TV pilots are no exact science, but they are hugely important because the life or death of an entire show rests on the shoulders of that one episode. That means that the creators have to iron out the creases, and try to get everything right the first time. Of course, this rarely happens, and there are almost always changes to the show going forward that may differ from the pilot.
In the most extreme cases, this might even mean recasting an iconic role before the show properly airs. It’s interesting to think how many iconic characters were almost played by different stars at one point. Here is a list of some of the best-known TV roles that were actually recast after the pilot – just think, these characters could have been someone entirely different!
Daenerys Targaryen – Game of Thrones
Daenerys Stormborn of the House Targaryen, the young, timid girl, who grows into the most powerful woman in Westeros is an iconic character, and made a star of actress Emilia Clarke. But, she almost didn’t get the role; in fact, the pilot initially had The Tudors star Tamzin Merchant cast in the role. Showrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss made the decision to recast after it seemed that Merchant just didn’t fit in the role.
Willow Rosenberg – Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Buffy the Vampire Slayer is the best TV show ever made, and Willow is the heart of the show. While not the main character, she is arguably the most important, and Alyson Hannigan seems to have been born for the role. But, in the original pilot – which you can watch online if you’re brave enough – Riff Regan was cast in the role. It didn’t work, and the network wanted the part recast, with Joss Whedon settling on Hannigan’s portrayal, and we’re glad he did. We love Willow, and Aly!
The Hulk – The Incredible Hulk
We already know how iconic Lou Ferrigno was in the title role of the original Hulk TV show. So, imagine what a shock it would be now to conceive of a situation in which he doesn’t get the part! Well, this nearly became a reality, because the original pilot episode of the show had James Bond villain Richard Kiel cast in the lead role. Kiel, who is best-known for playing Jaws in two Bond movies, was unhappy with the contact lenses, and green body paint, and the studio wanted someone more muscular. Eventually, the role went to Ferrigno, and the rest is history, as they say.
Can you imagine if these memorable and iconic parts had gone to other actors?! If those who had the role in the original pilot episodes had kept them? How different would these characters have been, and how much would we have changed our minds about them? There are so many ifs and buts, but this shows that making the right casting choices when shooting your show is absolutely crucial. If something isn’t quite right at the pilot stage, it needs to be changed as soon as possible.