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Poor Man's Substitute

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Mr. Burns: Get me Steven Spielberg!
Smithers: He's unavailable.
Mr. Burns: Then get me his non-union Mexican equivalent!

Often, when you've got a pretty good and recognizable actor or actress, there will be another actor/actress who is awfully similar except that he/she is not quite as good/famous/busy/whatever.

This can be very handy when you've been asked to cast a TV series based on a movie, since the actors from the movie often won't be willing to do a weekly series, at least not for what you're willing to pay.

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Such pairings can also be used to effect The Other Darrin, but when the former actor is much more famous than the replacement, this is a recipe for disappointment.

The good news for the actors is that by the end of the show's run, they're sometimes more famous than the actor they replace.

Perhaps the original Poor Man's Substitute was Jayne Mansfield for Marilyn Monroe. In fact, 20th Century Fox hired Mansfield for just that purpose after Monroe famously walked out on her contract in 1955.

On Mystery Science Theater 3000, Joel and the Bots call this the "Wayne Rogers Effect", after the actor who replaced Elliott Gould in the TV adaptation of M*A*S*H.

PLEASE NOTE: This trope is about actors who can pass for each other in bad light and/or can fill the same type of roles. For actors who have played the same character, you want The Other Darrin instead. If the Poor Man's Substitute is a different character in-universe, they're a Suspiciously Similar Substitute. If you're looking for objects that are inferior versions of brand names, see Shoddy Knockoff Product.

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Real-Life Examples:

    Live Action 

Actors

Actresses

Complex

Directors

    Voice Acting 

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    Others 
  • According to Bryan Danielson, Michael Cole is a poor man's Jim Ross.
    • In this case, it's decidedly not meant to be a compliment.
  • Doing a dinosaur documentary and Tyrannosaurus rex hasn't evolved yet? Well, Allosaurus is nearly as big! The poor thing's name even means 'other lizard.'
  • The Atari ST got this reputation in the U.S. as one to the Apple Macintosh as it was also a Motorola 68000-based computer with a graphical interface similar to the Mac while retailing for significantly cheaper. It was even nicknamed the "Jackintosh", after former Commodore head Jack Tramiel, who bought Atari after The Great Video Game Crash of 1983. The ST had a couple of technical edges over the original Mac: it had color two years before the release of the Macintosh II in 1987, and the built-in MIDI interface made it popular with musicians. The Atari ST also had the reputation of being the poor man's Commodore Amiga, itself considered a poor man's Mac, due to their similarities.
  • Latin Spanish dubbing has this for countries/cities - Miami started out as the Poor Man's Los Angeles for producers who wanted their Latin Spanish dubs recorded "close to home" but didn't want to deal with unions and such, Argentina has become the Poor Man's Venezuela for obvious reasons, Chile is the Poor Man's Argentina (DINT Doblajes Internacionales, for a period, was Disney's go-to Poor Man's Media Pro Com), Cuernavaca (or, formerly, Monterrey for Disney) is the Poor Man's Mexico City, and Colombia, Peru, and El Salvador are Poor Man's Substitutes for the other "big" dubbing countries.


