14 Actors Who Nabbed Starring Roles In TV Shows...Only To Be Replaced Right After The Pilot

·10 min read

1.Before Jane Krakowski played the delightfully absurd star Jenna Maroney on 30 Rock...

Jenna Maroney walks into a studio holding a huge coffee and a tiny dog
NBC / Courtesy Everett Collection

...the character was named Jenna DeCarlo and she was played in the show's unaired pilot by none other than Saturday Night Live alum and Debbie Downer extraordinaire Rachel Dratch.

Rachel Dratch as a guest on a SiriusXM radio show
Neilson Barnard / Getty Images

In a 2006 interview with New York Magazine, Dratch said she was recast because the show went in a different direction creatively. Said Dratch, "I think the big thing was — at least what they told me — that at first they wanted to have more comedy sketches in the show. Then they decided they weren’t going to focus on the sketches, so they needed more of a sitcom actress, as opposed to a character actress."

Jenna reaches out to shake the hand of a network executive

Pictured is Rachel Dratch as Jenna in the unaired pilot.

NBC / youtube.com

Instead of Jenna, Dratch played a variety of smaller roles throughout the show's first season. In the same interview, she said, "Well, when Tina [Fey] told me I was going to play different characters each show, I was actually psyched about it, because it sounded really unique. But then the media kind of ran with this 'demotion' thing, so that was kind of a bummer."

Jenna on the ground in front of the cast of Law and Order: SVU
NBC / Courtesy Everett Collection

2.Before Emilia Clarke was cast as the one, the only, the Mother of Dragons Daenerys Targaryen on Game of Thrones...

Daenerys as Khalessi watched Khal Drogo kill her brother

...the Khaleesi was played by Tamzin Merchant in the unaired pilot, which went down in the Hollywood history books as extraordinarily terrible on nearly every level possible. In an excerpt from Fire Cannot Kill a Dragon: Game of Thrones and the Untold Story of the Epic Series published in Entertainment Weekly, co-creator Dan Weiss recalled that after he showed the first pilot to television producer Craig Mazin, Mazin said to them, "You guys have a massive problem." And one small part of that problem was the casting of Daenerys.

Tamzin Merchant on the red carpet
Ian West - Pa Images / PA Images via Getty Images

HBO executive Michael Lombardo recalled, "Her scenes with Jason [Momoa] just didn't work." Momoa, who played Daenerys's husband, Khal Drogo, said that while he thought Merchant was "great," when Emilia Clarke took over the role, "everything clicked for me." Producer Brian Cogman said, "I thought Tamzin did a really good job. It's hard to say why things didn't work out. Ultimately, it's obvious Emilia Clarke was born to play that part."

Khal Drogo touches Daenerys' stomach

Tamzin Merchant told Entertainment Weekly that she had her doubts about the role from the beginning. Said Merchant, "I think it's a testament to Emilia Clarke for making that role iconic — she was obviously excited to tell that story, and she was epic and excellent. But for me, it wasn't in my heart to tell it." She added, "And for me, I think if I had to get in that golden carriage — if I hadn't been released from my contract — I think it would have taken me to a place far from the creative person that I am today. Also, if I was very rich and famous, I wouldn't have time to do all the things that my soul needs to do."

Tamzin Merchant on the red carpet
Ian West - Pa Images / PA Images via Getty Images

3.Before Michelle Fairley was cast as frontrunner for the title "Unluckiest Matriarch in Westeros," Catelyn Stark, in Game of Thrones...

Catelyn talking to a captive Jaime

...Jennifer Ehle played Catelyn in the previously mentioned unaired pilot. She was replaced for a very straightforward reason: Ehle didn't want to move to Northern Ireland, so she left the show.

Jennifer Ehle on the Sundance red carpet
C Flanigan / FilmMagic / via Getty

In the Fire Cannot Kill a Dragon excerpt, Michael Lombardo recalled, "Then you have a conversation with yourself about whether to force her to uphold her contract. In retrospect, it was one of the best things that could have happened. Michelle Fairley took over the role and was fantastic."

Catelyn Stark during the red wedding

4.Before Bob Saget was cast as beloved sitcom dad Danny Tanner in Full House...

Bob Saget as Danny Tanner
ABC / courtesy Everett Collection

...Danny was played by John Posey, who was replaced when Saget, who was the producers' first choice, suddenly became available. Posey told Yahoo that he wasn't sure how well he performed in the original pilot, since he was used for "sarcastic, cynical, more adult-themed humor."

