When you think of a new actor taking over an established role, the TV show that immediately comes to mind is Bewitched. And, let’s face it, Dick York as Darrin No. 1 in the classic ABC fantasy sitcom was far better than Dick Sargent as Darrin No. 2. Of course, it’s no easy feat stepping in for an actor known for a certain role.
But there is one actor has made a career inheriting a part from someone else, and it was in those painful but eerily addictive eight episodes of variety-themed The Brady Bunch Hour. I am talking about Geri Reischl in the 1976-77 TV season, who in place of Eve Plumb as Jan Brady is so firmly entrenched in popular culture as “Fake Jan” that today, January 2nd, is designated as “Fake Jan Day.”
Plumb was the first actress to bow out of playing a Brady girl in one of the revivals, with Susan Olsen as Cindy replaced by Jennifer Runyon in 1988 television movie A Very Brady Christmas; and Maureen McCormick as Marcia replaced by Leah Ayres in 1990 dramedy The Bradys. Even Allan Melvin as Sam the butcher, Alice’s (Ann B. Davis) “squeeze” on The Brady Bunch, was replaced by Lewis Arquette (the father in real life to the acting Arquette siblings) in A Very Brady Christmas.
In honor of “Fake Jan Day,” let’s take a walk down TV memory lane for a look at other established roles that had another actor replace the original.
1. John-Boy Walton (The Waltons, CBS)
For the first five seasons of the classic family drama, Emmy-winner Richard Thomas as young John Walton, Jr. (aka “John-Boy”) became a household name as the sensitive oldest Walton sibling who strived to be a writer. When Thomas decided to pursue other opportunities, the center of the beloved series was suddenly living in New York pursuing his career dream.
With time came other departures from The Waltons — Ellen Corby (Grandma Esther Walton) had a stroke and could only return on a limited and temporary basis; Will Geer (Grandpa Zeb) passed away at the end of season six in 1978; and both Michael Learned (Olivia) and John (Ralph Waite) eventually left. And the family was in need of good ‘ol John-Boy. So along came unknown actor Robert Wightman as “Fake John-Boy,” who in his first appearance in season eight is found after missing in action World War II.
Robert Wightman, unfortunately, was no Richard Thomas, who no one could have replaced as “John-Boy.” And, thankfully, Thomas returned for the three television revival movies in the 1990s.
2-3. Billie Jo and Bobbie Jo Bradley (Petticoat Junction, CBS)
As one of the many comedies of a rural nature at the time, folksy Petticoat Junction is remembered for its trio of beautiful young Bradley girls: Billie Jo, Bobbie Jo and Betty Jo. Linda Kaye Henning played the youngest of the three, Betty Jo, for the entire seven season run. Her father, Paul Henning, created the show, so there was no one else stepping into her shoes! But both Jeannine Riley as Billie Jo and Pat Woodell as Bobbie Jo decided to pursue other opportunities after season two, and they were replaced by Gunilla Hutton and Lori Saunders, respectively.
After one season as Billie Jo No. 2, Gunilla Hutton also had other aspirations and along came Meredith MacRae in the role for the remaining four seasons. At the time, MacRae was known for playing Sally Anne Morrison, Mike’s (Tim Considine) eventual wife on My Three Sons.
4, 5, 6. Catwoman, The Riddler and Mr. Freeze (Batman, ABC)
If you were an impressionable young child when camp classic Batman originally aired in the late 1960s, there is only one Catwoman, and that vision of Julie Newmar running through a cave to escape Batman is firmly entrenched in your mind. So, when Lee Meriwether stepped in for that cheesy theatrical in 1966 and Eartha Kitt as the villainess in the third — and final — season of Batman, even a six-year old like myself could spot the difference.
Ditto for the unforgettable Frank Gorshin as Batman and Robin’s first criminal nemesis, The Riddler. When Gorshin was preoccupied in season two, John Astin took over the role for a new two-parter featuring the giggling villain. And while that underwater fight scene was memorable to watch, Gomez Addams as The Riddler just did not cut it.
Mr. Freeze, meanwhile, was played by three different actors in the three two-part episodes featuring the frosty villain: George Sanders, Otto Preminger and Eli Wallach. Wrote Adam West in his biography about Otto Preminger: “The man insisted on enhancing his reputation as one of the meanest bastards who ever walked a soundstage.”
Preminger was not invited back and the role of Mr. Freeze was recast again (Preminger was already the second actor to play Freeze) with Eli Wallach.
