Backstage Drama: 8 Heated Off Screen TV Feuds That Left A Mark

Teri Hatcher and Nicollette Sheridan in Desperate Housewives.
(Image credit: ABC)

Recent repots that new American Idol judges Nicki Minaj and Mariah Carey aren't getting along could be exaggerations, or perhaps the rumors are true that one of them could end up exiting the series if things can't be worked out at the judges table. At the very least, we may be in for a very tension-filled season come next year when the singing competition resumes. That remains to be seen, but the reports of some feuding between the two artists inspired us to reflect on some of the other behind-the-scenes feuds that have spiraled out of control and resulted in major changes to the series.

Remember when Shannen Doherty left Beverly Hills, 90210? Or when Dr. Burke left Cristina on Grey's Anatomy after the controversy involving Isaiah Washington? Just like with any work environment, not everyone is going to get along, but when it happens on a TV show, it can really leave a mark on the series involved, changing the face of the show from that point forward. Here are a some examples of memorable backstage feuds.

Two and a Half Men - Charlie Sheen

In recent years there may have been no more publicized feud than that of Charlie Sheen and Chuck Lorre on Two and a Half Men - if it can be called a feud. It might be more accurate to call it a train wreck. In 2012, the hit sitcom took a hiatus in the midst of the eighth season while Sheen went into rehab. Apparently it didn’t help - production was suspended not long after due to Sheen’s public slam of Lorre, the show’s creator, on a radio show in which he called Lorre a “turd”. Sheen continue to assault Lorre in an interview with TMZ and a follow-up open letter both filled with bizarre rants.

The public meltdown reached epic proportions in a hurry; Sheen took to Twitter to continue his raging assault, and Lorre and the rest of the show’s bigwigs quickly made a decision. They fired Sheen from the show two weeks after the February 24 radio interview. Sheen’s character, central to the series, was killed off. Season 9 opened with a funeral, and Ashton Kutcher was brought in to replace him. While the show has managed to move past Sheen’s departure, it will never be quite the same.

Grey's Anatomy - Isaiah Washington

Back in the earlier seasons of Grey's Anatomy, Cristina Yang and Preston Burke were the other big couple to watch on the ABC drama series. They had their ups and downs over the course of the three seasons of Isaiah Washington's run on the show, but the romance crumbled for good at the end of the third season. This came in the wake of some major backstage drama between Washington and Patrick Dempsey after actor T.R. Knight was reportedly late to set.

The details of the scuffle eventually became public and included reports that Washington used a homophobic slur in reference to T.R. Knight. Washington didn't do the best job of handling the situation afterward and even used (or repeated) the other-F-bomb when denying the reported incident to the press. Subsequently, his contract wasn't renewed after Season 3. Considering Burke was one of the key roles in the ensemble, as a close colleague to Derek and the love interest to Cristina, Washington's departure at the end of Season 3 felt abrupt, even with the widespread public reports of the backstage drama leading up to Burke's final appearance. The show went on without him, with various new doctors being introduced in seasons to follow, but it's hard not to wonder where things would have gone for Burke had Washington not left the series.

Saturday Night Live - Al Brooks

If you’ve ever seen an early episode of Saturday Night Live, you’ll know the show was really experimental during its first years. Frank Zappa brought a whole cult of people onstage and for the first season, there were several really off-putting Jim Henson Muppet sketches. Albert Brooks was on board to do these funny—and short—experimental films that also flopped, namely because they were often ten minutes long and just didn’t fit in with the rest of the program’s sketches. Albert Brooks was a big name and attaching him to SNL really helped the fledgling program, but Brooks and showrunner Lorne Michaels could not get on the same page.

By the end of the season, all of the tension, all of the heatedback-and-forths between the two men actually started showing on air. Brooks submitted a video of himself, lying sick in bed, where he complained about being overworked. He even taped a doctor verifying his sickness and passed it along to Lorne. With only a few marginal jokes, it was one giant middle finger, and Michaels, also willing to take on his foes, decided to air it, possibly because he thought audiences would turn on Brooks. Whether they did or didn’t, the comedian was gone by the end of the first season, which would have seemed crazy prior to the start date, given he was extremely famous and the main players, Chevy Chase and John Belushi, weren’t. You can read more about the controversy in Tom Shales and James Andrew Miller’s epic book Live From New York, or just catch the first season of SNL to see the thinly disguised conflict appearing through Brooks' videos.

Beverly Hills 90210 - Shannen Doherty

When Beverly Hills, 90210 started, the two main characters were wide-eyed Minnesotan newbies to the world of the wealthy. But while Brenda and Brandon Walsh were facing the culture shock of their new home, behind the scenes Shannen Doherty was quickly developing a reputation worthy of Beverly Hills diva. It didn’t take long for rumors of Doherty being difficult on the set to fly. Tabloids had Doherty feuding with just about every member of the cast, especially Jennie Garth. She was said to have argued with her over minute details such as wardrobe choices.

