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While many series experience cast changes through their run, Babylon 5 seems to have an inordinate number of them, discounting the changes from the pilot ‘The Gathering’ to the first season.

However, in many other series this was due to non-availability of the cast and this sometimes caused quite some plot twists.

With Bablylon 5, I am always wondering whether the change in cast was intentional, or were there other reasons? Watching the series, the changes come quite naturally, so they might have been planned from the beginning.

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Are you curious about a specific change? – TZHX Jan 24 at 19:49
    
Well I guess there might be many reasons for cast change, however I am mainly interested in the main cast and if these changes were planed from the beginning. If they were not, knowing why would be a bonus. – hotzst Jan 24 at 19:53
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+1, though I'm not convinced that Babylon 5 really had unusually many cast changes. Star Trek: The Next Generation, for example, lost Tasha Yar, Dr. Crusher, Dr. Pulaski, and Wesley Crusher during a comparable time period (namely, its first five seasons). – ruakh Jan 25 at 0:11
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@trejder: I can understand why you'd say that Dr. Crusher was only lost for one season, or that Dr. Pulaski was a replacement for just one season; but the intent was to permanently replace Dr. Crusher with Dr. Pulaski when Gates McFadden chose to leave the show. It's only in retrospect that Dr. Pulaski feels temporary. (Oh, and in the fact that the credits for season 2 listed her as a "special guest star" for some reason.) So while you can maybe quibble over the word "lost", you can't really dispute "cast change". – ruakh Jan 25 at 17:38
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@trejder: As for Wesley Crusher -- the fact is, he left the show. He appeared as a guest in four later episodes (two in season 5, two in season 7), but then, Commander Sinclair also appeared in some later Babylon 5 episodes. (And since we're talking about "cast", i.e. actors, we can also say that Denise Crosby (who played Tasha Yar) appeared in some later ST:TNG episodes.) – ruakh Jan 25 at 17:42
up vote 27 down vote accepted

One can always expect some supporting characters to come and go in a multi-season drama. But, arguably, there were three unexpected primary character changes that sent reverberations through the Babylon 5 fan community: Sinclair being replaced by Sheridan after Season 1, Talia Winters being replaced by Lyta Alexander (who had already appeared in the television pilot film The Gathering), and Susan Ivanova's absence from the final season. But I will also discuss the departures of the first-billed but less central characters Na'Toth and Keffer.

Commander Sinclair

Sinclair was largely written out with only a couple of guest appearances after Season 1 because of a debilitating mental illness suffered by actor Michael O'Hare. JMS only revealed the details after O'Hare's death in 2012, as he had promised not to discuss it publicly before then:

For what JMS was able to reveal before O'Hare's death, see here.

Talia Winters

Claudia Christian, who played Ivanova, suggested in an interview that Andrea Thompson (Talia) had decided of her own accord to leave the show:

"I think that if Andrea Thompson had not left, we would have definitely explored the relationship further. That was the intention, but because she wanted to get out, we had to wrap it up quickly" (SFX, July 1997)."

(Source)

Susan Ivanova

Regarding Ivanova, JMS explains his efforts and those of other cast members to keep Claudia Christian in the show:

Comments from JMS, July 19 1997

There have been some questions raised as to what has happened regarding Claudia Christian and Season 4. In simplest possible terms, which can be verified through every cast member, and in the press, what happened was this:

In early June, WB asked for, and received, one-month exensions on their contract options from all cast members except Claudia, for the purposes of allowing WB time to work out the co-financing deal with TNT for year 5 of B5. There was a great deal of red tape left over from the PTEN deal to finish unraveling, and other business aspects, to work out in going from syndication to cable, and it was taking longer than expected.

Claudia said, repeatedly, that she was on board for the fifth season, but that she didn't want to give the extension for business reasons of her own. We took her at her word and allowed her to not give the extension. Assurances were made to us, and to her fellow cast members.

While we were all together (cast, some crew, and I) in Blackpool for Wolf 359, word reached us of the articles in Variety and Reuters reporting that Claudia would not be returning to B5, and was looking for other work. This was the very first indication we had that she would not be in season 5. TNT was upset by this, WB was upset by this, and we were called on the carpet asking why we had trusted her about the fifth year. When spoken to in Blackpool, she was still, at that point, saying that she was going to be in season 5...but did nothing to address the situation with WB. She was told that WB had to know, for sure, if she was in or out by last Friday. All she had to do to be in season 5 was to pick up the phone, or have her agent do so, and call WB and say, "I'm in."

