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Final Season Casting
Being involved with a show for years, while rewarding, can be tiresome for actors. They might want to move on to different things, or the reduced budget isn't enough to pay their salary, or they signed up to something else before the show was unexpectedly Un-Cancelled, or something else happens in their life that forces them to leave. Long story short, at some point they opt out before the show ends and their characters are written off. And more often than not, the show's ratings take a toll, as a part of its fanbase loses interest.

Now imagine what happens to the ratings if the actor in question was the main character. Or if more than one actor quit at the same time. Or both. You're stuck with a show that no longer has a protagonist and/or half of its cast and is steadily losing its viewership. Either you try to bring new characters to fill the void, rewriting the scripts accordingly, or you can try to function with what you have left. Either way, even if you do it right, the show just won't be the same now and the chances to be renewed for another season after this are slim to none.

In a nutshell, Final Season Casting is a rather common phenomenon when a show experiences unusual and significant cast changes for its final season. Expect core members of the show's central Five-Man Band or even the protagonist to leave. Sometimes Suspiciously Similar Substitutes or new characters without much back story take over, sometimes the show continues with a reduced cast. The dynamic between the cast is very likely to change and if the show hasn't jumped the shark yet, it most probably will.

This trope makes no distinction between the seasons that weren't supposed to conclude the show, but turned out to be the final seasons because of low ratings partially caused by the Cast Turnover, and the ones that were supposed to conclude the show, and the Final Season Casting was either willingly invoked or was a mere coincidence.

Often the result of a Long-Runner Cast Turnover, though this could also technically contribute to a Second Season Downfall. A very common effect of this trope is They Changed It, Now It Sucks and common attribute of a Post Script Season. See also Jumped the Shark, Replacement Scrappy. Also compare After Show, which changes the name of the show along with the cast.

Examples:

