Sudden TV Character Exits We Didn’t See Coming

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The exits of main characters on fan-favorite shows are always the most disappointing and often most emotional episodes. Although many stars give lots of warning when they decide to move on from hit series, there have been many other times when their departure has been completely abrupt, and sometimes they weren’t even given proper sendoffs. Here are sudden TV character exits that we never saw coming:

35. Jon Seda – Chicago P.D.

The Chicago series have seen more than their fair share of stars coming and going, and then Chicago P.D. had to say goodbye to Jon Seda. In July 2019 it was reported that Seda, who played Detective Antonio Dawson, would not be returning as a series regular. Reports indicated that “Seda’s character on Chicago P.D. had played out,” according to Deadline. His abrupt exit made it unclear how they were going to explain his character’s absence as fans were left reeling from the sudden exit.


34. Afton Williamson – The Rookie

In early August 2019, actress Afton Williamson shocked fans when she revealed she would not be returning to The Rookie for its second season after a successful first season. The news was especially disappointing because her character Talia Bishop was a true highlight of the Nathan Fillion led series, but the actress revealed she made her decision to leave after experiencing racism and sexual harassment on-set. “Throughout the filming of the pilot, I experienced Racial Discrimination/Racially Charged inappropriate comments from the hair department and bullying from Executive Producers,” Williamson disclosed in a lengthy Instagram post.


33. Hilarie Burton and Chad Michael Murray – One Tree Hill

Losing one main star is a blow to any television show, but losing the central two almost always means the end. For One Tree Hill, the exit of both Hilarie Burton and Chad Michael Murray who happened to play the show’s central couple Peyton Sawyer and Lucas Scott, actually didn’t mean the end, but fans were still devastated. Many couldn’t believe that both stars chose to leave the show at the end of season 6, during the height of the show’s popularity. Despite the surprising exits, the show continued on for three more seasons with a few small appearances by Murray.

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32. Amy Carlson – Blue Bloods

For seven seasons, Amy Carlson was one of the main characters of the hit series Blue Bloods, and the actress stunned everyone when she did not return for season 8. Despite her contract being up, there was no indication that she wasn’t going to sign on for more seasons and fans still haven’t recovered from learning in the season 8 premiere that her character Linda Reagan had died in a helicopter crash. Even Carlson’s costars spoke out about their disappointment over her character’s exit with Bridget Moynahan stating at the time, “It was unfortunate that she made that decision at the end of season 7, so we were stuck with the story line as we could get it … But I’m really thrilled for her to go off and pursue other things and follow what she felt was best for her.”

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31. Josh Charles – The Good Wife

Josh Charles’ The Good Wife character Will Gardner’s time on the show ended abruptly during season five when he was shot in the head in the courtroom by one of his clients. While Will’s death came as a shock to viewers, the character’s death had been in the works since the previous spring when the actor approached the creators Michelle and Robert King about leaving at the end of season four when his contract was up. Instead of leaving them scrambling to figure out what to do, Julianne Margulies was able to convince him to stay for one more seasons so they could work in the surprising exit.

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30. Ruby Rose – Batwoman

After scoring the lead role of a lifetime as Batwoman/Kate Kane in The CW’s superhero series Batwoman, Ruby Rose stunned everyone by exiting the role after only one season. In May she shared “I have made the very difficult decision to not return to Batwoman next season. This was not a decision I made lightly as I have the utmost respect for the cast, crew and everyone involved with the show in both Vancouver and in Los Angeles. I am beyond appreciative to Greg Berlanti, Sarah Schechter and Caroline Dries for not only giving me this incredible opportunity, but for welcoming me into the DC universe they have so beautifully created. Thank you Peter Roth and Mark Pedowitz and the teams at Warner Bros. and The CW who put so much into the show and always believed in me. Thank you to everyone who made season one a success — I am truly grateful.” Of course, to make matters worse The CW has confirmed they will be recasting the role, which is a difficult task for any series.

