12 Popular Television Series Regulars Who Were Originally Written as Minor Characters

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12 Popular Television Series Regulars Who Were Originally Written as Minor Characters

By Dustin Rowles | Seriously Random Lists | June 27, 2012 | Comments ()


Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul), "Breaking Bad" -- Series creator Vince Gilligan had originally planned to kill off Jesse Pinkman at the end of the first season in what was supposed to be a botched drug deal as a plot device to plague Walter White with guilt. Gilligan made him a series regular, however, after Paul demonstrated a strong ability to act and his character proved to be so popular with audiences.


Boyd Crowder (Walton Goggins), "Justified" -- Boyd was supposed to die in the pilot episode when Raylan and Ava shot him. However, he was so popular with test audiences that he was written in as a recurring character. By the second season, he was elevated to a series regular.


Andy Bernard (Ed Helms), "The Office" -- Originally signed on for only 10 episodes, Bernard shared so many similarities with a character the producers had already planned on creating that they simply merged the two and brought Andy back as a series regular. He's now the manager of Dunder Mifflin. Sadly.


Sheldon Cooper (Jim Parsons), "Big Bang Theory" -- Originally written as a minor character -- the roommate and colleague of the show's main character -- his popularity with audiences resulted in his character being elevated to one of the featured characters. His now the biggest reason for the success of the show (besides the laugh track).


Benjamin Linus (Michael Emerson), "Lost" -- He was only supposed to be on the show for three episodes, but the producers liked him so much that they elevated him to the leader of "The Others" and later made him a series regular.


Sophia Petrillo (Estelle Getty), "The Golden Girls" -- She was only supposed to appear in the pilot, but she proved so popular with audiences that she was elevated to series regular, replacing a gay chef named "Coco" who was supposed to be the fourth member of the regular cast.


Steve Urkel (Jaleel White), "Family Matters" -- Originally, Urkel was supposed to appear in only one episode as a nerdy kid who dated Laura Winslow. He proved so popular that the producers brought him back for several more episodes, and he was so winning he was elevated to series regular. Now, he is who most associate with the show.


Mimi Bobeck (Kathy Kinney) "Drew Carey Show" -- She was only supposed to appear in the pilot episode, but was such a hit with producers that she was written into the show permanently.


President Bartlett (Martin Sheen), "West Wing" -- Originally, the president wasn't even supposed to be in "The West Wing," Aaron Sorkin had meant for the focus to be entirely on the senior staff. However, he decided to put a face to the President's name, signing Martin Sheen on for only four episodes. So impressed with his performance, Sorkin wrote him in as a series regular.


Dean Pelton (Jim Rash), "Community" -- Several members of the "Community" cast could be considered for this list, as the show was meant to focus mainly on Jeff Winger. However, it soon became an ensemble show, and early scene stealers Senor Chang and Dean Pelton were elevated to series regulars in the second and third seasons, respectively.


Sue Sylvester (Jane Lynch), "Glee" -- Written only as a recurring character, she was elevated to series regular after a commitment to another television show (a Damon Wayans pilot) was not picked up.


Frasier (Kelsey Grammar), "Cheers" -- As originally written, Frasier was only supposed to appear on a few episodes of "Cheers," as the love interest of Diane Chambers and a brief rival to Sam Malone. However, after Diane left him at the altar, Frasier began coming into the bar regularly, became friends with Sam, and eventually rose to a series regular (and would later, of course, land his own spin-off).

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Comments Are Welcome, Bigots and Trolls Are Not

  • KM

    Pearl Forrester (Mary Jo Pehl) on MST3K. The character was scripted for a single guest appearance, but when Trace Beaulieu (who played Dr. Forrester) decided to leave the show, she was brought back to serve as tormentor for Mike & the 'bots.

  • Frasier was on Cheers? No way!

  • JJ from Good Times is one of the patron saints of minor character show stealers.

  • Poopy McPoop My Pants


    Even though Bill Lawrence had written the character specifically for Neil Flynn, so that Flynn didn't have to audition, he wasn't supposed to have any unscripted lines or become a regular, but his adlib as JD was leaving knocked Lawrence out and he gave Janitor more and more air time and storylines and lines, though the lines actually read: Neil says something funny here.

  • alaskanthunderfunk

    Both Tobias and George Sr. on Arrested Development were meant to have much smaller parts, but I am so glad they were bumped up, especially Mr. Funke!

