5 shows that survived a major character departure

While some shows suffered when a major character left their show, these series managed to thrive without major members of their original cast.
Daenerys Targaryen and Jon Snow in Game of Thrones
Daenerys Targaryen and Jon Snow in Game of Thrones /

There have been plenty of stories of a very successful TV series that rapidly fell apart because a major character left the show. The show may survive on the air for a few more years, but everyone would agree that things got bad after Eric left That 70s Show and Michael left The Office. Still, there are times when a main character can leave a show and the show continues on for several years, and even have some of its best moments after the departure that may have killed it. These five examples managed to pull off the departure of a main character while keeping the show itself alive. 

Parks and Recreation

For two seasons the character Mark Brendanawicz served as the straight man to all of the crazy things that were happening in the local government of Pawnee, Indiana. With the early seasons of the show feeling very similar to The Office, it would be easy to describe Mark as the Jim role, as he was often the most reasonable person in the room, and was also a potential love interest for the show's main character, Leslie. Then, the character disappeared between seasons two and three and the show got better without him.

The series had been continually improving throughout the second season, and it helps that Mark's departure coincided with the arrival of Ben and Chris, two characters played by Adam Scott and Rob Lowe, two characters that helped bring the show to the next level. It turns out that Mark never worked quite as well as the show wanted him to, and by letting him go, the series was able to really flourish. 


For five years Sam and Diane, the two lead characters of Cheers, had one of the most definitive will they?/won't they? relationships on television. The couple would fight, make up, break up, get back together, break up, make each other jealous, complain about each other, and then fall back in love all over again. Their relationship had been the central storyline for the show for the first five seasons, until Ted Danson, who played Sam, renewed his contract, and Shelly Long, who played Diane, didn't.

Breaking the couple up could have potentially been the nail in the coffin for the show, which had already had a good run by that point. Instead, the departure forced the show to switch direction, focusing more on the bar, and becoming more of an ensemble show than before. While there had always been plenty of focus on the other cast members of the show, without the original central romance, the relationships between Sam and the other characters, as well as their relationships with each other were given more time.

A new character named Rebecca, played by Kirstie Alley, was brought in as a potential romantic replacement for Sam, but in the end, she ended up fitting better as a part of the ensemble rather than a new lead. The show continued to grow in popularity, and in the end, there were actually more seasons of Cheers without Diane as a main character than with her. 

Legends of Tomorrow

Legends of Tomorrow was a show that premiered in the middle of an era where CW show's based on DC comics seemingly couldn't fail. The series featured a group of side characters from the other DC shows that were airing at the same time, and put them center stage to form a team of their own that could fly through time, saving the world. While the series had a team dynamic, the main story for the first season focused on the characters of Hawkman and Hawkgirl and their relationship. The story wrapped up at the end of the season, and the two characters ended up leaving the show.

Surprisingly, as the show moved forward without the character, it began to thrive. New characters were introduced, and other characters that had been pushed to the side got a chance to be fleshed out.  The next several seasons of the show are regarded as the series best, and some would say the best of any of the DC live-action shows of the era. 

Grey's Anatomy

Take your pick on this one. If there has ever been a main character on Grey's Anatomy, they've probably left the show at some point. When the show first debuted in 2005, the series had nine characters billed as regulars. Over the show's nineteen seasons, all but two of those characters have ended up leaving. The central character Meredith Grey, has been one of the few characters that has stuck around the whole time, but in season nineteen, she took a step back and is now credited as a recurring character instead of a main character.

As main cast members have left, new characters have been brought in to take their place, but more often than not, those characters end up leaving too. Currently, the show has twenty-five actors who have been credited as main cast members on the show who are no longer with the series. Yet despite all the turnover, Grey's Anatomy continues to be one of ABC's most successful shows which is why they continue to renew it year after year. 

Game of Thrones

Spoilers for the first season of Game of Thrones if you haven't seen it or heard about it yet, but the first season was designed to fit onto this list. The main character of the show is a man named Ned Stark, the head of House Stark, one of the nine great houses of the realm in Game of Thrones. Throughout the first season, Ned is pulled into a world of political intrigue and shifting alliances as everyone else is making plays for power in the realm.

Throughout the season, Ned uncovers a secret that could undo the entire political structure of the kingdom, but he trusts the wrong people and is sentenced to death. Then, almost at the end of the season, right at the moment where he's about to be beheaded, and you're waiting for something to happen to stop it all because he's the main character, the sword connects, and Ned is beheaded.

Nobody comes in to save him at the last minute, and the main character of the series dies before the first season is even over. It was a defining moment for the show and helped to set a tone that would hold true throughout the rest of the series that really nobody in this world is safe, and death could happen to any character at any minute. 

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