Talented actors are an essential tool for any showrunner who intends to create a memorable piece of work that they hope will stand the test of time. Without these compelling vessels of storytelling, producers could never sell any narrative, which is why finding the perfect actors to play these roles is often the most important factor for any showrunner. So, when executives find the “perfect” actor to play their character, they should put forth a paramount effort to keep them for as long as the story needs them.
But when things go sour between a showrunner and an actor, what are the effects of the fallout for the people involved? When someone with a direct connection to your fate as an artist or a creator gets in the way, how can it be dealt with?
Well, here are a few examples:
Frank Darabont, “The Walking Dead”
Frank Darabont, the co-creator of the fan-obsessed show “The Walking Dead,” didn’t exactly punish the actor through his character, but the character’s fate was significantly altered because of his relationship with the executive producer.
Jeffrey DeMunn, who played Dale Harvoth, requested to be killed off the show after learning that the showrunner was being fired from “The Walking Dead” for what AMC stated were creative differences. The character death was a shock to many fans, but especially to those who read the comics that the show was initially based off.
In the original source material, Dale lives to have a much longer and fulfilling character arc.
To the audience’s disappointment, Dale is killed off in the second season by a zombie, or “walker,” in a quiet field and mercy-killed to end his suffering from his fatal wounds.
In 2013, it was revealed that Darabont was suing AMC for $280 million for not receiving proper payment for developing, writing and producing the series and being dropped from a contract that guaranteed that the co-creator would be involved in the entire run of the show and any spin-offs.
Ultimately, it was not the creator that sealed Dale’s fate, but the actor was still punished due to the showrunner.
Dan Harmon, “Community”
Most people know Harmon for creating two well-received cult classic TV shows, “Rick and Morty” and “Community,” each acquiring a fervent following that any showrunner would be jealous of. Harmon’s absurd and unique writing has led to beloved and unforgettable — and eminently quotable — characters.
However, as insane and adored as the characters are, there was no writing that could save Pierce Hawthorne from meeting his timely demise on “Community.” Or, if there was, Harmon wasn’t going to use it.
Chevy Chase, who played Pierce, and Harmon’s professional relationship became strained, to say the least, as early as the first season. It started with Harmon writing unpleasant and prejudiced attributes for the character who apparently was meant to resemble the actor’s unsavory behavior on set and grew into storylines that ridiculed the character in very obvious ways.
As the seasons went on, their feud garnered much more public attention. It culminated in Harmon being temporarily fired from NBC and Chase leaving the show, even after Harmon was let go by the network. Eventually, Harmon would return, but Chase would be killed off-screen in the fifth season after numerous years of complaining about the show’s long hours, poor writing and mistreatment by Harmon.
Over recent years, it’s evident that Chase’s behavior had become too unprofessional to handle by the crew and the network. It has been confirmed by multiple sources that the actor would leave the set early with no warning and make racially insensitive comments toward his castmate Donald Glover.
Ryan Murphy, “Glee”
With the majority of this list focusing on character deaths, I want to emphasize that sometimes the worst thing a showrunner can do is continue writing for a character they no longer respect because of the actor. This will lead to the most painful result in fictional storytelling — character assassination.
That is what happened to Dianna Agron, who played Quinn Fabray, and — to a lesser extent — Chris Colfer, who played Kurt Hummel, in the insane pop-culture phenomenon that was “Glee.”
It’s unclear when Agron’s problematic relationship with showrunner Ryan Murphy started. Her character was sidelined drastically in the third season, and Quinn was written to make a multitude of petty decisions that diminished her previous character development. She even ended up in a wheelchair for a few episodes after a texting-related car crash. After her character graduated, she faded into the background of “Glee,” only returning for a few short cameos.
Neither Murphy nor Agron have ever spoken publicly about issues behind the scenes, but it became abundantly clear that there must have been a falling out when Agron was not invited back for Cory Monteith’s tribute episode, even though she seemed to be just as shaken and saddened by her castmate’s death as the rest of the actors.
Colfer is different because his character wasn’t assassinated; however, he was ridiculed mercilessly on-screen. One of the most compelling examples was a scene between Kurt and his brutally honest friend, Santana Lopez, when she insulted and belittled multiple aspects of his personality and looks. The scathing remarks felt too personal, and Santana seemed to serve as a mouthpiece for Murphy’s own thoughts.
Jason Rothenberg, “The 100”
Jason Rothenberg takes the title of “Showrunner Most Likely To Ruin His Characters, Plot Line and Entire Message of His Show To Punish His Actors in the Final Season of His Show.”
This post-apocalyptic CW drama might seem like your average teen spectacle. Well, it really isn’t. It gets dark and it goes places you never expect it to go with its characters — including writing characters off the show simply to chastise actors. The first time it happened was with Ricky Whittle, who played Lincoln, a peaceful “grounder” who was shot in the head quite grotesquely. This death was not well-received. Not long after, the actor came out with accusations of experiencing abuse on set from Rothenberg.
Now, it has happened again with Rothenberg’s detested decision to kill off his male lead and fan-favorite in the most obscene and unnecessary way possible. Bob Morley, who played Bellamy Blake, was noted to be missing from set while the final season was still in production. It seems that fans’ worst fears came to fruition earlier this month when his entire character arc ended with his dying in a puddle of blood after being callously murdered by his best friend.
Rothenberg has stated that the actor’s absence was a result of Morley requesting time off, and the death was just a consequence of nihilistic storytelling. There have been many accounts that have surfaced that have refuted this assertion. Morley has yet to speak up about the incident, but I’m sure this is far from the whole story.