Most TV shows are planned around a specific set of characters and continue following their stories throughout the duration of the series. Guest stars are typically only part of those characters' lives for an episode or two, but sometimes, they're so compelling that they end up joining the main cast.
Here are 15 iconic TV characters who weren't supposed to last long, but the fans or writers loved them so much, they had to stay:
1. In Season 1 of Stranger Things, Steve Harrington was initially going to be a "much more sparsely used character." However, creators Matt and Ross Duffer and director Shawn Levy "saw what Joe Keery was doing, and [they] rewarded that with more story, more nuance, more dimension."
The director told Mashable, "I will say that we have found the performances of our actors consistently inspiring."
Joe's performance actually changed Steve's fate. The Duffers originally planned to kill him off in Season 1.
At Geeked Week 2022, Matt said, "The cast is impacting where you take the narrative, the other writers and directors...it's this living thing."
2. Initially, Steve Urkel was supposed to be a one-off character on Family Matters. Series creator Michael Warren even named him after a real-life friend as a joke. However, Urkel increased ratings, so production mandated that he appear in every episode. He helped make the show a massive hit.
Michael told the LA Times, "I think the only person who is not a fan of Family Matters is my friend Steve Urkel. It has terribly affected his life."
3. Something similar happened while Michael Warren was writing for Happy Days. Originally, Fonzie was a "character who very seldom spoke," and the "surprise was that toward the end of the pilot, Fonzie spoke." However, he was so popular with audiences that he soon eclipsed Richie Cunningham as the central character.
Ron Howard, who played Richie, told The Graham Norton Show, "Slowly but surely, as they started to write for [Henry Winkler], it became sorta like Beatlemania for awhile. ... The executives, studio heads, [and] network heads...started really treating me with a lot of disrespect. ... And the press kept saying, 'What's it like? Do you feel like you've become a second-class citizen on your own show?' ... Which I didn't feel within the workspace, and I certainly didn't feel it within our friendship, which endures to this day."
He also said that the experience inspired him to pursue his dreams of being in charge of his own productions as a filmmaker.
4. Frasier Crane was only supposed to appear in four Cheers episodes, but production changed those plans as soon as they watched Kelsey Grammer's audition tape. He ended up playing the character for two decades across both the original series and his spinoff, Frasier.
In his memoir Directed by James Burrows, series co-creator James Burrows said, "We all started laughing [when we saw his tape]. ... He drove out from New York and for a time was living in his car on the Paramount lot."
5. When Misha Collins booked the role of Castiel on Supernatural, he signed on for a three-episode arc. Fans responded so passionately to the character that the network slowly increased the number of episodes he appeared in until finally making him a series regular.
Misha told Entertainment Tonight, "It was a gradual evolution for me. It wasn't just I went from guest star to series regular immediately. It was like three episodes, [then] 'Alright, we'll give you six,' [then] 'Alright we'll give you 10,' [then] 'Alright we'll give you 12.'"
He almost left the show in Season 7, when they briefly demoted him to a recurring character and considered killing off Castiel.
"Supernatural said they didn't want to see me anymore and then we got back together again. So in Season 7 they were like, 'I think we're killing you,' and then they were like, 'Eh…we changed our minds. We're not killing you — come back. Let's try this again,'" he said.
6. On The Golden Girls, Sophia Petrillo was initially written as an occasional guest star. However, test audiences liked her so much that the writers went back and made her a main character.
What's even more impressive is that it was Estelle Getty's first television role. She experienced a lot of stage fright early on, but she ended up being the cast member who got the most fan mail.
7. Topanga Lawrence was only supposed to be on one episode of Boy Meets World, but Danielle Fishel "came in and killed it, and then it changed the whole show."
At '90s Con 2022, Danielle said, "Yeah, it was only supposed to be, I think, one episode — possibly a recurring — and then she basically became the rest of the show."
8. On Veronica Mars, Logan began as a minor character. However, fans loved Jason Dohring's chemistry with Kristen Bell — and so did the writers. They decided to make Logan and Veronica endgame.
Series creator Rob Thomas told Vox, "The reason we steered it in that direction is all the writers on the staff could feel it. It was not something we had to be told, it was something we saw in dailies [unedited daily footage], it was something we saw in cuts. Those scenes were electric, and we wanted more of that. ... It was gratifying that the audience responded in the same way we were."
9. The Law and Order: SVU writers planned to kill off Fin Tutuola after one episode. However, series creator Dick Wolf wanted more for Ice-T, so it was stretched to four episodes...which eventually became more than 400 episodes.
Ice-T told Variety, "Dick Wolf said that he wished he would've had a stronger vehicle for me [than the canceled show Players]. They wanted me to come out there and only do four episodes. At the time, I was trying to run a record label, so I was like, 'Eh.' Four episodes turned into 24 years."
10. In the original Parks and Recreation script, Andy Dywer was "supposed to be the jerk boyfriend just in the pilot episode." However, when Chris Pratt auditioned, the series creators "thought he was fantastic, so [they] hired him for that role and started rewriting that character so he wasn't such a bad guy."
Co-creator Greg Daniels told Uproxx, "He was not supposed to be a series regular. ... That was another example of changing the characters from what you initially conceived of them to try to take advantage of something good that fell in your lap."
11. At first, Breaking Bad series creator Vince Gilligan planned to kill off Jesse Pinkman in Season 1, Episode 9. However, two episodes in, production decided it "would be a huge, colossal mistake to kill off Jesse" because of how great an actor Aaron Paul was.
Another contributing factor was the writers strike of 2007–2008, which cut their show from nine episodes to seven.
12. In the Barry pilot, NoHo Hank was supposed to die when Barry shoots the car. However, series co-creators Alec Berg and Bill Hader loved Anthony Carrigan's portrayal so much that they said to each other, "We'd be insane to kill that guy. He's so funny."
13. On The O.C., Summer Roberts "wasn't a series regular in the pilot and she had three lines and one of them was, 'I have to pee, do you have to pee?'...but [Rachel Bilson] really sold that line and got it in all of its complexity." So, series creator Josh Schwartz kept making her role bigger.
He told Entertainment Weekly, "Over the course of the first six episodes, the more we gave her to do, the more she was really knocking it out of the park, so after the Tijuana episode, she was made a series regular."
14. When Nelsan Ellis was cast as Lafayette Reynolds on True Blood, he was given a contract "for one season as a recurring character." He didn't expect to stay on the show long because his character dies in the books, but "all of a sudden, Lafayette was in every episode." After six episodes, his costar Rutina Wesley told him, "I don't think they can get rid of you."
Series creator Allan Ball told the Philadelphia Inquirer, "Nelsan's performance definitely brought him to life in a way that made me realize we could never kill this character the way he dies in the books."
15. And finally, Jack Shephard was killed off in the original Lost pilot. However, after the writers delivered their script, "certain parties" told them, "Look, you spent half of the show making us fall in love with this doctor character and then you kill him off. ... We want you to at least consider not doing it."
Series co-creator Damon Lindelof told Nightline, "There was no ultimatum, but we started having conversations amongst ourselves saying like, 'All right. This obviously will radically affect the second half of the pilot that we've written but they sort of do have a point.'"
Co-creator J.J. Abrams added, "This was the consensus that we were hearing, and I still wasn't convinced because I loved doing something that was so crazy and dramatic. And then I showed the script to Greg Grunberg, who is my oldest friend, from kindergarten, and he's an actor. ... I showed him the script, and he read it and he called back and he said that he loved the script, except he was furious at us that we killed this character. So I ended up casting Greg as the pilot who gets killed. I killed Greg instead."