Most actors consider landing a leading role on a major TV show to be the dream. The exposure to audiences week after week brings new fans and of course, a sizable paycheck. Sometimes however, circumstances cause arise that cause actors to leave even the most beloved roles.

Some of these stars left their roles because of disputes with the network and others because they were just ready to move on. Regardless of the reason, these actors moved on from some truly iconic TV roles – and went on to do some exciting things.

5 Rob Lowe – Sam Seaborn, The West Wing

In Aaron Sorkin’s political drama The West Wing, Rob Lowe played idealistic deputy communications director Sam from 1999 to 2003. The show brought Lowe critical acclaim, but reportedly there was almost as much political intrigue behind the camera as in front of it.

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In addition to disputes with the network over changes to Lowe’s character, there have been reports that the producers were unwilling to give him a pay bump from $75,000-per-episode – even though Martin Sheen had been raised to $300,000 an episode. Whatever the reason for leaving, Rob Lowe has been clear that he has no regrets about his choice to leave:

I had no regrets when I did it, I have even less regret now because I can’t imagine staying on the show and then, six weeks later, Aaron leaving…The universe works in mysterious ways and for me, it worked out perfectly. – Rob Lowe

Since then Lowe has gone on to have many other beloved recurring roles in TV shows, including Chris Traeger in Parks and Rec.

4 Andrew Lincoln – Rick Grimes, The Walking Dead

The Walking Dead was at one time the most watched drama in cable history – and Andrew Lincoln was the protagonist for almost ten years. Before The Walking Dead, Lincoln was mostly known for films like Love Actually, but landing the lead in AMC’s zombie hit put him at what the New York Times dubbed, “the center of one of the world’s biggest pop culture franchises.”

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According to Forbes in 2018, Lincoln earned approximately $11 million, which would make him one of the 10 highest-paid actors in TV that year – which would be his last on The Walking Dead. Lincoln made the decision to leave the show so that he could spend more time with his family, and to ensure that his character got a complete story:

There was a certain sense that the story has been a man waking up, and you experience this world through one man’s eyes, and it opens up into the extended family. Now, what’s exciting for me is that the narrative is being freed up, and it’s already being freed up from the beginning of this season… it was something that I started to think about as my children got older.  – Andrew Lincoln 

However it seems that Andrew Lincoln may not be finished with Rick Grimes just yet. There are plans for original films, with higher production values, following Rick in the future.

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3 Daniel Dae Kim – Chin Ho Kelly, Hawaii Five-0

Like Rob Lowe, contract negotiations led Daniel Dae Kim, and his co-star Grace Park, to leave long-term gigs. In their case, they were seeking fair pay and equity with their co-stars.

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Going into the 8th season of Hawaii Five-o, industry insiders reported that Alex O’Loughlin and Scott Caan were being paid about $200,000 per episode – which was significantly more than either Kim or Park were offered, despite the fact that they were all regulars on the show.

As an Asian American actor, I know first-hand how difficult it is to find opportunities at all, let alone play a well developed, three dimensional character like Chin Ho. I will miss him sincerely… I’ll end by saying that though transitions can be difficult, I encourage us all to look beyond the disappointment of this moment to the bigger picture. The path to equality is rarely easy. But I hope you can be excited for the future. I am. – Daniel Dae Kim

Grace Park went on to score a role in A Million Little Things on ABC. Kim took the opportunity to do more producing. His company 3AD has been responsible for numerous successful shows, including The Good Doctor.

2 Steve Carell – Michael Scott, The Office

For many, Steve Carell is the face of the US Office, and the show was never the same after his character left in 2011. The common belief at the time was that Carell had left to pursue other gigs, but according to several crew members interviewed in Andy Greene’s book The Office: The Untold Story of the Greatest Sitcom of the 2000s: An Oral History, that wasn’t the whole story.

Carell’s contract was up after season 7, but apparently he hadn’t made a definitive decision whether he would stay with the show or not yet. While Carell apparently told his manager that he wanted to continue with the show, he also said in an interview on BBC that season 7 would probably be his last year. Reportedly, the deadline for the network to make him an offer passed. While it’s hard to say for certain what happened, it seems like wires got crossed.

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While he may not have left The Office to free up his schedule, Carell has definitely been busy since he left. From taking dramatic roles to making new TV shows like The Morning Show and Space Force, Carell is rarely off screens for long.

1 Donald Glover AKA Childish Gambino – Troy Barnes, Community

Donald Glover played the beloved character Troy on Community, and his decision to leave lead to a heartbreaking episode in which Troy leaves to sail around the world with LeVar Burton. The decision to leave at the time was baffling to many fans, but the best was yet to come for Glover.

“I had so much fun on Community,” Glover said in an interview, “But I’m glad things end because it forces us to progress.”

Since leaving, Glover has gone on to create his own award-winning show – Atlanta. He was also cast in several major films, such as The Lion KingSpider-Man: Homecoming, and Solo: A Star Wars Story. He is also one of the most successful and acclaimed musicians currently working. As “Childish Gambino” he has won numerous GRAMMY awards. His song “This is America” reached #1 in the charts in 2018.

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Sources: Cinema Blend, New York Times, Express, Cheat Sheet, The Office: The Untold Story of the Greatest Sitcom of the 2000s: An Oral History, GH, THR, Variety, NBC, The Wrap

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