    Subversions 
  • In Battlestar Galactica (2003), when the casting agents were asking for "a Mary McDonnell type" for Laura Roslin, and wound up getting Mary McDonnell. Apparently, the same thing happened with Edward James Olmos for Commander Adama. Cooler still, the role was written for Mary McDonnell... they just never imagined they'd actually get her.
  • A similar subversion happened when voice actors were being cast for Who Framed Roger Rabbit. The production team wanted someone who sounded like Kathleen Turner for Jessica Rabbit — and ended up hiring Kathleen Turner for the uncredited role.
  • The creators of Avatar: The Last Airbender wanted somebody who sounded like Jason Isaacs to play Zhao, as they got the idea for the character from Isaacs' character in The Patriot — but the real Jason Isaacs wound up taking the job instead.
  • And then there's Douglas Adams looking for a "Peter Jones-y" type for the voice of the Guide in the radio series of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. Eventually, "someone's secretary" suggested just hiring Peter Jones, who voiced the Guide from then out in any adaptation that required audio until his 2000 death.
  • Casting was looking for the part of Dr. Cox on Scrubs to be filled by a John C. McGinley-type. Apparently, John C. McGinley still had to audition, possibly making him a poor man's substitute for himself. The mind boggles...
  • After Betty White heard that the producers of The Mary Tyler Moore Show were looking for a Betty White type, she approached them and said they could have the real thing.
  • Mel Brooks advertised in the trade papers that he wanted a "Frankie Laine-type" to sing the theme song to Blazing Saddles. A few days later, Frankie Laine turned up at Brooks' office and offered his services. He was also unaware that it was a comedy, causing Brooks to feel embarrassed by how much heart Laine put into the song.
  • Sean Connery agreeing to appear in Time Bandits. The original script even said something like "Agamemnon takes off his helmet, revealing Sean Connery, or an actor of equal but cheaper stature."
  • Casting for Taxi Driver, Martin Scorsese asked for a "Cybill Shepherd type". When her agent offered Shepherd herself for the part, Scorcese replied "We can't afford her." The agent told him "She'll do it for whatever you can pay." At that time, Shepherd had just come off Daisy Miller, for which she got bad reviews; coupled with her relationship with the recently-backlashed Peter Bogdanovich, she was desperate for the credibility that the role would bring.
  • Another example was The Princess Bride. When it was first planned in the 1970s, William Goldman wanted wrestling star André the Giant to play Fezzik, but settled for an unknown bodybuilder named Arnold Schwarzenegger. By the time it got out of Development Hell in the '80s, Arnold was well out of their price range, but André the Giant was very much available.
  • Michael York heard a rumor that the makers of Cabaret wanted to cast a "young Michael York type" and suggested to his agent that "he might possibly qualify".
  • For the role of Nina Van Horn on Just Shoot Me!, creator Steve Levitan wanted a "Wendie Malick type, but older". When none of the actresses who auditioned proved satisfactory, Levitan cast Malick and wrote the character younger.
  • Recalling his performance as Nick Locarno in Star Trek: The Next Generation, the producers of Star Trek: Voyager sought a "Robert Duncan McNeill type" to play Locarno type Tom Paris. When no suitable replacement could be found, McNeill got the part.
    • Another version of this story is that Paris was originally going to be Locarno, but the producers decided that the character was unredeemable (or they didn't want to pay royalties to his creator, depending on who you ask)... then hired McNeill anyway.
  • When NBC needed an Ian McShane-type to play King Silas Benjamin on Kings, they predictably turned to McShane himself.
  • The first-season Star Trek: Enterprise episode "Oasis" guest-starred Trek veteran René Auberjonois. As he tells it, they were looking for someone similar to him, and Rick Berman said "Why don't we just get Rene?"
  • A similar thing happened with the character of Leo McGarry on The West Wing. Aaron Sorkin asked for "someone like John Spencer" and got... John Spencer.
  • In an interview, Ben Stiller claimed that getting Dustin Hoffman and Barbra Streisand to play the titular couple in Meet the Fockers was "the pipe dream" and the production crew were considering other possibilities until both accepted, much to their surprise.
  • When the creators of The Golden Girls were casting the role of Dorothy, they said they were looking for a "Bea Arthur-type". Guess who got the part?
  • For the film Love Actually, one of the producers reportedly wanted "a Laura Linney type" for a specific role and mentioned it at the slightest opportunity. Eventually the director snapped, told him "Oh for fuck's sake, just get Laura Linney then," and she joined the cast.
  • The Leverage writers wanted Nate, the leader of the titular band of thieves, to be an actor similar to Timothy Hutton. Hutton got the part.
  • The producers of the Flipper big screen adaptation were looking for a 'Paul Hogan type'; Paul Hogan heard and contacted them.
  • For Brütal Legend, Double Fine based the main character, Eddie Riggs, on something of a caricature of Jack Black. Now they just needed to find someone who could imitate Jack Black. Once Black himself took the role, this led from Eddie's character going from a No Celebrities Were Harmed design to a full-on Ink-Suit Actor.
