We’re in the middle of upfronts season, which means we’re hearing a lot about potential new shows and their pilot episodes right now. However, the process of getting a show to air is maybe a bit more laborious than most people realize. Not only does a script have to get picked up, but there are TONS of pilots that are picked up and made every year, at the equivalent cost of many months’ mortgage payments, that then get dropped before ever being aired. And even if a pilot IS picked up, the network or test audiences will almost undoubtedly have notes that require the people behind the show to alter the episode. As an actor, just because your pilot gets picked up, that doesn’t mean you’re safe. Here are some actors who found themselves cut from their own shows AFTER they’d completed work on their pilots.
Jenna Fischer, Man With a Plan
This story that Jenna Fischer was replaced on this upcoming show has been going around this week, and was the impetus for this list. But I’ve yet to find a way to talk about this news that isn’t insulting to either Jenna Fischer or Matt LeBlanc. Because I really like both of them! But I guess I want better than a CBS sitcom for both. And, to be honest, I can’t imagine them acting opposite each other and having any chemistry at all. Which is apparently what test audiences and producers also thought, because Fischer won’t be in the show when it makes it to air.
Gillian Vigman, Transparent
This is the rare case in which anyone who wanted to could have seen the original pilot. As part of Amazon’s vote-based pilot season, they aired the first episode of Transparent which features Vigman as Tammy, Sarah Pfefferman’s ex- and- future girlfriend. She was replaced before the full run aired by Melora Harden because Vigman was, reportedly, “super duper pregnant.”
Maura Tierney, Parenthood
This is the sad one of the bunch. (I mean, I guess most are sad for the replaced actors, but this one is just empirically sad.) Tierney shot the pilot of Parenthood, but had to pull out to undergo treatment for breast cancer, and was replaced by Lauren Graham. What a different show that would have been.
Christina Hendricks, Roadies
One of the most exciting things about Cameron Crowe’s upcoming Roadies was the involvement of Christina Hendricks. Then she wasn’t involved. And then Carla Gugino was. If you’re ever looking for a form letter version of the most polite and amicable press release for such a scenario, this is it:
Gugino will take over the role of Shelli, previously portrayed by Hendricks. The role is being reconceived with producers opting to recast the role after the character was revamped. Sources say the decision to redevelop the role was a creative decision and not based on Hendricks’ performance — and that the actress and Crowe look forward to collaborating again in the future.
Louie Anderson, Perfect Strangers
John Posey, Full House
Apparently, Bob Saget was always the #1 Danny Tanner choice, but he had a prior contractual commitment. That commitment fell through, though, so poor John Posey was sent packing, with all of his scenes then reshot with Saget.
Willow and Principal Flutie, Buffy the Vampire Slayer
I had no idea about this one, but YouTube has the full original pilot with an alternate Willow and the original principal as played by Stephen Tobolowsky (Silicon Valley, Mindy Project, Deadwood, basically everything, he has like a million awesome credits). It’s actually hard to imagine Tobolowsky getting killed off as early as his replacement did. He’s a fan favorite in pretty much everything he does. But what would Buffy have been without replacement Principal Snyder? This is a whole other Buffy alt-verse here.