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21 Actors Who Shockingly Left Their TV Shows And How It Was Written Into The Series

Steve Carell's exit from The Office still makes me emotional.

🚨Obviously there are MASSIVE spoilers ahead!🚨

1. First, Nina Dobrev left The Vampire Diaries after six seasons, so the show had Elena end up in a magical coma after Bonnie and Elena's lives were linked.

Elena telling Damon, "I need you to live your life, Enjoy yourself. I want you to be happy. Now, how about that dance?
The CW

In a heartfelt Instagram post, Nina explained her exit, saying, "I always knew I wanted Elena's story to be a six season adventure, and within those six years I got the journey of a lifetime." One of the reasons for her departure was that her original contract for the show ended and she wanted to step "outside of [her] comfort zone" and try new things.

2. Christopher Meloni abruptly exited Law & Order: SVU in 2011, so the show had Stabler retire off screen during the Season 13 premiere.

Benson being told, "Elliot put his papers in. There was nothing I could do"

A contract dispute is what led to Christopher stepping away from the series. Looking back on it, he called his sudden departure "inelegant." Now, Christopher will be returning as Elliot Stabler on Law & Order: Organized Crime.

3. Patrick Dempsey and Shonda Rhimes came to a mutual decision to have Patrick exit Grey's Anatomy after he wanted to focus on his family and get away from the "long hours" the show required. So, Grey's killed off Derek in Season 11 after he helped save a bunch of people.

Meredith telling Derek, "Derek. It's okay. You go. We'll be fine"

When talking about his exit, Patrick said, "It had been long enough. It was time for me to move on with other things and other interests. I probably should have moved on a couple of years earlier. I stayed a bit longer than I should have."

4. Sandra Oh told Shonda Rhimes that she wanted to leave Grey's Anatomy after they finished Season 9, so the show had Cristina become the director of cardiothoracic surgery at an institute Burke founded in Zurich at the end of Season 10.

Cristina saying, "You are a gifted surgeon with an extraordinary mind. Don't let what he wants eclipse what you need. He's very dreamy. But he is not the sun. You are"

On her final day of filming, Sandra Oh gave out 250 gifts to the cast and crew so she was able to personally say "Thank you" to everyone. The gift was champagne in a beautiful box with "an anatomical heart and a 10" to celebrate the 10 seasons she played Cristina. She told people, "Here's my heart in a box for a celebration."

5. Chyler Leigh decided that Grey's Anatomy Season 8 would be her last, so she worked closely with Shonda Rhimes to figure out how to finish Lexie's story. Of course, Lexie tragically died in a plane crash during the Season 8 finale.

Mark holding Lexie's hand and telling her, "We're gonna be so happy. We're supposed to end up together. We're meant to be"

Also, Eric Dane and Shonda Rhimes came to the mutual decision to say goodbye to Mark Sloan during Season 9, after Lexie's death, but they didn't "come to the decision lightly." Shonda said killing Mark was one of the hardest things she had to do and she argued against it, but ultimately it didn't make sense that he would just leave. Plus, he would be grieving Lexie forever.

6. Jennifer Morrison, Josh Dallas, Ginnifer Goodwin, Jared Gilmore, Emilie de Ravin, and Rebecca Mader decided to leave Once Upon a Time after Season 6. So, the show went in a completely new direction by jumping forward in time and following an adult Henry after he left Storybrooke.

Hook, Emma, Charming, Snow, and their friends having lunch together

Lana Parilla, Colin O'Donoghue, and Robert Carlyle were the only original cast members who stayed for the final season, and Andrew J. West was cast as the adult version of Henry. Ginnifer and Josh said it was a "tough decision" to leave the show, but they wanted to spend more time with their young children. Meanwhile, Jennifer had gone from House to How I Met Your Mother to Once Upon a Time and felt like she needed a break from the long hours a TV show demanded and she wanted to "not be living away from home."

7. Emmy Rossum made the difficult decision to leave Shameless in 2018, so the series had Fiona leave Chicago and try to start a new life during the Season 9 finale.

Fiona asking Lip, "Take care of them for me, will you? Promise?"

Talking about her exit, Emmy wrote a heartfelt post thanking everyone who worked on Shameless and saying she was thankful she got to play a character like Fiona. She said, "The opportunity to play Fiona has been a gift. There are few characters — female or otherwise — as layered and dynamic."

8. Dan Stevens left Downton Abbey in 2012, so during the Christmas special after Season 3, Matthew got into a car accident and tragically died after Mary gave birth to their son.

Matthew and Mary looking at their newborn son

Reflecting on his decision to leave the show, Dan said, "Something in my gut told me that it was time to explore [other projects]. It has been a fun couple of years challenging myself in a few different ways."

9. Andrew Lincoln exited The Walking Dead after playing Rick Grimes for nine seasons. The show had Rick seemingly die after he saved his friends, but he was actually rescued by a mysterious group and taken away in a helicopter.

Rick saying, "I found 'em" before blowing up a bridge

Andrew decided to leave the show after spending years away from his family — he lives in England, while the show filmed in Georgia for over half the year. Although his time with the show came to an end, he is reprising his role as Rick in TWD spinoff movies.

10. Danai Gurira departed The Walking Dead during Season 10, so the show had Michonne leave the group, which included her and Rick's son and Judith, and venture to find Rick.

Michonne radioing Judith and telling her she found something that beloved to the "Brave Man"

When talking about Michonne's final episode, Danai said she was "very thankful" to the writing team for crafting such a "wonderful" last episode where she was able to explore what would've happened if Michonne made other choices throughout her life.

