The goal of a great TV show is often to keep us coming back for more juicy drama — but some shows have had juicier storylines happening behind the camera than in front of it.
With the highly collaborative nature of show business, it makes sense that there would be disagreements on the set, especially when you factor in the insane pressure that comes with making a hit series. While many shows have survived friction between actors, creative talent and network executives, others have fallen apart when the backstage atmosphere became too toxic.
These are some of the most successful shows that either met their demise early or saw major creative changes because of behind-the-scenes drama.
‘The Ellen DeGeneres Show’ (2003-Present)
One of the most popular talk shows in TV history has recently had its reputation severely undone by reports of a toxic backstage culture for its crew and guests. “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” has been on the air in syndication since 2003 and looked like it would be on the air until its host, beloved comedian Ellen Degeneres, decided she was finished. But following a bombshell BuzzFeed report about rampant bullying behind the scenes, the show’s future is in serious doubt.
Even if the show returns, its perception as a safe space where kindness is at the forefront has likely been destroyed forever.
The backstage tension among the main cast members on The WB’s “Charmed” was so severe that it essentially broke the show’s run into two distinct halves. When the series debuted in 1998, Alyssa Milano and Shannen Doherty co-starred as two of a trio of sister witches and it was an instant hit. But the two actors ended up hating each other, making things very uncomfortable on set and leading Doherty to be jettisoned from the cast after three seasons. Rose McGowan was brought in to replace her for the rest of the run, but she had her own problems with Milano, later saying the star created an atmosphere that was “toxic af.”
It’s honestly amazing the show lasted eight seasons with so much drama backstage, but its reputation and main cast were certainly undone by the issues.
Despite being popular with viewers, CBS’s “Cybill” was loaded with behind-the-scenes turmoil that led to an early demise and has given it a notorious legacy. The sitcom starred Cybill Shepherd as a struggling actor and single mom named Cybill Sheridan. The series was created by TV comedy icon Chuck Lorre, but he was fired shortly into its run as Shepherd took over more creative control. Shepherd also reportedly resented co-star Christine Baranski after she won an Emmy Award in a supporting role, creating a toxic atmosphere on set. That’s what caused co-star Alan Rosenberg t0 call working on the series the “worst job” he’s ever had.
‘Designing Women’ (1986-1993)
In the mid-1980s, CBS’s “Designing Women” was a forerunner of diversity on TV, thanks to its creator being a woman and its main cast being made up of four women and a Black man. Unfortunately, backstage disagreements and creative differences made the peak of its run shorter than it probably should have been. The titular women — played by Delta Burke, Dixie Carter, Annie Potts and Jean Smart — had remarkable chemistry onscreen and mostly got along backstage but Burke began causing problems for creator Linda Bloodworth-Thomason after she reportedly started viewing herself as the “star” of the ensemble show.
Burke was fired before the fifth season, at the peak of its ratings success, and Smart would leave shortly thereafter, making the beloved cast a shell of itself for its final two seasons.
‘The West Wing’ (1999-2006)
NBC’s “The West Wing” is widely regarded as one of the greatest TV shows ever made but it could’ve been even better had backstage drama not hobbled it in the middle of its run. Creator Aaron Sorkin’s fingerprints were on nearly every script from the first four seasons of the series, which made his sudden departure particularly jarring. Sorkin, along with executive producer Thomas Schlamme, quit “The West Wing” in a huff before the fifth season, due to increasing pressure from the network and issues with the show’s budget getting out of control.
When Sorkin was leading the show, it won four consecutive Emmys for best drama series, but it never won that honor again following his exit.
‘NYPD Blue’ (1993-2005)
The groundbreaking police procedural “NYPD Blue” was one of the most successful and long-running prime-time shows in network TV history, but it was rife with behind-the-scenes drama that drastically altered its run. When the show debuted on ABC in 1993, it starred David Caruso and Dennis Franz and was hailed as an instant-classic series by critics that was also a hit with viewers. But the success led Caruso to clash with co-creator David Milch in an epic battle of egos that saw Caruso quit the show after a single year without so much as a goodbye to his co-workers.
Milch — who we’ll hear about more in this list — was also infamously tough to work with because of his difficult writing style and penchant for redoing scripts on the fly. He eventually quit the series after seven seasons but not before his leadership style led scores of actors in the main cast to quit before him.
