Characters Written Off TV Shows For Surprising Reasons

TV can be a brutal business — for actors and viewers alike. Every time you tune in, you run the risk of watching one of your favorite TV characters abruptly succumb to Sudden Death Syndrome. Prestige dramas excel at killing off beloved characters without compunction (or foreshadowing). That's not surprising, considering these shows exist to break your heart. But nowadays, even situation comedies are okay with bumping off major players — and these deaths are rarely informed by storytelling structure. Nervous networks execs, backstage scandals, difficult personalities, and dissatisfied actors can all too easily culminate in a character's untimely demise. Just ask George Costanza's dead fiancée

Of course, ixnayed characters aren't always killed off. Sometimes they leave home for "college," never to return. Or perhaps they're left stranded in Tibet with a five-year supply of opium and some enticingly plump pillows. In very, very, very rare instances, characters are transformed into scary inter-dimensional trees attached to what looks like a talking brain. Why, you ask? Well, the reasons behind these creative decisions are often more bizarre than what winds up onscreen.

Without further ado, let's take a look at a few popular characters who were abruptly written off their television shows — and find out why we were forced to say goodbye. Please note: you're officially in spoiler country now, so don't say we didn't warn you.

​Kal Penn left House to join the West Wing (The real one)

Back in 2009, viewers of the medical drama House were shocked to discover the fate of beloved character Lawrence Kutner, M.D., played by Kal Penn. When the affable young man doesn't show up for work in the season five episode "Simple Explanation," two concerned coworkers head over to his apartment and soon stumble upon his slumped body, complete with a "single gunshot wound to the right temple." He had committed suicide.

As gory as his death was, Kutner's suicide wasn't inspired by backstage malice on the part of producers. Penn asked to leave the show for a unique — in fact, unprecedented — reason: He'd been invited to work in the Obama administration as "the associate director in the White House office of public liaison."

"I've been thinking about [moving into politics] for a while," he told Entertainment Weekly in 2009. "But probably from the time I was a kid, I really enjoyed that balance between the arts and public service." However, he wasn't necessarily pleased to find out his character died in a self-inflicted spray of blood and tears. "That news struck me in the same way we hope it strikes the audience," he revealed. "There was a little bit of anger and some depression."

Penn has since returned to acting to appear in loads of other projects. He even returned to House a few times as a ghostly drug-induced hallucination, as one does.

South Park cooked Chef's goose

In March 2006, Isaac Hayes, a scientologist, was reportedly still very upset about the Scientology-skewering South Park episode "Trapped in the Closet," which originally aired in November 2005. Hayes' camp announced he'd no longer voice the role of Chef, whom he'd played for nine years. He lamented, "There is a place in this world for satire, but there is a time when satire ends, and ... bigotry towards religious beliefs of others begins." 

According to Isaac Hayes III, the musician and voice actor's son, his father "did not quit South Park; someone quit South Park for him." In 2016, Hayes III told The Hollywood Reporter his father suffered a stroke in January 2006 that rendered him unable to speak. He "really didn't have that much comprehension," he revealed, and was allegedly in no condition to make his own decisions. He claimed somebody in his father's circle effectively quit the show on Hayes' behalf. "Everybody around my father was involved in Scientology," he said. "His assistants, the core group of people. ... We don't know who [did it.]"

Following Hayes' departure from the show, South Park killed off his character in "The Return of Chef" episode. While standing on a rope bridge, a bolt of lightning sets Chef on fire. Then he cracks open his head on some jagged rocks, is impaled through the chest by a branch, is torn to pieces by a bear and a lion, and is shot in the chest. 

​Michael J. Anderson never returned to Twin Peaks ​​

When Twin Peaks: The Return premiered on Showtime in May 2017, it was a far cry from the 1990s show that originally aired on ABC. One of several drastic changes was that The Man From Another Place — an otherworldly character portrayed by Michael J. Anderson — had transformed into a treelike entity crowned by what might be a chatty brain. (Just one of those things.) According to a Reddit AMA with executive producer Sabrina Sutherland, "[Director] David [Lynch] loves Michael. David wanted Michael to be in the show. We asked Michael, but he declined the offer."

Why didn't Anderson return? Well, in a since-deleted Facebook post (archived by Lynchland), Anderson reportedly claimed his absence was due to a payment dispute: "We told David at least a year in advance what we valued my participation to be," he allegedly wrote. 

If only the story had remained so cut and dry. Aside from apparently calling the original Twin Peaks "boring" and "hard to watch" (via Mashable), Anderson allegedly made some very bizarre accusations in 2015 that suggest he harbors a lot of ill will towards Lynch. The since-deleted Facebook post (screen-grabbed here) includes several cryptic, extremely offensive items that we won't reprint here.

