If you are of a certain age (10 years old and under) Nickelodeon’s The Fresh Beat Band is probably part of your world. The show is now starting its third season, and in keeping with a very odd TV tradition, unexplained cast changes stand out as an incongruity that – whether TV executives like it or not – kids do notice and do not appreciate.
The Fresh Beat Band revolves around four likeable teenagers (Twist, Shout, Kiki, and Marina) who go to music school, dance and sing a lot, and seemingly have nothing else to do but have a good time. For the first two seasons these characters were played by Jon Beavers, Thomas Hobson, Yvette Gonzalez-Nacer, and Shayna Rose, but now in the third season Marina is being played by Tara (no relation to Katy) Perry.
It actually stands out in a significant way, and both of my kids noticed it immediately. No explanation has been given as to the change in appearance of the character, and so kids are expected to be as resilient as Bewitched fans seeing Dick Sargent become Darrin (replacing Dick York) without any explanation.
Unfortunately, this is part of a TV tradition that I find slightly irritating and a bit condescending. Do writers and producers have so little respect for their viewers as to think they will not notice such cast changes? The Fresh Beat Band has already undergone cast changes, with the character Reed being played by Hadley Fraser in season one and replaced by Patrick Levis in season two (again, no explanation), and now they have dropped Melody (owner of the Groovy Smoothie) played by Dioni Michelle Collins. My kids really liked her and are wondering where she has gone. I don’t have the heart to tell them she has joined many others in that big lost character pool kept somewhere in a Hollywood warehouse.
Such cast changes are not without precedent in the TV world. If you are of a certain age (40 years old and over) you will recall that Richie Cunningham’s brother Chuck disappeared after season one of Happy Days (again no explanation). On Dallas Miss Ellie went from being played by Barbara Bel Geddes to Donna Reed and then, after one season, back to Bel Geddes (again without explanation).
Some shows have tried to get it right. M*A*S*H writers went through great pains to say goodbye to Henry Blake (McLean Stevenson), but then dropped the ball when the popular Trapper John (Wayne Rogers) left without much explanation. When Frank Burns (Larry Linville) was canned, they did a little better job – but not much. And first season character Spearchucker Jones (Timothy Brown) disappeared from the show (again, without explanation).
NYPD Blue bid adieu to a number of characters, but no departure in television history was more acrimonious than David Caruso’s Detective John Kelly who walked out the precinct door and was never mentioned again. Blue lost quite a few more characters over the years, and I think it took a toll on me because I stopped watching (some time after Jimmy Smits left the show).
Back on Nickelodeon, Blue’s Clues had a huge cast change to deal with when Steve (Steven Burns) left the show and was replaced by his brother Joe (Donovan Patton). Though there was a two-episode “goodbye” to Steve, my daughter never recovered from it (she still only likes to watch the show when Steve is on). My son seems slightly confused when Nick Jr. runs an hour of Blue’s Clues with the first episode featuring Steve and Joe in the next one.
There was Diane (Shelly Long) on Cheers, who was replaced by Kirstie Alley, and to this day many people do not like Ms. Alley simply because she replaced Long. There is certainly a different tone to Cheers after Long’s departure. Cheers also suffered the loss of the beloved Coach character (Nicholas Colasanto died) who was replaced by clueless but loveable Woody (Woody Harrelson). That worked out well enough for the show and Harrelson became very popular.
I suppose we can view TV like real life: people come and go, but sometimes it is harder to part with someone we have grown to know and love. I don’t know why TV shows don’t get it and respect the viewers (even if they are kids) and try to explain the changes. Although, even when it is done in what can be seen as the right way (as in the case of Blue’s Clues), it still doesn’t always satisfy everyone.
As we were watching a new episode of The Fresh Beat Band (with the new Marina) the other day, my two-year old son said, “I don’t like Ah-rina.” I just nodded, but I think that best sums up how we feel about these cast changes over the years. We don’t like them and no doubt ever will, but they will probably keep on coming and there’s nothing we can do about it.
Now, if someone could please tell me what happened to Chuck Cunningham.
Photo Credits- The Fresh Beat Band – Nickelodeon.com
M*A*S*H – chargerbulletin.com