Not all of us can make a decision and stick to it. Sometimes, we all change our minds. Even Hollywood execs make mistakes and solve problems through trial and error. Many television programs over the years have one character played by at least two actors. The audience is not supposed to notice and in many cases, no one cares. But it takes a lot of guts to admit that you made a mistake more than once. That is the case with some television shows that have managed to replace actors more than twice for the same character during the lifespan of the series. This has happened more than once. In cases for child actors, the problems are evident. Children sometimes do not age well, decide to go back to school or who knows what. Sometimes a show just runs far too long or the character is not important enough for people to notice.
Whatever the case, this is a list of television programs that used at least three actors for the same role. This list does not include flashback scenes of characters remembering the past, but it does include actors playing the character continuously as the character ages. In some cases, it includes reunion shows or any other similar format that continues the same storyline with the same actors. In a few cases, it includes a movie that was made, which continues exactly where the television show left off.
15. Frasier, Nanny-G – 3 Actresses
Perhaps the longest running character in North American sitcom history is Dr. Frasier Crane, having spanned eight seasons on Cheers and 11 seasons on the self-titled spin-off. During that time the eccentric, snobbish, all around smarty pants character had three wives, the first of whom, Nanny-G first referred to as Nanny G-Spot on Cheers, had three iterations. Two of which were portrayed by actresses with excellent resumes of their own. The Yin to Frasier’s yang, the self proclaimed college hippie turned children’s entertainer appeared in only 3 episodes, the last of which saw Frasier being caught in the act with his ex-wife, live on a children’s television show.
14. Monk, “The Whale” Biederbeck Dale – 3 Actors
This character appeared in only three episodes over eight years on the highly acclaimed comedic drama about the defective detective whose brilliant mind could solve any crime, but whose insane phobias wouldn’t let him do anything else. The self proclaimed heaviest man in the world (at 900 pounds), Dale was also an underhanded criminally insane billionaire who was both creepy and gross at the same time. A rather different character on an otherwise relatively upbeat show. Dale could never get out of his bed, relying on heavily paid gorgeous nurses to take care of him, adding to the sickening nature of the man who held the key to the one mystery that the title character could not solve, the assassination of his wife. With all that makeup and all those masks, who could tell the difference between the three actors?
13. Dallas, Jenna Wade – 3 Actresses
Jenna Wade was the first true love of one of the two main feuding brothers, Bobby Ewing, on the epic oil drama that dominated nighttime soaps for a decade. In true soap opera fashion, Jenna ditched her lover Bobby Ewing at the altar for a dashing Italian count the first time around, came back a few years later and ditched him at the altar again (this time against her will and under duress), only to be ditched at the altar by Bobby the third time they decided to get married. The audience of course associated Priscilla, the widow of Elvis Presley, with the character, as it was under her that Jenna blossomed. Morgan Fairchild, the original Jenna, went on to become her own soap opera queen.
12. Game of Thrones, The Mountain – 3 Actors
A recurring character on the ever popular Game of Thrones, The Mountain (aka Gregor Clegane) is best remembered for smashing the head of Oberyn during Tyrion Lannister’s trial while being left for dead himself at the end of the fight. He was then resurrected as the unbeatable superhuman body guard of Queen Cersei. The original cast member, Conan Stevens, a veteran stuntman, left to play a role in The Hobbit. The replacement was deemed too small and unworthy by fans while the final iteration stars the 6 foot 9 inch tall, Icelandic Mountain, who truly represents the character like no other.
11. Dynasty, Danny Carrington – 3 Actors
Danny Carrington was the lovable child whose initial life on the show was just one custody battle after another, on one of the most popular nighttime soap operas in the eighties. The first actor was replaced because in the show, the child just grew up too fast. The second actor on the list felt uncomfortable portraying the older Danny Carrington as he dabbled with his sexual preferences and quit. The character supposedly got killed off on the show in an oil rig explosion, but was he really dead? In true soap opera fashion, the answer is no. Justin Burnette came in as the new Danny Carrington. Plastic surgery was given as the reason for the change in the character’s appearance. The two other actors who portrayed Danny were Matthew Lawrence and Jameson Sampley.
10. Batman, Catwoman – 3 Actresses
The original actress in this cult classic was Julie Newmar. She was an afterthought to Suzanne Pleshette, who was originally cast for the role. The choice the producers ended up making was sound, as fans loved Julie. Unfortunately for her, she was replaced by Lee Meriwether for the Batman feature film when she hurt her back. She then left the TV series for its final season due to her commitments to a film called, MacKenna’s Gold. Eartha Kitt was chosen for the final season because the character was required to speak French, a language which she knew very well.
9. All in the Family, Gloria Bunker – 3 Actresses
This one is a little surprising, as everyone remembers Sally Struthers as the hippie daughter of the notorious bigot Archie Bunker. However, it took two failed attempts before landing the woman who defined Gloria Bunker. The first pilot was shot with Kelly Jean Peters as Gloria. At that point Carroll O’Connor and Jean Stapleton were set in the roles as the patriarch and matriarch. Peters failed to have any chemistry with the main characters and ABC did not pick up the show due to this.
A second attempt to revive the show was made with Candice Azzara. During this attempt, the name of the show was changed to Those Were The Days, the eventual theme song. ABC passed once again because they did not like the actors playing the children, even though they loved Carroll O’Connor and Jean Stapleton.
The third attempt had Rob Reiner winning the casting as the eventual son-in-law. The role for Gloria then came down to two people, Sally Struthers and Reiner’s wife Penny Marshall, of Laverne and Shirley fame. Sally won out because she looked more like her sitcom dad with her pudgy face and blue eyes, making her daddy’s little girl.