Interesting fact: When Frank Gorshin was still not available, the writers on Batman changed the Riddler to a villain named The Puzzler, who was played by Maurice Evans for what was a quickly forgettable two-parter.
7. Lois Lane (The Adventures of Superman, syndication)
One of the first television versions of Superman aired in syndication from 1952 to 1958. It starred George Reeves as Clark Kent/Superman, Jack Larsen as Jimmy Olsen, John Hamilton as Perry White, and Phyllis Coates as strong-willed reporter Lois Lane. When Coates was unavailable for the second season after the Superman producers found a sponsor, Noel Neill, who has played Lois in two Columbia Superman serials, stepped in.
Noel Neill’s portrayal of Lois was softer and more vulnerable than Phyllis Coates, and unlike Coates who shared top billing with George Reeves, she was more of a secondary character and was a better fit with the innocent Jimmy Olsen.
8. Gladys Kravitz (Bewitched, ABC)
Yes, it was the aforementioned Dick York/Dick Sargent switch on Bewitched that everyone remembers. But the original actress playing nosy neighbor Mrs. Kravitz, Alice Pearce, was replaced by Sandra Gould after Pearce died from ovarian cancer at the young age of 48.
Pearce won the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series in Bewitched posthumously in 1966.
9. Becky Conner (Roseanne, ABC)
When Lecy Goranson, who originated the role of bratty oldest Conner child Becky, decided to go to college full time, Sarah Chalke took over the part in season six of Roseanne. In that first episode (“Homecoming” on Nov. 16, 1993), and after the core characters keep asking “Fake Becky” where she has been, the family is seen sitting at the end of the episode watching Bewitched as Roseanne comments how “fake the second Darrin was.”
Lecy Goranson returned as Becky in season eight of Roseanne, but it was short-lived and Sarah Chalke returned for that abysmal ninth season when the Conners win the lottery.
Goranson is now featured as Becky in revival The Conners, while Chalke played a different character named Andrea in three episodes of the first revival of Roseanne in 2018.
10. “Miss Ellie” Ewing (Dallas, CBS)
When Barbara Bel Geddes left her role as “Miss Ellie” after season seven in 1984 due to health reasons, the search was on for a replacement. While the ultimate arrival of Donna Reed was considered a casting coup, Bel Geddes was so firmly established as the Ewing matriarch that not even Reed could successfully pull it off.
Bel Geddes returned one season later, just in time to mourn the “passing” of Patrick Duffy as beloved Bobby (who, as we know, did not die at all thanks to Pam’s dream). And, sadly, Donna Reed passed away at the age of 65 at the end of Bel Geddes’ return season.
Interesting fact: When Larry Hagman as evil J.R. Ewing threatened not to return to Dallas when he was renegotiating his contract during the “Who Shot J.R.”? fracas, rumor was that Robert Culp was considered as his replacement.
11. Harriette Winslow (Family Matters, ABC)
At its inception, Family Matters told the tale of a middle-class African American family, the Winslows, living in Chicago. The sitcom was a spinoff from Perfect Strangers, which in its first two seasons featured Jo Marie Payton as elevator operator Harriette Winslow. Enter Jaleel White as nerdy neighbor Steve Urkel, and what was supposed to be a one-shot guest appearance shifted the focus of Family Matters from the Winslows to the character of Urkel. And its female star, Jo Marie Payton, was reportedly none too pleased.
By season nine, Family Matters shifted from ABC to CBS, which was looking for its own “TGIF” comedy brand. Payton agreed to appear in the first half of the season and was then replaced by Judyann Elder for the final nine episodes. Since the series was all about Jaleel White as Urkel, Payton’s departure basically went unnoticed.
12. Vivian Banks (The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, NBC)
After three seasons as Will Smith’s Aunt Vivian, reported tension on the set between Smith and Janet Hubert led to her abrupt firing and the arrival in season four of Daphne Maxwell-Reid as Vivian No. 2.
The official statement from the show was that the actress left due to creative differences, but all these years later a raging feud between the two continues. Said Smith on an Atlanta radio show in 1993: “I can say straight up that Janet Hubert wanted the show to be ‘The Aunt Viv of Bel Air Show’ because I know she is going to dog me in the press. She has basically gone from a quarter of a million dollars a year to nothing. She’s mad now but she’s been mad all along. She said once, ‘I’ve been in the business for 10 years and this snotty-nosed punk comes along and gets a show.’ No matter what, to her I’m just the Antichrist.”
While Whitten’s story, to this day, paints a very different picture, co-star Alfonso Ribeiro backed Smith’s claims.