Live-Action TV
  • Vaughn and Weiss were absent for most of season 5 of Alias. Two rather generic characters, Rachel Gibson and Thomas Grace, were introduced instead.
    • The producers were actually hoping for a spinoff with Rachel and Thomas, plus another new recurring character Renee Reienne, but when the network didn't oblige them, Thomas and Renee were both rather suddenly killed off, with very little effort to provide resolution to their own story arcs.
  • In Ally McBeal season 5 a horrible culling of many original cast members and replacement with far less interesting characters occurred. The final scene of final episode still featured all the old cast and none of the new, making it rather contrived.
  • Angel pulled it off for its last season. As James Marsters said about his involvement with Buffy the Vampire Slayer: "Spike was supposed to be the new Cordelia". In the final season of Angel, he replaces her for the second time, even taking her place in the opening credits. Also Lilah, a prominent recurring character since season 1, is replaced by Eve.
    • Also, in what could be seen more as cases of The Bus Came Back, Harmony and Lindsey returned to play prominent roles, with the former even receiving a Promotion to Opening Titles in the last few episodes.
    • In an unusual move, one main character is permanently killed off a few episodes before the series finale. However, due to the way that plot progresses, her actress ends up playing the replacement character.
  • Claudia Christian, who played Susan Ivanova, left Babylon 5 before the fifth (and final) season, necessitating the arrival of her Suspiciously Similar Substitute, Elizabeth Lochley. Ivanova returns for the series finale while Lochley is completely absent from the episode because the series finale was filmed as the finale for season 4, before Claudia Christian (Ivanova) left, Tracy Scoggins (Lochley) was hired, and when it was believed that season would be the last. When the show was picked up for a fifth season, a new season 4 finale was filmed, which features neither Ivanova nor Lochley.
    • Ivanova and Marcus both left at the same time (although Marcus was killed off before the writer realised the show was being renewed for another season - and he later said that had he known that Claudia Christian would be leaving, he would have killed her instead of Marcus). The loss of these two characters at once adversely affected the cast dynamic.
  • Daryll, who was in Charmed since day one, was absent from the final season. Leo didn't appear much neither. Billie was introduced. No comments.
  • Coupling had this going with one of the guys (Jeff) being replaced, with the new guy being (poorly) photoshopped into the cast photo on the cover of the series DVD collection.
  • Family Matters also did this, but there was also a Channel Hop that further complicated matters.
  • Scrubs had this happen in the final season. JD, Elliot, Carla, and the Janitor were all written off.
    • Partially subverted in that the previous season was the final one for the main show, as far as Bill Lawrence was concerned. When it came time to proceed, he lobbied to refer to the new season as part of a spin-off show. ABC denied him the right to do this outright, so it's treated as Season 9, though it was at least given the unofficial title of Scrubs: Med School.
  • In the final season of Sliders, the main character Quinn was replaced by an alternate universe version who looked nothing like him, but was apparently melded with his personality, and Colin was lost forever, and replaced by someone else from the same universe as the second Quinn. Thus the show lost both the protagonist and half of the cast for its final season. Also, only one member of the original cast went all the way until Season 5.
  • In the final season of Home Improvement, Randy was written out of the show by having him spend a year in Latin America. He wasn't replaced with anyone, but other characters were given increased roles and/or new dynamics to fill the absence.
  • Partial example in Spin City. When Michael J. Fox could no longer do the show, he was replaced by Charlie Sheen. The characters of Nikki, Janelle, James, and Stacy also disappeared. The show managed to last for two more seasons with this cast rather than the usual one.
    • Heather Locklear, who had come on board a season before, shared top billing with Sheen. The remaining cast members all got their own title cards.
  • In Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Jadzia Dax was replaced by Ezri Dax for the final season when Terry Farrell left for Becker. It was a particularly curious case as her departure was a real surprise to everyone involved, as Farrell admitted to loving the show and the character but was just interested in expanding her career. She later regretted the decision because while she enjoyed her new character, Dax was a "super hero." To the writing's credit, Ezri managed to fit into the series well and wasn't just Jadzia with a new face (although that would be justified)
  • That 70s Show's final season:
    • Eric and Kelso were no longer in the cast, replaced by Randy, a character who shared some of their traits.note  Both returned for the Series Finale. (Another new character, Samantha, was even less popular.)
    • Tommy Chong's character, Leo, was bumped up to main cast. This was more welcome than the newcomers, but since he had been strictly a gag character before, there was a bit of a Klinger effect.
  • In the final season of NewsRadio, Bill was replaced by Max after Phil Hartman's death. Also, Walt, a character introduced late the previous season, disappeared without a trace.
    • Catherine left in season 4 as well, and wasn't replaced, meaning that there was a 25% turnover from one season to the next. It was noticeable and was probably the last straw for the show which, despite its quality, had been hanging by a thread for most of its existence.
      • Andrea (Lauren Graham's character) was introduced a few episodes before Catherine quit, and there's some reason to believe she was intended to fill this role. But she was an odd fit and didn't go over well (an efficiency expert the viewers were apparently supposed to like even though her job was basically to disrupt everything about the show), so she'd come and gone by the time Catherine left.
  • The X-Files in its last two seasons. The eighth season had Mulder missing for over half its run, and partnered Scully with the new character of John Doggett; the ninth season didn't feature Mulder at all until the two-part Grand Finale, significantly reduced Scully's screen time and made Doggett and Monica Reyes the two agents attached to the X-files.
  • Inverted with Law & Order: Criminal Intent. The 10th (and final) season brought the return of Vincent D'Onofrio to the role of Bobby Goren, and Kathryn Erbe (Alex Eames) back as well.
  • Welcome Back, Kotter had a big problem with this during its last season. Both the nominal star (Mr. Kotter) and the most popular character (Barbarino) all but quit the show. Mrs. Kotter, of all people, took up the slack for Mr. Kotter, and the show brought in a replacement for Barbarino named Beau. Many viewers found Beau to be a pale imitation of Barbarino, and were not impressed with the "twist" of Beau being a Southerner.
  • Laverne and Shirley is an infamous example. Shirley left and the show continued without her, strangely keeping the title intact. The show compensated by bringing on weekly guest stars to assist Laverne in her schemes.
  • Robin Hood deliberately killed off Marian for cheap shock value in series two, and the actors playing Will and Djaq left as well. Furthermore, Keith Allen could only sign on for half of series three, leading to the absence of Vasey for several episodes. To compensate for this loss of the original cast, the show introduced the characters of Isabella, Kate, Tuck and Prince John - Prince John being the only one who went down at all well with fans. Later on, Robin and Guy's long-lost half-brother Archer appeared and was equally unpopular. The show ended with the deaths of Robin, Guy, Vasey, Isabella and Allan, with Sam Troughton (Much) also quitting. A planned fourth series was thankfully not commissioned, but it would have left Little John as the only remaining original cast member.
