There have been several iconic TV actors who died during their shows: John Ritter, Phil Hartman, Redd Foxx. But how were their deaths handled and could the show survive without them? In all of the above cases, the shows did not make it very far without their star actors. 8 Simple Rules lasted only one more season without Ritter, NewsRadio also just one more season, and The Royal Family did not even complete the rest of Season One without Foxx’s star power.
Of course, then there are the shows that delay the announcement of a character’s death while producers and writers try to figure out how they are going to reshape the show’s storyline. After Freddie Prinze’s shocking suicide, producers from Chico and the Man simply explained away his absence, until his death was addressed on the program one year after Prinze died. Producers from the nighttime soap Dallas did the same after Jim Davis (patriarch Jock Ewing) passed away.
There are a couple of film actors worth mentioning on this list as well, when narratives needed to be reworked because the actor died during the movie’s production.
Check out the different ways an actor’s death can be handled by the TV or film writers he leaves behind.
After McNeil’s funeral, each character reads personal notes left for them by the news anchor. The producers opted to replace Hartman’s character with fellow SNL alum Jon Lovitz, who played an old friend of McNeal’s. NewsRadio wrapped after its fifth season.
The retooling of the show was unsuccessful, however, and was cancelled later that same season.
Woody Boyd (Woody Harrelson) arrives from small town Indiana to visit his pen pal, Coach, not knowing that he has died. After Woody is told of his friend’s death, Sam offers him a job at the bar. The sitcom remained on the air for a total of 11 seasons.
When Marchand died, there was still a lot of narrative to explore in the troubled mother/son relationship. Producers wanted one last scene between Tony and his mother, so the show opted to go the special effects route. They used tape editing combined with computer technology to make a fairly realistic looking Marchand talking to her son one last time. Her character later dies at the end of the episode.
When Rebhorn passed away after Season 3, the producers opted to not bring up Frank’s death until the end of Season 4, so Carrie could work through the CIA’s extremely tumultuous situation in Pakistan. It was not until the last episode of the season that Carrie returns stateside to grieve her father’s death. The emotional time brings her closer to both Quinn and her baby.
The trend continues the following season, until the two-part episode titled, “Raul Runs Away,” which airs almost one year after Prinze’s sudden death. The episode reveals that Chico has passed; however, no explanation is given. The show was cancelled later that same year.
Davis died during Season 3, and the show opted to keep his character in the story by stating that he was out of the country for business. His character was finally killed-off in a helicopter crash during an emotional episode called “The Search.”
He meets a schoolteacher/tutor and is married during a TV movie special in 1977. Eight is Enough remained on the air for five seasons.
The studio brought in Paul’s brothers Cody and Caleb to help finish Paul’s scenes. With the use of CGI, special lighting, and specific camera angles, both of his brothers could essentially act as body doubles for Paul. When the film was released in 2015, it went on to became a monster box office success, bringing in $1.5 billion dollars worldwide.
Walker’s death did affect the ending of the film. Director James Wan said in an interview with Collider, “The original ending of ‘Furious 7′ was setting up, you know, the bigger world of where the ‘Fast and Furious’ franchise could go into. And that’s obviously very smart of them to think so. But when the tragedy happened, all of that became irrelevant. So it did not matter anymore, all of that stuff. And to the studio’s credit, they did not push for that. They realized how important it was to make a movie that finishes and that just outright is a tribute to Paul Walker. So I give them a lot of credit for being bigger than that and going along with this ending that is the right ending to go with.”
The officer died from a heart attack in an episode title, “Grace Under Pressure,” while making love to his girlfriend, Grace, who had previously been depicted as a woman with a very high sex drive.