John and Tyler Posey smile together on the red carpet

(John Posey is Teen Wolf star Tyler Posey's father.)

Priscilla Grant / Courtesy Everett Collection

Saget apparently thought he was great and wrote in his autobiography, "I actually didn't understand why they wanted to replace him." While Posey and Saget never met, Posey said he "appreciate[d]" the compliment.

Danny Tanner speaks to his daughter
ABC / Courtesy Everett Collection

5.Before Alyson Hannigan was cast as nerd-turned-witch-turned-queer-icon Willow Rosenberg on Buffy the Vampire Slayer...

Willow standing next to Spike in the series finale
20th Century Fox / Courtesy Everett Collection

...Willow was played by Riff Regan in yet another unaired pilot. According to HelloGiggles, in an interview included on a series DVD, casting director Marcia Shulman said, "We actually had cast someone else in the pilot, and it just didn’t work. So when we got picked up, we always felt that we were going to start again and look for another Willow."

Pictured is Riff Regan in the unaired Buffy pilot. 

Pictured is Riff Regan in the unaired Buffy pilot.

Brian Stowe / youtube.com

Shulman added, "The qualities that Willow had to have are the exact opposite qualities of what actresses have to have. Sort of insecure, shy, self-effacing. ... Every line that somebody else would play like they were sad, Alyson was joyful about. That made her the only one for the role."

Willow and her girlfriend Tara laugh together
20th Century Fox / Courtesy Everett Collection

6.Before Melissa McCarthy took over the role of chef and Lorelei confidant Sookie St. James on Gilmore Girls...

Melissa McCarthy smiling as Sookie in her kitchen
Warner Bros / Courtesy Everett Collection

...Sookie was played by The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel star Alex Borstein in the show's unaired pilot. However, Borstein was quickly recast when she wasn't able to get out of her contract with the sketch comedy series Mad TV.

Alex Borstein holding two Emmys on the red carpet
Frazer Harrison / Getty Images

Borstein told BuzzFeed, "I wanted to do both. They wouldn't share me. ... I was so hopeful. Everyone was leading me to believe it was possible. The exec producer at Mad TV at the time was, like, 'Yeah, yeah, there's no reason we can't make this work.' What I didn't know was the emails behind my back were, like, 'Absolutely not.'"

a cast photo of MadTV
20th Century Fox / Courtesy Everett Collection

Borstein added, "But it worked out really fucking well. ... And Melissa is fucking amazing." However, she said that at the time, she was "so pissed" at missing out on the opportunity and compared her demeanor returning to Mad TV to that of a "petulant teenager." Borstein ultimately did get a chance to appear on Gilmore Girls as a variety of other characters besides Sookie, though.

Sookie cooking while Lorelei speaks to her
Warner Bros / Courtesy Everett Collection

7.Before Jared Padalecki was cast as Rory Gilmore's first boyfriend, Dean Forester, in Gilmore Girls...

Dean with his arm over Rory's shoulders
Warner Bros / Courtesy Everett Collection

...Dean was played by Nathan Wetherington in the same unaired pilot that featured Alex Borstein. However, the role was recast after the pilot was shot.

Nathan Wetherington at a premiere
Stephen Shugerman / Getty Images

Wetherington told Entertainment Weekly, "Gilmore Girls was my first experience on set, ever, professionally. We shot that scene [where Dean and Rory meet] like 45 times so they could get the books to fall the right way. It took all day." He added that while he was on set, he felt "very uncomfortable in my own skin.”

Dean and Rory at their prom
The CW / Courtesy Everett Collection

8.Before Rutina Wesley played eventual vampire and Sookie's best friend, Tara Thornton, on True Blood...

Tara at her job at a superstore

...Tara was played by soap opera star Brook Kerr. However, the role was recast after the unaired pilot was shot.

Brook Kerr on the red carpet
Jean-paul Aussenard / WireImage / via Getty

When she was asked about attending Comic-Con by Rolling Stone, Wesley said, "And so people come from miles and miles, and they dress up like us, and they’re shaking when they meet us. It’s so humbling to me. That’s why I do what I do. I love to be a vessel through which characters can come through. And if I can move an audience with my work, then I’ve done my job."

Tara speaking to a customer at her bartending job

9.Before Peri Gilpin was cast as radio producer Roz Doyle on Frasier...

