What To Do When Your Show's Star Up And Dies On You

The sudden passing of West Wing actor John Spencer leaves the show's writers with the logistical problem of finishing the season without him. USA Today uses the occasion to compile an exhaustive chart chronicling how past TV productions dealt with the sudden, inconvenient removal of a cast member by the icy finger of the Reaper:

Show and character: 8 Simple Rules for Dating My Teenage Daughter John Ritter as Paul Hennessy

Series star Ritter died of a heart condition in 2003, after completing three episodes of the show's second season.

The solution:
When the series resumed production after a brief hiatus, mom Cate (Katey Sagal) had discovered Paul had died and broke the news to the kids. Cate's father, Jim (James Garner) and, later, nephew C.J. (David Spade), joined the show to help fill the male void.

Show and character:
Law & Order: Trial by Jury
Jerry Orbach as Detective Lennie Briscoe

After a 12 year-run as homicide detective Briscoe on Law & Order, Orbach was cast as a regular on the show's short-lived 2005 spinoff. He died of prostate cancer in December 2004, after shooting just three episodes.

The solution:
The show dedicated an episode to Orbach and referenced that his character had died. A memorial service was held.

We must hand it to chart-crazy USA Today's crack research department, who could almost be accused of doing too good a job. Never again will we find ourselves wondering aloud how the death of Dolph Sweet boosted Nell Carter's career during the 1985-86 season of Gimme a Break!