13-14. Steven Carrington and Fallon Carrington (Dynasty, ABC)
John Forsythe was apparently so busy battling with his ex-wife Alexis (Joan Collins) and a barrage of other nemeses (“Damn it!”), he did not notice his son Steven had a different face (Jack Coleman replaced Al Corley in season three). And then there was spoiled daughter Fallon, who not only morphed from Pamela Sue Martin to Emma Samms, but she suddenly had a British accent courtesy of Ms. Samms!
When ABC produced a two-part miniseries in October 1991, Dynasty: The Reunion, two years after Dynasty ended without a proper finale, Al Corley returned as Steven Carrington when Jack Coleman was not available.
Interesting fact: This was not the first time Pamela Sue Martin prematurely exited a series. In 1978, she departed from ABC’s Nancy Drew after the network merged it with The Hardy Boys (which it alternated with on Sunday) and retitled it The Nancy Drew/Hardy Boys Mysteries. Janet Louise Johnson replaced her for the final few episodes.
15. Chris Partridge (The Partridge Family, ABC)
In season one, the youngest Partridge boy, Chris, was played by dark-haired Jeremy Gelbwaks. Blond-haired Brian Forster replaced Gelbwaks in season two. Like his TV sister Suzanne Crough as young Tracy, Forster only had a few lines of dialogue per show. For whatever reason, the first Chris had much more to say!
16. Marilyn Munster (The Munsters, CBS)
In this classic switcheroo, the original Marilyn Munster on zany sitcom The Munsters was Beverley Owen, who exited after just 13 episodes to get married. Pat Priest, her virtual double, stepped in and few viewers seemed to notice the difference. But what people don’t know is there was a third actress, Debbie Watson, who played the role of Marilyn and it was in 1966 theatrical Munster Go Home!
17. Roger Buell (The Mothers-in-Law, NBC)
When NBC decided on renewing Desi Arnaz-produced sitcom The Mothers-in-Law in 1968, it did so with one stipulation. There would be no pay raise for any of the actors (including Eve Arden and Kaye Ballard as Eve Hubbard and Kaye Buell) due to the modest ratings. Only one actor, Roger C. Carmel as Kaye’s husband Roger, refused, and he reportedly commented that the series would not be the same without him.
Ultimately, The Mothers-in-Law aired for only two seasons. But after Richard Deacon stepped in for Roger C. Carmel, apparently no one seemed to notice…or care. The studio did not receive one letter after the switch.
18. Chester A. Riley (The Life of Riley, NBC)
Before he was Ralph Kramden on The Jackie Gleason Show and spin-off The Honeymooners, Jackie Gleason originated the role of lovable bumbler Chester A. Riley, the hardhat with a soft heart who was consistently in some comical fix. After one season (in 1949-50), The Life of Riley came to an end when the sponsorship would not agree to a full season of episodes.
When NBC decided to give the sitcom another shot in 1953, it returned with a whole new cast, headlined by William Bendix. It aired for five seasons.
19-20. Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip (The Crown, Netflix)
Considering the endless accolades (including an Emmy and a Golden Globe Award) for her performance as Queen Elizabeth II on drama The Crown, you might have assumed that Claire Foy would be around for the life of the series. But when season three flashed several years forward a casting change was in need and along came Olivia Colman, who in real life is 10 years older than Foy.
Also impacted was Matt Smith as Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, who was replaced by the older Tobias Menzies.
21. Mandy Baxter (Last Man Standing, ABC and Fox)
On the ABC version of the Tim Allen sitcom, Molly Ephraim played Mandy Baxter, the fashion-focused middle daughter, who has no clue how the real world works. When Fox came to the rescue one season after ABC prematurely canceled Last Man Standing in 2017, Ephraim was not available and Molly McCook was cast as Mandy No. 2.
Also recast was Baxter grandson Boyd, who began as Evan and Luke Kruntchev sharing the role in season one; followed by Flynn Morrison from seasons two to six; and now Jet Jurgensmeyer on Fox.
Last Man Standing returns for its second season on Fox (and eighth season overall) tonight with back-to-back episodes in the Thursday 8 p.m. ET hour.
Marc Berman is the founder and Editor-in-Chief for Programming Insider. He also covers the broadcasting landscape, at present, for Forbes.com, Watch!, Newspro and C21 Media in London. His work has appeared in Campaign US, The New York Daily News, Variety, The Hollywood Reporter, The Los Angeles Times and Emmy Magazine, among other outlets.