Tori Spelling even reported in her autobiography that the two once got into a fistfight, a statement Doherty denied. Shouting matches on the set were reported over and over – many with Doherty at the center of them. While many of the stars – including Doherty herself – publicly claimed things were being exaggerated, Doherty was written out of the show at the end of the 4th season. With Brenda gone, the Walsh twins were no longer central to the storyline, changing the direction of the series permanently. Shannen Doherty carried her bad girl reputation with her for years, and Brenda didn’t return to the 90210 zip code until the show’s reincarnation in 2008.

Community - Dan Harmon vs. NBC/Sony Pictures

The increasingly tumultuous relationship between Dan Harmon and Sony Pictures Television as well as NBC makes his feud with Chevy Chase seem commonplace (feuds with the crusty Chase are commonplace), and the brass at both networks got fed up with three seasons of fighting and finally put a nail in the creator’s coffin. The writing was on the wall at the beginning of last year when, after being constantly hounded by his bosses to make the show more accessible, Season 3 still opened with a musical number that serves as a big ‘screw you’ to all those network notes.

And it’s not like Harmon had solid ratings to back him up and the low numbers added to his management style resulted in him getting the boot. NBC briefly floated that Harmon would stay involved as a "consulting producer" but that wishful thinking was soon shot down by Harmon in his own statement; “I’m not saying you can’t make a good version of Community without me, but I am definitely saying that you can’t make my version of it unless I have the option of saying ‘it has to be like this or I quit’ roughly 8 times a day.” We’ve yet to see how the shake up will affect the on-air product but without his backbone fighting the good fight, it’s hard to imagine Community resisting the pressure to go broad.

Desperate Housewives - Nicollette Sheridan vs Marc Cherry

Edie Britt was always on the outskirts of the core group of women on Wisteria Lane, as she openly prioritized her own needs and desires above all else. But she was a part of the group, so her death during the fifth season of the series came as a surprise for longtime fans. Of course, the scandal that followed off camera was even more dramatic than Edie's death by electrocution. Following her character's death, actress Nicollette Sherdian filed a $20 million lawsuit against Desperate Housewives showrunner Marc Cherry, accusing him of assault, wrongful termination, battery and a number of other claims. The battery charge was dismissed and eventually it came down to Sheridan and ABC in a wrongful termination suit, which was later dismissed in appellate court this summer.

The rest of the cast took Cherry's side on the mater, which went to trial early this year. At that time, it was reported that Cherry killed off Edie because it was the right creative choice for the series at that time, and there were also budgetary reasons. And apparently, she had trouble with her lines, a "problem" with co-star Teri Hatcher, and Cherry testified about some other issues with Sheridan behind the scenes. So it may have been a combination of killing off the character and letting go of the actor. Either way, Edie was gone, never to return, not even for the series finale, which wasn't all that surprising given the legal issues, but fans likely felt her absence when the series wrapped up.

The Walking Dead - Frank Darabont

Conflict between network brass and creatives is certainly nothing new but the circumstances surrounding Frank Darabont’s departure from The Walking Dead are unusual because you don’t often see the person in charge of a channel’s biggest hit suddenly let go. Insiders suggests that AMC, relatively new to the original programming game, simply didn’t know how to handle their sudden rise to the top, which is how they found themselves fighting with critical darlings Mad Men and Breaking Bad as well as the unprecedentedly successful zombie drama all at once.

Three days after working Comic-Con 2011, Darabont was unceremoniously dropped from The Walking Dead in what seemed to be a dispute over money. Money for the show, not money for the showrunner. Mad Men’s hefty settlement probably had something to do with TWD’s planned second-season stripped-down budget never being revised, even in the face of great ratings and twice the number of episodes. However, Darabont’s comments about the scuffle probably didn’t help, as the apparently prickly filmmaker went public to talk about how the lack of funds will negatively affect the show. Funny enough, The Walking Dead has significantly improved since his departure but that doesn’t mean AMC was in the right... or does it?

NCIS - Mark Harmon vs. Don Bellisario

A few years ago CBS’ NCIS was on the top of the world. By 2007, the show was one of the biggest (if not the biggest) on television, and still had plenty of room to grow. That is, until lead actor Mark Harmon began having fights with creator Don Bellisario on and off set. CBS did a pretty good job of keeping the details hushed, but the two clearly could not get on the same page about how to shoot and create the hit program. With Harmon putting in long hours, what followed was a huge behind-the-scenes standoff.

The conflict was a lose/lose situation for the network. Either the show’s lead star, Harmon, was going to quit, or the show was going to be forced to displace one of television’s biggest names. CBS eventually chose the actor over the producer and fired Bellasario (I totally get it—have you ever seen Harmon’s serious face?). Heading into Season 5, there was a good chance the show could have crashed and burned, but NCIS didn’t, and the show has increased in the ratings over time. It’s a well-oiled machine, and that’s probably a testament to Bellisario’s early creative work. Just don’t tell Harmon I said that.

Katey Rich

Staff Writer at CinemaBlend