came back again for seasons two and three.
They switched Owen on Party of Five, but that's less noticeable since he was so little, more like the Christy Seaver switch on Growing Pains.
Congrats on a year! Keep up the good work.

Cheryl said...


I love love love Paul Rudd.
I need to marry him.

Daughter of the Most High God said...

Harriet off of Family Matters was also replaced...that was the worst one for me!

Lil' Woman said...

I thought that when I saw episodes of first I thought they got another sister.


The World of Lurlene Mcdaniel said...

i just wanted to give you an update that janice hubert's story will be featured on tv one's popular series life after.

well it was already aired, but the reason why she left fresh prince of bel air was really due to an argument with will smith. for she didnt want to kiss up to will's performance and change of styles or whatever and they kicked her off the show and replaced her with a different actress.

also did you know that janice hubert starred in a tales from the crypt episode called til death as a voodoo priestess?

Colleen P said...

I liked the first Morgan on BMW better than the second. The second was annoying and didn't look like the girl she was replacing. I read that Lily Nicksay left the show because writers wanted to make Morgan a more mature character and give her more storylines. But that kind of failed.

Azzy said...

Was puberty really why they replaced Gaby! That is unfair 😐

Azzy said...

Was puberty really why they replaced Gaby! That is unfair 😐

Azzy said...

Was puberty really why they replaced Gaby! That is unfair 😐

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