While mourning the death of Cory Monteith with the rest of his fans, Fox executives were faced with an additional challenge as the week began: filling the void left in the cast of one of their top-rated shows, "Glee," which was scheduled to go back into production for its next season at the end of July.
Monteith's death at age 31 in a Vancouver hotel room Saturday left Hollywood in shock and mourning. But that shock had serious implications for the producers of "Glee," who worked with the troubled actor as a standout star in a cast that also includes Monteith's girlfriend Lea Michele, Matthew Morrison, Kevin McHale and Jane Lynch.
The series is scheduled to go back on the air on Sept. 19.
Fox and Twentieth Century Fox Television, which produces "Glee," are not commenting on whether production will be moved from late July in the wake of Monteith's tragic death. An individual with knowledge of the situation told TheWrap on Sunday that the "Glee" camp is weighing how to carry on without Monteith's lead character, jock-turned-glee-club-geek Finn Hudson, as production looms.
Neither Fox nor Twentieth Century would comment for this story.
The burden on executive producers Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk, along with 20th Century chief executives Dana Walden and Gary Newman, is how to delicately weave in the sudden absence of Finn Hudson, who when last season left off was graduated and had gone on to college to study teaching.
How might the show bid farewell to Hudson? As jarring as Monteith's death is, other shows have carried on following the tragic deaths of major characters.
Monteith, who entered rehab to address substance-abuse issues in April, didn't appear in the final three episodes of Glee's fourth season, which aired its finale on May 9. (When Monteith entered rehab, the season had two episodes remaining to be filmed.) But the last episode to feature Monteith's Hudson character — "Sweet Dreams," which premiered April 18 — could offer some possibilities as to how Hudson's absence could be explained when the show returns.
In the episode, Hudson, now attending the University of Lima in Ohio, is studying to become a teacher while delving into fraternity culture — both character developments that could leave an opening for his exit. The episode finds William Schuester, the director of the New Directions glee club, showing up at Lima University to make amends with Hudson after a falling out, and to ask him to return to help the club.
Hudson, presiding over a hedonistic water-slide event in the hall of his dormitory, declines.
"There's just some things that you can't come back from," Hudson says. "It's a nice offer, but as you can see, I'm pretty busy with college."
See photos: Cory Monteith: A Career and Life in Pictures
That's s fairly natural point for a severance. No stranger to shakeups in the past, "Glee" — which was renewed for fifth and sixth seasons earlier this year — was already poised for another revamp for its upcoming season.
Last week, series creator Murphy announced that "American Idol" favorite Adam Lambert had joined the cast, though no further details were offered on his role. And the show recently cut loose Dianna Agron, Heather Morris, Mark Salling, Harry Shum, Jr.. and Amber Riley, while upping recurring cast members Melissa Benoist, Jacob Artist, Becca Tobin, Blake Jenner and Alex Newell to series regulars. While none of these changes will replace what Monteith's Finn brought to the show, the fact that the series was already in a state of flux could help ease the transition.
Though shocking and unexpected, Monteith's death doesn't pose an unprecedented dilemma for "Glee." Series have returned after a star's passing, though the track record for continued success hasn't been good.
Following the 2003 death of "8 Simple Rules for Dating My Teenage Daughter" star John Ritter, which occurred while the show was in production for its second season, the ABC sitcom returned as "8 Simple Rules," adding James Garner and David Spade to the cast following an episode that paid tribute to Ritter's character, Paul Hennessey. Though the show was renewed for a third season, it was canceled thereafter.
NBC's "NewsRadio" tragically lost its star Phil Hartman when he was killed by his wife. The series went on with Jon Lovitz coming aboard as an old colleague of Hartman's news-anchor character Bill McNeal. The series continued for one more season.
The '70s sitcom "Chico and the Man" was similarly struck by the 1977 suicide of Freddie Prinze. Prinze's character, Chico Rodriguez, was written off with the explanation that he was visiting his father in Mexico, with the focus shifting to other characters for the remainder of the third season. A child character, Raul, was added as a replacement for Chico for the series' fourth and final season.