Ensembles are tricky things to get right. Each member brings something different to the table and all of them have to gel together if they want any chance at success. Shaking things up too much can mean trouble.
Sometimes, though, one member departs, for personal or professional reasons (sometimes both). When that happens, the remaining members might look for a replacement to try and maintain the dynamic they're known for. Other times, though, they'll decide that they can continue with the remaining members and not hire anyone new. For some groups, this works fine and they continue with their careers down one member.
In the case of some Long-Runners, a group's time without the departed member may last longer than the time that member spent with the group. This can come as a shock to those who become fans of a group later in their run and begin exploring their back catalog, only to discover that there used to be an extra member.
Most likely to be seen in music groups as a member's departure can be covered by hiring instrumentalists and vocalists to work in the studio and on stage without having to bring in an official replacement. Only the official members typically appear in promotional photos and album covers. They may even use the departure as the opportunity to experiment and release a New Sound Album.
It can also be seen in works like TV and movie series, where a member of the cast doesn't return and the-powers-that-be decide to retool with who's left rather than find someone new.
Compare and contrast with The Band Minus the Face (where a specific member departs), Revolving Door Band (where lineup changes are relatively frequent), Step Up to the Microphone (where an existing member steps into the departed member's place), and The Pete Best (where a replacement happens early in a group's run and the original member becomes a footnote in history).
- One Piece: The Doflamingo Pirates' organization structure consists of 4 "top executives" right beneath the captain, Doflamingo, which have Playing Card Motifs: Diamante (diamond), Trebol (club), Pica (spade), and Corazon (heart). The last one, however, is currently unoccupied — it was meant to be filled by Trafalgar Law, but the latter defected from the group years before the present to form his own pirate group.
- Nearly every part in Jojos Bizarre Adventure has such a dynamic with its main cast of characters, to the point where it's easier to name the two outliers: Stone Ocean, in which Foo Fighters' role after she dies is replaced by Narciso Anasui and (to an extent) Weather Report, and Jojolion, in which no main character has died or otherwise left thus far.
- On Blake's 7, after Gan was killed off, he was never replaced. The show retained the "Seven" part of its name by considering the computer Orac, who was already part of the show, to be one of the "Seven".
- On Bones, after intern Zack Addy leaves the team after being revealed as the Gormogon's apprentice at the end of Season 3, rather than having just one Suspiciously Similar Substitute, the team cycles through a whole host of recurring intern characters, essentially auditioning through an extended interview process. Initially, the in-universe justification is that the team just isn't ready to replace a longtime friend whom they lost in such a traumatic way.
- While Community averted this with Pierce and Shirley when their actors left, they did not replace Troy after Donald Glover departed.
- A Different World was created as a vehicle for Lisa Bonet. But when she departed the series, it was retooled around the remaining cast members rather than bringing in a replacement lead, with no appreciable drop in viewership.
- Season 4 of House begins with all of the original fellows having left Princeton-Plainsboro (Foreman and Cameron having quit, Chase having been fired by House). House has been dragging his heels when it comes to replacing them. Following Cuddy's ultimatum in the premiere, House finally starts bringing in replacements — specifically, forty candidates whom he plans to whittle down in a kind of in-universe reality show-style game. Most of the candidates are gone by the end of the next episode, but the majority of the season switches focus between the remaining candidates — often giving particular focus to the characters whom House then decides to cut. While three new fellows, Taub, Kutner, and Thirteen, are eventually selected, only Taub's replacement lasts until the end of the series, and only Cameron never rejoins the team — both Chase and Foreman eventually come back to work for House.
- When Courtney B. Vance left Law & Order: Criminal Intent, no new fulltime prosecutor was brought in to replace Ron Carter. In large part this was because the show's format doesn't give the ADA as much to do as other L&O series. The interrogations rather than trial form the climax.
- M*A*S*H replaced many of its characters over its eleven-season run. However, when Gary Burghoff left the series, the producers simply moved Klinger (Jamie Farr), already a regular character, into Radar's job of company clerk.
- When John Cleese left Monty Python's Flying Circus, no new cast members were brought in to replace him.
- On NewsRadio, WNYX had two anchors - Bill and Catherine - for the first three seasons and into the fourth. After Khandi Alexander left the show Bill became the sole anchor. Bill was replaced after Phil Hartman's death, but Max Louis never had a co-anchor.
- Star Trek:
- When the Star Trek: The Original Series launched, Grace Lee Whitney, portraying Yeoman Janice Rand, was intended to be a series regular as a recurring love interest for Kirk, was featured even more prominently than Spock and McCoy in promotional materials, and indeed was a major fixture of the first half of season one. Whitney also directly contributed to a number of design elements, from the incredibly short female uniformsnote and even the development of the tricorder. She was eventually cut from the show by the halfway point of the series.note Although Rand's role as Kirk's aide was taken up by the occasional background extra, there was never a permanent replacement. And while Roddenberry long regretted her termination and Janice has remained a popular character (and Whitney was a regular fixture at conventions) ever since, this did clear the way for perhaps the most iconic Power Trio in television history by giving more room for the Kirk-Spock-McCoy dynamic. Whitney later returned as Rand in several of the films, (having made the jump from a lowly yeoman to the officer track, eventually rising to the Executive Officer position aboard Excelsior).