This did not happen. Friday came, and went. It was clear that she had no intention of being in season 5, and wanted instead to pursue movies. She is more well known now after B5, after all.

Cast members prevailed upon her to change her mind over the weekend. Bruce, Jeff Conaway, others took it upon themselves to try and talk her back onto the show, tried to get her to call on Monday in case she might be able to repair the bridges burned the prior week. On Monday, she left the convention early, and never called WB, never called Doug, never called anyone.

Bottom line is...she passed on season 5. She chose not to be there. I know that she has now told some people that WB doesn't want her...but if that is the case, why the articles planted in Variety and Reuters saying that the B5 producers were "bummed" that she wasn't available, that she had chosen not to return to the show? (Again, at the time the articles appeared, this intent had not even been conveyed to us or to WB; we had to learn about it by reading it in the trades, in articles no one had even discussed with us.) Why did she not give the extension, as was also reported? Why was it announced in the press (in articles reprinted right here on the nets) that she wasn't coming back and was looking for other work long before we even knew anything about it?

The offer was on the table. We extended it to the very limit. All the other actors signed on, and urged her to do the same. She chose not to. It was never a matter of anyone not wanting her. I personally urged her Thursday night to call her agent and talk this out and make her intentions clear if she wanted to come back to the show. She declined. Every cast member who was there in Blackpool saw what went down, and can verify this.

(Source — including a response from Claudia Christian herself)

Na'Toth

A slightly less central (although at one point first-billed) character whose arc had to be dropped was Na'Toth. From an interview with actress Julie Caitlyn Brown:

Sadly, "Chrysalis" was destined to be Brown's final visit to B5 as a Narn. At the end of the show's first season, the actress reluctantly decided not to renew her contract with the show, due largely to the practical problems of wearing Na'Toth's extensive prosthetics and red contact lenses.

"You have to wear an awful lot of makeup to play Na'Toth," she explains. "It is a very, very demanding role. You're working 15 to 18 hours a day and you can't breathe. There were times when I couldn't see where I was going, because of the contact lenses - it was all just a red fuzz. And I lost so much weight working on the show, because I sweated it all away underneath that costume! So the makeup was probably the biggest deterrent for me; I couldn't sign on and say, 'Yes, I'll do this for 13 episodes for another four years'.

"I loved the character, and I truly cried when I turned the part down. I was sobbing. I remember calling my mother and telling her, 'I don't know what to do. This is one of the best-written characters I've ever come across. She's going to have a lot to do, but I just don't feel right.' She then advised me not to do it. But it was still a hard decision to make. I was honestly sobbing when I had to turn it down."

(Source)

She was subsequently replaced by actress Mary Kay Adams, as JMS intended to continue the character, but there were resulting problems with the portrayal. From JMS:

"The only time it hasn't worked out as well as I'd've liked was when we cast Mary Kay Adams, who was very strong in the auditions, and then made an actor's choice to play the character very quiet, to not push against Andreas [G'Kar]...but you fade into the woodwork if you do that."

(Source)

Subsequently, the character was dropped. Her arc was abandoned and then given a quick resolution in an episode where Na'Toth is discovered in a

dungeon in the Centauri Imperial Palace, long after the invasion of Narn.

In all of these cases, the changes had to do with the actor's circumstances — they were not pre-planned aspects of the story arc.

The only intentional removal might be the minor but nonetheless first-billed character of Warren Keffer (a hotshot Starfury pilot), a character requested by the network for added drama, and who JMS had always intended to have a quick arc:

"Okay, Keffer wasn't all he could've been, but that was because that character was always doomed, and doomed to go fast, so I think I put a little distance between myself and him..."

(Source)

Thanks to @Thunderforge for reminding me about Keffer.

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+1: I didn't know the full story behind Michael O'Hare's departure. I should have followed the link to the video, but having found sources that confirmed what I remembered, it didn't occur to me that new information on this could have appeared so recently. Dubious research on my part! – Ian Thompson Jan 24 at 21:02

The ones I know of, mostly come down to outside factors vs. deliberate planning by JMS.

However, JMS has expressed before that from early on he tried to give each character an "out" that he could use in such a situation -- because he was planning a long running story, and knew that the nature of television meant keeping the same actors for years would be difficult.

