Here’s Why These Actors Asked To Leave Their Hit TV Shows

Acting is renowned for being one of the most unstable professions around. So a full-time gig on a hit TV show is surely the dream, right? Well, not for these thespians with itchy feet. From Game of Thrones graduates to Dynasty departees, here’s a look at 40 stars who quit their steady on-screen job and the reasons why.

40. Rob Lowe – The West Wing

Pay disputes are often the main cause of an actor saying goodbye to a hit show. See The West Wing’s Rob Lowe, who, according to CNN, believed that $75,000 every episode wasn’t enough money to walk and talk at the same time. The former Brat Pack star’s career had even been on the skids until he landed the role of Sam Seaborn in the White House drama.

39. Andrew Lincoln – The Walking Dead

You can’t blame Andrew Lincoln for wanting a break from The Walking Dead. The man best known as Rick Grimes had spent no fewer than nine seasons battling zombies in the hit AMC drama. In 2016 the Brit told EW Radio that his family life was also a major factor in his decision. He said, “I have two young children, and I live in a different country, and they become less portable as they get older. It was that simple.”

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38. Kal Penn – House

Here’s a reason for leaving a successful show that you don’t hear too often. Kal Penn chose to wave goodbye to his House character Dr. Lawrence Kutner to take a job in the White House. That’s right: much to everyone’s surprise, the star of stoner comedy franchise Harold and Kumar landed a job as a staff member of the Obama administration.

37. McLean Stevenson – M*A*S*H

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You have to credit McLean Stevenson for his honesty. Back in the ’70s, the actor believed he’d outgrown his Henry Blake character in hit comedy M*A*S*H. Several years later, though, Stevenson admitted to newspaper The Los Angeles Times that he’d been a little hasty. He said, “When I left the show, the mistake was not in leaving; the mistake was that I thought everybody in America loved McLean Stevenson. That was not the case. Everybody loved Henry Blake.”

36. Skeet Ulrich – Riverdale

Props to Skeet Ulrich for telling it exactly like it was about his departure from Riverdale. During an Instagram Live chat, the actor was asked why he’d left his role as FP Jones in the CW hit. Instead of the usual diplomatic response, Ulrich admitted, “I’m leaving Riverdale because I got bored creatively. How’s that? That’s the most honest answer.”

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35. Mandy Patinkin – Criminal Minds

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Mandy Patinkin took an unusual approach when he decided he’d had enough of appearing in Criminal Minds. Instead of informing producers that he wanted to leave the crime procedural, the star simply failed to turn up for filming. Patinkin later told newspaper The New York Times, “It wasn’t the right fit. I made a choice I didn’t want to make. I pushed myself, thinking I needed more fame, more economic security.”

34. John Rhys-Davies – Sliders

John Rhys-Davies appeared to regret signing up to Fox’s sci-fi drama Sliders almost immediately. The Welshman regularly fought with the behind the scenes team about the quality of the script. After two-and-a-half seasons, the writers finally put Rhys-Davies out of his misery and killed off his professor character.

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33. John Amos – Good Times

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Writers on ’70s sitcom Good Times were no doubt relieved when John Amos decided to quit. The actor, who played fan favorite James Evans Sr., was later quoted as saying, “I had a way of voicing my differences against the script that wasn’t acceptable to the creative staff. I mean, the writers got tired of having their lives threatened over jokes.”

32. T.R. Knight – Grey’s Anatomy

T.R. Knight left Grey’s Anatomy after four years due to a breakdown in communication with the medical drama’s behind-the-scenes team. Luckily, the writers didn’t appear to hold a grudge. They wrote Knight’s character Dr. George O’Malley out in heroic circumstances: he sacrificed himself to save a woman from getting knocked down by a bus.

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31. Josh Charles – The Good Wife

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Josh Charles’ decision to leave The Good Wife after four years wasn’t down to any beef. He’d simply had enough of playing his character Will Gardner for so long. The actor later explained at a CBS screening, “Look, it’s a very long season doing a network television show, and somewhere in year four, I kinda felt burnt out. That’s no reflection on how I feel about the show; it’s just more about what I want to do in my life.”

30. Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje – Lost

Hawaii life certainly didn’t appeal to Lost star Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje. The British actor, who played Mr. Eko on the headscratching phenomenon, asked to be written out after three seasons due to feeling homesick. Showrunners Carlton Cuse and Damon Lindelof weren’t totally happy but agreed to his request. They subsequently had his character succumb to the Smoke Monster.

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29. David Caruso – NYPD Blue

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David Caruso’s Detective John Kelly had been one of the most popular characters in NYPD Blue’s first season. So it came as a shock to viewers when he was written out just four episodes into its second. Steven Bochco, the show’s producer, later explained that Caruso had requested to leave after his demands weren’t met. These included every Friday off, a personal office suite and 38-foot trailer and a $60k-per-episode raise!

28. Christopher Abbott – Girls

Christopher Abbott seems to take his craft very seriously. The actor departed from the second season of Girls after feeling that he could no longer connect to his Charlie Dattolo character anymore. Abbott told The New York Times, “It’s not that I only like to play roles I know to a T, but there’s something satisfying about playing parts where you really relate to the characters.”

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27. Nicolette Sheridan – Dynasty

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Nicolette Sheridan was famously killed off in Desperate Housewives after clashing with showrunner Marc Cherry. But her exit from Dynasty’s second season wasn’t for any behind-the-scenes feud. She simply needed the time off from the reboot of the classic prime-time soap to look after her dying mother.

26. Mischa Barton – The O.C.

Mischa Barton made her name playing Marissa Cooper in The O.C. But by the third season of the teen melodrama, the actress had simply fallen out of love with her character. In a piece for her 2016 season of Dancing With the Stars, Barton revealed, “I think I just got to the point where I was like, ‘I’m not sure I’m enjoying this anymore.’”

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25. Dave Chappelle – Chappelle’s Show

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Dave Chappelle enjoyed huge success with his early ’00s sketch series Chappelle’s Show. But the Comedy Central hit also appeared to spark an existential crisis, and the funnyman wrapped things up after just three seasons. He later told CBS This Morning, “I was in this very successful place, but the emotional content of it didn’t feel anything like what I imagined success should feel like. It just didn’t feel right.”

24. Taylor Momsen – Gossip Girl

Taylor Momsen quickly distanced herself from her teen drama past after leaving Gossip Girl toward its fourth-season finale. The star had quit The WB hit to pursue a music career but few were expecting her to reemerge as the frontwoman of a gothic rock band. Momsen later stated she wanted to perform with The Pretty Reckless for the rest of her life.

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23. Topher Grace – That ’70s Show

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A Hollywood star acknowledging that they don’t really need any more money? Yes, in 2018 Topher Grace admitted that his financial stability allowed him to quit his role as That ’70s Show’s Eric Forman and begin pursuing film work with directors whom he admired. The actor told website Indiewire, “I didn’t care [about the size of the role or the salary]. It’s what I wanted to do with my life.”

22. Meghan Markle – Suits

You probably don’t need much explanation for this particular departure. Having bagged herself a prince, Meghan Markle, unsurprisingly, didn’t feel the need to show up on Suits’ set anymore. After seven seasons she left the legal drama, telling the BBC in 2017, “Once we hit the 100-episode marker, I thought, ‘You know, I have ticked this box.’ I feel really proud of the work that I’ve done there, and now it’s time to work as a team [with Harry].”

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21. Steve Burns – Blue’s Clues

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Contrary to rumor, Steve Burns didn’t stop showing up on Blue’s Clues because he died. The host simply didn’t want to go bald on a Nickelodeon educational series. In a 2006 special, Burns explained, “I knew I wasn’t gonna be doing children’s television all my life, mostly because I refused to lose my hair on a kids’ TV show, and it was happening fast.”

