When Titular / Main characters depart


#1

G’day,

There’s a BIG SPOILER coming up in the next paragraph regarding The Walking Dead. If you are the person still watching this show, look away now…

Andrew Lincoln, who plays The Walking Dead’s main man, Rick Grimes, is reportedly leaving during the upcoming 9th season of the hit cult show. His departure is being seen as the likely end for the series - whether immediately, or after a few protracted years limping along like a… animated corpse… or… say… a walker.

To the uninitiated - The Walking Dead - a series about life after a zombie apocalypse - began in 2010 and quickly became one of the hottest pieces of tv merchandise especially for the key male demographic, despite “only” being a cable tv show. Focusing on former cop, Rick Grimes, and his son Carl, the show was based on, but has often diverged from a graphic novel by the same name. Although ratings have been in decline since the particularly gruesome opening to season 7, the show still averaged 7.82m viewers for AMC during its latest season - not bad for cable.

The departure of Lincoln will follow closely on from the loss of his character’s son, Carl, part way through S8, forcing even more changes from the gra-vels. There is talk that another of the shows ensemble cast, Daryl (played by Norman Reedus) will be stepping up to assume the lead. As someone who has watched the series from the beginning, I can’t personally see that working, as the show has always ultimately centred on, and often required Rick to be the guiding light.

With the example of the lower rating supernatural series, Supernatural, having now chalked up 13, going on 14 seasons, there was every reason to believe that The Walking Dead could still be on air many years from now. The gra-vels - which are still ongoing - offer plenty of storylines to for the tv writers to choose from, however the tv audience have been built around Andrew Lincoln’s performance as Rick.
Quite possibly without him, there is no solution to keep the series running long term.

The departure of a show’s main character/s would have to be the most difficult conundrum faced by television producers. Whilst a recasting of the role may have worked historically for shows like Bewitched (they had 2 Darrins?!), or even be a regular event on long-lived soap operas like Days of Our Lives, a “serious” drama would struggle to consider such a move with modern audiences who pay a lot more attention to their favourite actors as the show itself.

When Ron Howard left Happy Days, Henry Winkler’s Arthur Fonzarelli was pushed into the lime light. Considering the fact that the Fonze was never intended to play more than a bit-part in the series - and yet rapidly rose in popularity with the audience, this may have felt like a move in the right direction, however the show had always been about Richie’s journey through adolescence, and whilst the show continued for several years without him, his departure ultimately sealed its fate.

After everyone got over “Who shot J.R?!” in the 80’s, and Patrick Duffy decided to move on from Dallas, the drop in viewers ultimately lead the producers to convince the actor to revive the character of Bobby Ewing, going so far as to toss out a whole season’s worth of (aired!) stories by revealing that his death had just been a dream. This move kept the show alive for another 5 years.

Although E.R. was a ratings juggernaut for much of its first 8 years, you could mark its gradual decline in ratings by the departure of its main original cast. First George Clooney left, followed a few years later by Anthony “Nerd!” Edwards, and finally Noah Wyle. After that, the ratings slipped year after year until the end.

But what about shows where the main character actually outlives their welcome? Personally - by the time Buffy the Vampire Slayer reached around S5, my interest was much more heavily vested in everyone except Buffy. I would have been perfectly satisfied if Geller had slung her hook and been replaced by Eliza Dushku’s alternative slayer character, Faith. But, then it wouldn’t really have been Buffy the Vampire Slayer any more… Certainly when the series came to an end, it was my hope that a spin-off would continue Faith’s adventures. (Alas all we got was a couple seasons of Tru Calling and Doll House.)

8 Simple Rules (Ritter)… Spin City (Fox)… 2.5 Men (Sheen)… The X Files (Duchovny)… The list goes on, proving how hard it is for a show to lose its core character/s and manage to pick up and carry on…

… with the one exception being…

(Honest to god, I did not think this was where I was heading when I began writing!)

In 1966 William Hartnell departed Doctor Who (against his will, but for the good of the show given his failing health), having launched the show to stardom (aided by a few pepperpots). He was replaced with Patrick Troughton. Now - you could call this a recast like Bewitched, however you really just simply can’t. Unlike Bewitched, or other such recasting tv events, Patrick Troughton looked nothing like William Hartnell. He did not try to play the role like William Hartnell had played the role. He was effectively an entirely new character, if sharing the same name, and for the most part, ethics. Ratings did not decline. 3 years later the role again was handed to a new actor, and the show continued to enjoy high ratings. 5 years later; ratings saw their peak under Tom Baker. And whilst the next 3 actors resided over declining ratings and ultimately cancellation, the show remained on air for 8 more years.

