5 Women Recast Between Pilot And Premiere Because Of Looks
By Alex Cranz
The other day I was gabbing with Rebecca and she dropped the bombshell that Rachel Dratch was originally Jenna on 30 Rock. She was kind of not okay with it because they clearly recast Dratch for not meeting a very specific standard of beauty. This led to us talking about other women who were recast because of their looks and that led to this list of five actresses who were recast. Some because they “just didn’t work,” others because studio execs were nervous, and nearly every one of them because some “test audience” out there didn’t like them.
If you’ll learn anything from this list it is that test audiences are apparently THE DEVIL
5. Riff Reagan in Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Joss Whedon doesn’t want you to see it. The cast probably doesn’t want you to see it either, but back in 1996 Whedon, Sarah Michelle Gellar and much of the original cast of Buffy: The Vampire Slayer shot a pilot to show television executives just what they could do.
That that pilot some spawned one of the most critically lauded shows of all time is a little mind-blowing because it is terrible.
And Willow is not the “adorkable” Alyson Hannigan. No. She’s Riff Reagan. She was replaced because, as evidenced in the below video (start at 1:45) she really doesn’t mesh with the cast. Mainly because she looks like she’s in her thirties and probably shouldn’t still be at school worrying about boys in 80s fabulous jackets.
4. Mae Whitman in Bionic Woman
There are a lot of reasons I’m pleased with the failure of the pretty awful 2007 Bionic Woman reboot but the biggest reason is that between pilot and premiere they replaced Mae Whitman.
I am 99% sure you’ve seen Whitman in a show before. She’s Ann Veal from Arrested Development the adorable little girl in One Fine Day, Independence Day, and Hope Floats, the narrator and main heroine of Avatar: the Last Airbender (the show not the terrible movie), and currently she’s one of the very best parts of the consistently excellent Parenthood on NBC.
But in the pilot of Bionic Woman she’s the younger, rebellious and deaf sister of Jaime Sommers. Jaime gets to be sad because she’s raising an angry younger sister and also because she can leap tall buildings in a single bound and her sister can’t hear the phone ring. That little shocking undercurrent of ablism is probably why the sister character was no longer deaf when the show finally hit the airwaves.
But why one earth was the punky and fun Whitman replaced with Lucy Hale?
3. Rachel Dratch in 30 Rock
Yes, originally Rachel Dratch, a gorgeous woman, if a bit unconventional, was cast as the conceited star of the The Girly Show. Testing audiences were not crazy about her and the studios “gently” encouraged Tina Fey to recast the role with someone bustier, blonder, and more traditionally Hollywood pretty.
As Dratch is a good friend of Fey’s (or was at the time) and because Fey felt pretty awful at basically firing Dratch because she wasn’t pretty enough, she recast her in a whole slew of smaller roles in the early seasons. But Dratch is on record as saying that the recasting was one of the most devastating moments of her professional career as it occurred at the exact same time that she left Saturday Night Live.
2. Meg Foster in Cagney and Lacey
Cagney and Lacey remains a rare sunflower of a show. The focal point was always on the relationship between the two women. Men came and went, but never overshadowed that core relationship. We watched them struggle with sexism, alcoholism and working while raising a family.
But back in the first season Cagney looked very different. That’s because she was played by the frosty blue-eyed Meg Foster. She got along well with co-star Tyne Daly and the show did all right in the ratings, but CBS felt the show could do better and they felt that Foster just brought too much masculine energy to the table. They worried she was too “gay.”
So Foster was kicked to the curb and the more familiar Sharon Gless replaced her and Foster probably avoided watching the Emmys for the next seven years because Gless won a whole slew of them for the role Foster created.*
1. Majel Barrett in Star Trek
If you’ve ever seen any version of Star Trek ever you’ve heard the voice of Majel Barrett. Besides being the wife of the creator, Gene Roddenberry, she was also the voice of ever single ship from the original Enterprise back in the 60s to the rebooted on in 2009. If you want to get super technical, she played the same character longer than any other person ever on television, including the current cast of The Simpsons.
But back in 1964 she was cast as the first officer of the USS Enterprise. Known only as Number One by her crew and commander, she was a steely eyed second in command that was incredibly good at her job. Just as in a real naval command, as the first officer she was the person charged with overseeing the crew, being a friend to the captain and keeping everything running smoothly.
And CBS came back after viewing the pilot and claimed that “test audiences” (basically the worst people on the planet) did not find it believable that a woman would be in such a position of power on a space ship and that many actually resented her. So Number One was written out, Spock got a promotion to first officer and Majel Barrett eventually found her way back onto the show as the voice of the ship and as the blond and fun Christine Chapel (also my preteen spirit animal Lwaxana Troi).
*Loretta Swit actually created the role in a made for TV movie, but couldn’t take it to series because she was busy finishing up her run on M*A*S*H*.