The main examples that come to mind when someone mentions "cast changes", are (and I think it's rather remarkable that a small cable TV show managed to lose only three major cast members during its run):

Michael O'Hare (Sinclair)

O'Hare left his role as Captain Sinclair after season 1. This was by mutual agreement with JMS, due to health issues. It's a bit depressing, and you can find a video of JMS talking about it here on YouTube, but the long story short is that O'Hare had mental health problems, and was beginning to have difficulty separating his acting from reality.

Sinclair was replaced by Sheridan, and his role adjusted slightly. The scenes he appeared in after season 1 were all pre-recorded when O'Hare left the show.

Andrea Thompson (Talia Winters)

From what I can gather, the actress wanted a more major role than what she was getting as a recurring guest. As an example, JMS stated on discussing the episode where she left:

There are a number of actors who feel that if they're in a story then they should be at the center of the story. Andrea seemed to feel that if she was in an episode, the episode should be about her character, and was consistently lobbying for this, despite the fact that it would cut into the arc, and time for the other characters on-screen. Babylon 5 is an ensemble show; time on screen is determined by the story, not by whim or personal insistence.

Yes, we used her 8 or 9 times in a given season; but by contract, we paid her for a full 13 episodes, whether she appeared in them or not. We were never under any obligation to give her any guarantee; we did so to make her feel comfortable taking on the job. For the first year he was on the show Jeff Conaway didn't have a guarantee of episodes; he was used as he was needed, and that grew with time. Andrea wanted time away from the show to do other projects; we accommodated where we could, as we do with all our cast members, but if a request comes in at the last moment, or conflicts with our schedule, we can't comply. We feel that if we're paying someone a great sum of money to be available to us, for episodes they may not even appear in, this is not unreasonable.

As an aside, she married co-star Jerry Doyle (Michael Garibaldi), who she met during filming, and also divorced him. Because neither are "celebrities" in the sense that their every romantic dalliance is recorded somewhere I wouldn't want to suggest there was some strain there -- but other people on the Internet do suggest it.

The role of station telepath was once again taken up by Lyta Alexander (from the "pilot" movie, the Gathering).

Claudia Christian (Ivonova)

Probably the most controversial and high-impact change.

Going into the fifth season, the show wasn't sure it would be renewed. WB got "option extensions" for other members of the main cast, but Claudia declined this and (apparently) decided to go another way. There's some back-and-forth with each party blaming the other, which you can read here, but I think the only people who will ever really know what happened are Claudia, JMS and their representatives.

The role Ivonava played was replaced with Captain Lochley, portrayed by Tracy Scoggins.

As an aside, it seems JMS was tired of the drama surrounding this, including the following exchange in the Season 5 episode A View from the Gallery:

Mack: When Ivanova left, everywhere I turned, somebody had an opinion on that one.
One guy said that she left because she was heartbroken over that guy - Marcus.
Bo: Marcus, right.
Mack: Then somebody else said that she wanted a promotion.
Quit because she wasn't getting paid enough money.
So which is it? What difference does it make? That's the military life.
People come, people go.
It's nobody else's business.

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Michael O'Hare's post-season one appearances were not pre-filmed footage. In particular, War Without End from season 3 had him back on set to interact closely with Bruce Boxleitner. – gowenfawr Jan 25 at 14:14

Here is a quote attributed to J. Michael Straczynski (creator of Babylon 5):

... in drafting the story for Babylon 5, I made sure to compensate for any possible changes. For lack of a better term, there is a "trap door" built into the storyline for every character

The same link contains the 'official' explanation for the change from Sinclair to Sheridan (the most obvious change in the show). Roughly, Sinclair was intended to last the duration, but at some point JMS decided that there was too much material for a single character. The fact that Sinclair's fiance, Catherine Sakai, leaves for a mission to the galactic rim at the end of series 1 supports the idea that she was supposed to play the role of Anna Sheridan, and therefore that Sinclair was intended to stay. He had also established good relations with Delenn by the end of series 1. I have read other explanations down the years, but I think we can safely say that the change was not intended from the outset. The same goes for Talia Winters and Lyta Alexander.

A speculative but interesting article called The Babylon 5 That Never Was covers the whole subject in some detail.

EDIT

Praxis' answer shows that the original explanation for the Sinclair to Sheridan shift (summarised above) is not the whole story. This makes it more certain that the change was not intended from the outset.

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