  • Played with in The Simpsons. They actually got Michael Jackson to play as a fat white guy who was in a mental hospital who thought he was Michael Jackson. However, Michael Jackson used a plain sounding pen name in the credits and used an impersonator to do his songs on the show which were sung by an impersonator that he voiced the speaking voice of. Confused yet?
    • To be more clear: they paid enough for 'talking' Michael Jackson, but not enough for 'singing' Michael Jackson.
      • Actually it had less to do with money and more to do with contract stipulations. Jackson just didn't WANT to do the singing parts. He still recorded versions of those parts, however.
  • The Punisher (the 2005 video game) is a good subversion. The game itself was written by long time writer Garth Ennis, and was loosely based on various events from his run with the comic as well as events from the 2004 movie. Imagine the surprise the developers had when Thomas Jane responded to the casting call.
  • One of the teasers for JCVD has Jean-Claude Van Damme turn up to a casting call for the film, which is about Jean-Claude Van Damme. He still has to audition.
  • Supposedly Alec Baldwin volunteered to voice himself in Team America: World Police but the creators refused on the grounds that the guy they had was better. Actually, Baldwin, George Clooney, and Matt Damon all thought that their caricatures were so hilarious, that they would have gladly voiced themselves if Trey & Matt had asked.
  • The Coen Brothers wanted the opening narration for The Big Lebowski to be read by someone "sounding not unlike Sam Elliott." Ultimately, they were able to get Sam Elliott himself.
  • Zach Braff has stated in interviews that when Garden State was in development, he and his friends kept saying they wanted somebody like Natalie Portman for the lead female role, never dreaming that they might actually get her.
  • Valve wanted someone with the vocal talent of Louis Gossett Jr. to voice the extra-dimensional beings known as the Vortigaunt in Half-Life 2, based on his performance in Enemy Mine. They ended up with... Louis Gossett Jr. Too bad not for the following episode releases though.
    • Another Valve example: the writers of Portal 2 wrote Wheatley's character specifically with Stephen Merchant in mind, but they never expected to actually land him for the role. It wasn't until after the actor they first cast backed out that they decided to contact Merchant, just for the hell of it, and, lo and behold, he said yes.
  • When casting for the film Super, James Gunn, never imagining having Kevin Bacon or Elliot Page cast, had asked for Bacon and Page-types. (How he didn't expect Bacon to accept the role given his reputation is unexplained.)
  • The script of Predators described Cuchillo as "a guy who looks like Danny Trejo." When Danny Trejo heard this, he called Robert Rodriguez and said "Hey, I heard there's a guy in the script for Predators who looks just like Danny Trejo and guess what, I look just like Danny Trejo!"
  • Character Tod Spengo from Mom and Dad Save the World was so heavily based on Jon Lovitz' stage persona that they would have simply named the character "Jon Lovitz" if they thought they could get him. They actually did, and Lovitz loved the Tod-centric set pieces so much he said he wanted to take them home and put them around his pool.
  • Inverted with Kamen Rider Dragon Knight. Jason David Frank was set to play Len/Wing Knight, but he was later replaced with Matt Mullins, since the producers wanted Dragon Knight to succeed on its own merits rather than piggybacking on JDF's popularity from Power Rangers.
  • Discord from My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic was created after Lauren Faust had a Star Trek Archive Binge and is basically a sadistic, but Laughably Evil version of Q. As such, they originally intended to get a John de Lancie sound-alike for the role, but instead managed to get the real John de Lancie. Lauren has even said herself to have been blown away when they got him. (And then, de Lancie himself was blown away by the Periphery Demographic's reaction, having forgotten his session in the recording studio.)
  • The producers of Arrested Development didn't expect Liza Minelli to actually agree to play a recurring role on the show, but when Ron Howard asked her, she agreed because the two of them had been close friends for a long time.
  • Jessica Walter became interested in Archer after her manager sent her the pilot script, which included the line "think Jessica Walter in Arrested Development" to describe Malory Archer.
  • As the Farrelly brothers wrote Dumb and Dumber, Seabass was referenced as someone to be cast as a big, bruising "Cam Neely-type." Then they thought to invite the hockey player himself, and he accepted.
  • The script of A Good Year described Henry as "sounding like Albert Finney". Given director Ridley Scott had already worked with Finney, he easily got the real deal.
  • When casting for Sam Axe on Burn Notice the producers floated around Bruce Campbell as the type they were looking for, and were surprised when they got him.
  • When the Ropers were spun-off into their own series, the writers of Three's Company were left to try and find another actor to play the show's landlord. They kept commenting that they wanted someone similar to Don Knotts before realizing they could just ask Don Knotts himself to do it.
  • It was said by Cellbit himself that this was how he get the role in Vivo advertisements. The casting were looking for someone who looked and sounded like him, until they realize about actually calling him.