11. Hilarie Burton and Chad Michael Murray exited One Tree Hill after Season 6, so the series simply had Peyton and Lucas move away from Tree Hill.

Peyton and Lucas in Peyton's car together getting ready to drive off
The CW

At the time, there were a lot of rumors surrounding Hilarie's decision to leave the show, including that there were "negotiations based on money" that didn't pan out in her favor. In 2017, Hilarie, along with 17 of her One Tree Hill female costars, detailed the sexual and verbal abuse and misconduct they suffered at the hands of series creator Mark Schwahn. This was one of the reasons Hilarie decided not to renew her contract after Season 6.

12. Steve Carell exited The Office after Season 7, so the show had Michael say goodbye to Dunder Mifflin and move to Colorado to be with Holly.

Pam and Michael hugging at the airport

At the time, everyone believed that Steve wanted to depart The Office, but in the recent book The Office: The Untold Story of the Greatest Sitcom of the 2000s, several crew members revealed that NBC executives never made an offer to keep him around after his original contract ended. Casting director Allison Jones said, "As I recall, he was going to do another season and then NBC, for whatever reason, wouldn’t make a deal with him. Somebody didn’t pay him enough. It was absolutely asinine."

13. Mischa Barton notably decided to leave The O.C. in 2006 after just three seasons. So, the Season 3 finale featured Marissa tragically dying in Ryan's arms.

Ryan carrying Marissa out of the fire and telling her to hold on

Looking back on Mischa's sudden departure from the show, Ben McKenzie said, "It was…very odd to have someone who was in it from the beginning leave, but you know, it was dramatic in all the O.C. ways."

14. Rashida Jones and Rob Lowe both exited Parks and Rec in 2013, so in the middle of Season 6, Chris and Ann decided to leave Pawnee and raise their child in Michigan.

Ann and Leslie saying, "I love you"

Talking about Rashida and Rob's exit from the show, creator Michael Schur said, "We had the idea creatively to sort of move in that direction and it totally dovetailed and aligned with what the two actors envisioned for themselves in their careers. So it’s a big, happy, mutual hug-fest celebration."

15. Crystal Reed left Teen Wolf during Season 3, so the writers shockingly killed off Allison during a heartbreaking episode.

Allison telling Scott, "It's perfect. I'm in the arms of my first love"

At the time, Crystal "wanted to jump into different characters" and she wanted a change from playing a teenager. She said that it was "really difficult" saying goodbye to the cast and crew and she "cannot be more grateful for what the show has given me."

16. Donald Glover left Community in 2013, so in the middle of Season 5, Troy said goodbye to his friends and left to compete in a sailing trip around the world with LeVar Burton.

Abed telling Troy when he cloned him he used some genes from a "homing pigeon" so he'll have to "come back" someday

Reflecting on Donald's departure, Danny Pudi said, "It was kind of nice to be able to grieve in a show where you're grieving about your real-life friend saying goodbye." Also, Danny said every new character that was paired with Abed after Troy left, the cast would yell "New Troy!" while filming.

17. America Ferrera exited Superstore after Season 5, so the show had Amy move to Los Angeles after she accepted a new corporate job.

Amy telling Jonah, "What if I'm wrong? What if I get out there and I realize that I made a mistake?"

In a heartfelt Instagram post, America said, "The last five years on Superstore have been some of the most rewarding, enriching, and enjoyable years of my career." Due to the coronavirus pandemic, America's final episodes ended up being at the beginning of Season 6 and she recently returned for the series finale.

18. Janet Hubert decided to leave The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air after she was offered a "bad deal" during Season 3. So, the show famously recast Aunt Viv, who was then played by Daphne Maxwell Reid for the rest of the series.

Janet Hubert as Aunt Viv vs. Daphne Maxwell Reid as Aunt Viv

In The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air 30-year reunion on HBO Max, Janet spoke for the first time about her departure from the show and how "Hollywood disowned" her because of the rumors that she was difficult to work with. She said, "But you know those words, calling a Black woman difficult in Hollywood, is the kiss of death."

19. Topher Grace exited That '70s Show after Season 7, so the show had Eric accept a teaching position in Africa for a year.

Eric saying, "So long Point Place" while in the car with Donna

Topher left the show to pursue more movie roles, and the first one he landed after That '70s Show was playing Eddie Brock/Venom in Spider-Man 3. Meanwhile, the character of Randy was introduced during the final season of That '70s Show to essentially replace Eric. Ashton Kutcher also ended up becoming a guest star during the final season.

20. Chelsea Peretti decided to leave Brooklyn Nine-Nine during Season 6, so the series hilariously had Gina quit the Nine-Nine and we later learned she became a famous internet celebrity.

Rosa, Gina, and Amy hugging and Rosa crying

Chelsea revealed that she had "a lot of input" when it came to crafting Gina's final episodes. She explained, "Me and Dan [Goor] spent a lot of time on the phone cackling about a variety of different ideas. Not all of them made it in. But we did have a lot of fun."

21. And finally, Meghan Markle and Patrick J. Adams notably exited Suits together in 2018. So, during the Season 7 finale, Rachel and Mike decided to move to Seattle following their wedding after Rachel was offered a new job.

Rachel and Mike at their wedding

Of course, Meghan's exit from the show was announced after she got engaged to Prince Harry in 2017. Meanwhile, Patrick cited being away from his family and feeling like this was a natural end to Mike's story as his reason for leaving. Patrick did return for a few episodes during the show's final season.

We can't fit everything into one post, so what other sudden TV departures left you stunned? Tell us in the comments below!

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