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29. Mandy Patinkin – Criminal Minds

Criminal Minds was an instant hit when it first premiered but over its many seasons there have been several changes in the cast, and many were complete surprises. One of the most abrupt exits on the show was back in season three when Mandy Patinkin decided only a few episodes into season three that he no longer wanted to be a part of the show. After starring as BAU Unit Chief Jason Gideon in the first two seasons, Patinkin’s character was critical to the show, and he gave no warning of wanting to leave. “He gave us no advance notice that anything was wrong, no opportunity to find a way to make the loss of this character work, no indication that we should be looking for someone else,” executive producer Ed Bernero said. Reports stated he simply stopped reporting to work, while years later the actor revealed he had become uncomfortable with the show’s repetitive disturbing content and said he didn’t realize that is what he had signed up for.

Carole Segal/CBS ©2005 CBS

28. Kate Mara – House of Cards

Kate Mara played Zoe Barnes, an ambitious young journalist, on House of Cards. While she may have known about the fate of her character from the very beginning, viewers certainly didn’t. No one was expecting her character’s untimely end when she met Frank Underwood (played by Kevin Spacey) in a subway station. What transpired was really shocking. As Zoe questioned Frank about Peter Russo’s death and his possible involvement, he threw her in front of an incoming subway train. Everyone assumed Mara and her character would be around for quite some time on the show, but that certainly wasn’t the case.

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27. Christopher Meloni – Law & Order: SVU

As one of the stars of one of the longest-running US live-action series in TV history, actor Chris Meloni had a good thing going on Law & Order: SVU, and no one anticipated he would just leave. After 12 seasons as Elliot Stabler, Meloni made the decision to exit the series after the season 12 finale was filmed. This meant that producers and writers had to quickly pull together an explanation for his absence in season 13, and a proper sendoff episode could not be done which devastated audiences.


26. Mischa Barton – The O.C.

No one had a clue that Mischa Barton’s character was going to be killed off of The O.C. at the end of season three. She was pretty much a staple on the show. We had all been watching her character struggle for three years and many of us had grown attached. Marissa Cooper’s relationship with Ryan Atwood, played by Benjamin McKenzie had also been a major plot point. Every season without fail these two would break up and make up. There were many rumors about the reasons behind Barton’s exit, but in the end it didn’t matter as the show was unable to survive too much longer without her.

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25. Adam Levine – The Voice

Even reality TV shows can have unexpected exits, and that was the case with The Voice. After 16 seasons as a coach on the popular singing compeition series, Adam Levine left everyone stunned with the news that he wouldn’t be returning — which was announced shortly after NBC confirmed him as one of the coaches for season 17. Due to Levine’s abrupt decision, NBC had to quickly fill his chair with former coach Gwen Stefani.  “After 16 seasons, Adam Levine, our beloved coach and friend, has decided to leave The Voice,” host Carson Daly announced on the Today show in May 2019. “Adam was one of the original coaches that launched the show, winning the competition three times and inspiring many of the artists he worked closely with over the years.”

Tara Ziemba/Getty Images for NBC

24. Thomas Gibson – Criminal Minds

Yet another of Criminals Minds unexpected exits came surrounded by quite a bit of controversy. For over 11 seasons, Thomas Gibson starred as Supervisory Special Agent Aaron “Hotch” Hotchner on the series, but his time on the show came to a screeching halt only a couple episodes into season 12. After an on-set altercation with a writer-producer, Gibson was briefly suspended from the show before CBS took quick action to just fire him entirely. The sudden exit meant a storyline had to be created explaining his absence while the rest of the cast had to step in to fill the major void left by his abrupt firing.

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23. Emmy Rossum – Shameless

In the summer of 2018, actress Emmy Rossum revealed that she would be leaving Shameless after the season 9 finale, and fans were stunned. While she did give warning with a lengthy and emotional Instagram post about her decision to leave the show and her role as Fiona Gallagher behind, it didn’t make the exit any easier for fans. Luckily, the series left it open for Rossum to return if she chooses to do so for any of the upcoming eleventh and final season. “I think she’s so central to the family and to the show that we’ll certainly keep her progress abroad alive. Some of it will depend on Emmy and if she wants to do a scene or a phone call here or there. It was so emotional with her leaving,” showrunner John Wells said.