- After Denise Crosby's character was killed off in Star Trek: The Next Generation's first season, Worf (Michael Dorn) was promoted to Security Chief to consolidate the ensemble to the core we know now.
- After Roseanne Barr was fired from her eponymous show, Roseanne, the decision was made to kill her character off and continue with the remaining cast as The Conners.
- Bill Wyman was the Rolling Stones' bassist from 1962 to 1993. After he departed, the remaining members brought Darryl Jones in to play bass on records and tours as a hired musician and not as a replacement to Wyman within the group. If the Stones continue on their current course, their time without Wyman will exceed the time he spent with them in 2024.
- Brian May and Roger Taylor of Queen are adamant that Freddie Mercury will never be formally replaced. Instead, they tour as "Queen +", with the vocalist being a featured performer and not an actual part of the band. Similarly, John Deacon has never been formally replaced at bass.
- Barry and Robin Gibb continued as The Bee Gees after the death of their brother Maurice in 2003. When Robin passed away in 2012, the group came to an end and Barry continued as a solo act.
- Drummer Steve Smith and bassist Ross Valory were dismissed during Journey's original run in 1986. The remaining members toured with hired musicians (including Randy Jackson, later of American Idol, on bass) until they went on hiatus in 1995.
- When Steve Hackett departed in 1977, the other members decided to proceed as a trio, instead. Mike Rutherford took over lead guitar duties on post-Hackett albums and Daryl Struemer was hired to play Hackett's parts on tour.
- Phil Collins tried to invoke this after Peter Gabriel left Genesis, suggesting that they retool themselves into an instrumental group. The others voted him down and eventually convinced him to Step Up to the Microphone.
- After Brian Poole left Brian Poole and the Tremeloes, the other members split vocal duties between themselves and continued as the Tremeloes.
- Robbie Williams split with Take That acrimoniously in 1995 and wasn't replaced before they broke up in 1996. The group reunited in 2005, sans Williams, and worked as a quartet before Williams reconciled with everyone and they reformed as a quintet in 2010note . Williams left again to refocus on his solo career and Jason Orange followed not long after, although everyone made it clear that these departures were friendly and the two were welcome back at any time. The remaining three continue to record and tour together.
- Kevin Richardson departed the Backstreet Boys in 2006. The remaining members continued as a quartet for several years (with Richardson participating in occasional surprise reunions) before Richardson returned to the group full-time in 2012.
- Brian McFadden blindsided Westlife when he announced that he was leaving the group mere weeks before they were going to go on tour to promote Turnaround. After hastily rearranging all their rehearsed routines and completing the tour successfully, the remaining members continued as a quartet and had a longer run without McFadden than with him.
- When Stephen Gately of Boyzone passed away in 2009 due to an undiagnosed heart condition, the remaining four members declared that he was irreplaceable and continued as a quartet until they disbanded in 2019.
- Whenever Havalina Rail Co. lost a band member, they'd take it as an opportunity to change their sound and replace the missing person with someone who played a completely different instrument. After their self-titled debut album, accordionist Daniel Brooker and trumpeter Grady McFerrin left, so the band brought in Nathan Jensen to play saxophone instead. Then after the album America most of their percussion section (Jeff Suri, Lori Suri, and Mark Cole) departed, and their violinist Erick Diego Nieto had to switch to mainly playing drums. So the band recruited Mercedes Stevens (a guitarist and cello player) and Dave Maust (a keyboard player) to fill the remaining empty slots.
- Lost Dogs are a Supergroup originally founded by Terry Scott Taylor of Daniel Amos, Derri Daugherty of The Choir, Mike Roe of The 77s, and "Gene Eugene" Andrusco from Adam Again. When Gene Eugene died in 2000, the others just continued as a trio rather than trying to replace him.
- School of Seven Bells started in 2007 as a trio, consisting of twin sisters Alejandra and Claudia Deheza, and Benjamin Curtis. In 2010, after their second album, Claudia left the band, so Alejandra and Benjamin continued as a duo. Then in 2013, Benjamin died of lymphoma. Alejandra took the songs that they'd already written and recorded, and put them together as one last album by herself. On that note, she ended School of Seven Bells.
- Stereolab's Mary Hansen served as the band's backing vocalist from 1992 until 2002, harmonizing and singing counterpoint to the lead vocalist in a distinct fashion. Mary died in an auto accident, and the rest of the band didn't try bringing in a new vocalist to replace her—and they even stopped playing certain songs live, because they didn't sound right anymore with just one person singing. (Oddly, Mary Hansen was herself a replacement for the band's original backing vocalist: one Gina Morris, who only sang on a few early EP's.)