‘Fantasy Island’ (1977-1984)
One of the strangest shows of the 1970s enjoyed a long run on ABC before a major backstage conflict caused it to fall apart. “Fantasy Island” was produced by TV icon Aaron Spelling and made an unlikely star out of Hervé Villechaize, the 4-foot-tall French actor who co-starred alongside Ricardo Montalbán as a pair who ran a mysterious island resort that granted its guests’ wildest wishes. Everything was going along swimmingly until Villechaize demanded a bigger salary and quit when the producers didn’t agree.
His exit would severely dent the show’s popularity, leading it to be axed just a year later.
‘Good Times’ (1974-1979)
The CBS series “Good Times” was a sitcom landmark for its down-to-earth depiction of a working-class Black family, but it should’ve had a much longer run. The show starred veteran actors John Amos and Esther Rolle as parents to three children living in a Chicago government housing project. However, Jimmie Walker, who played their son, J.J., became the breakout star and it quickly led to resentment as he overshadowed the two stars. Amos was fired from the show after just three seasons and Rolle left after the fourth before returning in an awkward bit of writing for the sixth and final season.
The abrupt departures of both heads of the Evans family wrecked the entire dynamic of this comedy.
More than 20 years after “Roseanne” wrapped its run as a smash-hit 1990s sitcom, ABC decided to bring it back with the original cast intact for new episodes. It was a great idea and viewers showed up in massive numbers, but the revival would quickly dissolve amid offscreen issues caused by its star and executive producer, Roseanne Barr. After the famously acerbic comedian tweeted a racist message, ABC swiftly canceled the new run after a single season. The rest of her castmates came back in a new series called “The Conners,” which killed off Barr’s character.
‘Grace Under Fire’ (1993-1998)
Another hit show — but not the last we’ll feature here — that was created by Chuck Lorre and disintegrated under a toxic backstage atmosphere was “Grace Under Fire.” This ABC sitcom followed a blue-collar single mother who was also a recovering alcoholic, played by comedian Brett Butler. Lorre and the supporting cast reportedly had an awful time working with Butler, who was known to be erratic on set. The drama surrounding her behavior actually caused 12-year-old Jon Paul Steuer, who played her son, to quit the show and walk away from acting entirely.
In the early days of Fox, “Martin” was one of the shows that made the network viable by becoming a mainstream hit. The sitcom, which starred comedian Martin Lawrence as a radio host in Detroit, should’ve had a much longer run than the five seasons it had, but backstage drama killed it. Co-star Tisha Campbell, who played Lawrence’s wife, quit the show before the final season, claiming that her on-screen husband sexually harassed her and made the set “intolerable.”
She eventually came back for the series finale but demanded that their scenes be filmed separately, making for some very awkward tension in what could’ve been a celebratory send-off.
‘Melrose Place’ (1992-1999)
One of the seminal shows of the 1990s, “Melrose Place” was as dramatic behind the scenes as it was on the screen — well, almost. The prime-time soap opera starred a cast of impossibly beautiful people living their lives at the titular apartment complex in West Hollywood. The show’s large cast caused major budgetary issues as it grew in popularity and saw five main-cast actors quit after its fifth season, taking much of the show’s fan base with them. The show’s writers, including creator Darren Star, also reportedly grew tired of upping the ante with ridiculous storylines, leading Star to quit after just a few seasons.
Before off-screen drama led “Cybill” to an early demise, another Cybill Shepherd vehicle suffered from an awkward behind-the-scenes dynamic. When “Moonlighting” debuted on ABC in 1985, Shepherd was by far a bigger draw than her co-star, Bruce Willis. The pair had a tough working relationship from the start, reportedly feuding constantly between scenes, but it got even more strained in 1988, when “Die Hard” made Willis one of the biggest actors on the planet.
Despite being beloved by critics and fans, “Moonlighting” ended after just five seasons due, in part, to the backstage friction.
Probably the most obscure show on the list, “Thea” was nonetheless a groundbreaking series that should’ve lasted longer. When it debuted on ABC in 1993, it was the first sitcom that was ever named after a Black woman comedian. Thea Vidale was the main attraction, but her on-screen daughter, played by Brandy Norwood, pictured here, ended up being the bigger star. The pair reportedly had an awful relationship behind the scenes, with Vidale clashing with Norwood’s real-life mother and resenting the young performer for trying to work her singing career into the show.
“Thea” was axed after less than a full season on the air and off-set tension has been blamed as a major reason.
‘Three’s Company’ (1977-1984)
The backstage drama at “Three’s Company” is the stuff of television legend. Rifts between the three main actors — John Ritter, Joyce DeWitt and Suzanne Somers — were so deep that they remained in place for decades after the show went off the air. Somers has been widely reported as the instigator of these issues, as she apparently resented Ritter’s place as the top-billed star. A racy 1978 Newsweek cover that prominently featured Somers caused major issues, as Ritter and DeWitt apparently viewed it as cheapening their roles and the show itself.
