The Real Reasons why TV Show Characters were Killed Off
Source: HBO

This Is Really Why These Popular TV Show Characters Were Written Off

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Mar. 8 2021, Updated 9:30 a.m. ET

It's always a heartwrenching experience whenever a favorite character of ours is killed in a long-running series. The Walking Dead and Game of Thrones are exceptional examples of that in recent history. While the storytellers behind these shows were quite intentional about these shocking deaths, there are some series that tossed in the death of a beloved character that seemed a bit off.

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Sometimes, their exists were handled graciously in a way that enhanced the plot. Other times, they were so out of left field and carried out in such a seemingly careless way that the writing team is left kicking themselves years later.

In these instances, the exits of popular characters had more to do with behind the scenes drama that it did an actual creative decision. Here are some instances where actors were "killed off" in shows or not brought back for a movie sequel, but the reasoning behind their departure wasn't purely an artistic decision.

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Michael Pitt - 'Boardwalk Empire'

michael pitt boardwalk empire
Source: HBO

Listen, Michael Pitt can act. The dude's got something that is undeniable and he was easily one of the biggest draws in HBO's fantastic Boardwalk Empire series. Steve Buscemi might've been the show's main protagonist, but everyone and their mother who watched the show was blown away by the character of Jimmy Darmody, who was played by Pitt brilliantly.

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Jimmy was chain-smoking, weepy-eyed, square-jawed, brooding alcoholic killer who had a romantic relationship with his own mom. He was also killed by Nucky in a very premature way...only two seasons into the show. While at the time it was touted as a "creative decision," word on the street was that Pitt was so horrendous to work with, that production reportedly made him re-do his death scene multiple times where he was dragged through the mud, even though they never planned on using the shot.

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Pitt also reportedly wouldn't learn his lines and production once had to reshoot an entire scene because he just couldn't remember what he had to say. It's also worth noting that before his Boardwalk Empire departure Pitt was fired by his own agent...which was a bit of a premonition.

Roseanne Barr - 'Roseanne'

roseanne roseanne
Source: ABC
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The long-running ABC comedy was welcomed by audiences all across America for its "authenticity" in depicting characters from a working/lower class background. The Conner family's troubles were always tackled head on, and sometimes created by its matriarch, Roseanne, played by comedian Roseanne Barr. Then she tweeted something that seemed pretty darn racist.

She tweeted a former aide of Barack Obama's, Valerie Jarrett looked like the offspring of the "Muslim brotherhood & Planet of the Apes". She apologized but it was clear that she had dug herself into a hole and there was no getting out of it. Roseanne was effectively cut but the show carried on: her character was killed off and Roseanne became The Conners — the writers had Roseanne's character die of an opioid overdose.

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Shannon Doherty - 'Beverly Hills 90210' and 'Charmed'

shannon doherty
Source: FOX

Shannon Doherty was a main cast member on two extremely popular network TV shows: Beverly Hills 90210 and Charmed. Doherty had originally gotten into a fistfight with fellow cast member Jennie Garth during her 90210 days. Tori Spelling asked her father Aaron Spelling, who was a producer for the show, to get Shannon booted, and he did.

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Fast forward years later when Aaron was casting for Charmed and he picked Shannon for the role and she did great work for three seasons...until she was ultimately killed off. It seemed like her bad blood between castmates just couldn't be quelled; Doherty and Alyssa Milano had reportedly just stopped talking to one another at some point. Shannon decided that instead of being fired she would quit and she even directed the final episode that saw her character killed off.

Mandy Patinkin - 'Criminal Minds'

mandy patinkin
Source: CBS
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Mandy Patinkin was the original bad guy profiler for Criminal Minds, and early on in the show's third season, he was just...gone. Joe Mantegna had stepped in to take over profiling duties and fans of the show were left scratching their heads wondering just why Mandy left the program.

As it turns out, it had to do with his "soul". Mandy asked for the network to end his contract after he didn't show up for a table read.

In a 2012 New York Magazine interview, Mandy would go on to call his involvement with the show, the "biggest public mistake" that he had ever made. He also didn't like what the showrunners at Criminal Minds were selling, "I never thought they were going to kill and rape all these women every night, every day. ... It was very destructive to my soul and my personality. Audiences all over the world use this programming as their bedtime story. This isn't what you need to be dreaming about."

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Chevy Chase - 'Community'

pierce community
Source: NBC

Chevy Chase isn't exactly known to be the easiest guy to get along with on set, just ask Bill Murray. During the filming of Community though, there were a slew of problems that production had with Chase. One recurring theme with Chevy is that he would regularly leave set before filming was done for the day. The culmination of his bad behavior was an angry diatribe that included a racial slur.

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The show's creator, Dan Harmon (who also did Rick & Morty) said that Chase would also say racist things in between takes to Donald Glover, including comments like people only found him funny because he was black. Chase's character, Pierce was written off in Season 4, where he died of a heart attack. One that was totally real and not the fake ones he'd regularly employ in order to get himself out of trouble.

