You meet the guy and he seems nice, lures you into falling for him. He’s all smiles and promises. You settle into seeing each other once a week. You think things are going so well…and then suddenly he’s gone, without so much as a “you’re not in my demographic.” I’m talking about actors, of course, who leave us midstream in a TV show.
My first experience with “missing” an actor who left a popular show was when Ron Howard left “Happy Days.” I was confused as to how the show could possibly go on without Richie…and in hindsight the show did crater in an epic way. Howard had a good sense of timing and went on to much bigger things, but his departure left me feeling abandoned. How could he leave me? Didn’t he appreciate what we’d built together, every Tuesday night at 8:00pm? Apparently, no.
In hindsight, it should’ve prepared me for (years later) when Rob Morrow left “Northern Exposure,” but it didn’t. Although I followed Morrow to the short-lived “Street Time” and later, to “Numb3rs,” I never quite got over Dr. Joel Fleischman leaving Cicely, Alaska, Maggie O’Connell, and me. Sniff, sniff.
And who can forget when Clooney left “ER”? Oh, the heartbreak. Like girlfriend Carol Hathaway, we contemplated suicide. We bought the tepid excuses for his departure and clung to offhand updates of Dr. Doug Ross’s wellbeing off-screen. We tuned in to the clumsy “reunion” of Carol and Doug at some movie set marina that must’ve been in proximity to whatever film he was starring in at the time. But since he’s Clooney and we still got to see him on the big screen, we forgave him.
Mandy Patinkin has pretty much left every show he’s been on high and dry (“Chicago Hope”, “Criminal Minds”). I don’t get his appeal, but I’d like to meet his agent. How he keeps getting work is beyond me.
When Michael J. Fox left “Spin City” because of his advanced Parkinson’s disease, we all wept. We love Michael, wanted to both sleep with him and pat him on the head. (He was replaced by Charlie Sheen…that was back when we all liked Charlie, too.) But I’m happy to report that MJF is back on TV this fall with “The Michael J. Fox Show” that gives a nod to his disease. I’m sure he’ll be in top comedic form.
When David Duchovny left “The X Files”, we all felt as if Scully had been cheated out of her romantic happy ending…but we got a little closure in the feature film.
I guess we can get a little satisfaction knowing that not all actors who dump us go on to better gigs. David Caruso left “NYPD Blue” to pursue a movie career, but since the movies didn’t pursue him, he wound up back on TV in “CSI: Miami,” with a new shtick: sunglasses and a dramatic one-quarter pivot to the camera. He pocketed a lot of cash, but not sure his cachè rose with that role.
Not surprisingly, the actors we miss most are the ones entwined in an unresolved romance that we’ve been tuning in and rooting for. We want closure…and vindication! It’s a badly kept secret that after wooing Mary Crawley and female viewers all over the globe, Matthew Crawley (Dan Stevens) will not be returning to “Downton Abbey.” Stevens wanted out to pursue other opportunities, so Crawley met his end in a rather mild car crash at the end of the last season. After his betrayal, this viewer is secretly hoping that Mary scores an even more handsome and dashing man to replace Matthew!
Q: What departed TV or film character do you miss most?