  • Philip

    How much better would the Golden Girls have been with the gay chef named Coco? That's comedy gold right there.

  • PaganGirl

    Having seen the pilot episode that had the gay chef, I'll have to say I'm really glad they went the Sophia route. That guy just wasn't funny.

  • Phantom Spaceman

    There's lots that seem to be left off the list. Hell, jack from Lost was supposed to be killed halfway through the first episode. Tobias was supposed to be a minor role.

  • Guest

    If it had been a Damon Wayans, Jr., pilot ... it would have been picked up.

  • the8bitlife

    Neil Flynn (the janitor) was only supposed to be in the pilot episode of "Scrubs". He ended up appearing in more episodes than series regular Carla.

  • Mark

    Klinger (Jamie Farr) on MASH was hired for a single episode and became a regular on a long running show

  • TheMudshark

    Golden Girls sucks anyway, but without Sophia it would have been insufferable.

  • Jezzer

    Really? I thought Sophia was the most insufferable character on the show, and that Estelle Getty was the worst actress of the four (which is really bad considering the level of acting your basic sitcom requires). Getty's line readings sounded like she was auditioning for a Vaudeville role in a Catskills dinner theatre.

  • TheMudshark

    Well, to be honest it´s been at least ten years since I´ve last watched Golden Girls, but I remember Sophia as the most likeable character.

  • I really only started watching "Justified" for Walter Goggins. I am a HUGE fan of "The Shield". All the "Justified" promos made it appear as if Goggins and Timothy Olyphant were co-leads. I nearly stopped watching the show when it appeared Goggins was to only be a minor character. Boyd Crowder has always been the most interesting character on the show and if it weren't for him, I probably wouldn't watch now. The first season episodes without him are nothing more than a hick cop show.

  • Brian

    Karl "Helo" Agathon was supposed to die (presumably) after staying behind on Caprica. Instead, became a BSG regular and made it all the way to the (SPOILER ALERT) end.

  • John G.

    (spoiler alert) his career did not survive.

  • dizzylucy

    Jesse, Boyd, and Ben are three of the most interesting characters I've seen. Good call keeping them around.
    I disliked Andy, then grew to like him, and now am so bummed out by the state of The Office as a whole.

  • I_Sell_Books

    The Lone Gunmen on the X Files were also supposed to be a one time thing, if I recall rightly.

  • Lulu

    I think Castiel on Supernatural was only supposed to be on a few episodes as well.

  • F'mal DeHyde

    I've never seen Glee so I'm guessing that photo is supposed to be her impersonating Madonna? Cuz she looks a lot like Marlene Dietrich. I'd watch the show if she played Dietrich.

  • Helder

    Tobias was only supposed to be a minor character on Arrested Development.

  • Rocabarra

    I can't imagine a world without Mrs. Featherbottom or Dr. Fünke's 100% Natural Good-Time Family Band. Correction: I wouldn't want to live in that world.

  • Huckleberry

    Cliff Clavin (John Ratzenberger) was not originally scripted on Cheers. He suggested the character of a bar know it all and the part took off. Also on Cheers, Lilith Sternen Bebe Neuwirth) was not supposed to be a regular character but the chemistry she had with Kelsey Grammar drove the plot forward. She chose to leave the show to focus on Broadway. The producers wanted her to remain a series regular.

  • Ballymena Bob

    I don't understand why Pajiba writers constantly criticize The Big Bang Theory for its laugh track but never mention the twice as annoying, because it is obviously fake, laugh track on How I Met Your Mother. Pajiba, j'accuse!

  • BierceAmbrose

    Oh, oh, oh, I can help, too!

    Um ... there has been a distinct lack of mothers on How I Met Your Mother, and who is this "you" he's talking to. Also, NPH is awesome, Alyson Hannigan is disturbingly cute, Jason Segel is possibly the break-out "everyguy" of his cohort, and Cobie Smulders is never not gorgeous.


  • John G.

    How I Met Your Mother has an annoying laughtrack, and I don't like the show.

    how's that?

  • Wembley

    Horn Rimmed Glasses (HRG) Noah Bennett on Heroes-but interweb chatter got him a full time gig and he was there until the last little whimper.

  • Nat Kittyface

    Captain Jack Harkness from Doctor Who was that way too. He was supposed to die for real at the end of the Eccleston season, but they rewrote it because he was so popular, and the gave him his own spinoff.

  • BWeaves

    Oh yes, Captain Jack.