Somers eventually demanded a major salary increase and quit the show after five seasons, causing a revolving door of replacements and its eventual cancellation.
‘House Of Cards’ (2013-2018)
The #MeToo movement upended many careers and projects in the entertainment business, with Netflix’s “House of Cards” being a major one. The popular Netflix show’s star, Kevin Spacey, carried the series as a ruthless politician, alongside his no-nonsense wife, played by Robin Wright. When allegations that Spacey had sexually assaulted another actor came out in 2017, he was fired from the show and his character was abruptly killed off between seasons.
The show’s abbreviated final season saw Wright as its sole lead and radically changed the dynamic of a show that had thrived on the chemistry between its two main characters.
Netflix wasn’t alone in dealing with a serious backstage dilemma surrounding one of its most popular shows in the wake of #MeToo. Amazon Prime Video’s Emmy-winning dramedy, “Transparent,” was also crippled by allegations of sexual harassment being levied against its star. Jeffrey Tambor, who was acclaimed for his lead role in the show as a trans woman who didn’t come out until late in life, was fired after the fourth season. Given that Tambor was the show’s central actor, the series would only air a feature-length final episode in the wake of his ousting, with his character’s death being written in as happening offscreen.
‘Ally McBeal’ (1997-2002)
In its first couple seasons on Fox, “Ally McBeal” was a cultural phenomenon (anyone remember the dancing baby?), but it slipped in the ratings by its third season and some off-set drama killed its potential comeback. In the fourth season, Robert Downey Jr. joined the cast as a love interest for the titular lawyer who was played by Calista Flockhart and audiences started flocking back to the show.
However, after Downey was arrested in real life following a parole violation, his character was hastily written out of the show during the fifth season and the series met its demise six months later.
‘Two And A Half Men’ (2003-2015)
Yet another Chuck Lorre-produced sitcom that was hobbled by off-screen issues was the CBS hit, “Two and a Half Men.” Of its three leads — Jon Cryer, Charlie Sheen and child actor Angus T. Jones — Cryer seems to be the only one who didn’t cause major issues during the show’s 12-season run. Sheen’s well-publicized bizarre behavior got him fired from the series after its eighth season, when it was still a huge ratings success. This led to a casting change that severely altered the on-screen dynamics and the public’s perception of the series.
Jones suddenly quit the show following the 10th season after a newfound devotion to Christianity made him question the type of humor found in the sitcom’s scripts.
‘Growing Pains’ (1985-1992)
ABC’s “Growing Pains” was another in a long line of sweet sitcoms about white, suburban families that cropped up in the 1980s. However, there were grim things happening behind the scenes, as young star Kirk Cameron began undermining his co-stars and producers in its last few seasons. Cameron became a devout evangelical Christian around the show’s third season and his attitude following that conversion would reportedly be the cause of several people being fired or quitting the hit series.
The actor successfully lobbied to get Julie McCullough, who played his fiancee, fired after he found out she had posed nude in Playboy and he did the same thing to guest star Matthew Perry, allegedly calling him an “agent of Satan.” Three producers on the show also quit after Cameron called them “pornographers,” claiming that he had made the entire set toxic.
The irony that terrible luck would sink a show called “Luck” is almost too great to fathom. In the early part of the 2010s, HBO seemed to have another surefire critical darling on its hands with this drama, which starred Dustin Hoffman and revolved around gambling and horse racing. The show, which was created by the previously mentioned David Milch, ran into major problems behind the scenes when three of the horses it used during production had to be euthanized for injuries they suffered while shooting, despite on-set safety standards that were reportedly impeccable.
HBO quickly canceled the show after a single season despite previously having plans for it to continue airing.
‘Chappelle’s Show’ (2003-2006)
The demise of “Chappelle’s Show” has been widely publicized and it’s perhaps the best example of a single person’s decisions instantly derailing a hit series. The sketch comedy show was extremely popular for Comedy Central in the mid-2000s, but its production was suddenly shut down after just three years when its co-creator and star, comedian Dave Chappelle, decided he was finished.
The story goes that while Chappelle was filming a sketch for the third season that involved him playing a magic pixie that embodied racist Black stereotypes — the kind of humor the series was famous for — he heard a white man laugh uncomfortably loud on the set. The moment made the comic walk away from the $50 million paycheck he was due to collect from Comedy Central and end the show completely.
