Bill Paxton, the star of CBS’s “Training Day” who died on Saturday at age 61, was hardly the first shocking death to affect the production of a television series.
In 2003, John Ritter died of an aortic dissection, shortly before his 55th birthday, while filming the ABC series “8 Simple Rules.” Ritter’s death was written into the series, with his character, Paul Hennessy, collapsing in a grocery store. James Garner and David Spade appeared in guest-starring roles to fill in the gap following Ritter’s departure, but the ratings fell, with the show slipping from 42nd to 50th place. It was cancelled in 2005.
More recently, actor Lee Thompson Young, who played Detective Barry Frost on TNT’s “Rizzoli & Isles,” did not report to the set on Aug. 19, 2013. He was later discovered in his LA apartment, dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. Young was 29.
After the cast and crew received word of his death, production was shut down, and everyone was sent home. At the time, series co-star Bruce McGill told The Post that executive producer Janet Tamaro had to fight “the powers that be” to let them have a week to grieve.
The cast returned a week later to film the season’s final episode, which the writers had rewritten, sending the Frost character on vacation.
The show went on hiatus for five months. Tamaro was replaced by veteran producer Jan Nash (“Without a Trace”). She made it her mandate to move both the cast and the series forward. The biggest problem was how the writers would write Frost out of the show.
“Some people wanted Frost to stay on vacation,” McGill said. “That was ridiculous.”
Said Nash: “We decided to deal with the loss head-on.”
Frost died at the end of Episode 1. “Rizzoli & Isles” ran for seven seasons total. Its final broadcast aired Sept. 5, 2016.
On Jan. 19, 2017, veteran character actor Miguel Ferrer, who played Owen Granger on “NCIS: Los Angeles,” died of throat cancer. Showrunner R. Scott Gemmill said in a statement, “Today, [our show] lost a beloved family member. Miguel was a man of tremendous talent who had a powerful dramatic presence on screen, a wicked sense of humor, and a huge heart. Our thoughts go out to his wife Lori, his sons, and his entire family. He will be greatly missed.”
Ferrer’s last episode will air Sunday, March 5. According to Deadline, the Bob Dylan song “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door,” performed by Ferrer’s band The Jenerators and sung by Ferrer, will be played. The episode will end with a remembrance title card.
Deadline also reported that Paxton completed his 13-episode order for “Training Day.” Four episodes have already aired, but with a weak debut performance, both in overall viewers (4.7 million) and the demo (0.9), any prospects it had for renewal have virtually disappeared with Paxton’s death.
Still, CBS issued a very affectionate statement upon the actor’s passing: “Bill was, of course, a gifted and popular actor with so many memorable roles on film and television. His colleagues at CBS and Warner Bros. Television will also remember a guy who lit up every room with infectious charm, energy and warmth, and as a great storyteller who loved to share entertaining anecdotes and stories about his work. All of us here offer our deepest sympathy to his wife, Louise, and his two children.”
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