Not every show has its plot lined out from the moment the pilot airs, and still, sometimes real-life can get in the way. Even the best laid plans can go awry, and sometimes plotlines are created entirely to accommodate an actor’s unexpected personal issue. From pregnancies to off-set injuries (and of course plenty of on-set injuries), writers are reworking scripts so that you’d never know something else was happening behind the scenes. Think you know why an actor exited a show? We’ll bet you didn’t even realize that some major show plots happened out of serendipity. Read on to find out how in some cases, the truth really is stranger than fiction.
1. Pregnant With Civic Pride
From the moment New Girl first started airing, we were all rooting for Nick and Jess to get together. And so we find it hard to forgive the almost season-long storyline that has Nick dating Megan Fox’s character Reagan who filled in while actress Zooey Deschanel was temporarily written off.
What kind of monster separates one of TV’s cutest couples? Well, when Deschanel left for maternity leave, Jess needed a reason to be absent from the show’s shenanigans and so she was sequestered for jury duty. Once Jess finished her civic service, and Deschanel’s daughter was delivered, the will-they-won’t-they dynamic picked right back up, as did our hope of a Nick and Jess endgame.
2. The One Where Joey’s Sporting A Sling
Remember the one where Matt LeBlanc injured himself on the set of Friends? When LeBlanc dislocated his shoulder during filming of “The One Where No One’s Ready” doing a silly stunt that involved Joey and Chandler diving for the same empty armchair, the writers had to slip LeBlanc’s sling into the script — and did so in the most Joey-way imaginable.
How would Joey Tribbiani, arguably the most lovably dopey “Friend” wind up walking into Monica’s apartment wearing an arm sling? As Joey explains, he was jumping up and down on his bed (classic Joey) when he tumbled and tweaked his shoulder.
3. *Insert Law & Order Music Here*
In the criminal justice system, one member of an elite squad stands above the rest, Sergeant (neé Detective) Olivia Benson, and this is the story of her absence in season 8 of Law & Order: SVU. Seriously, has the NYPD ever had a more dedicated detective? So when she does a stint undercover, it’s totally within character, but in reality there’s a catch.
While Benson was helping the FBI as an undercover cop, Mariska Hargitay was actually on maternity leave. Most shows try to hide pregnancies with flowy tops and oversized accessories, but bosslady Olivia Benson wouldn’t carry some silly extra-large purse – she’s off-screen clearing New York City of criminals.
4. What Happens When a Warrior Princess is Waylaid
Long before Daenerys or Game of Thrones, there was a different badass broad leading armies into battle, Xena: Warrior Princess. On TV she was nearly indestructible, but the actress who played her to perfection, Lucy Lawless, is a little more mortal. After getting thrown from a horse during a stunt on The Tonight Show of all places, Lawless was laid up for a few weeks.
When the entire show revolves around a warrior princess doing battle, how do the writers work in an injury? On Xena: Warrior Princess, Lawless’ injuries led to a few action-lite episodes, and even an entire plotline where Xena inhabits a different body.
5. Tragically Killing Off A Character
It was one of the saddest television deaths to happen on a sitcom, when Paul, the lovable if a little overprotective dad on 8 Simple Rules passed away unexpectedly at the corner store while buying some milk. Paul’s passing was made all the more painful by real-life tragedy.
From Three’s Company to 8 Simple Rules, actor John Ritter was beloved by just about everyone, making untimely death all the more upsetting. The showrunners on 8 Simple Rules decided to write-in the reality of Ritter’s passing, and so those emotions displayed on-screen were as honest as they come, as were our own tears.
6. The Hallowed History of the Heisenberg Hat
Pork pie hat. Black sunglasses. A goatee. That’s right, we’re getting bad with Breaking Bad’s Walter White. Because only Walter White, and by that we mean Bryan Cranston, could don an otherwise outdated hat and make it look badass. Still, it begs the question, why a pork pie hat at all?
