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The Character Switch

July 3, 2012

Over the course of time, you develop a kinship with certain television and movie characters. Then for reasons such as a contract fallout or an untimely incident, the character is replaced. In some instances, the producers take the public as naive and inexcusably bring in another actor to reprise the role. In other instances, they replace the character altogether with a new character that has a similar story arc. Sometimes it works out. Other times it does not. Here is a list of some notables characters who were the recipients of a switch in television and film:

Vivian Banks (Fresh Prince of Bel Air)

You had to love Banks family. They really welcomed you into their home. Over time, you learned to value Uncle Phil’s sternness. You grew to understand Hilary’s pretentiousness. You respected Geoffrey’s no bullshit approach. You really came to know them. Then Vivian Banks was white. It was like putting John Paxson in a Michael Jordan jersey and thinking that nobody would notice. It was ridiculous. The producers pulled a fast one on us. So what really happened? The actress who played Aunt Viv became pregnant and had to be replaced. Whether or not they could have cast someone who looked more like the original actress is something no one will ever know.

Tori (Saved By The Bell)

Tori Scott was a tough biker rebel who joined Saved By The Bell to replace Jessie Spano, who may have been in rehab for caffeine pill addiction. In truth, she was brought in during the final season after Tiffani-Amber Thiessen and Elizabeth Berkley had contract disputes. She was on the show for 10 episodes during the 1992-1993 season. Michael Jackson had his white glove, Queen Elizabeth had her hat, and Tori had her black leather jacket. She wore it everywhere. She wore it around Bayside, in an earthquake, over a toga at a toga party, and over her blue prom dress. Her leather jacket was retired after her brief stint and she was not invited back for the reunion show.

Rusty Griswold (National Lampoon’s Vacation)

Every National Lampoon’s Vacation movie featured a new Rusty. Every film also featured a new Audry. Anthony Michael Hall, who played the original Rusty in Vacation, was riding a gravy train with biscuit wheels back in 1985. He turned down the reprise of the role in favor of playing Gary in Weird Science and later in the year would join Saturday Night Live at age 17. Searching for a replacement, the producers settled for Jason Lively for European Vacation. You would know him as Brooke Lively’s brother. He had one of the all-time best mop tops. He looked like an adult fragglerock. Euro Rusty was smooth as evidenced by his night club moves and his “Dad, I think he’s gonna pork her” line was one of the best in the series. The Christmas Vacation Rusty was played by the kid from Roseanne. The Vegas Vacation Rusty was played by the kid from Can’t Hardly Wait. All of them had decent careers.

Willie Mays Hayes (Major League)

“You may run like Hayes, but you hit like %#^*” –Lou Brown describing Willie Mays Hayes. After Wesley Snipes failed to negotiation his contract for the sequel, the producers decided to have Omar Epps revive the role for Major League 2. It didn’t work. Pedro Cerrano, Rick Vaughn, Roger Dorn, and Jake Taylor all came back but the cast lacked the continuity of the original. On a side note, the guy who played Harris in Major League may have one of the best sports movie resumes ever. He was in Major League, Hoosiers, and Rudy.

Captain Tom Everett (Caddyshack 2)

Bill Murray’s Carl Spackler was one of the most iconic movie characters of all-time. Murray knew he had too much of a good thing going with Caddyshack and decided not to come back for the sequel. Smart move. Dan Aykroyd was not blessed with such intuition. He decided to play Captain Tom Everett, a poor Man’s version of Spackler who had the same task of chasing gophers around. The role was a bomb and so was the film. It grossed slightly less than $12 million on a $20 million budget. Aykroyd’s was awarded a Golden Raspberry for Worst Supporting Actor. In my view, it was the worst movie sequel ever made.

Valerie Malone (Beverly Hills 90210)

This is one of the few character switches that could easily have been viewed as an upgrade. With Brenda Walsh off to London, the producers of 90210 needed to bring in someone to spice up the ratings. Enter vixen Valerie Malone. It was a watershed moment. There wasn’t a red blooded male alive that wasn’t happy to see Kelly Kapowski back on screen in her prime. It was like Michael Jordan returning to the Bulls from AAA baseball. Valerie started off quite harmless and then became quite scandalous. She made more moves than a bowl of jello on a roller coaster. She made moves on Dylan, Ray Pruit, Brendan, and even on Donna Martin’s David. Nat was the only guy she passed on. Shannon Doherty was an iconic bitch and a tough character to replace but Valerie filled in her shoes quite nicely.

Harriet Winslow (Family Matters)

When you think of character switches and Family Matters, the first thing that comes to mind is the transformation of Steve Urkel to the uber cool Stefan Urquelle. However, Harriet Winslow went through a change as well. During the last season, the show switched the actresses that played Harriet. By that point, they could just have easily switched her with the grandmother from Dinosaurs because no one was really watching the show anymore. Nonetheless, Harriet and the show had a great run on TGIF and her husband Carl Winslow would go on to have a strong acting career doing what he does best: playing a cop.

Morty Seinfeld and Frank Constanza (Seinfeld)

Over the course of Seinfeld, there were two actors who played Jerry’s dad. The guy who probably did it best was Barney Martin. You know him as the man who invented the belt less trench coat. There were also two actors who played Frank Constanza. John Randolph, who played Clark Griswold’s dad in Christmas Vacation, played Frank early on in the show. Then he was replaced by the legendary Jerry Stiller. It was a great switch. The switch gave way for the creation of the manssiere, Festivus, and gave hope for lawyers everywhere who had capes. We were all better for it.

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