20. Jerry Seinfeld – Seinfeld

Jerry Seinfeld could no doubt have continued to play himself, or a version at least, for decades. His eponymous sitcom was one of the most successful of all time, don’t forget. But admirably, the comedian wanted to bow out at the top. Explaining the decision in 1997 to The New York Times, Seinfeld said, “I wanted the end to be from a point of strength. I wanted the end to be graceful.”

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19. Michael Moriarty – Law and Order

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Michael Moriarty felt so strongly about plans to restrict the amount of TV violence that he walked away from both his hit show and his homeland. The Law and Order star believed that Janet Reno’s crusade resorted to censorship. And after a failed revolution against the U.S. attorney general, Moriarty found himself with no option but to leave the long-running procedural. Within a year, he’d emigrated from the United States to Canada too.

18. Katherine Heigl – Grey’s Anatomy

Katherine Heigl first got a reputation for being difficult when she left Grey’s Anatomy in acrimonious circumstances. The actress famously fell out with Shonda Rhimes, the medical drama’s showrunner, after becoming disillusioned with her character Izzie Stevens. In fact, Heigl even pulled out of the race for a prestigious award in 2008 after stating, “I did not feel that I was given the material this season to warrant an Emmy nomination.”

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17. Natalie Dormer – Game of Thrones

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Like seemingly every other character in Game of Thrones, Margaery Tyrell met a gruesome death: in her case after an explosion at the Sept of Baelor. Luckily, the actress who played the queen, Natalie Dormer, was totally fine with going up in smoke. The Brit had actually requested to be written out several months earlier due to a hectic work schedule.

16. Christopher Eccleston – Doctor Who

Christopher Eccleston shocked Whovians everywhere when he left the rebooted Doctor Who after just a single season. So why did the actor leave so hastily? Well, Eccleston told magazine Radio Times in 2016, “My relationship with my three immediate superiors – the showrunner, the producer and co-producer – broke down irreparably during the first block of filming ,and it never recovered. They lost trust in me, and I lost faith and trust and belief in them.”

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15. Sherry Stringfield – ER

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Sherry Stringfield was so fed up working on medical drama ER that she willingly inked a contract that prevented her from taking any other TV job for several years. The actress, who played Dr. Susan Lewis, found the 18-hour days on set particularly tough. In fact, she reportedly suffered from both pneumonia and viral meningitis due to her reduced sleeping times.

14. Chevy Chase – Saturday Night Live

Chevy Chase now acknowledges that his decision to leave Saturday Night Live at the height of its success was a foolish one. The funnyman exited the comedic institution after just one season to wed the girl he’d become besotted with: Jacqueline Carlin. But Chase later admitted to The Los Angeles Times, “The whole thing was crazy because I was a young fellow who was infatuated with the wrong person. Everybody there knew it except me.”

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13. Jeff Conaway – Taxi

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After starring as Kenickie in Grease, Jeff Conaway was cast as Bobby Wheeler in the much-loved sitcom Taxi. But he didn’t take kindly to how his aspiring actor character was portrayed. In fact, Conaway was so offended he ended up quitting the series in 1981. He’s quoted by website E! News as saying, “It was coming down to that same old self-centered, egocentric stereotype everybody already thinks of.”

12. Ruth Wilson – The Affair

Showtime drama The Affair was renowned for its steamy sex scenes. But for one of its stars, there were just a few too many. Ruth Wilson quit the acclaimed series in 2018 after becoming concerned with the amount of times she had to bare flesh. The actress went on to tell Stylist magazine that she “didn’t feel safe” on the set.

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11. Liv Tyler – 911: Lone Star

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Liv Tyler became the latest Hollywood star to gravitate toward the small screen in 2020 when she was cast in Ryan Murphy’s 911: Lone Star. But her venture into TV didn’t last long. The daughter of Aerosmith frontman Steven Tyler quit the emergency services drama after just a single season due to a fear of flying. While the show was filmed in Los Angeles, the actress lived on the other side of the Atlantic.

