After just a few episodes of a new series, it becomes very difficult to imagine anyone else playing the characters that we are quickly growing attached to. However, replacing actors between pilot and premiere is quite common. Sometimes this is because first choice actors are in more than one pilot that gets picked up, and they can’t do both shows. At other times, it is because a certain actor, or the chemistry between certain actors, just didn’t work with audiences during the pilot.
Check out this list of 10 iconic characters that were recast after the pilot or rehearsals and before their show hit our screens.
Daenerys on Game of Thrones
The original pilot episode of Game of Thrones has never been seen by audiences. It is not something that has been included in special edition Blu-Rays. Clearly the producers only want their final work before audiences. While quite a few Game of Thrones characters were recast between pilot and premiere, the most iconic is Daenerys Targaryen. In the pilot she was played by English actress Tamzin Merchant, who was replaced by another English actress, Emilia Clarke. The actresses have such a different looks and bearings that it is hard to imagine Merchant, who went on to do an excellent portrayal of Catherine Howard in The Tudors, in the part.
Phoebe on Charmed
The role of youngest sister Phoebe Halliwell on Charmed revitalised the career of one-time teen starlet Alyssa Milano and returned her to our screens as a household name. However, the pilot episode was filmed with Lori Rom, who then dropped out of the show, citing a conflict with her Christian beliefs. However, rumours suggest that it was in fact conflicts with fellow leading lady Shannon Doherty that led Rom to leave the show. Milano made the role her own and enjoyed eight seasons on the air (Doherty left after just three, due to conflicts with the production team).
The Captain on Star Trek (The Original Series)
The pilot episode of Star Trek is something we have seen, as producers used the footage to make a brand-new two-part episode known as The Menagerie. But why was the captain changed between pilot and premiere? The feuding between NBC and Gene Roddenberry over Star Trek has become the stuff of legend. Apparently in 1966 executives hated the pilot saying that it was too slow, ridiculous to have a female first officer, and that Mr Spock was too weird. The pilot had to be re-filmed. Jeffrey Hunter, who played Captain Pike in the original pilot, refused to participate in the new pilot. The captain was recast and renamed, and Captain James T. Kirk played by William Shatner was brought to life.
Willow on Buffy
If you take to YouTube, you will be able to find parts of the pilot episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. However, you may not recognise the show, as the iconic character of Willow is not played by Alyson Hannigan, but rather by Riff Regan. After the pilot, producers decided that Regan as Willow simply didn’t work, and started the search for a new Willow. Speaking about Hannigan, producers said that she managed to bring joy to a character that could otherwise come across as too sad and pitiable.
Inara on Firefly
Inara is one of the most charismatic characters in Joss Whedon’s space western Firefly, and has the right level of strength and delicacy to match Captain Mal played by Nathon Fillon, largely thanks to the excellent acting from Morena Baccarin. However, the part was originally given to Rebecca Gayheart, but she was swiftly fired after just one day of filming because of a lack of chemistry with the rest of the cast. Baccarin started filming on the day she was hired.
Ros on Fraiser
It is difficult to imagine anyone but Peri Gilpin playing Ros, Fraiser’s sassy producer and friend, and the part was actually written wither her in mind. However, strangely, Lisa Kudrow was originally cast in the part as NBC executives seemed to like her more. This was just one year before she made it big on Friends. She was recast after rehearsals rather than the pilot as her performance was considered too quirky, and she needed to be more forceful to match Fraiser on screen. Luckily Kudrow found the perfect role in Phoebe, and Fraiser creators hired Gilpin.
Sam Malone on Cheers
While Ted Danson played the character of bar tender Sam Malone on Cheers for 275 episodes, in the pilot he was played by actor Fred Dryer. And that is not all the changed about Sam between pilot and premiere. While the Sam we know and love was a former Boston Red Sox relief pitcher, pilot Sam was originally a former wide-receiver for the New England Patriots, to match Dryer’s former career as a football player. Apparently, executives didn’t like the pilot due to the lack of chemistry between Dryer and Shelley Long. Danson was one of the final three actors up for the role and was recalled, and a legend was born.
Sarah in Parenthood
There is little argument that Lauren Graham is one of TV’s most beloved mother figures thanks to her stint as Lorelai on Gilmore Girls, and more recently as Sarah on Parenthood. However, the role of Sarah was originally offered to E.R. alumna Laura Tierney. However, after filming the pilot Tierney discovered that she had breast cancer, and while there was talk about how the show could accommodate her treatments, in the end she had to drop out. Graham went on to receive a number of award nominations for her portrayal of Sarah, and Tierney landed a role in the critically acclaimed series The Affair.
Danny on Full House
The Full House dad Danny Tanner, made loveable by his portrayal by Bob Saget, was originally played in the pilot by John Posey. Producers had actually wanted Saget for the role all along, but he was unavailable. After the pilot was filmed, Saget became free and Posey was fired while he was on his way from Atlanta to Los Angeles to start filming the series.
Penny in the Big Bang Theory
In the unaired pilot episode of The Big Bang Theory there was no Kaley Cuoco, and in fact there was no Penny. Instead the main female character was called Katie and played by Amanda Walsh. In the pilot, Katie has had a bad break up that leaves her homeless and Sheldon and Leonard invite her to live with them. But Penny is not the only character missing from the pilot. Howard and Raj do not feature at all, and Sheldon’s character is so unrecognisable that he may as well not be the same character. Sheldon’s sexless germaphobe is introduced in the pilot episode returning from a sperm bank, with a magazine featuring women with big butts, a fetish of his.