Certain shows are synonymous with specific characters and actors.
It's almost to the point that it's hard to imagine those shows without the characters that made them.
Until one day, you have to imagine it when an actor decides it's time to move onward and leave that particular role behind.
From Grey's Anatomy to The Resident to NCIS, these iconic shows have lost cast members along the way. We remember some of those departures in this list of actors who left successful television series.
Make sure to hit us up in the comments with some of the departures that hit you the most!
Christopher Meloni – Law & Order SVU
When you think of SVU, often you'll think of Benson and Stabler.
They were the heartbeat of the series for twelve seasons, and that's why it was so shocking for fans when Christopher Meloni left the series after that twelfth year.
After being unable to agree on a contract, Meloni walked away from the series and expanded his career in other ventures before returning to the Law & Order family in 2021 with his own Stabler spinoff, Law & Order: Organized Crime.
And It's been great to have Meloni back on our screens, reuniting Stabler and Benson once again.
Anna Faris – Mom
After seven seasons, Anna Faris surprised fans when she left the popular CBS series.
Anna released a statement thanking the show and fans, explaining that leaving would allow her to pursue other career opportunities, and the series would wrap up its run shortly after.
But you can still catch reruns when you need your fill of Christy Plunkett!
Patrick Dempsey – Grey's Anatomy
When McDreamy, portrayed by veteran actor Patrick Dempsey, left the soapy medical drama in 2015, it was a shock to the system of many.
Derek Shepherd was as ingrained in the show's DNA as Meredith. But Grey's Anatomy is nothing if not resilient, as proven by its continued success to this day.
While Dempsey's departure was later revealed to be a mutual decision between himself and the show, both sides came back together again when Shepherd showed up in a dream sequence during the series' seventeenth season.
America Ferrera – Superstore
When word hit that America Ferrara was leaving Superstore, a collective 'what?' could be heard around the internet.
Ferrera was not only the star but a part of the show's extremely popular romantic pairing, leaving fans wondering what would happen next.
A good series will find a way to adapt, and Superstore did just that, continuing to deliver warmth and charming stories. And Ferrera stopped by for the series finale, ending things on a positive note.
George Clooney – ER
When you think of George Clooney, you think massive movie star.
The man has starred in some of the biggest movies of all time, but before he was Danny Ocean, he was Dr. Doug Ross on the NBC hit medical drama ER.
A top-rated show in its 90s heyday, Clooney's character was a fan favorite, and why it was so upsetting for many when he decided not to return to the series, though Doug would pop up a few more times before it was lights out in the emergency room.
Mark Harmon – NCIS
Mark Harmon was the star of NCIS for eighteen seasons, a remarkable feat.
That's why finding out he'd be leaving the series a few episodes into season nineteen caught the television world by surprise.
Eighteen years dedicated to a single role deserves a massive round of applause and a nice long nap. With NCIS still going strong, you never know when Special Agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs may stop by his old stomping grounds.
Emily Van Camp – The Resident
We're still crying over Nic Nevin's departure from The Resident to this day!
Nic was such a vital piece of the FOX medical drama, especially as her family with Conrad Hawkins was in such a beautiful place.
Emily Van Camp's exit after four seasons was extremely heartbreaking, though fans were treated with a lovely treat when she returned for The Resident Season 5 Episode 23.
Julian McMahon – FBI: Most Wanted
FBI: Most Wanted is a relatively new show, but one that has caught on with audiences. And part of that was due to series lead Julian McMahon, whose Jesse LaCroix character was the leader of the series.
His sudden exit during the series' third season caused quite a buzz, with the actor choosing to move on from the show and the series creator wishing him well.
Things won't be the same without LaCroix, but the next chapter is here, and we're excited to see where the series goes next.
Josh Charles – The Good Wife
When Charles' character, Will Gardner, died during The Good Wife Season 5, the internet was ablaze with confusion.
Will's death was a complete and utter shocker to everyone, and realizing that he'd no longer be on the series was a weird thing to adjust to.
For Charles, it was time to move forward from the series, but television fans still talk about his character's demise as one of the most shocking television deaths of all time.
Emmy Rossum – Shameless
Anytime a lead leaves a show, it causes a commotion.
Emmy Rossum leaving Shameless after leading the series from the beginning was something even bigger than that!
Fiona, the matriarch of the Gallagher clan, was always the glue that held things together. But Rossum's departure opened up the series in many ways, allowing it to continue in a way that gave the rest of the family more well-rounded stories.
Andrew Lincoln – The Walking Dead
The first face you see on The Walking Dead is that of Rick Grimes, played by Andrew Lincoln. And fans hoped there'd never be a day where they'd watch the series without his face.
But Lincoln left the series during The Walking Dead Season 9, and fans were left reeling.
Luckily though, Rick's life was spared, and there have been talks of movies to keep the legacy of Rick Grimes alive and well for years to come.
Nina Dobrev – The Vampire Diaries
While many people think of The Vampire Diaries and immediately think of the Salvatore brothers, there's no Vampire Diaries without Elena Gilbert, who was brought to life by Nina Dobrev.
Nina decided to leave the series at the end of The Vampire Diaries Season 6, which caught many by surprise. How could the series go on without her?
The series found its groove without Elena but was delighted to welcome Dobrev back for the series finale at the end of season eight.
Steve Carell – The Office
Steve Carell became a megastar during his time on The Office, so no one was stunned when he exited the series after seven seasons.
Still, The Office was a very popular sitcom at the time, and the loss of Michael Scott was tough to recover from.
Carell returned for the series finale, where we bid farewell to the bumbling Scott one last time.
Mischa Barton – The O.C.
There was a time when The O.C. was probably the most talked-about show on television.
The teen drama was as popular as it gets, as were its stars, who quickly became Hollywood's favorite young stars. That's why it was so unexpected when star Mischa Barton left the series after Marissa Cooper died in season three.
Marissa had been through so much, and her death wasn't necessarily something you couldn't see coming, but watching the show after Barton's departure was wild because she was so integral to the series' success.
Topher Grace – That 70's Show
Topher Grace had been with the Fox sitcom from the jump, so it was odd to watch the series after his exit at the end of the show's seventh season.
That '70s show was always about the bonds between that core group of friends, and it wasn't the same once Eric Forman was no longer hanging in the basement with his best friends.
Topher returned for the series finale, and fans could hang out down the street with their favorite friend group again.
Can you think of any other actors who left successful shows?
Which one of those above hit you the hardest?
We'd love to hear from you, so leave your thoughts in the comments.
Whitney Evans is a staff writer for TV Fanatic. Follow her on X.