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22. Jonathan Taylor Thomas – Home Improvement

There was no denying that Jonathan Taylor Thomas was the breakout star of Home Improvement, which meant many were devastated when the actor decided to leave the series midway through its final season in order to attend University. Although it was important for the actor to attend post-secondary (he enrolled in Harvard and then Columbia) fans were just disappointed that after seven a half seasons he couldn’t finish out the remaining half of season eight to say farewell to the series.

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21. Connie Britton – Nashville

Nashville certainly had more than its fair share of trials and tribulations during its run on TV, and one of those hurdles included losing central star Connie Britton. In a surprise move, halfway through the fifth season, Britton decided she wanted to pursue other opportunities in her career, which led to producers and writers having to figure out the tragic demise of her character Rayna James. The loss of Britton on the show is something that many fans still aren’t over, even long after the show has come to an end.

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20. Patrick Dempsey – Grey’s Anatomy

Fans were blindsided by Derek Shepherd’s dramatic exit on Grey’s Anatomy. He had just saved four car accident victims and then his car got hit by a semi-truck, which landed him on his deathbed. Talk about life being unfair! Naturally, no one was happy about this and Twitter erupted with some fans saying that they were going to stop watching the show! These may have been idle threats because enough people are still watching and the show has continued on for many seasons without Dempsey.

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19. Lori Loughlin – Fuller House/When Calls The Heart

Following the news of Lori Loughlin’s involvement in the Operation Varsity Blues scam, the actress was quickly dropped by the Hallmark Channel and the hit series When Calls the Heart and reports indicated she was not expected to return to Fuller House either, which left both series scrambling to explain the sudden absence of her characters. After the ordeal, Netflix said there were “no plans” for Loughlin’s Aunt Becky to appear in the fifth and final season of the series, but since she was just a recurring character, her absence would not impact the final storylines.

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18. Cote de Pablo – NCIS

Fans weren’t the only ones who were shocked when Cote de Pablo announced that she was leaving NCIS after eight seasons – her fellow cast members were too! Pauley Perrette only found out 20 minutes before it was released in the press! While de Pablo was happy with how her character Ziva David’s storyline with Michael Weatherly’s character Tony DiNozzo was wrapped up, fans weren’t satisfied. They were so upset that they petitioned the studio to bring her back!

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17. Nina Dobrev – The Vampire Diaries

When The Vampire Diaries was planning its seventh season, its central star Nina Dobrev was planning her exit. The actress, who played Elena Gilbert, left fans stunned when she announced that she was exiting the series after six seasons, sharing  “I always knew I wanted Elena’s story to be a six season adventure, and within those six years I got the journey of a lifetime.” While she was done with the show, the network was not and had to figure out a way to keep the storyline and surrounding characters going without the lead actress.

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16. Ryan Hurst – Sons of Anarchy

Ryan Hurst’s character on Sons of Anarchy, Harry “Opie” Winston, was a fan favorite. When his character was written off, fans weren’t the only ones left bitterly disappointed – Hurst was too! “I couldn’t stop crying. I tried to talk him out of it,” he told Entertainment Weekly, referring to the show’s creator Kurt Sutter . “I went through Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’ stages of grief. He wasn’t sure of the particulars yet, just that it was gonna be bloody and gonna be noble…I didn’t see the way that it served the story. But then again, it’s not necessarily my position to comment on that. It’s Kurt’s show that he created, and whether it’s the right decision or the wrong decision, remains to be seen.” During the table read for the episode when Opie dies, the entire cast got quite emotional. “We finished reading the script and basically sat crying in silence for about 45 minutes afterwards. None of us could go back to work. It was such a profound thing,” Hurst said.

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15. Roseanne Barr – Roseanne

There have been very few TV controversies quite as big as Roseanne Barr’s firing from her very own show, Roseanne. During its original run, Roseanne was one of the most popular American family sitcoms on TV, and no other revival was as highly anticipated when it was announced that the original cast was returning 20 years later for a 10th season in 2018. After massive success and renewal for an 11th season, the revival was brought to a complete halt when Roseanne Barr’s offensive and racist tweets caused ABC to swiftly fire her. ABC continued to surprise fans when it quickly re-purposed the series and cast for a brand new spinoff series The Conners, which promptly killed off Barr’s character.

