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Why Did Shannen Doherty Leave Charmed at the End of Season 3?

There was too much power in too small a space. Something was bound to give.

By Cassidy Ward
(L-R) Piper Halliwell (Holly Marie Combs), Prue Halliwell (Shannen Doherty), and Phoebe Halliwell (Alyssa Milano) look shocked in Charmed.

From 1998 to 2006, audiences were charmed (puns!) by a collection of powerful sisters and their impressive magical abilities. The appropriately named Charmed (streaming now on Peacock) starred Alyssa Milano as Phoebe, the youngest Halliwell sister; Holly Marie Combs as Piper, the middlest Halliwell sister; and Shannen Doherty as Prue, the oldest and most powerful Halliwell sister.

As the story begins, the three of them discover a magical tome in their ancestral family home which unlocks their latent magical powers. Over the first three years, the Charmed Ones encountered demons, evil wizards, and all manner of supernatural enemies, none of which could overpower the impenetrable bond of sisterhood. But the onscreen trio were crushed beneath the weight of behind the scenes drama.

Why Shannen Doherty's Prue Halliwell Left Charmed After Season 3

Doherty left the series after the season three finale for reasons which weren’t wholly clear at the time. Spelling TV, who produced the show, released a statement saying, “We have had a long and prosperous relationship with Shannen and we didn’t want to hold her back form what she wanted to do.” Which sounds like a perfectly scripted canned response. Not a single drop of tea to be found.

RELATED: Why Was the Original Charmed Series Canceled?

In-universe, Prue should have been untouchable. She was the oldest and most powerful, capable of moving objects with her mind, projecting her consciousness into the astral plane, and absolutely kicking butt in hand to hand combat. That last part isn’t magical, Prue was just down to scrap at a moment’s notice. Her character was killed off at the end of Season 3 (sorry for the decades-old spoilers!) by Shax (Michael Bailey Smith), a powerful demon and right-hand baddy to the Source of All Evil.

After an initial encounter at the beginning of the Season 3 finale, “All Hell Breaks Loose,” Shax is apparently defeated but not before Prue is injured. With the help of her sisters, Prue is healed and lives to fight another day. That’s a good thing too, because she doesn’t feel super comfortable about how Shax was defeated. Meanwhile, the Charmed Ones are accidentally revealed to the outside world, ultimately leading to Phoebe’s death. Making a deal with a powerful demon named Tempus, they reverse time and start the whole day over again. Shax injures Prue once again and this time, because of the rewind deal they made, Prue’s injuries are fatal. The episode ended on a cliffhanger with many fans believing that Prue would return in Season 4, her injuries magically resolved. That, of course, didn’t happen.

Evil Couldn't Defeat Shannen Doherty's Prue, But Drama Could

Charmed Holly Marie Combs Shannen Doherty Alyssa Milano

Once Doherty’s departure was made public, there was speculation that she was forced out of a job. Doherty set the record straight in a 2001 interview with Entertainment Weekly, during which she said there was too much drama onset and not enough passion. “You know, I’m 30 years old now and I don’t have time for drama in my life anymore,” Doherty said.

While she didn’t name names or specify the nature of the drama, Doherty did take pains to ensure the world knew she and Holly Marie Combs were cool. “I’ll miss Holly a lot,” Doherty said. “That’s really the only thing I want to clear up. She’s one of my best friends and I love her dearly and there was never, ever, ever any problems between the two of us.

Some fans inferred, probably correctly, that this was an intentional dig at Milano. Rumors of Milano’s alleged bad behavior onset were heightened even further a few years back when Rose McGowan (who replaced Doherty after her departure) accused Milano of having created a toxic work environment.

RELATED: Alyssa Milano Feels ‘Some Guilt’ About Friction with Charmed Costar Shannen Doherty

Milano, meanwhile, gave her side of the story to Entertainment Weekly, suggesting that Doherty was the source of the quarrel. “I think it’s hard when you put two very different people together. I’m very laid back and passive… she’s very headstrong, she wants to get the job done. I think it’s unfortunate that she left, and that she needed to badmouth everyone involved and the audience. She sounds really angry. I just hope I didn’t contribute to that anger,” Milano said.

We might never know precisely what happened onset (and we probably don’t need to) but it seems clear that strong personalities clashed and the Power of Three was too much to handle. Fortunately, things seem to have smoothed out in recent years with Milano and Doherty burying the proverbial hatchet.

“I would say we are cordial. You know, I could take responsibility for a lot of our tension that we had. I think a lot of our struggle came from feeling that I was in competition rather than it being that sisterhood that the show was so much about. And I have some guilt about my part in that,” Milano said. “I have respect for her. Great actress, loves her family so much, and I just wish I could’ve felt strong enough in who I was to recognize that back then.”

The good news is that TV is forever and you can catch all eight seasons of the original Charmed streaming right now on Peacock.