Larry Hagman died in the middle of filming the second season of TNT’s rival of the prime-time soap opera “Dallas”. Hagman was iconic as the show’s J. R. Ewing, who was responsible for the best known plot of the original program, involving his attempted murder. He was actually murdered in a season 2 episode, and his death later became the major plot that drove the remainder of the season. Even from the grave, J.R. Ewing was able to manipulate events and scheme and plot.
Actor Jim Davis died during the original production of Dallas, and his character was killed off the show after an extended absence.
At one point NBC cancelled the low-rated but critically-beloved “NewsRadio” after the show’s fourth season, but later reversed their decision and renewed it for a fifth season. However, just weeks later the shows star Phil Hartman was killed in a murder-suicide by his wife, leaving the show without it’s MVP. While the show featured a massive ensemble cast including Dave Foley, Stephen Root, Maura Tierney, Andy Dick, Joe Rogan and Vicki Lewis, and added longtime Hartman friend Jon Lovitz to the cast for season five, the death of Hartman was too much for the low rated show to overcome and the fifth season would become the final season.
Hartman also provided the voices for Lionel Hutz and Troy McClure (among others) on “The Simpsons”, and the role of Zapp Brannigan “Futurama” was written with him in mind. His “Simpsons” characters were retired, while Brannigan was recast.
3. 8 Simple Rules for Dating My Teenage Daughter
When John Ritter died after filming three episodes of the second season of ABC’s modest hit program, the show had to be immediately retooled, as Ritter’s character was the centerpiece of the program. The show’s title was changed to “8 Simple Rules” and new characters played by James Spader and David Spade were introduced. Still, the show struggled to find a voice (it shifted focus to Spader and Spade’s characters before reverting back to the daughters), and viewers (the show lost following Ritter’s death, and the show was cancelled after it’s third season. In fact, the third season is still awaiting a DVD release (season 1 was released in 2009 and season 2 was released in 2011).
Ritter was also the voice of Clifford on the PBS Kids series “Clifford the Big Red Dog”. The show ceased production after his death.
4. The Adventures of Superman
George Reeves untimely death after the show’s sixth season was the end of “The Adventures of Superman” despite efforts of the producers to continue the program after his death. It wasn’t the first time the program had lost a cast member, John Hamilton who played Perry White had died the previous year. While the show was already facing cancellation, the untimely death of Reeves and the controversy surrounding his death ended the show permanently. It wouldn’t be until 1978 that a live action Superman would return to the screen, and this time it was the movie screen (though more Superman live-action television programs would follow).
5. Sesame Street
When actor Will Lee died in 1982, the Children’s Television Workshop (which produces Sesame Street) was left wondering what the best way to address the death of one of the most visible human characters on the show, Mr. Hooper. After a long period of discussion, it was decided to face the idea of death face on, and aired a special “Farewell, Mr. Hooper” on Thanksgiving Day of 1983. This allowed families to watch with their children and discuss the events they see. The cast has to explain to Big Bird that Mr. Hooper will not be returning, and that he is gone forever. The episode was extremely well received, becoming a landmark of children’s television.
6. The West Wing
Leo McGarry was the candidate for Vice President when actor John Spencer died of a heart attack during the production of the final season of “The West Wing”, and the character had suffered a heart attack the previous season. Still, the death was shocking, and two episodes received special openings in honor of Spencer’s memory, and his name remained in the main titles the entire season. His death was dealt with in a later episode, and many of the casts prominent recurring characters appeared in the episode, many having no speaking lines at all.
During the filming of the third season, Nicholas Colasanto who played Coach Ernie Pantusso was diagnosed with heart disease and eventually was hospitalized with water in his lungs. He didn’t appear in several season three episodes and was advised by his doctors not to return to work. Before season four started, Colasanto died. Woody Harrelson was cast as the replacement for Coach, starting in the fourth season opener. A picture of Geronimo that was in Colasanto’s dressing room was moved to the bar, where it was a regular fixture until the series finale.