  • The Practice replaced half its cast in the final season, at least the replacements were fairly interesting.
  • Stargate SG-1 retired Jack O'Neill and replaced him with Cameron Mitchell for the final two seasons. Vala Mal Doran was also added to the cast, although no one else left.
    • Season 9's beginning looked to be this, though, with the arrival of newcomers Mitchell and General Landry, and Mitchell's attempt to 'get the band back together' resulting in an SG-1 consisting of him, Daniel, Vala, and Teal'c. Those familiar with SG-1 looking at the largely new cast with a "who the hell are these guys?" reaction was a Running Gag. The full return of Carter (who had been written out of the first several episodes due to Amanda Tapping's real life pregnancy) and an increase in O'Neill guest spots would come later.
  • The fifth and final season of Stargate Atlantis Sam Carter was replaced by Richard Woolsey. None of the replacements were well received.
  • Ivan Dixon left the cast of Hogan's Heroes when his contract expired, leading to Newkirk taking over some of Kinch's duties and Kenneth Washington playing the new communications officer, Sgt. Baker.
  • Saved by the Bell presents a curious case. The intended final episodes were filmed with the entire regular cast, including a Grand Finale where the teens graduated. Problem is, afterwards, more episodes were ordered, but no one was under contract. Most returned, but Tiffani-Amber Thiessen and Elizabeth Berkley chose not to. Leanna Creel was hired to play new character Tori and her tenure was interspersed with the previously produced episodes.
  • Subverted - twice - in Blake's 7. Gareth Thomas who played Blake left at the end of the second season, not the last, and wasn't replaced. Despite there being no change in title, there was no Blake for the next two seasons until the very last episode when he made a tragic return. This caused much ridicule among critics and some fans at the time, but can be justified in that although Blake was gone, the rest of the Liberator's crew were still products of his rebellion and, in a sense, still his creations, carrying on his fight.
  • Main character Joel never quite disappeared from Northern Exposure, but in the last season his role was drastically reduced and the town got a different doctor.
  • Prior to the filming of season 4 of Hannah Montana, Mitchel Musso (who played Oliver Oken) left the series to star in Pair Of Kings and work on his music. He and his character appeared only in a few episodes as a guest, including the series finale. He was replaced by Australian actress Tammin Sursok, who played Jackson's bikini model girlfriend, Sienna.
  • Multiple replacements in the final season of the original Hawaii Five-O: Danno (James MacArthur) and Chin Ho (Kam Fong) were replaced by Kimo (William Smith), Lori (Sharon Farrell) and Truck (Moe Keale)... and Lori didn't stick around for the duration. Although the series had run its course over 12 seasons, the massive recasting probably put the final nail in its coffin. In the case of Chin Ho, by the actor's request, the character didn't just disappear but his murder was made integral to the episode's plot. (Danno, on the other hand, didn't get much of a sendoff.)
  • Earth: Final Conflict was doing this LONG before its final season. The show's producers were infamous for immediately firing any actor who asked for a raise. Only one character (a villain who largely functioned as The Dragon for the current Big Bad) was a regular in all five seasons.
  • House. Lisa Edelstein left after season 7, so Cuddy was written out and Foreman (Omar Epps) became the dean of medicine at Princeton-Plainsboro. Also, the characters of Dr. Chi Park (Charlyne Yi) and Dr. Jessica Adams (Odette Annable) were added to House's team. Thirteen (Olivia Wilde) was written out a few episodes in, although she came Back for the Finale.
  • The sixth and final season of 3rd Rock from the Sun saw Tommy (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) with severely reduced screen time, notably appearing in only half the episodes of the series.
  • In Dynasty, Linda Evans left the show leaving her character Krystle brain-death in a coma, she did appear in the reunion.
  • The last season of 24 ditched almost all the new characters introduced in the previous season along with any regulars who had been on the show before only carrying over two of season 7's new characters alongside mainstays Jack and Chloe and throwing in a supporting cast that consists mostly of replacement scrappies, unmemorable newbies and a pretty horrid Creator's Pet with the only new character that was remotely interesting biting the dust halfway through the season.
    • To show how much of a case this was, Season 8 is the only one in the original series' run not to feature recurring character Aaron Pierce, which left Jack Bauer as the only character to have a presence in every season. It was also only one of two not to feature Tony Almeida, though this was somewhat justified by his character's imprisonment.
  • JAG: Rear Admiral A.J. Chegwidden (John M. Jackson) retired at the end of season 9 and was replaced in the final 10th season by Major General Gordon Cresswell (David Andrews). Lieutenants Gregory Vukovic (Chris Beteem) and Catherine Graves (Jordana Spiro) were also last season additions.
    • The plan was to do like Law & Order, introducing new core characters as the old ones left; Vukovic reminded one a great deal of Harm in the early seasons. They could have squeezed out a couple of more seasons with him and Graves substituting for Harm and Rab in the core cast. It wouldn't have been as good, though.
  • Subverted by Criminal Minds. Edward Allen Bernero called Jason Gideon the show's central character and openly worried that Mandy Patinkin's departure would ruin the cast dynamic and perhaps produce this trope. Arguably, Joe Mantegna's arrival improved the cast dynamic and helped keep it on the air for six more seasons (and counting).
  • The Wire does this without combining it with Post Script Season. The final season writes out quite a few characters but for the most part their stories were wrapped up and they all return for cameos that provide a nice codas to their stories.
  • In the third series of Princess Returning Pearl, the cast changed dramatically, and three of the four main roles were recasted, including a majority of supporting roles as well. The fans did not like it, to say the least.
  • How I Met Your Mother added Cristin Milioti to the main cast for its 9th and final season playing the role of Ted's future wife.
    • In addition, Jason Segel is appearing a bit less in the season, with Marshall being Out of Focus by being forced to take a road trip to Fairhampton (where everyone is gathering at for Robin and Barney's wedding) after missing the last plane. He still appears in every episode, but his interactions with the rest of the cast (mainly conversing with them with a phone and appearing in flashbacks) have him be more limited than normal.
  • Community would be on the cusp of the trope, having written out the characters of Pierce and Troy, while introducing a new replacement for Pierce in the "old guy" slot, for the fifth season. Troy lampshades it with a reference to Zach Braff leaving before the final season of Scrubs.
  • Carmen from The George Lopez Show left the cast at the final season since the actor for her wanted to start college. So Carmen managed to get admitted to college in the beginning of the final season. George's niece, Veronica, returned to the show to replace her as an even more Bratty Teenage Daughter with George being in charge of her trust fund.

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