These days any character can get the ax. The shocking deaths of series regulars on Lost and Desperate Housewives prove that no one on television is safe anymore.
Ian Somerhalder, who played the ill-fated Boone on Lost, was shocked to learn that he was being killed off. "[I got the call] two days before going back to Hawaii to buy a house," he told TV Guide.
The Sopranos' Vincent Pastore thought he was in the clear because his original contract was for six years. That was until his character, Big Pussy, got whacked in Season 2. "The raises came in the third year, when I wasn't around," Pastore says with a laugh.
And over on Wisteria Lane, Rex Van De Kamp's early death has some of the rest of the cast feeling a bit... desperate. "The guys joke now about [their fate]," says James Denton. "Who knows what [executive producer] Marc Cherry's plan is? I'm lobbying to live."
This killer trend may make for edge-of-your-seat entertainment, but it has actors scrambling for job security. Screen Actors Guild spokeswoman Ilyanne Morden Kichaven says networks are already scaling back contracts for recurring stars from multiyear deals to one year. Even with that, she adds, "producers have the right to alter a story line [at any time]."
Where does that leave the actor? If he is savvy enough to have an airtight contract, then he'll get paid for the rest of the season. If not, his surprise pink slip won't necessarily be followed by a hefty severance package.
Lost and Desperate Housewives executive producers J.J. Abrams and Cherry, who have promised to do away with even more regulars next season, wouldn't comment on contracts, but veteran producer Tom Fontana — who's killed off his share on Oz and Homicide: Life on the Street — believes show runners should be fair when making creative decisions that could mean letting a star go. "If you made a commitment for them to be in the whole season and you're an honorable producer, then you'll pay them for that [whole] season," he says. "And if I bring them back in any way, I'll pay them the same amount they were getting per episode when they were [regulars]."
On 24, death is so inevitable that actor Dennis Haysbert, who played President Palmer, had one condition before returning to the Fox drama last season. "He really didn't want to be killed," claims executive producer Howard Gordon. Looks like his negotiation worked. He's still alive — for now.