    In-Universe 
  • There's a moment in the Skins series 4 finale where - prompted by a drunk Naomi - Cook realises that his latest random squeeze (Arcia) is a Poor Man's Substitute for Effy. He ditches her as soon as he twigs what he's doing.
  • Played for laughs in Friends when Rachel breaks up with nerdy paleontologist Ross (played by David Schwimmer) and hooks up with nerdy periodontist Russ (played by David Schwimmer).
    Monica: See? They're as different as night and...later that night.
  • Rare fictional example - in the Marvel Universe, USAgent is treated by everyone as a poor man's substitute for Captain America. This was lampshaded in an issue of Mighty Avengers, by Loki of all people. Disguised as the Scarlet Witch (long story), he attempts to recruit Captain America for his new Avengers team and on discovering that Cap is dead goes to USAgent and effectively says "You'll have to do".
  • Similarly, in the Justice League Unlimited episode "The Greatest Story Never Told", Booster Gold spends the beginning of the episode teamed with the Elongated Man, who complains about being the League's poor man's Plastic Man. He is indeed used for that purpose by the end of the episode.
  • Armored Core 2 gives us Eight Ball/Hustler Two, poor man's substitute and claimed descendant of the series' Nine Ball/Hustler One. He's very low ranked and pilots a vastly inferior mech. Nine Ball was also an AI.
  • According to the The Nostalgia Critic, Jean-Claude Van Damme is this to Chuck Norris.
    Nostalgia Critic: So what's the main problem with this piece of shit movie? Four syllables: Jean-Claude Van Damme. Van Damme is like the poor man's Chuck Norris. The guy you get if you think Steven Seagal is too classy for your movie.
  • Parodied in The Simpsons in the episode "A Star Is Burns", when Mr. Burns requests for Steven Spielberg to direct his movie. Upon being told that he was unavailable, Burns then requested Señor Spielbergo, his non-union Mexican equivalent.
    Mr. Burns: Get me Steven Spielberg!
    Smithers: He's unavailable.
    Mr. Burns: Then get me his non-union Mexican equivalent!
    • Also, when Bart opened a casino, he hired a Liza Minelli impersonator but needed another kind of show when he found out the "impersonator" was Liza Minelli.
    • Also occurred in The Simpsons when they told the story of how Krustyland came to be. Krusty the Clown wanted to hire the cast of The Poseidon Adventure to make celebrity appearances at the park's opening, but attorney Lionel Hutz was able to sign only impersonators of those celebrities, including a Shelley Winters imitator who was obviously a man and hadn't even bothered to shave. When Krusty sees the faux celebrities, he tries to strangle Hutz.
  • South Park: When pee-wee football team South Park Cows played against Middle Park Cowboys, the entertainment hired for the halftime was John Stamos' brother Richard Stamos.
  • Ultimate X-Men has Colonel Wraith refer to Sabertooth as "the poor man's Wolverine."
  • Given a weird twist in Girl Genius, when Agatha, who's on the run from the Baron's forces, joins a traveling show, and in one performance of a "Heterodyne play," fills in for actress Pix. The twist? The character she's playing is her own real-life mother.
  • One of many running gags in CinemaSins, where the poor man's substitute is referred to as "discount [A-list actor]". They'll also refer to an actor as a discount themselves if they're spotted in cheap pre-fame roles, such as a pre-Rocky Sylvester Stallone in Death Race 2000, or if it's a currently famous actor they think are in a bad movie, like Channing Tatum in Jupiter Ascending.
  • CollegeHumor: Parodied—if you need help but can't afford The A-Team, perhaps you can hire the B-Team, C-Team, or F-Team. They all include a guy who's The Strategist (Hannibal), The Charmer (Face), The Crazy One (Murdock), and The Tough Black Guy (Baracus). However, the substitute teams get increasingly less impressive on these fronts:
    • The A-Team:
      Narrator: One year ago, a crack commando unit was sent to prison by a military court for a crime they didn't commit. These men promptly escaped from a maximum security stockade to the Los Angeles underground. Today, still wanted by the government, they survive as soldiers of fortune. If you have a problem, if no one else can help, and if you have a ton of money, maybe you can hire the A-Team.
    • A-Team out of your price range? Then how about this?
