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What Happens to Ratings When TV Shows Change Leads

Last night, CBS announced that departing CSI lead actor (and Boyz n the Hood alum) Laurence Fishburne will be replaced on the series next season by Ted Danson. Fishburne was himself a replacement for the show’s original leading actor, William Petersen, who fronted CSI for its first eight seasons before Fishburne took over. The ratings have dipped a touch in the last year, but it is still one of the most popular shows on television — a case where the series and the brand did just fine without the leading actor, and it will presumably continue to thrive once its third lead takes over. (All we have to say about Danson’s participation is this: he better still make time for Bored to Death.)

This turnabout at CSI, the continuation of Two and Half Men with Ashton Kutcher taking over for Charlie Sheen, and this season’s exit of Steve Carell from the leading role of The Office (which will continue for an eighth season, reportedly with British comedienne Catherine Tate stepping in as Dunder-Mifflin manager, and with support from new cast member James Spader), got us thinking about other shows that had soldiered on after losing their leads — and what had happened to them. After the jump, we’ll look at five shows that thrived under new leadership, and five shows that, well, didn’t.

Law & Order

Probably the most famous example (domestically, anyway) of a revolving-door cast was Dick Wolf’s long-running cops-and-lawyers drama, which ran 20 seasons on NBC and had lost its entire original cast (George Dzunda, Dann Floreck, Paul Robinette, Michael Moriarty, and Steven Hill) by halfway through the run (all but Hill were gone by season five). But the actors weren’t the stars of Law & Order, the brand was — as evidenced not only by its long run with a constantly-shifting cast, but by the four spin-off series (and four video games!) it spawned.