Imagine, if you will, that you’re a struggling actor. After years of waiting tables in a Hollywood restaurant, you land your big break! You shoot the pilot (it’s going to be a hit for sure), and miraculously it makes the cut– just not with you in it. Believe it or not, it’s a saga that has befallen many of today’s most recognizable names. For example: Stephen Tobolowsky got cut from both Home Improvement and Buffy the Vampire Slayer (Correction: Apparently it’s not that simple, see below for an update), and Rebecca Gayheart played Inara in the original pilot for Joss Whedon’s Firefly. UPROXX previously rounded up a few of these could-have-beens, but we’ve found even more that will surprise and amuse you.
Ray Romano – Joe Garelli on NewsRadio
Ray Romano didn’t even survive long enough in the original cast of NewsRadio to make the pilot’s taping! The actor got the part of the radio station’s electrician back in 1994, but after only one day of rehearsals, he got the boot. Apparently, Romano’s famously slow-paced delivery cost him the role on the uptempo show. While Joe Rogan eventually took over the retooled role of Joe Garelli, he wasn’t even the show’s second choice. Greg Lee filmed the first episode only, like Romano, to be replaced.
Thank goodness Romano was axed, though. It’s hard to imagine a world without the Barone family.
Anita Barone – Carol Willick on Friends
Ross’s first wife on Friends, Carol Willick, leaves him after realizing she’s a lesbian and falling in love with another woman. Jane Sibbett memorably played the role of Dr. Gellar’s ex-wife and baby mama throughout the beloved series’ run, but mega-fans will note that when Carol first appears in the show’s second episode, she’s a completely different person. In fact, she’s Anita Barone.
Barone, who went on to star in The Jeff Foxworthy Show, was replaced by Sibbett after only one episode. Sibbett had auditioned for one of the main characters but was pregnant, which would have caused a conflict with shooting. After giving birth to her son, producers called her up and the actress immediately jumped on board as Carol.
Merrin Dungey – Naomi Bennett on Private Practice
Merrin Dungey has found her place on ABC as Ursula on Once Upon a Time, but not too long ago the actress didn’t quite make the cut for a part in Shondaland. The Grey’s Anatomy spin-off Private Practice premiered during a two-hour crossover episode of the popular medical drama with Merrin Dungey starring as Dr. Naomi Bennett. By the time the show began airing on its own in the fall of 2007, however, Dungey had been replaced by four-time Tony winner Audra McDonald.
Why the change up? At the time it was reported that Dungey and her onscreen estranged husband Taye Diggs were lacking in the chemistry department. Not that it mattered in the long run – fans of the show are surely aware of how keeeerrrrplunk Sam and Naomi’s relationship went.
Philip Bruns – Morty Seinfeld on Seinfeld
Philip Bruns already had a successful track record as a TV father when Seinfeld came along (most notably, he was Mary’s dad on Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman), but apparently that wasn’t enough for Larry David. Bruns appeared as Jerry’s father in the show’s second episode, but was canned for not being a grumpy old man. Apparently, David wanted someone more grouchy. Bruns was replaced by the time Morty reappeared in the second season, with Barney Martin taking over until the show ended.
Sharon Wilkins – Angie Jordan on 30 Rock
In “Jack the Writer,” the fourth episode of 30 Rock‘s first season, Kenneth takes out Tracy’s wife at the bequest of the unstable comedian. Unfortunately, the brief appearance wasn’t a big break for Sharon Wilkins, who’s worked steadily on television in small parts for years. When Angie made her second appearance, a slightly more famous face was playing the “Queen of Jordan”: Sherri Shepard.
Jeff Yagher – Tommy Hanson on 21 Jumpstreet
While actor Jeff Yagher has had a decent career (you might recognize him as Hoyt from Six Feed Under), it’s hard to image he doesn’t ache every time he sees Johnny Depp.
It all goes back to 1987, when a young Yagher was cast as a baby-faced undercover police officer named Tommy Hanson. After only one episode of Fox’s 21 Jump Street, however, Yagher was replaced by a hot rising star fresh off blockbuster horror film Nightmare On Elm Street: Mr. Pirate of the Caribbean, himself. Although Yagher’s version of the pilot aired, the episode was later reshot with Depp, who stayed on as Hanson through the show’s fourth season. And now, ya know, he’s a big-time movie star.
It’s okay, Jeff – just think of Mortdecai.
Susanne Zenor – Chrissy Snow on Three’s Company
Jack Tripper, Chrissy Snow, and Janet Wood really are the original TV trio. Most of the Three’s Company roommates’s entertainment value came from ditzy Chrissy, a pre-health nut Suzanne Somers. Somers wasn’t the first Chrissy however, or even the second.
There were two pilots of the ’70s sitcom before Somers was brought in. First came Susanne Zenor (above right), who played the secretary when she was originally named Samantha. After the entire script was thrown out and the episode left unaired, actress Susan Lanier was brought in for a second pilot as the newly dubbed Chrissy. Critics didn’t react favorably to Lanier so, finally, Somers was tapped. And the rest is Step by Step history.
Lisa Kudrow – Roz Doyle on Frasier
Just over a year before she landed the part that made her a star (she’s our lobster), Lisa Kudrow nabbed the role of Roz Doyle on Fraiser, which was then “just” a Cheers spinoff. Despite the fact that the role was written with Peri Gilpin in mind, Kudrow was brought on as the radio producer. “I just changed their mind for, like, a week. And then they corrected their mistake,” Kudrow has said of her brief stint in the cast.
After a few short rehearsals, the actress was swiftly fired. “You could just feel it wasn’t going well at the table read. It was like, ‘Oh!’ ” Kudrow said. She maintains that although devastated, the producers were “very nice” about letting her go. The role of Roz was then returned to its rightful owner.
Alex Borstein – Sookie St. James on Gilmore Girls
Gilmore Girls fans might be a little surprised to hear this one: Sweet, sensitive Sookie was almost played by MADtv’s hilariously brash Alex Borstein. Borstein, who’s lent her voice to Lois Griffin on Family Guy for years, was initially cast as Lorelai’s pal but had to drop out due to her MADtv filming schedule. Borstein dished on the casting change-up during a Reddit AMA in 2014.
Dan Palladino was our show-runner on Family Guy for a few years. He is married to Amy Sherman-Palladino. Dan asked me to read Amy’s pilot one day, Gilmore Girls. I read it and loved it and Dan asked me to audition for the role of Sookie. I did, I got the part. We shot the pilot in Toronto, but when the show got picked up to series, my MADtv contract wouldn’t allow me to do GG, so I had to let it go. Amy wrote a new part for me DRELLA the bitchy harpist. Later, Amy wrote a part for Seth M.
So, um, you might wanna say thank you Melissa McCarthy?
Update: While it might appear to the naked eye that Stephen Tobolowsky got bounced from Buffy and Home Improvement, the truth seems to be less cut and dry. In possibly the nicest correction ever received, the actor replied to this article with the following in the comment section:
“I was not fired from either of those shows. For Buffy, I was already contracted with ABC to do Blue Skies. Joss knew this when he asked me to do the pilot. I shot Buffy, then left to do my ABC series. Then, Buffy was picked up. That doesn’t mean Joss wouldn’t have fired me anyway…but he didn’t. As for Home Improvement, I couldn’t agree with the terms of the contract so I never had the job in the first place to be replaced.”
We apologize for the error and thank you for the comment.