As much as we’d like to say it was for stylistic choices or even for character development (it might as well be called the Heisenberg hat for how iconic it’s become), the hat was entirely practical. Bryan Cranston had shaved his head for the part, and in order to keep from burning under that hot Albuquerque sun, the costume department handed him the hat.
7. Baby on Board
We’ve so often seen pregnancies hidden on sitcoms, masked by bulky sweaters, conveniently placed furniture, and large tote bags, but Malcolm in the Middle was a show all about two overwhelmed parents and their too many sons, so why not bring another baby into the mix?
That’s what the writers decided to do when actress Jane Kaczmarek, who played the Cleaver family matriarch Lois, announced she was pregnant during shooting of season 4. And so, Malcolm, who wasn’t actually much of a middle child as one of four, become the true middle when baby Jamie was born in the show, and Kaczmarek gave birth to her third child in real life.
8. The One Where Pregnancy Wrote The Plotline
Who says writers have to work around the clock trying to come up with a plausible plotline to cover up an actress’ real-life pregnancy? The crew behind Friends had a different idea when Lisa Kudrow was pregnant with her son – write the pregnancy in, but not in a way anyone would expect.
Phoebe Buffay, the quirkiest friend, had some equally quirky relatives, like her brother Frank. Frank and his considerably older wife wanted children, but given the circumstances had to ask Phoebe to be their surrogate. And so, Kudrow, playing a pregnant Phoebe didn’t have to hide her belly behind any potted plants. And the pregnancy provided some pretty hilarious jokes, too.
9. It Was All A Dream
Married…With Children intended to write Katey Sagal’s pregnancy in for Peggy Bundy, but sometimes life has other plans. Although it was a plotline, in the end the pregnancy was written off as a dream Al Bundy had when offset, Sagal suffered a miscarriage. A few seasons later Sagal was pregnant again, only this time the writers took a different approach.
Instead of writing in Sagal’s pregnancy a second time, the writers explained the Bundy family matriarch’s absences by sending her all over the world in an attempt to get her recently-split parents back together. While Peggy was traveling, Katey was tending to her happy and healthy newborn.
10. Bringing Back Bobby
There’s TV dramas…and then there’s Dallas. Everyone loved to hate all those evil Ewings, all except Bobby Ewing, who was easily the only redeemable character. Seven seasons into his tenure playing Bobby, actor Patrick Duffy decided he wanted to pursue other projects, and Bobby was tragically killed off.
After a year of failing to find the types of parts he had hoped for, Dallas offered Duffy the chance to come back – only, how to explain the season that had passed since Bobby had died? It was all a dream! Is it ridiculous for an entire season to have been one long sleep? Yes. But it brought back Bobby, so we’ll forgive Dallas the indiscretion.
11. Grammer Gets A Little Time Off
What to do when an entire show is built around one star, and said titular star has to take a little time off from filming? This was the issue the writers of Frasier faced when actor Kelsey Grammer, the focus of the show, checked himself into rehab to recoup following some truly unfortunate family trauma.
Frasier’s absence was explained by sending the star radio psychiatrist to a convention for — yup, radio psychiatrists. That kind of convention could only exist in the pretentious world of Frasier, and thus was completely plausible. Fortunately, Frasier’s brother Niles was also a psychiatrist, and so he filled in, while in the real world, Grammer got the time he needed.
12. The Big Bartending Theory
If there is one thing actress Kaley Cuoco loves in this world, it’s horses. And while “horse girls” can get a bad rap for being a bit obsessive, Cuoco is making it cool. An equestrian accident couldn’t change Cuoco’s passion for ponies, but it did change a plotline for Penny on The Big Bang Theory.
After being thrown from a horse, Cuoco broke her foot, and in order to hide the cast on-camera, Penny went from being a waitress, to a bartender. Penny is shown studying mixology, brilliantly blocked by the bar while her foot healed. For Penny it was a promotion of sorts, so all’s well that ends well we suppose.