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14. Pauley Perrette -NCIS

Mid-way through season 15 of one of TV’s longest-running series, star Pauley Perrette shockingly announced that she would be leaving at the end of the season. Perrette had been one of the main stars of NCIS since it premiered, and fans refused to believe they were losing their beloved Abby Sciuto. What made the exit even more surprising was all the news that came after that included reports of a feud between Perrette and NCIS star Mark Harmon, as well as Perrette alleging that she had suffered “multiple physical assaults” on set that led to her exit.

Photo by Cliff Lipson/CBS

13. Danny Masterson – The Ranch

Netflix’s The Ranch proved to be a major hit thanks to its unapologetic comedy, and the chemistry between former That ’70s Show costars Ashton Kutcher and Danny Masterson as brothers Colt and Rooster Bennett. After serious accusations surfaced against Masterson, many were shocked with how swiftly Netflix fired him from the show. Of course, no one working on the series was prepared for the actor’s sudden exit, and a story had to be quickly created explaining his absence. Unfortunately the show was never the same after the exit and pulled through only a few more seasons before calling it quits at the end of season 7.

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12. Jake T. Austin – The Fosters

Jake T. Austin was extremely popular in the role of Jesus Adams-Foster in the hit family drama The Fosters, which mean no one saw it coming when the young actor decided to depart the series after season two. Austin announced the news on Twitter out of nowhere, stating, “I’m honored to have been a part of such a groundbreaking series, but I personally want to let you know that my time on the show….has come to an end. Thank you for letting me be a part of your family, it’s been a pleasure. -JTA” He offered no other insight into his sudden departure, and many believed his character was going to be written off with the season two finale’s ominous car crash. Instead, ABC had another surprise for fans when the network made the decision to simply recast the character with Noah Centineo.

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11. Shemar Moore – Criminal Minds

Shemar Moore stunned fans when it was revealed that he was leaving Criminal Minds after 11 seasons on the show. Although fans already suspected that something was amiss when his character, Derek Morgan, announced during the season finale that he was leaving the BAU to focus on his family, they weren’t prepared for his departure from the series. One of the big reasons that Moore left the series was to find some balance in his life: “I need balance in my life. I love what I do for a living, I love it from ‘action’ to ‘cut,’ but I also want to walk my dogs, travel, get married, have kids. I want balance, and it’s hard to do with the schedule that we have.”

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10. Michelle Rodriguez – Lost

The loss of Michelle Rodriguez’s character on Lost may have surprised some, but Ana-Lucia Cortez’s death was planned from the very beginning. “I planned on leaving this season anyway,” she said. “I told them, I wanna go in and go out with bang. I didn’t know when it was gonna happen. They actually wanted to give the story line some time. They wanted to give it until the middle of next year. But I was ready to go.” Rodriguez revealed that she was told her character was supposed to be different than what was shown on-screen and when her character was never given an arc, the actress was done with the role.

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9. Jared Harris –  Mad Men

Jared Harris portrayed Lane Pryce on Mad Men. During season five, his character was caught embezzling money from Sterling Cooper and takes his own life after Don Draper catches him and fires him. This took many fans off guard, including Harris who revealed he found out about his time on the show coming to an end at the read-through. “Matt Weiner said, ‘I have something to tell you,’ and I went, ‘Uh-oh, this doesn’t sound good man.’ And he goes, ‘I’m really sorry, it’s not,’” Harris told Huffington Post.

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8. Shannen Doherty – Beverly Hills, 90210

Shannen Doherty was arguably the biggest star on Beverly Hills, 90210. When the show first started, her character, Brenda Walsh, and her family, specifically her brother Brandon, were the main focus; however, as time passed, the other characters at Beverly Hills High School began to play a bigger part. Rumor has it that Doherty didn’t like that and began to create chaos on set as a result. Everyone tired of it. At the end of season four, she was written off the show and replaced by Tiffani Amber Thiessen. Of course, Doherty managed to fit one more abrupt exit into her career after her character Prue Halliwell was written off the hit series Charmed. Since there could be no Power of Three with only two Halliwell sisters, the network had to devise a storyline to introduce a brand-new sister and continue the series.

