The Price Of Success: Hit Shows Bracing For Cast Exits & Untimely Cancellations

The Vampire Diaries fans are still reeling from the news that the star Nina Dobrev is leaving the series after six seasons. She had the right to do it, opting not to sign a new contract after fulfilling her current one. Still, Dobrev’s departure is creating challenges for the producers, studio and network behind the long-running vampire drama. When Vampire Diaries returns for a seventh season this fall on the CW, it will be different, just as NBC’s The Office became a different show after original star Steve Carell also left at the end of his contract.

While Vampire Diaries has already been renewed for next season, there are other veteran series whose renewal is entangled with talent negotiations as their stars’ contracts expire at the end of this season. That includes ABC drama Castle and its leading duo Nathan Fillion and Stana Katic; Fox drama Bones and its stars, David Boreanaz and Emily Deschanel; and fellow CBS crime procedural Criminal Minds, which has the vast majority of its primary cast — Thomas Gibson, Joe Mantegna, Shemar Moore, Kirsten Vangsness and A.J. Cook — in need of new deals after this season. Additionally, CSI leading man Ted Danson’s contract is up this season as were the deals of The Middle cast.

The Middle contract limbo led to co-star Charlie McDermott taking on the title role in the CBS pilot Super Clyde in February. I hear The Middle cast led by Patricia Heaton now has contracts in place, paving the way for a renewal by ABC. That series also will have to undergo some creative tweaking if Super Clyde is picked up to series as McDermott will exit as a regular, though I hear he would likely have some presence on the ABC comedy, something Dobrev would not do with TVD. 

Mothership CSI is truly on the bubble, but the rest of the series facing/undergoing cast negotiations would normally be considered a lock for next season. With romantic mystery dramas Castle, now in Season 7, and Bones, in Season 10, that is very much up in the air as the stars on both shows remain noncommittal about coming back, which complicates renewal plans.

While the CW and WBTV are proceeding with TVD sans Dobrev, shifting focus to her co-leads — heartthrobs Ian Somerhalder and Paul Wesley, who have signed on for next season — it’s very hard for Castle, named after Fillion’s character, or Bones, named after Deschanel’s character, to continue without their star pairs. Losing one of the two leads would be a little bit more manageable. NBC’s Law & Order: SVU has gone on with Mariska Hargitay flying solo after her co-star Chris Meloni departed at the end of one of his contracts. She is on board for the crime drama’s recently ordered 17th season.

CBS is known for its tough stance on cast renegotiations involving its crime procedurals, as evidenced by the brief firing of CSI‘s Jorja Fox and George Eads over salary demands early in the show’s run. The last time the Criminal Minds five were up for new contracts two years ago, the network didn’t start talks until after renewing the show in May. Negotiations with Gibson proved lengthy and difficult, and he didn’t sign on until two weeks before start of production on Season 7, prompting writers to consider alternative storylines not involving his character.

Two years ago, CBS’ sibling CBS Studios had signed a new deal with Danson and had renewed CSI by March. With the long-running drama heavily on the bubble, I hear that talks with the Cheers alum are not expected to start until closer to the upfronts when the network would have a better idea which way it would be leaning on the show’s renewal.

This is a recurring ritual for series that go beyond 6-7 seasons, with the actors usually signing two-year deals at a time after that. (In the U.S., standard actor’s series contract is for six seasons. That is sometime extended to seven seasons in exchange for a salary bump early in the run of a show.) Last year, we saw the Grey’s Anatomy original cast’s pacts come up, with stars Ellen Pompeo and Patrick Dempsey negotiating new contracts and co-star Sandra Oh leaving. Pompeo and Dempsey will be up for renewal again next season, along with the stars of the CW’s Supernatural and a number of NCIS players, among others.

Cast contract negotiations are considered a high-class problem as they are associated with hit series that have gone the distance. They allow actors to get in on the shows’ success in a major monetary way or leave if they want to pursue other things. And while six years still prove short for some long-running series, that still is longer than the cast contracts in other countries as evidenced by the major creative shake-up on UK hit Downton Abbey, which saw three main cast members leave after Season 3, including male lead Dan Stevens.

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