Despite having bigger plans for the character, That ‘70s Show abruptly killed off Charlie after season 7. With Topher Grace leaving after season 7 and Ashton Kutcher departing at the start of season 8, That ‘70s Show introduced a few new characters to replace Eric and Kelso. One such character was Charlie (Bret Harrison), who joined the sitcom in That ‘70s Show season 7, episode 23 “Take It Or Leave It” as the innocent son of Red’s old Navy buddy.
After spending the last three episodes of season 7 getting to know the gang and preparing to fill Eric’s spot once he left for Africa, That ‘70s Show’s season 8 premiere began with the news that Charlie had died. As Kitty recounted what happened in Point Place since Eric went to Africa, she revealed that Charlie unexpectedly died falling off the water tower. Nearly every teen in That ‘70s Show fell off the water tower at some point, but Charlie would be the first to die from such an accident. Following Charlie’s tragic death, the site was renamed the “Charlie Richardson Memorial Water Tower.”
While Charlie’s introduction at the end of That ‘70s Show season 7 was meant to set him up as Eric’s replacement, actor Bret Harrison was presented with a bigger opportunity. Ahead of That ‘70s Show season 8, Harrison was offered the starring role on Fox’s sitcom The Loop, where he portrayed a young professional balancing his corporate work and social life. The Loop would go on to be canceled after two seasons, but it gave Harrison a more significant role than he would have found with Charlie on That ‘70s Show’s final season. However, had The Loop not been picked up as a full series, Harrison would have stayed on That ‘70s Show season 8 as a main character. Due to Fox being the network home to both That ‘70s Show and The Loop, Harrison was still able to return for a brief appearance in That ‘70s Show season 8’s premiere to film his death scene.
Would Charlie Have Been A Better Eric Replacement Than Randy?
Although Charlie only starred in three episodes of That ‘70s Show season 7 with a minor appearance in season 8 for his death flashback, he was able to establish a considerable amount of chemistry with the other characters before falling off the water tower. Randy Pearson, on the other hand, was introduced in That ‘70s Show’s season 8 premiere as a combined replacement for Eric and Kelso, although Randy was widely hated by That ’70s Show fans. While neither would have been able to perfectly recreate Eric’s dynamic in That ‘70s Show, Charlie’s place within the gang created no direct competition with Eric’s memory, which wasn’t the same story for Randy.
Charlie never exhibited the charisma that Eric exhibited as the de facto leader of the gang, but his more naïve sentiment called back to how Eric was first introduced in That ‘70s Show, with Harrison having just come off an Eric-like role in Grounded For Life. Charlie was also a better character to continue Red’s stern approach to the younger characters, as he looked upon Charlie as a mentee due to Harrison’s character being the son of his old war buddy. Red and Randy never established the potential for a fun dynamic reminiscent of Eric’s, with the character soon being resented once he began dating Donna. Charlie’s personality never set him up as potential competition for Donna with Eric, as his The ’70s Show storylines were based around his innocence being corrupted by the gang.
Charlie was surprisingly the only That ‘70s Show character killed off due to the actor taking another role or stepping away from the series, which made his death quite shocking. In the past, That ‘70s Show’s characters were either recast or written off without much explanation, such as were the cases for Lisa Kelly Robin’s Laurie Forman and Tanya Roberts’ Midge Pinciotti. While Charlie never enjoyed a full season on That ‘70s Show, Harrison would eventually reunite with Kelso actor Ashton Kutcher through his recurring role on Netflix’s The Ranch.