Being an actor on a TV show might sound great but there some risks involved, especially today. The Walking Dead and Game of Thrones are famous for killing off characters as even ones fans thought were safe are gone. Other shows can be the same with bumping characters off and actors as concerned as anyone about being written out, some sooner than others. A famous example is how Lost introduced Nikki and Paulo, two characters meant for a big arc but the fan reaction was so hateful of the duo that they were written out fast. So it can be tricky as factors can lead to an actor dismissed and the character also gone.
However, some dismissals are bigger than others. They are not just a case of “creative differences,” they are full-on firings and quite often messy ones, too. People have gotten into full-scale fights on set, had drug issues, money issues and more and that’s led to some nasty fall-out. Entire series have been totally transformed due to these firings and often no one is safe. Indeed, several cases are not just a minor cast member but a full-fledged star and lead of the show being the one fired as some networks and producers can only take so much. And when these events become public, it turns a firing into an even bigger deal to affect things. Here are 15 cases of actors fired from their own TV shows and how the drama can be wilder behind the scenes than on air.
15 The View
The ABC show has long been popular with its women talking major topics of the day. However, it’s also become infamous for its revolving door of ladies, often in wild departures. First, Debbie Matenopoulos was axed in 1999 after audiences were unfavorable to her (and sending her up as a total moron). Star Jones announced her departure but it ended up being even sooner thanks to Barbara Walters not happy that Jones had blindsided her like this. Rosie O’Donnell’s tenure was marked with wild fights on air and crazy outbursts and soon led to her dismissal despite high ratings. Elisabeth Hasselback was let go amid concerns of her overtly conservative view which alienated viewers, and Jenny McCarthy was slammed from the get-go for her anti-vaccine beliefs that played a part in her being let go as well. After a year where she basically hijacked topics for her own stories and jokes, Michelle Collins was fired.
14 Janet Hubert
Back in 1990, Will Smith was just a low-level rap star when he got his own deal for the sitcom The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. The show was an instant hit, fans loving the streetwise Smith shaking up his Beverly Hills rich family. Hubert played Aunt Viv, the usually calm lady who could erupt into great comedic rages and getting along well with the cast. At least before the cameras they did as Hubert started to clash with Smith, including slamming him before the audience on telling jokes about dark-skinned blacks like Hubert. It got worse but as Smith was the star of the show, he had the bigger clout with the producers. Reportedly, Smith wasn’t happy with Hubert becoming pregnant and it written into the show. After the third season, Hubert was let go and replaced by Daphne Reid for the remainder of the series but many fans contend Hubert was far better in the part. She and Smith had a well-publicized feud for years but Hubert has admitted to wanting to let it go and seems to acknowledge her own problems that canned her from this hit.
13 Leah Remini
Remini has always been someone who goes by the beat of her own drum, both in her hit sitcom King of Queens and her personal life. In 2010, she became part of the cast of The Talk, CBS’ new talk panel show and soon got some bad feedback from viewers about her blunt manner although Remini defended it as being part of her own personality. It led to some fun clashes on the panel as Remini did bring a good attitude and was quite taken aback when she and Holly Robinson Peete were both let go at the end of the show’s first season. It turned out Sharon Osbourne was a key reason for their departure, never liking Remini’s attitude and making it clear in interviews the two didn’t get along.
12 John Amos
Good Times debuted in 1974, meant to be a vehicle for Amos and Esther Rolle as parents raising a family in a rough Chicago neighborhood. It tackled some issues of race and social problems but soon became better known for Jimmie Walker’s performance as elder son J.J., the audience going wild for his “Dynomite!” catchphrase. Amos became displeased, thinking the show was getting away from its roots and all about Walker whose character he thought was a bad example to black youths. Amos brought his concerns to creator Norman Lear who bluntly told him Walker was the reason people were tuning in at all. It grew larger and after the third season, Amos was let go, angrily saying he was fired despite talk on it being him leaving. The fourth season opened with his character killed off-screen in a car accident and Walker becoming the main lead for the rest of the show’s run. So much for good times on set.
