Jesse Pinkman, Andy Dwyer, And Other TV Characters That Escaped An Early Death

It would be unrealistic to think that showrunners know every twist and turn a series will take when it’s first conceptualized. Characters change drastically from first drafts to the actual pilot. It’s often the “fault” of powerful actors who take what was meant as a background role and turn it into something that audiences want to see more of.

This had us wondering – what memorable and pivotal TV characters were meant to be axed, written off, or one-time deals? The answers will surprise you.

Jack Shepard – Lost

It’s pretty hard to imagine Lost without Jack Shepard leading the displaced passengers of Oceanic Flight 815, eventually losing his mind and chanting “we have to go back.” But when ABC’s infamously outlandish show was first conceived, Matthew Fox’s character was meant to kick the bucket. The showrunners wanted Birdman himself to play the role of Jack as a one off – the character would die midway through the pilot. But before even reaching out to Keaton, the producers found Fox and decided to replace him with Greg Grunberg’s airline pilot as the smoke monster’s first victim.

Lost, while still a show built mainly on deception, would have been drastically different without Jack at its helm.

The Cigarette Smoking Man – The X-Files

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It’s safe to assume by now that everyone who’s anyone knows of The X-Files imminent return.  Mulder and Scully are obviously on board, and so, thankfully, is the Cigarette Smoking Man (but didn’t he die?).  When William B. Davis was brought in for the Fox show’s pilot his role was quite literal – stand in the background, smoke a cigarette, don’t speak (see above photo).

“To be truthful with you, I didn’t know if Bill Davis… could act… But at that time, I didn’t know anything, all I knew was he was the guy we brought in to smoke cigarettes,” said Robert Goodwin, one of the show’s executive producers.

So how did Davis’s character go from nameless extra to the show’s main antagonist? After two background character parts in season one, the show drew the Canadian actor into the plot because Gillian Anderson’s pregnancy forced them to find bigger storylines. And thus, a villain was born.

Andy Dwyer – Parks and Recreation

Chris Pratt is, deservedly, but also remarkably, one of the biggest movie stars on the planet today. So, imagine a time when he was happy to take a small, guest starring part on the first TV project from an SNL alum.

When Parks and Recreation was first conceptualized, Anne, played by Rashida Jones, was meant only to have a boyfriend as a vehicle for her to meet Amy Poehler’s Leslie Knope. Andy Dwyer would break his legs, Anne would become friends with Leslie because of it, she would dump Andy, and he would never be seen again. While Anne did dump Andy, he never went away.

The showrunners met Pratt and completely rewrote the character’s arc, according to co-creator and executive producer Greg Daniels.

“He was coming in for the role of the guy with the broken legs. He was not supposed to be a series regular. But we just thought he was fantastic so we hired him for that role and started rewriting that character so he wasn’t such a bad guy. That was another example of changing the characters from what you initially conceived of them to try to take advantage of something good that fell in your lap.”

We wouldn’t have it any other way.

Andy Bernard — The Office

The annoying and musically inclined Andy Bernard didn’t pop up until season three of NBC’s once-fiercely popular mockumentary show The Office. Ed Helms had yet to become a household name with The Hangover (honestly, that entire cast owes that movie everything) when he appeared as one of Jim Halpert’s coworkers at the Stamford branch of Dunder Mifflin during Jim’s transfer.

Helms was only cast for 10 episodes to begin with, and the character was meant to be phased out when Jim transitioned back to the Scranton office. Instead, Helms became a series regular, growing in the show’s ranks when Steve Carrell departed.

Steve Urkel – Family Matters

Steve Urkel is Family Matters, so, it’s a little shocking to hear that he was intended to be merely a guest star. Jaleel White’s iconic character appeared once late in season one. In the episode, Steve goes on a date with Laura, and she rejects him for being a nerd. In, out, and on White would go.

The show’s studio audience loved the character so much during taping though, by season two Steve was a series regular. Eventually, the show became less about the Winslow family and more, and more about the weird kid next door.

Harry Crane — Mad Men

By the time Man Men‘s final episodes aired this spring, fan speculation had reached an all-time high. The show’s iconic falling man intro left many convinced that Don Draper would reach his demise by way of a tall building and a disastrous leap. In reality, the show ended with a Coke and a smile. So what about those title cards? The falling man really wasn’t foreshadowing?

Not so fast. A character was meant to plunge to their death. Rich Sommer’s vastly disliked Harry Crane was originally intended to commit suicide. Creator Matthew Weiner wanted to have Crane jump off the Sterling Cooper building back at the end of season one. Don’t believe us? Look for Harry’s joke about leaping off the building in season four’s premiere. Easter egg!

Jesse Pinkman – Breaking Bad

Yeah, bitch – Jesse wasn’t meant to make it. This is pretty well known, but still strange to grasp: Vince Gilligan wanted Aaron Paul’s character gone early on in the AMC series Breaking Bad. The show’s creator intended for Pinkman to die at the end of season one, but he quickly became an integral part of Walter White’s story. When Paul won the Emmy in 2010, he pretty much cemented his place in the series. Paul told the A.V. Club finding out about the “death” left him in a constant panic over when it’d be his turn.

“I didn’t even know Jesse was supposed to die in the first season. I found that out toward the end of the first season, and then the next couple of years, I was in a constant panic, thinking that this kid is going to meet his demise at any time. But I think once they really started revealing who he was, I think maybe in season two where he tries to save the little boy, I think that really showed me that this character is pretty important.”


Mark Rollins — Orphan Black

Ari Millen joined the BBC’s under-appreciated drama Orphan Black in season 2 as Mark, a “meh” character that could have easily continued in the background. Until the season finale, that is. We’ll skip the spoilers, but for those who aren’t caught up just know that Mark brings a major, major twist.

Mark wasn’t intended to be long for his world, originally brought on for a short six episode arc that would end in his death. Millen opened up about signing on to play a character who was already marked for expiration in an interview with Twitch.

“And then it went as far as John Fawcett introducing me to Dylan [Bruce], who plays Paul, and saying ‘Come here Ari, I want you to meet the guy who’s going to kill you.’ Because I think they had a bad experience in the first season of not telling someone that they were going to be killed off and it didn’t go over well. So they wanted to make sure that I knew right away so there were no surprises. But then the surprise was that I didn’t die!

Millen said opting to keep him around was, in fact, the “blindside.” When he did find out about the change in script, it was so secretive that only a handful of writers and star Tatiana Maslany even knew about it.

(Via Vulture, The L.A. Times, GQThe AV Club, and Twitch)