Before Henry Cavill And The Witcher, 7 Other Lead Actors Who Left Major Shows (And How It Turned Out For Them)

Geralt in Netflix
(Image credit: Netflix)

Over the weekend, fans of Netflix’s The Witcher series got some good news and some bad news. The good news was that the show, which recently wrapped filming on Season 3, would be back for Season 4. The bad news was that Henry Cavill would not be returning in the lead role of Geralt of Rivia. Instead, Liam Hemsworth has been set to take over as the character.

It’s actually been a somewhat rare occurrence in the history of television for the main character, or even a main character, of a series to be recast with a new actor playing the exact same role. Having said that, seeing the stars of a show leave in the middle of a run to be replaced by new actors as new characters is a bit more common. It ends up happening for a number of reasons and has a variety of different results. 

Kate Kane in Batwoman

(Image credit: The CW)

Ruby Rose - Batwoman

The CW’s Batwoman only ran for three seasons, which would barely seem like enough time for a major actor to leave a role. However, Ruby Rose, who was cast as the title hero initially, only lasted the first season before leaving the show and being replaced by a new Batwoman, Javicia Leslie's Ryan Wilder. Rose’s own character, Kate Kane, would also return, but she was played by Wallis Day. 

The exact circumstances of Ruby Rose’s exit have been a topic of much debate with accusations thrown at both sides. The show would end after two more seasons, so it’s impossible to know if it would have survived longer without the change. Rose has continued to make movies, but largely of the smaller VOD type since leaving Batwoman.

Gibbs in cap on NCIS

(Image credit: CBS)

Mark Harmon - NCIS 

NCIS has been on the air for two decades, and while the show has seen multiple cast members come and go in that time, the lead role of Leroy Jethro Gibbs, as played by Mark Harmon, was always there to lead the team and the show. That was, until Season 19, when the role of team leader was officially taken over by Gary Cole's Alden Parker.

After 19 seasons, Harmon’s decision to leave NCIS was simply a case of being done with the show, it was was reported that Harmon would have left sooner if he could have done so without ending the show entirely. Harmon hasn’t done any other movies or TV since leaving NCIS, so if he was looking for a career change, he hasn’t found it yet. It's possible he just wanted the break.

christopher meloni elliot stabler law and order organized crime

(Image credit: NBC)

Christopher Meloni - Law & Order: SVU 

All of the Law & Order series over the years have featured ensemble casts, and most of them have seen people enter and leave the show throughout  the various productions. However, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit was very much the Benson and Stabler show, which made it quite a big deal when Christopher Meloni decided to leave as the latter after 12 seasons following a contract dispute.

Meloni had little trouble finding work as both an actor and a voice actor following his SVU exit. He appeared in several movies and led the SyFy TV series Happy for two seasons. However, he couldn’t stay away from Law & Order, as he’s now back leading Law & Order: Organized Crime, which occasionally results in him returning to SVU every once in a while. 

David Caruso as Det. Kelly in NYPD Blue

(Image credit: ABC)

David Caruso - NYPD Blue 

NYPD Blue was an incredibly popular series that pushed the envelope of what was seen as acceptable on network TV in the early 1990s. It also made stars out of its lead characters, played by David Caruso and Dennis Franz. However, following the show’s incredible first season success, Caruso reportedly wanted a raise that he didn’t get, and he left the show early in the second season.

NYPD Blue would be fine, going on to make 12 seasons of TV with a few more actor changes through the time. Caruso would try to convert his TV stardom to film, but would have limited success. He eventually returned to TV to star in CSI: Miami, a show he would stay with until it was cancelled after 10 seasons.

Michael (Steve Carell) with a band-aid over his cold sore

(Image credit: NBC)

Steve Carrell - The Office 

The Office was a massive television hit that lasted for nine seasons, but only seven of those seasons were led by Steve Carrell as Michael Scott. James Spader would come in to play a new character in Season 8, and Season 9 would largely forego any sort of office leader character, letting the show instead focus on the ensemble that fans had grown to love over so many episodes.

Carrell already had a significant amount of big screen success with movies he had made in between seasons of The Office, so there was little doubt he would find success elsewhere. He’s shown his ability to do drama as well as comedy, and even been nominated for an Academy Award since saying goodbye to The Office.

Sam Seaborn reacts on The West Wing.

(Image credit: HBO Max)

Rob Lowe - The West Wing 

The West Wing’s cast was made up of established character actors combined with a few bigger name stars. Considering the size of the cast and the seven years the show was on the air, it’s surprising there wasn’t more turnover in the cast. That said, one actor who did leave after three seasons was Rob Lowe, one of the bigger names in the cast at the beginning. Like others on this list, Lowe was looking for a raise that he did not receive.

Rob Lowe’s character would be replaced by frequent Aaron Sorkin player Josh Molina. Lowe would go on to become a series regular in several other projects including Brothers & Sisters and Parks & Recreation, but he would leave those shows eventually as well. He’s currently playing the lead in 9-1-1: Lone Star which will begin its fourth season next year with Lowe still in the cast.

Shelly Long as Diane in Cheers

(Image credit: NBC)

Shelley Long - Cheers 

At this point Cheers may be best known for launching the spinoff Frasier, which is on its way back yet again, but throughout most of the ‘80s and early ‘90s, it was one of the most popular sitcoms on TV. Much of the focus of the early seasons was on the relationship between Sam and Diane played by Ted Danson and Shelley Long. This became a problem when Long decided to leave the show in 1987.

Long would see her role replaced by Kirstie Alley and the show would continue to find success. Long would follow up Cheers with the comedy film Troop Beverly Hills, which would be her most successful film project until she played Carol Brady in The Brady Bunch Movie and its sequel. 

Henry Cavill was already a star before he became Geralt of Rivia in The Witcher, and with the news that he’ll be back playing Superman again at some point, there’s little need to worry about him. What happens to the show is a very different question, and one we won’t be able to answer for some time. Keep track of what shows are currently airing with our 2022 TV schedule.

Dirk Libbey
Content Producer/Theme Park Beat

CinemaBlend’s resident theme park junkie and amateur Disney historian, Dirk began writing for CinemaBlend as a freelancer in 2015 before joining the site full-time in 2018. He has previously held positions as a Staff Writer and Games Editor, but has more recently transformed his true passion into his job as the head of the site's Theme Park section. He has previously done freelance work for various gaming and technology sites. Prior to starting his second career as a writer he worked for 12 years in sales for various companies within the consumer electronics industry. He has a degree in political science from the University of California, Davis.  Is an armchair Imagineer, Epcot Stan, Future Club 33 Member.