Wesley Shipp - 'Dawson's Creek'

screenshot from
Source: WB
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In what has to be regarded as one of the biggest errors in writing judgment in modern TV writing history, Wesley Shipp's exit from Dawson's Creek was spurned on by creative differences the actor had with the show's trajectory. He thought that there would be more significant time given to the adult characters in the series, but noticed that he was getting less and less to do in the show as time progressed and all of the attention was being placed on the show's younger characters.

So the writing team killed him off in devastating fashion. Well, the fact that he would no longer be there was devastating, but how he died was kind of ridiculous. The man was eating an ice cream cone while driving his pick-up truck. The cone proceeds to fall on the floor of the truck and he leans over to pick up the cone and continue eating it (presumably, and, eww) and then gets into a car accident that takes his life. Tom Kapinos, a writer for the show said of Shipp's exit, "That was just an utter disaster, and I think it’s joked about to this day."

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Mischa Barton - 'The O.C.'

mischa barton
Source: FOX

The O.C. was a smash success for FOX and Mischa Barton, who played Marissa Cooper in the series was quickly being considered as an exciting new prospective talent in Hollywood. So much so that she was quickly considering leaving the series to go and find other projects to work on and eventually transition to film. 

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The thing is, producers don't really like it when you begin to treat the show you're working on like a second-rate "have to" job, so they wrote Mischa off of The O.C. and Marissa died in a car accident. At least Mischa's had steady work ever since leaving the show.

Kal Penn - 'House'

kal penn
Source: FOX
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Kal Penn proved he could not only act in comedies (Harold and Kumar), but medical dramas fairly well. Kal played Lawrence Kutner on the show, a sports medicine, and rehab specialist, and he was a fan favorite character who was a mainstay of the series. This is why when during the show's fifth season, he up and died out of nowhere, viewers were shocked. Well, thankfully, Kal's departure wasn't because he had a bad working relationship with the production team.

Kal was offered an associate Director Job in the White House and that was going to eat into all of his time, so he couldn't meet his filming quota for the series, which prompted his character to be was killed off. As far as excuses go for not being able to continue filming for a TV show, serving your country in the White House is a pretty good reason.

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T.R. Knight - 'Grey's Anatomy'

tr knight
Source: ABC

Grey's Anatomy may not come off as a program where a lot of care is put into narrative structure or character arcs and development, but apparently, there was enough of a disagreement between T.R. Knight and writer Shonda Rhimes for the fate of Dr. George O'Malley. Knight hated what O'Malley's direction was so much that he reportedly asked Rhimes to just kill him off instead.

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Knight then added his communication with Rhimes had "broken down" and even hinted production's decision to write him off of the program had something to do with the fact that he openly came out as gay, something Rhimes disputes as Grey's Anatomy. In the show's fifth season, he was killed by a bus.

Lisa Bonet - 'The Cosby Show'

lisa bonet
Source: NBC
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Look, it's almost impossible to "out cool" Lisa Bonet. She was the most popular cast member on The Cosby Show even after only one season, heck, people still remember her being on the show. She was so beloved that she even had her own popular spin-off series called A Different World. Problem is, and as funny as this sounds given what we know about Bill Cosby now, is that because the show always espoused high moral values, Lisa couldn't be apart of the program any more.

Lisa had gotten engaged to Lenny Kravitz and announced to producers that she was pregnant. They couldn't have the eldest Huxtable pregnant and unmarried, so writers had penned some story about her traveling to Africa to become a photographer's assistant. Things ended pretty well for Lisa. She went on to have a great career, she's married to Jason Momoa, and she's passed on the acting torch to her daughter Zoe Kravitz.

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Josh Charles - 'The Good Wife'

josh charles the good wife
Source: CBS

The Good Wife went on for seven seasons and throughout almost all of it, fans were rooting for Josh's character, Will Gardner, to get with Alicia Florrick. Maybe that's what the writers had planned down the line, but there's no way to know that or if they'd ever end up together because Josh had expressed to production that he wanted to pursue other projects and career opportunities.

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So the writing team decided that the best way to get rid of Josh would be to shock audiences with a horrific courtroom shooting scene in Season 5. The desired effect was achieved and there was no way audiences ever saw that twist coming their way.

Charlie Sheen - 'Two And a Half Men'

charlie sheen
Source: CBS
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The CBS sitcom was a ratings powerhouse and at the forefront of it was Charlie Sheen, who played what was pretty much a toned down version of himself named Charlie Harper. Sheen had a laundry list of problems off-screen, which included multiple visits to drug rehab centers, public rants about having "tiger's blood" and making some very strong comments towards the series' creator, Chuck Lorre.

Charlie's unapologetic attitude didn't help matters either when he demanded to be paid even more money, which production thought was ludicrous as he was already the highest paid actor on TV at the time: Charlie was earning a whopping $1.8 million per episode of Two and a Half Men prior to his exit.

If you've never seen some of his wild interviews, then...wow. Take a minute...or several to go down the YouTube rabbit hole.

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