13. All In The
Family Contract Negotiations
Can anyone imagine All In The Family without Archie Bunker? Because it actually almost happened! Curmudgeonly Archie was perfectly cast with Carroll O’Connor, who after five seasons decided to call show creator Norman Lear’s bluff, and threaten to quit over contract renegotiations. Only the tactic backfired, and Archie was written out of All In The Family.
Lear came up with a way to keep All In The Family on the air, and without Archie Bunker. Two episodes were filmed without O’Connor, under the guise that Archie got lost at a conference in Buffalo. A third episode was written to then kill off the character completely before a deal was struck and O’Connor came back on board.
14. The Witness Protection Plot Device
The mortality rate on Criminal Minds is so astronomically high that for a character to exit the series without being carried away cozily zipped up in a body bag is a nice way to go — even if the character arc comes to a close in only a few seconds off-screen.
After an incident on-set led to Thomas Gibson’s dismissal from the show, his character, BAU Chief Aaron Hotchner had high chances of ending up another casualty. Instead, it is revealed via a brief scene that Hotchner has joined witness protection. Viewers are free to imagine Hotch happily living out his life, away from the FBI.
15. Gone For Good
For such a low key exit, the reality behind Executive Assistant District Attorney Ben Stone’s resignation on Law and Order is pretty dramatic. DAs resign with relative regularity on Law & Order and its spinoffs, but Stone’s exit wasn’t because actor Michael Moriarty wanted to move up and onto other projects — Moriarty up-and-moved out of the country.
When Moriarty met US Attorney General Janet Reno, the two got into a heated debate over Reno’s attempts to dramatically limit portrayals of violence on television, something she accused Law & Order of promoting. Moriarty disagreed wholeheartedly calling it government censorship, and to express his protest in as big a way as possible, moved to Canada.
16. How To Hide A Pregnancy How I Met Your Mother Style
We would like to give a new award we just invented to How I Met Your Mother: Most Outlandish Yet Oddly Perfect Plotline Employed in the Handling of an Actress’ Pregnancy Ever. When Alyson Hannigan, who played Lily, told producers she was pregnant the writers came up with a surprising and silly solution.
As per the average episode, the gang was hanging out at McClaren’s Pub, when Barney Stinson (played with panache by Neil Patrick Harris) tells everyone a dirty joke. Lily finds the joke unforgivably offensive and excuses herself until she can calm down and forget Barney ever told it in the first place. A few episodes later, Lily (and Alyson) were back. So simple yet so smart!
17. Bo Bops Off For A Bit
Let’s hop into a souped up Dodge Charger and run rip-roaring through Hazzard County with the Duke boys Bo and Luke. Well, except for that one time Luke has to ride solo in the season three episode “Baa Baa White Sheep” when Bo is supposedly spending the weekend in the Marine Corps.
The troublemarking twosome of Bo and Luke on the Dukes of Hazzard are better together, but when John Schneider went off to shoot the made-for-TV movie Dream House, Bo was absent for an episode. But have no fear, Bo was back by Luke’s side soon enough, bandied about town being bad (but in the best way). Yee-haw!
18. The Tale of “My Girlfriend In Canada”
Single and looking to save face by pretending you have a long distance significant other? It’s been done. Comedically known as “My girlfriend in Canada” it’s become a little too common to be convincing, but we bought it hook line and sinker in Miami Vice.
When Tubbs was out for an episode visiting his girlfriend in New York, actor Philip Michael Thomas was taking time to recover from an onset injury sustained during shooting. Crockett and Tubbs were the coolest cops Miami has probably ever seen, so we believed Tubbs had a lady friend back in the Big Apple. In one of those pastel suits, we’d have believed anything Miami Vice said.
19. Andy’s Absence On Parks and Recreation
Parks and Recreation is that feel-good sitcom we can watch over and over and still it’s always entertaining, thanks to its A-list actors acing their joke deliveries. Although at present he’s probably known as more of an action star than doofy and doughy Andy Dwyer, Chris Pratt’s blockbuster breakthrough happened while he was still starring on the sitcom.