Upon its revival, Doctor Who has once more handed the reigns to a new actor every few years, and whilst the ratings have dropped significantly over the past 2 seasons under Peter Capaldi’s Doctor, IMO that’s as much to do with behind the scenes (ie an over-worked showrunner, and a whole year without just 1 episode) rather than an issue with the change of actor.

I guess the moral of the story is - if your lead actor leaves, just quit whilst you’re still fondly remembered; unless their character goes by the name, the Doctor.

cheers

cosmic


#2

This show has long overstayed its welcome. It used to be about zombies, but for a long time now they just play a back seat to a relationship drama.

The writers of the show treat viewers with contempt. Stupid cliffhangers like Glen under a bin, or Negan swinging a bat. An entire season of walking down a train line.

Rick isn’t even an interesting character anymore, he just mopes about while everybody else deals with the repercussions of his poor decisions.

The interesting characters are Maggie, Michonne and Carol. Daryl used to be interesting but the writers have ignored him for a long time.

I must admit the hint of Maggie’s uprising against Rick has me intrigued and I will continue watching. I’ve only kept watching this show in the hopes of closure.

I don’t care that Carl’s dead, I don’t care if Rick dies. I think the show can be all the better for it.

Fear the Walking Dead is an infinitely better story in that world.


#3

The Walking Dead was never about zombies. It’s always been a character driven story. Right from the very start of the comic the zombies were just part of the environment. The characters and their arcs has always been the focus. If you don’t get that, you don’t get The Walking Dead at all. There’s no way you could have a property last 190 issues if it’s just fighting zombies each month, likewise a TV show can’t last 8-10 seasons if it’s just action and fighting each week. That’s also why the name “The Walking Dead” doesn’t refer to the zombies, it refers to the humans who are metaphorically the walking dead because they are already infected.

Rick has been a 2nd tier character in the comics for a while now. Maggie and some of the new world characters have taken over the main storylines. I don’t see an issue with Andrew Lincoln’s departure at all. But I’m a comic reader who knows the context. Everyday watchers of the TV show probably feel much different.

I suppose the writers are at a loss as to what dialogue to give Rick now that Carl is dead and he can’t fill in every other line with shouting CORRRALLLL all the time in his dreadful Atlantan accent.


#4

Give me a break, @gehenna, all TV shows are about the characters and their arcs. The show used to be in an environment where fighting off zombie attacks was prominent. That’s all I was saying. So I apologise if I “don’t get The Walking Dead at all”.


#5

They are still prominent, but with 5 years of living in that environment they’re less a threat and more a tool now, livestock even.


#6

I saw a theory a while back, that the zombies in The Walking Dead are in fact decaying, and will ultimately probably in fact “die”. We’ve seen recently walkers that just disintegrate when engaged in a fight… so eventually the flesh will simply rot down to nothing.

Whilst the first 3-4 seasons were heavy on zombie storylines, they have been lighter and lighter the past 4 seasons or so. Still have an occasional big feature event like being used against the Saviors, etc, but not an every episode major them.

I guess ultimately it pushes the show toward being more straight post-apoc genre instead of zombie genre. As noted however, if it didn’t evolve and maintain interesting characters, you just wouldn’t tune in week after week.


#7

I lost interest in the ‘modern’ Doctor, right about when Amy Pond left. Actually I only stuck around that long because I wanted to see how they would write her out.

All TV shows have their use by dates. The English are usually better at closing down tv series before everyone is sick of them. The IT crowd only went for four seasons. Top Gear is an exception. It should have been killed off when they fired Clarkson.

The Americans usually get away with it better as the actors get paid enough to stay with the show. But even then they can get real tired. Look at the current series of TBBT.

No Australian show should go for more than two seasons at best. This is not only because domestic Australian actors are too flaky to stick with anything, but our screenwriters have no originality and highly predictable, probably because they ultimately write for government grants rather than the audience.


#8

I also wanted to see Amy written out… couldn’t wait for the day.

The UK tv market is quite different to the mass production of the US. The UK tends to avoid the writing pools that are used in the US, thus having much shorter episode counts - you can churn out 24 episodes per season if you are spreading that out over 8-12 writers… but if it’s just a handful of writers, then you get the lower 6 - 13 stories per season seen in the UK.

That’s not to say however that the UK doesn’t produce long running high episode count drivel, err, soaps, but it gives us lots of shows - typically comedies, but also dramas - that are in many cases of a better quality in terms of their scripts than what you see coming out of America. There’s often more cohesion because there are fewer heads butting together.

Here in Aus, there’s been plenty of good quality, long lasting tv shows (not just the 2 main dinner-time soaps on 7 and 10 that I wont mention; though even they have produced great acting talent).