8. Mad Men, Robert “Bobby” Draper – 4 Actors
The revolving door on this kid did not affect audiences too much, as his only role was to be cute. Why all the changes you ask? Well, until Jared, the show could not find a kid who could act. And by act, all the show wanted was a kid that looked straight into the lens. Once they found someone to do what they needed in Jared, he moved on to bigger things in the popular TV show Once Upon a Time, leaving Mason Vale Cotton as the last actor to play the oldest son of the show’s main protagonist, the ever so powerful ad exec Don Draper (played by Jon Hamm). The other two actors to play the role were Maxwell Huckabee and Aaron Hart.
7. Gilligan’s Island, Ginger Grant – 4 Actresses
The pilot to the infamous shipwrecked crew from the 60s was completely different than what finally aired. Ginger Grant was simply a secretary and it was Marie-Anne and the Professor who were the bigger playboys. After audience testing, it was decided that Ginger Grant had to be a movie star and Tina Louise fit the part. When the series ended abruptly, the characters were still marooned on the island. In the late 70s, TV executives decided that the cast had to be rescued from the island for closure. As a result, the two part ill-received mini-series, Rescue From Gilligan’s Island was created. Tina Louise refused to reprise her role explaining that the show ruined her career. Executives of the show blamed a contract dispute. The younger Judith Baldwin, was selected in her place. The show continued its existence with 2 more made for TV mini-series, the last of which features the more aptly cast Constance Forlund, as Ginger Grant.
6. Sesame Street, Gordon Robinson – 4 Actors
This show has been running since 1969 and the first character to appear on the show was Gordon Robinson, the Science Teacher who lived in the Brownstone with his wife. The first actor was dismissed after the pilot, with Matt Robinson taking over for the first three years until he realized how uncomfortable he was in front of a camera and quit, choosing to perform voice work with the show instead. The next replacement lasted two years, only to move on to other interests. For the last four decades, Roscoe Orman has played the most enduring character on the iconic show. The other two actors to portray Gordon were Garrett Saunders and Hal Miller.
5. The Munsters, Marilyn Munster – 4 Actresses
Marilyn Munster, the niece of the title characters, is the beautiful young blood in an other-wise creepy looking family who is made to feel self-conscious by her ghoulish kin about her unattractive looks, at least by her family’s standards.
Beverly Owen first took on the role in order to fulfill a contractual obligation to Universal Studios, leaving the role she disliked, immediately after her commitments were done. She was replaced with Pat Priest for the remainder of the TV show’s lifespan. Universal then decided to cash in on the success of the show by making a full-length movie. In the process they dropped Pat Priest, for the much younger Debbie Watson, in the hope of turning Debbie into a star. In the reunion show The Munsters’ Revenge, most of the initial actors returned except Debbie Watson, who was replaced by Jo McDonnell.
4. Til Death, Allison Stark – 4 Actresses
The poorly received television series ‘Till Death, that tried to revive the family sitcom style that its main star Brad Garrett, became known and famous for in his previous life in Everybody Loves Raymond, had just one consistent thing going for it. It was so bad that they had to change actors so often to keep it going, so much so in fact, that it quickly became a running joke on the show. The character of Allison Stark, daughter of the show’s two protagonists, changed actresses the most often at four..
The character of Allison was portrayed by Krysten Ritter, Laura Clery, Lindsey Broad and Kate Micucci.
3. Bewitched, Tabitha Stephens – 7 Actresses
It took a total of six children to finally settle on the actress who played the cute daughter of the witch turned housewife on Bewitched. Finally, the producers settled on Erin Murphy. This show proved that it must be easy to change one cute kid for another because no one actually really noticed. Erin did have to share center stage with her twin sister Diane, for a little while, most likely due to child labor laws (remember the Olsen twins on Full House). As the twins got older and looked more and more dissimilar, Erin (who was the original) ended up winning out.
2. Monday Night RAW, Doink The Clown – 10 Actors
This one strays a little from the acting genre to the wrestling world, as Doink The Clown is a Professional wrestling character first portrayed by Matt Osborne in the WWF in 1992. He then left the WWF for ECW, reprising his role until 1996. Since then the actor has sporadically reprized his role in multiple circuits, until his death in 2013. In 2010, Matt Osborne re-invented his character by decorating himself, to resemble the “Joker” from the more recent Batman trilogy. There have been at least 9 more wrestlers who dressed up as Doink The Clown, mostly in one-off wrestling matches in the WWE and WWF, with many more using the character as gags or for storyline purposes. The other people who portrayed Doink The Clown are: Matt Osborne, Steve Keirn, Steve Lombardi, Dusty Wolf, John Maloof, Ray Apollo, Mike Maraldo, Nick Dinsmore, Levi McDaniel and Gary Withrow.
1. Doctor Who, The Doctor – 12 Actors
It is no surprise that it takes a television show that has been on the air for over 5 decades to capture the crown of the largest number of actors to play one character. The BBC science fiction series explains the passing of each Doctor within the show’s plot using something the show calls “regeneration”. The alien race from which the time-travelling Doctor comes from, has a biological function that allows their cellular structure and appearance to change after recovering from a potentially fatal injury. Here is the list of the different actors who portrayed the doctor on Doctor Who: William Hartnell (1963–1966), Patrick Troughton (1966–1969), Jon Pertwee (1970–1974), Tom Baker (1974–1981), Peter Davison (1981–1984), Colin Baker (1984–1986), Sylvester McCoy (1987–1989, 1996), Paul McGann (1996, 2013), Christopher Eccleston (2005), David Tennant (2005–2010), Matt Smith (2010–2013) and Peter Capaldi (2013– ).
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