- Since Camila Cabello left Fifth Harmony, it's been pretty much a Non-Indicative Name for them.
- Depeche Mode continued as a trio after Alan Wilder's departure in 1995, though the band has hired extra members for tours.
- Pink Floyd soldiered on after Roger Waters left the band in 1985, and while Waters had been the Lead Bassist, the group has not had a full-time bassist since. At first they played officially as a duo with David Gilmour and Nick Mason, with Richard Wright appearing as a guest musician on A Momentary Lapse of Reason. Wright, who himself had been fired during the recording of The Wall and replaced by session musicians on The Final Cut and the vast majority of A Momentary Lapse of Reason (only contributing tangential keyboard and backing vocal parts), was reinstated as a full band member for The Division Bell, and the classic lineup with all four band members reunited for Live 8 in 2005, the last performance before Wright's death in 2008.
- R.E.M. continued as a trio after drummer Bill Berry left in 1997, hiring session drummers for their albums and tours until the band's break-up in 2011.
- When Paul Cattermole left S Club 7, they didn't replace him — they just dropped the "7" from their name.
- Better Than Ezra formed as a quartet and remained so until the suicide of guitarist Joel Rundell. The band broke up and reunited a few months later as a trio. Rundell has never been officially replaced. (The other members have made offers to touring guitarist Jim Payne to become a permanent replacement, but he's politely turned them down.)
- Alabama is a disputed case. After drummer Rick Scott left the band in 1979 they brought on Mark Herndon, who gave them their signature sound. Herndon appeared on album covers and in publicity photos with the other three members of the band (Randy Owen, Teddy Gentry, and Jeff Cook), but after In Pictures was released in 1995 he stopped being credited. In 2008, the rest of the group sued Herndon claiming he was overpaid in profits from previous tours, with Randy Owen stating that Herndon was just a hired member of the band and including him in the photos was their record label's idea. Herndon strongly denied this.
- XTC did this twice, continuing as a trio after drummer Terry Chambers left and replacing him with various session drummers, and as a duo after guitarist/keyboardist David Gregory left until bassist/vocalist/songwriter Colin Moulding's lack of interest ended the band for good in 2006.
- Steven Page left Barenaked Ladies in 2009, saying that it was no longer an enjoyable experience. The remaining four members decided to remain a quartet, with Ed Robertson taking over the bulk of the lead vocals and the other three members stepping up to the microphone a tad more often, particularly when they perform songs from the Page era in concert. Kevin Hearn (who usually plays keyboards, additional guitar, accordion, banjo and other instruments) generally replaces Page on songs requiring a Vocal Tag Team such as "If I Had 1000000000" or "One Week".
- The Art Of Noise started as a quintet, but Creative Differences led to the departure of Trevor Horn and Paul Morley, then the subsequent departure of Gary Langan left them as a duo of Anne Dudley and Jonathan Jeczalik (and even that was In Name Only as they mostly worked solo), who went their separate ways one album later.
- Roxy Music bassist Graham Simpson left the band in 1972 and was replaced with various session bassists since then. The same thing happened to keyboardist/violinist Eddie Jobson when the band reunited in 1979 without him and drummer Paul Thompson after he left in 1980.
- Momoiro Clover went from sextet to quintet after Akari Hayami left in 2011 (becoming Momoiro Clover Z in the process) and then to quartet after Momoka Ariyasu left in 2018.
- The subversion of this trope is a staple among tabletop RPGs, where the death of one character will often result in the party meeting a freelance adventurer at the next tavern, who coincidentally has the same stats, name, and equipment size as the dead character.
- When Willie Rushton, a regular panellist on I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue since its very early years, died in 1996, they realised he could never truly be replaced and all the possible replacements were younger, alternative comedians with very different comedy styles. His seat was made a permanent guest spot instead.
- The Now Show used to have a regular cast made up of Marcus Birgstocke, Mitch Benn, Laura Shavin, and Jon Holmes. By 2016, they were all cut in favor of bringing in guests who provide a more diverse style of humor and different viewpoints.
- Chrono Trigger: This can be done intentionally at several points, as the game lets you face the Final Boss at nearly any point including five minutes into the game:
- The major one is Crono's death, the reversal of which is technically entirely optional (and if left undone, changes the ending so the other characters are working on it).
- You can duel Magus To The Death or recruit him, and he won't come back in the former case.
- Robo can be left to toil away planting a forest for hundreds of years, getting him back is up to the player.
- Final Fantasy VII: Aerith is the designated healer of the Player Party, who joins early on and brings stats and special abilities geared towards this purpose. After she suffers a Plotline Death half-way through the game, however, no other party member has the stats and specialties to replace her in that niche for the rest of the game — which was a deliberate choice by the designers, intended to make players feel her loss just as strongly in the gameplay as the characters reel from it in the narrative.