On last week's Royal Pains, Dr. Hank's longtime on-again, off-again girlfriend Jill Casey (Jill Flint) left the sunny beaches of The Hamptons for the rural jungles of Africa for good. Although this wasn't the first time Jill said goodbye (see: her trip to Uruguay, when she lost original job in Africa), don't expect to see her on the next return flight to New York come Wednesday's episode (9/8c on USA). Executive producers Andrew Lenchewski and Michael Rauch talked with TVGuide.com about writing out one of the show's original stars, why Jill and Hank's romance had "run its course" and what's next for Hank's love life. Plus: Could Jill return to The Hamptons?
How did you decide that Jill would leave at this point in the show?
I think we felt we were at the point where we really owed the audience some definitive answer to that storyline. This is a show that is about these characters trying to find themselves and chase dreams and passions. Her passion had always been to create some kind of community clinic and [she] had struggled with really creating something of her own in the Hamptons. HankMed had helped her achieve that dream somewhat, but I would say in the past season and a half, it became clear that she had this calling elsewhere that she really wanted to pursue. The other side of that is, for us as storytellers, it was always challenging to have a love interest for our hero, who is a doctor, when the love interest is not herself a doctor. We felt like that relationship had been on-again and off-again and on-again and had run its course. So we're very happy with the way we brought closure to their relationship and to her arc as a character in the Hamptons.
At the start of Season 2, you sounded intent on carrying out this traditional will-they-or-won't-they romance throughout the show. What do you think the path of that relationship changed?
I think there's still that question lingering in the air. Everything we said then we believed and in a way we still do. We definitely aren't ruling out Jill Casey coming back to the show. It probably would be in a different capacity, but just because she's now working in Africa doesn't mean that she's not able to come back to the world of Royal Pains at some point. But it didn't feel like the right time to bring Hank and Jill back together.
When did the conversations first start? When did you realize this was the time for Jill to leave?
We probably had a sense of it sometime toward the beginning of Season 4 as we were breaking it. It's not something we knew seasons ago. We tried very hard to keep Jill woven into the storytelling and a big part of that was her connection to Hank and her connection to the clinic. Once we decided that the Hank-Jill relationship wasn't something we wanted to keep playing, it felt like it was time to fulfill the promise we had made many, many episodes ago.
The show has never had a problem finding other possible love interests for Hank with patients and rival doctors. Did you take that into consideration as well?
Definitely. Hank is an incredibly eligible bachelor within the show and he's our hero. So, the idea of finding true love for him is one of the major themes of the show. Once we made the decision to not bring him and Jill back together, we did initiate a new search for who that new character and new actress might be. This was an incredibly difficult decision for us that we debated for a long time and the other thing that made it tricky is that Jill is so built into the mythology of the show. She's been with us since the very beginning. Not only was she a major catalyst for Hank's initial decision to stay in the Hamptons, but she was probably the main thing in Season 1 that made the Hamptons palatable for Hank as an outsider. Now, four seasons in, it feels like Hank has so become part of this world and it's become part of him. So, the idea of someone enabling that comfort about the Hamptons felt like something that had run its course.
In the future, do you see there being one main love interest for Hank or will multiple characters serve that role?
We think there's the possibility of both. We have a character that comes into Hank's life this season that has the potential to be a new love interest. We like the idea of playing Hank as single for a little bit and seeing what that's like with him in this world. He's less of an outsider now as HankMed has become established. In Wednesday's episode, Hank and Evan's conflict ends and they come back together to help run HankMed. With that resolve, it gives Hank freedom to try new things. One of the things we're playing with Hank this year is this sense of adventure for him, and along with that is Hank being single really for the first time in the history of the show. He went from an engagement in the pilot to meeting Jill in the pilot, and Jill was always close enough around that it was hard for him to have enough breathing space to be able to commit emotionally to another person.
How did Jill Flint react?
It was probably the hardest thing we've done on this show, both the decision itself as well as the actual conversation with Jill because we love her so much as a person and respect her so much as an actress. It was a real difficult conversation, and she handled it with extreme grace and elegance and kindness, and of course, sadness and disappointment. We were so fortunate that she made it easy on us, and still so sad and disappointed because just not having her on set everyday has been difficult for everyone. She couldn't have handled it better.
It must have been a difficult last day on set.
It was a very hard day on set. We had a little going away cake and it was definitely emotional for everyone. It was fitting that we shot the South Africa stuff after we wrapped her in New York so it really did feel almost like, as an actress, she had the experience of going away the way her character did. In a way, it was cathartic because it really helped all of us emotionally. Every time we watched the footage from Africa cut into the episode, it really felt bittersweet, but ultimately like we were putting Jill Casey in a good place.
So her final scenes were actually shot in Africa?
We brought a small crew and actually flew to South Africa with the studio and the network's generosity. We felt like we owed it to the character and the audience, who wouldn't want to see us faking it.
How did the network react to this storyline?
Like with all the other big decisions we make about the show, we discuss them and decide very closely with the network. So, it was something that we all sat down and discussed as a group and we all came to the same conclusion. This was the right time to do this very difficult thing as long as it was handled in the right way.
You said not to rule out Jill's return. Has that been discussed at all? Is Jill Flint open to that?
We presented it to Jill much as we're presenting it to you now. This is a departure for Jill, but it's not necessarily a goodbye. We can't tell you right now if [or] when it's going to happen. I would say it's very safe to bet we will see Jill again at some point in Season 4. We're not quite sure in what instance and how long it's going to be for. As we told Jill months ago, we really feel like there is, and always will be, a place for her in this show. We're [just] not sure in what capacity in terms of how often. Jill Casey is such a part of the mythology of this show and the premise. She seems open to it.
Royal Pains airs Wednesday at 9/8c on USA. Will you miss Jill Casey?