11 Columbus Short
It probably makes sense that when you title a show Scandal, sooner or later, a real one erupts. The ABC smash had a good cast with Kerry Washington playing the lead and Short playing Harrison, the more straight-laced of the “Gladiators” helping out Olivia Pope and doing a good job; a steady part of the cast. Which made it more shocking when word came in 2014 that Short got into a fight with his in-law that exposed how he’d been suffering from alcohol and cocaine abuse for some time and creator Shonda Rhimes had been aware of it. The show’s producers had allowed some of that but the arrest was too much and the third season finale had hinted his character was meeting a grisly end. It turned out to be true, Short killed off-screen and barely mentioned since as Short has dealt with fallout from an all to real scandal.
10 Robert Downey, Jr.
It’s easy to forget that before becoming Iron Man, Downey was best known as a living gift for tabloids. Constantly drinking and drug use and multiple arrests held Downey from movie stardom and made producers wary of casting him. In 2000, he was added to the cast of the hit Fox show Ally McBeal romancing the title character, winning a Golden Globe and earning wide praise for the role. He was arrested over Thanksgiving for cocaine possession but the show kept him on. The plan was for the season finale to have Downey and Ally married and the next season to explore Ally as a married woman. But in April of 2001, Downey was arrested again, this time for wandering barefoot while on cocaine. This time, the show producers couldn’t ignore it, firing Downey and rewriting the finale (and thus the entire series) for his character suddenly leaving Ally. As it happened, Downy calls this period the final straw in getting himself clean and in a few years becoming a major box office draw. Yet the show’s fan contend his being let go started the series on a poor downslide that ended it too early.
9 Dana Plato
It’s a bit sad that the legacy of Different Strokes is less its standing as a hit comedy and more the train wreck lives of its stars afterward. The tales of Gary Coleman and Todd Bridges are infamous but Dana Plato probably got it a lot worse. As Kimberly, she was a nice light presence on the show with a good comedic touch to help things along. But like her co-stars, the fame led to some personal addictions that Plato fell into hard, nearly having an overdose at only 14 and continuing with cocaine during the show’s run. She married a rocker and became pregnant and was dropped from the show with the producers feeling it would hurt her character. There were also serious concerns Plato might suddenly drop dead on them. She did make return appearances later in the run but Plato’s life came to a bitter end in 1999, dying of a drug overdose at only 34.
8 Nicolette Sheridan
From the start, reports began of egos clashing on Desperate Housewives, mostly the battles of the main leads for more screen time. A famous story is a Vanity Fair shoot with Teri Hatcher, Marcia Cross and Eva Longoria arguing as to who would be center in a cast portrait. Nicolette Sheridan wasn’t immune to this battle with reports of her acting more a diva and not happy about her character pushed to the background. She was killed off in the fifth season amid reports of massive rows with producers and co-stars. It came to a head with Sheridan filing a $20 million lawsuit against creator Marc Cherry and ABC, claiming that Cherry assaulted her on set and the network covered it up. Cherry fired back that the “assault” was tapping her at a table read and the decision to kill off Sheridan had been made long ago for storyline reasons. The suit was dismissed as the show continued its run, Sheridan famously not asked to be among the “ghostly returns” in the series finale and showing how wild things on Wisteria Lane could truly become.
7 Lisa Bonet
The Cosby Show was one of the biggest hits NBC had in the 1980s as viewers loved seeing Bill Cosby as the dad of a fun family. Bonet was a rising starlet as his eldest daughter, Denise, winning over with her humor. She would briefly headline the spin off A Different World but would leave after its first season with the show continuing on as a hit afterward. In 1987, Bonet made two moves that dramatically altered her career. First, she appeared topless in the movie Angel Heart and a magazine spread and then became pregnant. She was let go from the show with Cosby apparently believing this ruined her character’s squeaky clean image. She returned in 1991 but fired again with reports of unprofessional behaviour on set and clashing a lot with Cosby.
