Just as one chapter of behind-the-scenes drama on Fox’s Lethal Weapon closes, another one opens.
Shortly after the fast nationals for last night came out this morning, showing a solid Week 2 ratings performance for the revamped series with new co-lead Seann William Scott, a video interview of star Damon Wayans surfaced in which he announced that he was leaving the show in December, after completing the initial 13-episode Season 3 order.
I hear the announcement blindsided everyone, and he notified neither the studio nor the Lethal Weapon producers before doing the bombshell statement to Electronic Urban Report.
Wayans rarely does publicity for Lethal Weapon; he resisted/refused doing it early on and is not even asked to anymore. I hear EUR’s team was on the set of Lethal Weapon for Wayans’ co-star Keesha Sharp, who is making her directorial debut on the show with the episode now being filmed. There they got the interview with Wayans, who announced his exit from the show. (I hear he also said nice things about Sharp’s directing skills.)
In the brief one-on-one, Wayans revealed that he had been going through a difficult time personally, with both his daughter and mother undergoing surgeries last week that he could not be present for because of his obligations to Lethal Weapon.
Wayans had been vocal about the physical demands of doing a network drama series — his first — and the toll it has taken on him. (He previously did the ABC comedy My Wife & Kids, a multi-camera sitcom which has a far lighter work schedule.) “I’m a 58-year-old diabetic, and I’m working 16-hour days,” he said in the interview today.
I hear that ever since Wayans statement went public, there has been a flurry of talks between the actor, his team and the studio. He is clearly emotional in the interview, so I hear the show’s producers and executives wanted to find out whether his comments were a reaction to physical and mental exhaustion or a well thought-out and final decision.
The outcome of these conversations will impact the future of Lethal Weapon as Fox had been mulling a short — I hear probably two-episode — back order for the series, likely bringing its third season to 15 episodes. Reps for WBTV and Fox declined comment.
Wayans sounded bleak in today’s interview. “It’s hard for me to play this loving, supportive father/husband/friend on TV but be the guy in life that who’s telling everybody, ‘I can’t — I have to work,’ ” he said. “This has been very hard… I’ve been missing recitals and graduations, and to me it’s not worth it,” he added, noting that he is leaving to “try to find my smile again.”
But only two months ago, Wayans was upbeat and looking forward to the new season without his former co-star Clayne Crawford.
“We’re only the first (episode) in but it is definitely a lot lighter in tone, and we are having fun, on and off set,” he told Deadline in August. “It’s just a lot looser, nobody’s overthinking, just doing and having fun doing,” he added, a reference to Crawford’s reported involvement in the writing process.
Wayans is under contract for six seasons, so he could potentially be asked to honor his obligations. Of course, that rarely happens as there is little point in forcing actors to fulfill contracts when they are unhappy and want out, as that makes for a miserable experience for everyone involved. (Wayans already had been pretty unhappy on set, making work on the series harder for his colleagues, and reportedly had wanted to leave for most of the show’s run.) I hear conversations are ongoing and as of now Wayans has not been released from his contract.
It was the episode that marked the directing debut of another Wayans co-star, Crawford, last season that brought the pair’s feud to a boil. During the filming of that episode, Wayans suffered an injury that he blamed on Crawford. That led to the outburst by Crawford that set in motion his May firing from the series by WBTV over alleged bad on-set behavior.
Seann William Scott was cast as Crawford’s replacement, playing a new character, and the show was renewed for a third season. Likely hedging its bets, Fox ordered 13 episodes instead of the standard 22 for a returning series on the fall schedule, with an option to expand the pickup if the revamped series did well.
So far, it has, with Lethal Weapon delivering solid Live+Same Day ratings, including a 100% Week 2 hold, and potent delayed-viewing lifts. Additionally, the rebooted show with the new leading duo has been well received. In light of all that, a back order looked almost in the bag though it was never expected to be a full nine-episode because Fox has a deep midseason bench of shows it needs to get on the air. Fox will likely wait and see how things shake out with Wayans before making a decision on an additional episode pickup; there are a few more weeks until a call on that needs to be made. As a compromise, Wayans could agree to do the two extra episodes to help bring the seres to a proper close.
It will be hard for the show to survive the exits of both of its leads in short succession, and to justify being called Lethal Weapon without Riggs (Crawford) or Murtaugh (Wayans) in it. Wayans was actually the first actor cast in the reboot, and it was him signing on that landed the project a pilot green light. It would be symbolic if the person who got the show picked up also causes its cancellation.
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