      Narrator: A different Commando unit was also sent to prison for a crime they might have committed. These men eventually escaped from a medium security facility, to a motel in Fresno. Today, still more or less acknowledged by the government, they survive as soldiers for hire. If you have a problem, if it's sort of urgent, but you don't need anything fancy, you can probably just hire the B-Team.
    • You're really broke, huh?
      Narrator: I'm not sure I should tell you this, but one year ago, a group of drug addicts were sent to a prison for crime they openly confessed to (they, uh, shot the mayor's dog). These men were released after their case was thrown out on a technicality. Today, pretty much forgotten by the government, they get by with odd jobs here and there. If you have a problem, if you're totally spaced, and you just need someone, literally anyone, and if you can offer a hot meal in exchange, you can always hire the C-Team.
    • Wow, really? You can't even afford...you're killing me here!
      Narrator: OK, I don't usually mention these guys, but...one year ago, four idiots started fighting over half a steak left in a dumpster behind a TGI Friday's. These men—-look, you don't really want to hire these men. They just-oh come on! Oh and that crazy guy? He has mild OCD! And he's clearly not black, what is he, Indian? Not even close. Look, I'm gonna level with you here. You're probably just better off taking care of it yourself. Really. Why would you ever hire anyone named the F-Teem?
    • CollegeHumor goes to Hell: it's revealed that Hell the second best of everyhting, just to frustrate sinners.
      Katie: [Do you have] Backstreet Boys?
      The Devil: 98 Degrees. They come preloaded on your Zune.
  • Spider-Man: Parodied. In The Amazing Spider-Man #14, Stan Lee is credited as "the poor man's Shakespeare"; Steve Ditko is "the poor man's Da Vinci"; and letterer Art Simek is "the poor man's rich man".
  • In The Venture Bros., Rusty refers to Baron Underbite as a "dime store Doctor Doom."
  • Downplayed in the pilot of DuckTales (2017) where Flintheart Glomgold is described as "the poor man's Scrooge McDuck... which to be fair, still makes him insanely rich."
  • Beavis And Butthead, when watching an angry-sounding Henry Rollins video:
    Butthead: "Uhh, Jim Rockford is pissed!"
  • Played for Laughs in the Family Guy episode "E. Peterbus Unum". Adam West wants to invite Jesse Jackson to open peace negotiations with the micro-state of Petoria with a prayer, but because he can't make it, he hires La Toya Jackson (sister of Michael).
  • Mystery Science Theater 3000: Joel and the Bots have a discussion about this trope at the end of Hercules Against the Moon Men. Joel calls it the "Wayne Rogers Effect", after the actor who replaced Elliott Gould in the TV adaptation of M*A*S*H. The conversation gets a bit awkward when when Crow points out that Gypsy's Celeb Crush Richard Basehart (from Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea) was really the replacement for Walter Pigeon from the original film. Ironically the replacement that prompted all this discussion in the first place—Steve Reeves from Hercules Unchained getting replaced by Alan Steel for Hercules Against the Moon Men—was actually an example of Dub Name Change and Dolled-Up Installment, not this trope. Against the Moon Men was originally a Maciste film; it was the American distributors who changed Alan Steel's character to Hercules and tried to pass it off as a sequel to the Steve Reeves films.
  • Daria once referred to her teacher, Mr. O'Neil, as "the poor man's Kathy Lee Gifford."
  • An episode of The Big Bang Theory had Sheldon and Leonard playing a trivia game where each guessed the name of a famous person based on clues given by the other player. For every clue Leonard gave Sheldon about Nikola Tesla, Sheldon assumed Leonard was talking about him, until finally Leonard got annoyed enough to play along with Sheldon's hubris and describe Tesla as "the poor man's Sheldon Cooper," whereupon Sheldon got it immediately.
  • Milana Vayntrub's similarities to Zooey Deschanel have become a Running Gag in AT&T's commercials, where Vayntrub's Lily character interviews Deschanel for a job and they have the exact same mannerisms, then Deschanel poses as Lily herself.
  • The spider in the Merrie Melodies cartoon "Meatless Flyday" calls the fly he's trying to catch and eat "A poor man's Bugs Bunny."

Alternative Title(s): The Poor Mans Substitute

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