Roz in the recording booth
NBC / Courtesy Everett Collection

...Roz was played by Friends star Lisa Kudrow, who was fired from the role only three days after the pilot began filming. During an appearance on The Howard Stern Show, Kudrow said that she wasn't a good fit for either Roz or "the chemistry of the group."

Lisa Kudrow gives two thumbs up on the red carpet
Noel Vasquez / Getty Images

The director of the Frasier pilot, James Burrows, also directed episodes of Friends, and Kudrow recalled that she was "the only one of the six of us who had to go in and audition for Jimmy." Of course, Kudrow was cast as Phoebe, and she concluded in the interview that Burrows "wasn't wrong" about recasting her in Frasier.

Peri leans over Frasier while he broadcasts
NBC / Courtesy Everett Collection

10.Before Kevin Alejandro played homicide detective Dan Espinoza on Lucifer...

Alejandro as Dan at the police precinct
Fox / courtesy Everett Collection

...Dan was played by The Good Doctor and Narcos star Nicholas Gonzalez. In an interview with BuzzFeed, Alejandro recalled that when the show was cast, he was waiting to see if another show he was attached to, The Returned, would be picked up to series. When it wasn't, he got the role of Dan "within a matter of hours."

  Valery Hache / AFP via Getty Images
Valery Hache / AFP via Getty Images

Alejandro said, "I didn't audition. I was actually a recast after they shot the pilot. ... I knew they were interested in meeting me, they sent me the Lucifer pilot, and I had heard of Tom Ellis. So, I watched the pilot and I just really wanted to work with Tom because I think he's great. That's how me being cast went down."

Dan and Lucifer at a carnival
Fox / courtesy Everett Collection

11.Before Liza Snyder played mother and medical technician Andi Burns on the CBS sitcom Man with a Plan...

Adam and Andi laugh together in their kitchen
CBS / Courtesy Everett Collection

...Andi was played by The Office star Jenna Fischer. On an episode of her podcast Office Ladies, Fischer recalled that she was fired shortly after the show was picked up because focus groups had negative reactions to her chemistry with her onscreen husband, Adam, who was played by Matt LeBlanc. Specifically, test audiences couldn't see past Fischer's previous role of Pam on The Office and LeBlanc's of Joey on Friends.

  Daniel Zuchnik / WireImage / via Getty
Daniel Zuchnik / WireImage / via Getty

On the podcast, Fischer recalled that someone from the focus group said, "I don't believe Pam would marry Joey." Shortly thereafter, Fischer was told that while the show was going to series, she was no longer going to be a part of it.

the cast of man with a plan
CBS / Courtesy Everett Collection

12.Before Zach Tyler Eisen became the voice behind the bubbly monk Aang on Avatar: The Last Airbender...

Zach Tyler Eisen at a movie premiere and Aang bending with Momo
E. Charbonneau / WireImage / via Getty / Nickelodeon / Courtesy Everett Collection

...Aang was voiced by Hannah Montana star Mitchel Musso in the show's unaired pilot.

Mitchel Musso as his Hannah Montana character hosting a radio show
Disney Channel / Courtesy Everett Collection

Other differences in this first draft of the Avatar-verse include Katara being named Kya and Iroh not existing, which is a tragedy that was thankfully corrected in the actual pilot.

Iroh drinking tea
Nickelodeon / youtube.com

13.Before Jake Johnson was cast as Dex's best friend, Grey McConnell, on the ABC drama Stumptown...

Grey McConnell talking to Dex in his bar

...Grey was played by Mark Webber, who wrote on Twitter that he was fired from the series because executives didn't think he was attractive enough for the role. Webber added that his experience with the show was "so degrading."

Mark Webber on the red carpet of a film festival
Gilbert Carrasquillo / Getty Images

Webber wrote, "Look, I’m a straight white male so I know my journey has been way less painful in this warped industry, but I’m being recast in a network television show because I’m not handsome enough for the executives. It’s important for me to share the real pain we endure in this industry."

Grey being questioned by the police

14.And finally: Before Scott Wolf was cast as the titular detective's father, Carson, on the CW's adaptation of Nancy Drew...

Carson and Nancy Drew in the woods
The CW / courtesy Everett Collection

...Carson was played by I Know What You Did Last Summer and She's All That star Freddie Prinze Jr.

Freddie Prinze Jr. at an event in 2006
J. Kempin / FilmMagic / via Getty

According to the Hollywood Reporter, the role was recast because "producers wanted to go on a different direction," and the decision to part ways was "amicable."

Carson Drew in his kitchen
The CW