Fans of the daytime drama The Young and the Restless (Y&R) were saddened to hear about the death of Emmy award winning actress Jeanne Cooper, who has played the iconic role of Katherine Chancellor since 1973, at the age of 84.
It also highlights the complications involved in managing the loss of a key employee in any organization.
Cooper’s death creates a unique dilemma for the producers of Y&R. Katherine Chancellor was front and centre in the show’s storyline and the actress appeared in nearly every episode. This was quite an incredible feat for an actress in her 80s and a wonderful role model for senior citizens everywhere. Her character has faced numerous challenges over the years, including a battle with alcoholism, an on-screen face lift, several marriages, and of course an ongoing feud with Jill Foster Abbott.
We suspect that the producers had a contingency plan in place in the event of the death or illness of the elderly actress, even though we can imagine some very awkward and perhaps macabre meetings on the subject. Since her character was so central to the show’s story lines, it would be difficult to explain a sudden disappearance.
Some scenarios could include:
Our thoughts and prayers are with Jeanne Cooper and her family. We thank her coming into our homes for nearly 40 years and entertaining us with her incredible portrayal of this iconic character.
Other TV programs have had to face the loss of a key cast member:
Who shot J.R. (Pt. 2)
The “rebooted” version of TV’s Dallas had to manage the death of Larry Hagman, who played villain J.R. Ewing, from cancer in 2012.
Producers told Entertainment Weekly that they were aware of Hagman’s health issues but his death was still unexpected. They re-edited previously shot material to have J.R. speak with his son on the telephone from a Mexico hotel when his character was shot (again, remember “Who Shot J.R.?”). His character died off screen. In addition to an onscreen funeral, the producers also created a special tribute to the actor with a modified version of the show’s theme song and opening credits.
What will happen to Miss Ellie?
The original version of Dallas had to deal with the death of actor Jim Davis in 1981, who played J.R.’s father and the show's patriarch, Jock Ewing. His character was sent to South America and died off screen.
Farewell to mother of all nasty mothers
Revered character actress Nancy Marchand, who played Tony’s twisted mother Livia on HBO’s The Sopranos (she put a hit on her son for putting her in a nursing home), died in 2000.
Her death caused the producers to rewrite significant plans for her character (including testifying against her son in court). Notably, producers even controversially used special effects to film a hospital scene between Livia and Tony (James Gandolfini) prior to her off-screen death.
We'll miss you, coach
TV’s Cheers lost actor Nick Colasanto played beloved “Coach” Ernie Pantusso, to a heart attack in 1985. NBC aired one remaining episode with the actor (with an on-screen dedication) and later had Coach die off-screen.
Newcomer Woody Harrelson took his spot behind the bar and later went onto a successful film career.
Aren't these supposed to be comedies?
Several sitcoms had to handle the very unfunny loss of key actors, including:
Preparing for the loss of a key employee
Every business owner knows that certain employees have a disproportionate importance to their success and they are not necessarily limited to the executive suite. Managing the risk of unexpectedly losing a key employee (whether they retire, take a position elsewhere, win the lottery, or are hit by a bus) is critically important. Risk management techniques can include:
If you would like assistance in managing the loss of a key employee or any other HR situation at your workplace, please contact Anna at (519) 624-0800 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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