6 Brett Butler
Breaking out as a stand-up comic in the early 1990s, Butler won over fans with her brash humor that drew on her past as a battered mother and hard-drinking. ABC took notice and soon gave Butler her own show, Grace Under Fire, playing a single mom factory worker handling life in a quirky Southern town. While the show was a ratings hit, behind the scenes it was a mess with five different executive producers quitting after clashing with Butler’s creative control. Butler also got under fire herself with bits of anti-Semitic humor on talk shows and a moment where she flashed her new boob job at the actor playing her son. Julie White, who played Butler’s best friend on the show, quit after four seasons of such actions as Butler was soon showing up drunk on set and messing up tapings as well for treatment for alcohol. It all got too much with falling ratings and thus, with no warning, ABC axed the show and made it clear Butler was the cause.
5 Valerie Harper
If your name is the show title, you can’t get fired, right? Harper must have felt that way when the veteran actress began work on Valerie in 1986, the comedy about her as the mom of three boys renamed Valerie’s Family the following year. With the show a hit in 1987, Harper approached the producers about a raise as well as more creative control over the series. She was refused and thus walked, naturally assuming that as the star, she would have the leverage to get the network to cave in to her demands. An agreement seemed to be reached but then things broke down with a couple of episodes shot without Harper. Finally, NBC chief Brandon Tartikoff made the unprecedented move to fire the title star of the show, causing Harper to file a lawsuit that ended up nowhere. Her character was killed off with Sandy Duncan becoming the boy’s aunt now raising them.
4 Shannen Doherty
Doherty gets on this list for not one but two axings from hit shows. She became a star as Brenda Walsh on Beverly Hills 90210 but from the start, stories circulated about Doherty being a major diva on set and her demands way too much to take. She left in the fourth season with word of it being a total firing although Doherty would claim it was more her decision. In 1998, Doherty and Aaron Spelling worked together again for the hit Charmed with Doherty doing a good job as witch Prue. However, once more conflicts arose on set with co-star Alyssa Milano and Holly Marie Combs, clashes on set and Doherty wanting more money and screen time. After the third season finale, Doherty left the show in another “quit before she could be fired” scenario with her character killed off-screen. Today, Doherty has gotten more sympathy with her cancer battle and facing up to her past actions that cost her two big jobs.
3 Thomas Gibson
Gibson grew to fame as the straight-laced lawyer on the hit sitcom Dharma & Greg. In 2005, he took up the role of Aaron Hotchner on CBS’ Criminal Minds which quickly grew into a huge hit. Gibson could be intense on set with shoving an assistant and seeing anger management therapy but still a major part of the show and wanting to continue. Which made it all the more shocking when word came in August of 2016 that Gibson had gotten into a fight with a writer that involved lashing out a kick and screaming. That was too much for CBS to take, Gibson let go despite production underway and no word yet on how he’ll be replaced.
2 Isiah Washington
The drama of Grey’s Anatomy behind the scenes is almost as fantastic as what goes on in front of the camera. After becoming a surprise smash, the show was rising higher with Washington a major character as Peter Burke, romancing Sandra Oh’s Christina and key to the show’s success. But in the third season, reports came of trouble on set with Washington using a homophobic slur on co-star T.R. Knight and then denying it in a speech at the Golden Globes after party. It seemed to die down but then in 2007, the show announced Washington would not be coming back and he blasted them about the firing with Burke written off accepting a new job. Things remained tense although Washington did make a one-episode return later in the show’s run and bounced back with his role on The 100.
1 Charlie Sheen
Sheen seemed to have put his “bad boy” image in the past. After getting into wild scrapes with the law amid drugs and drinking, he scored a role in the last two seasons of Spin City. This led to his starring role in the hit Two and a Half Men and Sheen seemed to be doing great. Sure, there was talk of his partying again, some brushes with the law but Sheen still doing great with a major payday for the show. Then in 2010, he imploded, needing substance abuse rehab in his home, delaying taping several times. He then slammed creator Chuck Lorre and demanded a 50% raise before he would come back to the show. Finally having enough, CBS canceled Sheen’s contract in early 2011 with the show explaining his character as killed off and replaced by Ashton Kutcher. Sheen then had an infamous meltdown (“winning” and “tiger blood” among the highlights) before managing to get FX to have him star in Anger Management.