    Although, you could also put the Brigadier in that category, too. He originally played a different character with the first Doctor. Then the Brig with the second Doctor on. And then Sir Alistair with Sarah Jane. I was so hoping they'd bring him on the new Doctor Who series, but he only gets a mention after he dies.

  • Candee

    Not only Spike, but Anya as well, I believe.

  • Anna von Beav

    And don't forget Darla, who *was* killed off, and brought back later.

  • Aaron Schulz

    Yeah anya was supposed to be done away with after she was de-demoned, had they gotten rid of her the last few seasons wouldve been sorely lacking

  • Karl Kaefer

    OK...I know I'm old...but how could you forget Jonathan Frid (aka Barnabus Collins) on the original Dark Shadows....He was only signed to a small number of episodes, but became so popular with the fandom he bace the star of the series! Jonathan Frid is the uber-reason you made this list!

  • Hiro_the_Eighth_Samurai

    I'm surprised this story doesn't mention Fonzie from Happy Days. He went from just being a small secondary character to an iconic one. And, to a lesser extent, Larry in Three's Company was supposed to be a small supporting character but became a regular and regularly got involved in Jack's hijinks.

  • BWeaves

    AAAAAAAAAAAAY! How could you forget Fonzie.

  • Hawkeye Fierce

    Yeah. I thought Fonzarelli was the patron saint of this phenomenon.

  • bleujayone

    Michael Dorn as Lt. Worf on Star Trek TNG & DS9. His character was supposed to be little more than a secondary crew member. He's not even included in most of the publicity shots and literature for the show when it first started. And yet Dorn did such an intimidating turn as Starfleet's first Klingon officer, that he was immediately shifted to series regular and later "promoted" to the more appropriate position of security and tactical officer. As for Dorn, he went on to be the most experienced actor in Star Trek history. Not bad for someone who's biggest role until then was a supporting character on "CHiPs".

  • BWeaves

    And let's not forget he was also in the movie Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country as Colonel Worf, who was supposed to be the grandfather of the Worf in the TNG series.

  • Gori

    Because Tasha Yar was supposed to be the security officer. But the actress did not want to participate any more after one season. There come's the black monster....

  • bleujayone

    They had already made Dorn a series regular long before Denise Crosby illogically decided to bow out not quite through the first season. But until then, his character's function was as a brooding relief officer often with little to do. When Crosby thought she'd leave for greener movie pastures, the producers didn't put up much of a fight allowing her to break her six-year contract because it was obvious their replacement would work so much better.

  • emmelemm

    I did not know that! I come to Pajiba for education and edification.

  • branded_redux

    I unabashedly love the first two. Over half of this list either won or were nominated for Emmys and/or Golden Globes for these roles.

  • Kelly Anne Williams

    Expected to see Andy from Parks and Rec on this list!

  • mpbstereo

    Of all the websites THIS article is going to appear on, and no mention of Spike from BtVS???


  • lightalpha

    Don't forget about Spike from Buffy...he was supposed to be killed off in a couple episodes.

  • No Omar? Wtf?

  • Hazel Dean

    The actor who portrayed Omar, Michael K. Williams, mistakenly thought his character was to be killed off in the first season because he was only initially signed for seven episodes. David Simon later explained that this was actually because they weren't certain the show itself would be picked up for another season, rather than any plans to kill Omar off so early in the series.

  • gitaarpop

    James Marsters was supposed to play Spike on Buffy the Vampire slayer for only half a season, when he was to be killed off. But everyone was so impressed whit Marsters that they kept him around until the very end of the Whedonverse, playing the part on not one, but two shows.

  • BWeaves

    I third the Spike love.

  • chriso

    I was expecting to see Spike on here too!

  • mona_sterling

    Can you imagine what Lost would've been like without Ben? There would have been twice as much Kate aimlessly "tracking" people through the jungle and one-third more flashbacks of her disarming and pummeling grown-ass men. Thank God for Benjamin Linus.

  • emmelemm

    I would like to give this more upvotes than the one I am allotted.

  • john

    If only Sue had remained a recurring character . . .

  • Bert_McGurt

    It's interesting that she was supposed to be a recurring character initially, since Jane Lynch had to leave Party Down due to committments with Glee.

  • Apastorius

    What about Julianna Margulies on ER? Her suicide attempt at the end of the pilot was supposed to be successful....or so I read on the internets.

  • pajiba

    About half that cast, actually, was written originally as a minor character, including I think Clooney.

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