In 2016, David Lynch's daughter responded to Anderson's claims on Instagram, writing, "I am sorry that Mike is doing this. None of what he says is true, and I hope he receives the help and peace he needs."

Swapped out: Erinn Hayes leaves Kevin Can Wait

When Kevin James' comedy Kevin Can Wait returned for its second season in September 2017, it was without Erinn Hayes, who played his wife in season one. Instead, Leah Remini, the actress who formerly portrayed James' wife on The King of Queens for nine seasons, joined the cast as a lead character. CBS executive Thom Sherman told Variety that, after Remini made a cameo in the season one finale, the "chemistry" between Remini and James was so "amazing" that they "want[ed] to continue that." Meanwhile, Erinn Hayes said she was "very sad" to be "let go from the show," and James confessed her character was killed because everyone was "running out of ideas."

In the season two premiere, the death of her character, Donna Gable, was handled with a profoundly tin ear. At one point, Kevin receives junk mail from her old gym, inspiring some exceedingly clunky exposition: "It's been over a year since she died. They shouldn't still be sending this!" Obscenely, the death is played for belly laughs that never come: Kevin keeps the junk mail because there's a coupon for a free kung-fu class. (Heh?) Future episodes ramp up the non-hilarity, with Kevin using the excuse of a "Parents Without Spouses" grief-counseling meeting to covertly watch football. (Ha...?)

In a blaze of kizmet, Erinn Hayes was scooped up for the series The Dangerous Books for Boys in April 2018. Meanwhile, Kevin Can Wait was cancelled a month later.

​Kevin Spacey played his last card

In October 2017, actor Anthony Rapp told BuzzFeed News something truly chilling: He claimed he'd been aggressively propositioned by Kevin Spacey after a party when he was only 14 years old and Spacey was 26. "My stomach churns," he said. "I still to this day can't wrap my head around so many aspects of it." Spacey responded with a lengthy Twitter statement, claiming he was "beyond horrified" and alleging he couldn't "remember the encounter." He also used the statement to announce he'd "had romantic relationships with men" and "choose[s] now to live as a gay man." By November 2017, at least 14 other men had come forward with allegations about Spacey.

In the wake of the scandal, Netflix cut all ties with the former House of Cards star in November 2017, after acknowledging they were "deeply troubled" by Rapp's story the month before. According to The Hollywood Reporter, the streaming service released a statement announcing they "will not be involved with any further production of House of Cards that includes Kevin Spacey." By December 2017, they announced that the sixth and final season of the political thriller would only be eight episodes long, as opposed to the usual 13. In March 2018, the first teaser trailer gave audiences a taste of what the show would look like without Spacey. Cast member Robin Wright would take the reins, with her character Claire Underwood now at the center of the melodrama. 

Error: T.J. Miller leaves Silicon Valley

"People need a villain, and I'm occupying that space." That's what actor T.J. Miller told Vulture in 2017 when asked about his departure from HBO's Silicon Valley, the alarmingly on-the-nose satire about San Francisco tech wannabes. In May 2017, HBO released a boilerplate statement claiming that "the producers of Silicon Valley and T.J. Miller have mutually agreed that T.J. will not return for season five." When audiences last saw his iconic character Erlich Bachman, he was lost in an opium daze in Tibet, with Hooli CEO Gavin Belson handing off a fat wad of cash to make sure he stayed that way. The plot wrinkle was originally intended to be a cliffhanger. But alas, it appeared to be Bachman's ultimate fate.

Despite HBO's even-keeled statement, Miller was allegedly ousted from the show due to ongoing substance abuse issues that reportedly made him a nightmare to work with. Various people on the show intimated to The Hollywood Reporter that kicking him off Silicone Valley had been in the cards for quite some time. "There are a lot of different ways you can find out somebody doesn't want to do the show anymore," said series creator Mike Judge. "And it's not fun to work with someone who doesn't want to be there, [especially when] they're one of the main people."

​Steve Burns didn't leave Blue's Clues because of college

In 2002, tiny hearts broke all over the world when Steve Burns left the Nickelodeon kiddie cartoon Blue's Clues. By that point, Burns had been the show's sprightly host for seven years. The last we saw of him in his Blue's Clues guise, Burns was leaping onto a bus (a very sketchy-looking computer-animated bus, we might add) with his backpack, suitcase, and inadvisable rugby shirt. The host turned to the screen and announced he was leaving for "college," which sounds euphemistic in this context regardless of your particular age. Meanwhile, his titular cartoon pup Blue (and a sentient alarm clock and downtrodden sand-pail, naturally) watched as Burns disappeared into the distance. 