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7. Charlie Sheen – Two and a Half Men

Two and a Half Men was one of the most successful sitcoms of the early 2000’s, and a lot of the credit was given to star Charlie Sheen. However, after Sheen’s erratic behavior turned into a feud with series creator Chuck Lorre, Lorre had a tough decision to make. Due to the popularity of the show he decided to take the major risk of firing Sheen after season eight but continue the show. The loss of Sheen’s Charlie Harper definitely altered the comedy of the series, but it managed to survive for several more seasons with Ashton Kutcher as the new lead much to the surprise of fans.

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6. Suzanne Somers – Three’s Company

Three’s Company is one of the most iconic sitcoms of its time and is still enjoyed by fans in reruns, but the show suffered a serious blow with the sudden exit of Suzanne Somers. For four seasons Somers starred as the gorgeous Chrissy Snow, but everything changed in season five when the actress got into a dispute over salary. As tensions continued, she was eventually fired and her character was simply gone while fans were told that Chrissy had to move to Fresno to care for her ailing mother. Most Three’s Company fans will say that after she was replaced by Jenilee Harrison as Cindy Snow is when the show began to go downhill.

c) ABC Television/ Courtesy: Everett Collection.

5. Grace Park and Daniel Dae Kim – Hawaii Five-O

Few reboots and revivals have done quite as well as Hawaii Five-O, but the series hasn’t been without its surprises. After season seven, both Daniel Dae Kim and Grace Park made the jaw-dropping decision to leave the show, and audiences couldn’t believe they were losing not one but two major characters without any warning. Afterwards, Kim revealed that “CBS and I weren’t able to agree to terms on a new contract.” It was late revealed that both Park and Kim asked for equal pay to Alex O’Loughlin and Scott Caan however CBS wasn’t willing to do that.

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4. Stana Katic – Castle

Stana Katic’s character on Castle, Kate Becket, was beloved by fans, so naturally, they were shocked when it was suddenly announced that she would be leaving after season eight. While ABC initially claimed that her departure was due to budgetary reasons, it then came out that she and her co-star Nathan Fillion weren’t getting along behind the scenes and that Katic had been unhappy for a while. At first it seemed as though the show might go on for a ninth season without its lead actress; however, ABC ultimately decided to cancel the long-running series after the eighth season.

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3. Clayne Crawford – Lethal Weapon

Some abrupt exits aren’t choices made by the stars at all, and that was also the case for actor Clayne Crawford. Despite high ratings for the television adaptation of Lethal Weapon,  following season two, reports surfaced that FOX was considering axing the series because of problems with star Clayne Crawford and rumors swirled that if the network decided to go ahead with a season three, it would be without him. In mid-May, the shocking news came that FOX had indeed fired Crawford and the show would be continuing on without Martin Riggs. In addition to cutting the major star, the network announced it had hired Seann William Scott to fill the void as a new partner for Wayans’ Murtaugh.

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2. Sophia Bush – Chicago P.D.

One of the most talked about and unexpected TV exits was back in 2017 when Sophia Bush decided to leave the series Chicago P.D. after its fourth season. The exit was particularly jolting because Bush played the lead role of Detective Erin Lindsay, and the series was not prepared for its main character to just not return for season five. The actress later explained that she was extremely unhappy with things behind the scenes and had warned her bosses that if things didn’t change she would leave the show and end her contract early. When her working conditions didn’t improve, Bush did leave, surprising everyone, especially fans.

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1. Justin Chambers – Grey’s Anatomy

Over its many years and many seasons, Grey’s Anatomy fans have had to say goodbye to nearly all of the original cast, but one of the hardest exits was from Justin Chambers. The actor had starred as Dr. Alex Karev ever since the hit medical drama premiered and was just one of four original cast members left before he stunned fans in early January 2020 with the news that he was leaving the series. It got even more difficult for fans when it was revealed that Chambers last episode aired before the mid-season break in November 2019, and they would not be getting a proper send-off for his character.

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Telisa Carter

Telisa Carter

Telisa enjoys learning and writing about all things entertainment in the world of Hollywood. When she isn't catching up on her favorite TV shows, she likes to read, and obsess over all things football.