‘Sports Night’ (1998-2000)
Right before he scored a huge hit with “The West Wing,” writer Aaron Sorkin’s ABC series, “Sports Night,” ran into a buzzsaw of backstage issues that led to its early demise. The workplace dramedy followed the cast and crew of a fictional sports news program and was hailed for its dialogue and the performances of its talented cast members. However, meddling from ABC executives led to constant backstage arguments with Sorkin, especially over the network’s use of a laugh track. Due to these issues, Sorkin decided to let the show disappear after two seasons so he could move on to “The West Wing.”
Disagreements with network executives are what brought a swift end to the cult-favorite sitcom, “Titus,” as well. The dark comedy was co-created by and starred comedian Christopher Titus, as a fictional version of himself. The series was a hit with audiences and critics, becoming a top-five comedy for Fox in the year the network abruptly ended it. Titus, pictured here, has since said he was having constant battles with the Fox brass and when he flat-out refused a suggestion from the network’s president, all promotion for the series was suddenly halted.
Yet another example of Fox executives causing an untenable creative atmosphere for a show’s creator was the case of “Firefly.” This cult-favorite sci-fi drama aired for just a single season in 2002 before it was scrapped, and showrunner Joss Whedon has blamed its failure completely on the network. The executives at Fox clashed with Whedon on his characters and when he didn’t budge, they stuck the series on Friday nights, which had traditionally been a time slot for shows that were bound for cancellation.
The network apparently also aired some episodes out of the order in which Whedon had slotted them, including airing what should’ve been the second episode as the series premiere.
‘The Ren & Stimpy Show’ (1991-1996)
Children’s shows aren’t typically ground zero for the type of backstage issues that plague other productions but “The Ren & Stimpy Show” was a different breed entirely. The influential Nickelodeon cartoon ran into behind-the-scenes problems almost immediately after it became a surprise hit in 1991. Its creator and one of its main voice actors, John Kricfalusi, was fired by the network during its second season after a rash of issues. Problems included content that Nickelodeon’s censors deemed offensive and Kricfalusi’s belabored production process, which resulted in episodes being tardy.
The creator’s exit would end up dividing members of the production staff and would help ensure that it only ran for 52 episodes before being scrapped.
‘American Gods’ (2017-Present)
Starz’s “American Gods” is still currently on the air, but its production has been notorious for backstage drama in just its first two seasons. The series, which is based on the beloved best-selling fantasy novel by Neil Gaiman, was developed by mercurial TV writer Bryan Fuller in 2017. After a single season on the job, Fuller and co-showrunner Michael Green left in messy fashion after many disagreements with Gaiman over the direction of the plot. The second season’s showrunner, Jesse Alexander, was also swiftly fired after delays plagued his tenure, prompting the hiring of yet another showrunner for the upcoming third season.
That new hire, Charles Eglee, quickly caused an uproar when he fired cast member Orlando Jones, who promptly ripped him on social media and made the show’s off-screen legacy even more ugly.
‘The A-Team’ (1983-1987)
The action-adventure hit, “The A-Team,” helped make Mr. T into a household name and brought a massive dose of testosterone to NBC’s lineup in the mid-1980s. In fact, the show was so bent on appeasing its male-driven audience and some apparently sexist cast members that the production did all it could to make women feel unwelcome.
On her first day working on the series in its second season, actor Marla Heasley said star George Peppard went out of his way to tell her she was unwanted and that she was only there to appease the network. Heasley had been brought in to replace Melinda Culea, who quit the series during the second season, likely due to the same issues.
One more series created by the notorious David Milch met its early demise because of issues behind the scenes. Actors who worked on HBO’s acclaimed period drama, “Deadwood,” have said it was tough to learn Milch’s virtually Shakespearean dialogue, especially amid his on-set rewrites, but the series was canceled because of issues at the very top.
The show was produced by Paramount in conjunction with HBO and the two companies were unable to reach an agreement to continue making it after a third season, leading it to get the ax. The biggest problem was apparently the show’s massive budget, which resulted because of its large cast of talented actors and its detailed sets.
‘Lethal Weapon’ (2016-2019)
The popular “Lethal Weapon” film franchise was resurrected in TV form by Fox for a series that was unfortunately mired by off-screen issues from the start. When it debuted in 2016, the buddy cop series saw Damon Wayans and Clayne Crawford as the two detectives at the center of its plot. However, Crawford’s character would be killed off after the second season after it was alleged that his unprofessional behavior on the set caused a major rift between the two co-stars.
Wayans would end up quitting the series after the third season, which led Fox to finally cancel it.