Writers on the Amazon flagship comedy series Transparent were working on storylines for Season 5 when word came that the streaming service had launched an investigation into sexual harassment claims against series star Jeffrey Tambor. In light of that, I hear the writers have contemplated a possible a fifth season without the show’s title and celebrated character.
This is something the writers on Netflix’s House Of Cards already are grappling with as the streaming network cut ties with star Kevin Spacey. Production on the series was shut down while the writers and producers mull whether they could redraw Season 6 without Spacey’s central character. (HoC producer MRC has only suspended him for now, while Netflix stated it would not air another season that features the disgraced actor.)
In all three cases, the networks and producing studios were faced with difficult decisions involving a possible abrupt end of a series or a complete revamp without the shows’ signature central character. That may prove even more difficult than the actual removal of the stars.
The decision on Wisdom could be the most painless as the drama launched this fall and has not been able to attract strong viewership or buzz; it had been in serious danger of cancellation even before the Piven accusations started. In the case of Transparent and HoC, these are important, brand-defining, award-winning shows that helped put the two streaming platforms on the original programming map.
As the Spacey scandal broke, Netflix already announced that the political drama’s upcoming sixth season will be its last. The question now is whether the producers can pull it off without the Oscar winner.
As for firing actors for improper conduct, the current slew of sexual harassment allegations is expected to expand the use of morals clauses, which I hear had not been insisted upon by every network and studio. It usually takes one incident for a network/studio to make them a blanket policy and strictly enforced. I hear that happened at Disney following the controversy involving Grey’s Anatomy co-star Isaiah Washington, who allegedly assaulted an actor on set and used a homophobic slur in October 2006 but did not leave the series until ABC/ABC Studios did not pick up his option in June 2007, despite repeated calls from the gay community for him to be terminated sooner.
For Netflix, which sources said had not been pushing for morals clauses, the Spacey sexual misconduct scandal may be the turning point.
Even without such clauses, networks and studios only are faced with the need to find cause for termination of an actor implicated with improper conduct if the series is in production at that time. If it’s not, the studio simply would not pick up its option as cast members are re-upped every season, with studios often delaying option pickups until the very start of production on the next season.
House Of Cards was filming the current season and had to shut down when Spacey was suspended. Wisdom of the Crowd is in production but wrapping its original 13-episode order, a point where networks and studios often give themselves wiggle room to continue with some cast members and drop others. Transparent is not yet in production.
The situation is more complicated when a show’s star also is an executive producer/profit participant, as is the case with Spacey on HoC. The situation is still being sorted out, with observers expecting Spacey to be paid out as he departs. That would avoid a potential lawsuit, like the one Two and a Half Men star and profit participant Charlie Sheen filed against series producer Warner Bros TV when he was fired during production. It resulted in a financial settlement.
But Sheen’s firing also changed completely the dynamic on 2.5 Men, which replaced him with a new leading man, Ashton Kutcher, playing a new central character. The retooling worked, giving the sitcom legs to run four more seasons on top of the eight with Sheen.
That could be somewhat reassuring for networks that face the prospect of replacing their star over improper behavior. But the ordeals many networks face these days as their leading men are accused of sexual misconduct may also bring a change women in Hollywood had advocated for years — more shows with female leads.