While Pratt was off filming Guardians of the Galaxy, the writers had to employ every trick in the book to explain Andy’s absence. Our personal favorite plotline is when the Parks and Rec crew take off for a madcap tour of London, but forget Andy back in Pawnee. Poor Andy.
20. The Brilliance Of A Show About Nothing
Sometimes the simplest solution is best, and in a show about nothing, like Seinfeld, it’s all about the easy answer. So, when Julia Louis Dreyfus, always down to give a gag her all, lost her voice over multiple takes of a screaming scene, how her hoarseness was handled was just so very Seinfeld.
The episode opens on a fed up Elaine yelling out of her window at a dog that won’t stop barking through the night (who hasn’t been there), before cutting to an exhausted Elaine croaking her complaints at Jerry and Kramer. While Elaine was only intended to lose some sleep and not her voice, Dreyfus’ sore throat was tossed into the script — easy yet elegant.
21. When Your Star Is Sportin’ A Shiner
Does anyone play the lovable jerk better than Hugh Laurie? It’s his wheelhouse. And lucky for Laurie, playing a sourpuss really paid off while he was playing Doctor House, when he showed up to set sporting a shiner. Dr. House was brilliantly yet blistering, making a black eye entirely believable.
Dr. House famously has a limp, but Laurie was actually in tip-top shape, in fact, you might even say he was in fighting shape. When Laurie came in with an accidental black eye incurred while boxing in his spare time, instead of covering it with makeup, the cantankerous doc was apparently punched by a patient. If you’ve seen House, it’s completely on point.
22. Unraveling the Truth of Regeneration
The inauguration of a new doctor on the long-running cult classic Doctor Who is as emotional as it is exciting. Doctor Who is able to “regenerate” from one human body into another, for example from David Tennant into Matt Smith, and eventually into Jodie Whittaker. Makes sense, right?
Regeneration, when one doctor “dies” and takes up life in another body, is an integral part of the mythos of the “Whoverse,” but it wasn’t actually original to the world of Doctor Who. For a show to run from 1963 until today (barring that hiatus from 1989-2005) the lead actor has to occasionally recast, and since the Doctor is an alien, anything goes, including “regeneration.”
23. When Fun and Friendly Roughhousing Goes Awry
Has Supernatural been on the air forever? Almost! Supernatural is the longest-running hour-long sci-fi series on television, so it should go without saying that a show about battling demons would incur the series’ stars a couple of injuries over the course of 300 episodes.
The cast of Supernatural are famously all best friends, which is a relief considering they’ve all been filming together since 2005, but when some fun hotel room wrestling between Jared Padalecki, Jensen Ackles and Misha Collins resulted in Padalecki getting rug-burn on his face, the next episode had his character Sam suffering a head injury, using fake blood to cover the rug burn. Pretty brilliant.
24. The Props Department Give Radar A Helping Hand
Calling all M*A*S*H superfans to report for duty: have you ever noticed how infrequently you see shots of Radar’s left hand on the show? If you pay close attention, in almost every episode his hand is covered by papers or some sort of prop — a simple solution to a personal issue for Radar portrayer Gary Burghoff.
Burghoff was born with a slight deformity of his left hand, and although it’s overall unobtrusive, Radar was almost always shot with his hand out of frame, or holding a prop presumably as a distraction. We wonder how many plotlines were ever-so-slightly tweaked to accommodate Burghoff’s hand.
25. Lost To Puberty
What would’ve become of Walt Lloyd on Lost if he hadn’t sailed away so soon into the series? Apparently, according to the show’s writers, he would’ve had supernatural powers, but puberty had to spoil the party. When actor Malcolm David Kelley was cast as 10-year old Walt, we bought it, but by season two, la little less so.
When an actor grows up faster than their characters, there’s a dilemma — what to do with a suddenly much too mature actor? In Malcolm David Kelley’s case, Walt Lloyd was written off the island. Which, given the way it all went down in the subsequent seasons, might have been for the best.
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