10. Suzanne Somers – Three’s Company

After four seasons playing Chrissy Snow on Three’s Company, Suzanne Somers believed that she was worth a pay rise. Unfortunately for the actress, producers didn’t agree, and as punishment for her request, they reduced her screen time significantly. Somers subsequently left the sitcom that had made her name on very sour terms.

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9. Damon Wayans – Lethal Weapon

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Damon Wayans cleverly used his character’s famous catchphrase to rule himself out of Lethal Weapon’s fourth season. He told website Electronic Urban Report, “I’m a 58-year-old diabetic, and I’m working 16-hour days… Murtaugh said, ‘Too old for this.’” It’s a great line, but in the end it didn’t have much impact. The Fox show was taken off after the third season anyway.

8. Sandra Oh – Grey’s Anatomy

Sandra Oh played Dr. Cristina Yang for ten seasons of hit medical drama Grey’s Anatomy. So it makes sense why the actress believed she’d taken the character as far as she could. After leaving the Shonda Rhimes show, Oh told website Vulture, “I didn’t feel like, ‘Ugh, that’s all I can do, I’ve done everything.’ It was more than that. It was actually, dare I say it, a sense of satisfaction.”

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7. Wil Wheaton – Star Trek: The Next Generation

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Star Trek: The Next Generation’s Wil Wheaton left the U.S.S. Enterprise after four seasons as Wesley Crusher. At the 2012 Calgary Expo the actor told fans he initially believed this was a “really smart business career move.” But soon Wheaton realized that he’d been a little hasty. He added, “What I was unprepared for was how much I was going to miss the people on this stage. After that ended, I just felt really ashamed of myself.”

6. Jason Priestley – Beverly Hills, 90210

Jason Priestley left Beverly Hills, 90210 shortly before its tenth and final season after believing his character Brandon Walsh had run his course. In 2014 the ex-pin-up told CNN he now wishes he’d said goodbye with everyone else. Priestley said, “I believe that [Aaron Spelling] was pushing the story in a direction that would have had Brandon and Kelly end up together at the end of the show and I think I probably should have stuck around to its fruition.”

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5. Sophia Bush – Chicago P.D.

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Sophia Bush warned Chicago P.D.’s producers after the third season that if work conditions didn’t improve she’d leave the police procedural. Judging by her exit after its fourth, the actress wasn’t impressed with their response. Appearing on Dax Shepard’s podcast Armchair Expert, Bush said, “I feel like I was standing butt-naked, bruised and bleeding in the middle of Times Square, screaming at the top of my lungs, and not a single person stopped to ask if they could help me.”

4. Pauley Perrette – NCIS

Divine intervention appeared to inspire Pauley Perrette to leave NCIS after 15 seasons on the hit procedural. The actress, who played forensic expert Abby Sciuto, told magazine TV Guide, “I believe in God and the universe so firmly. And it just suddenly became blindingly apparent that now was the time.”

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3. Ruby Rose – Batwoman

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Ruby Rose’s work ethic was called into question after she quit her leading role in Batwoman after just a single season. Variety quoted insiders on the comic book show who allegedly claimed that the actress found the long days on set too demanding. Rose’s dislike of Vancouver, where the series is filmed, was also said to be a major factor in her shock departure.

2. Wentworth Miller – Prison Break

Wentworth Miller gave a novel reason for quitting the show that launched him to fame. In 2020 the actor revealed he was escaping from Prison Break for good because he no longer wanted to play characters that were heterosexual. Miller, who played regular prisoner Michael Scofield on the hit show, had confirmed he was gay seven years earlier.

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1. Ted Danson – Cheers

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Ted Danson realized that he’d gotten a little too comfortable serving drinks behind the sitcom world’s most famous bar. And so in 1993 he decided to make the brave move of quitting Cheers, giving up his per-episode salary of $450,000 in the process. Danson later told The New York Times, “I need the lack of safety this show gives me. I need to be shook up a little bit.”

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