Rumors ran amok after Burns' departure from the show. Depending on what sketchy source got to you first, Burns either died of a drug overdose, was in the throes of heroin addiction, had been brutally killed in a grotesque car wreck, or, somewhat more cheeringly, had become an adult film star. None of these stories turned out to be true. "I was going bald," he told the Daily Mail in 2017. He joked that his decision to leave was informed by the wardrobe folks, who likely wouldn't "choose a wig with any dignity for me." 

​Why Jeffrey Tambor won't return to Transparent is clear

In November 2017, Transparent actor Jeffrey Tambor was accused of sexually inappropriate behavior by Van Barnes, his former assistant. The same month, guest star Trace Lysette came forward, claiming he'd treated her inappropriately too. Lysette alleged that he'd rubbed against her suggestively and said he wanted to "attack [her] sexually." In response to the ensuing investigation, Amazon revealed to Deadline in February 2018 that Tambor had been fired from the critically acclaimed drama and wouldn't be back to portray transgender parent Maura Pfefferman in the fifth and final season. 

In her own statement to Deadline, show creator Jill Soloway seemed to staunchly support Tambor's removal from the TV show, writing that "anything that would diminish the level of respect, safety and inclusion so fundamental to our workplace is completely antithetical to our principles." Meanwhile, Tambor vehemently denied the allegations, but he admitted to The Hollywood Reporter in May 2018 that he could be "difficult" and "mean" and occasionally "drove [himself] and [his] castmates crazy." 

Complicating matters, Tambor claimed Jill's sister, writing producer Faith Soloway, wrote an email suggesting he was the victim of "a coup," telling him, "You are f***ing fantastic. You have changed the world." Faith confirmed sending the email, saying she "never disbelieved" the allegations but also felt Tambor was "under attack."

​Pushing the envelope: Heidi Swedberg's Seinfeld sayonara

Jason Alexander once called the season seven finale of Seinfeld "the single coldest moment in the history of television." Entitled "The Invitations," the episode features Alexander's character, George Costanza, preparing to marry his fiancée Susan Ross (portrayed by actress Heidi Swedberg). Unfortunately, Susan licks one too many cheaply produced envelopes while getting the wedding invites together. The prolonged exposure to a toxic adhesive winds up killing her. After her eyes roll back in her head, Susan faints on the sofa. Why the sudden death? Well, during a 2015 appearance on The Howard Stern Show, Alexander suggested it was because acting alongside Swedberg was "f***ing impossible".

In fact, after shooting a few scenes with her, Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Jerry Seinfeld allegedly agreed with Alexander's assessment, as did Seinfeld co-creator Larry David. According to Alexander, the four of them went out to coffee and "Julia actually said, 'Don't you want to just kill her?'" For David, this allegedly became the "A-ha" moment — Alexander claims he yelled "Kebang! Now we gotta kill her!" Shortly after his interview with Stern, Alexander apologized on Twitter, writing that Swedberg "is a kind, lovely person who undoubtedly worked really hard." 

Doesn't sound like Swedberg let any of this negative juju get to her, however. A self-proclaimed "native speaker of music," her band Heidi Swedberg and the Sukey Jump Band is a showcase for her singing and ukulele talents. 

McLean Stevenson destroyed M*A*S*H fans

Best known for his stint on the legendary TV drama M*A*S*H, the late actor McLean Stevenson portrayed fan-favorite Colonel Henry Blake from the show's premiere until the character's exit on an iconic 1975 episode. Despite winning a 1974 Emmy nomination and even a Golden Globe Award in 1973, Stevenson grew weary of M*A*S*H and asked to be written off the show so he could seek out better opportunities. Producers acquiesced.

In "Abyssinia, Henry," the final episode of season three, viewers were blindsided by a gut-wrenching final scene that found a choked-up Radar (Gary Burghoff) staggering into an operating room to announce, "Lieutenant Colonel Henry Blake's plane was shot down over the Sea of Japan." 

Viewers wigged out. According to actress Loretta Swit, they were left genuinely surprised and utterly furious. They maniacally wrote and phoned producers, demanding an explanation. Meanwhile, despite establishing himself as a regular presence on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, Stevenson's post-M*A*S*H career never quite took off like he'd hoped. As The New York Post reported, he appeared in four different sitcoms between 1976 and 1983, but none of them caught on. "The mistake was that I thought everybody in America loved McLean Stevenson," he said in the 1991 retrospective Memories of M*A*S*H (via The Los Angeles Times). "That was not the case. Everybody loved Henry Blake."