Cory Monteith's death leaves Glee plot dilemma

Producers of the hit television show Glee must figure out how to handle the death of Cory Monteith, who played central character Finn Hudson, as they prepare to film season five.

Glee producers mum on season five changes

Cory Monteith on a 2011 shoot for Glee with co-star and girlfriend Lea Michele. Monteith was found dead in a Vancouver hotel room last week. (Charles Sykes/ Associated Press)

Finn Hudson, a recent graduate who spent some of the year after high school floundering, recently discovered his life ambition: to become a teacher.

Unfortunately, hotel employees discovered 31-year-old Cory Monteith, who played Hudson on the Fox hit show Glee, dead in a Vancouver hotel room last week. An autopsy revealed Monteith died from a fatal mix of heroin and alcohol.

As his co-stars, including on- and off-screen girlfriend Lea Michele, mourn the loss, the show's producers must figure out how to write Hudson's season five storyline after Monteith's death.

Glee's unique challenge

So far, Glee executive producers and Fox representatives have only released a statement expressing their condolences.

"We are deeply saddened by this tragic news. Cory was an exceptional talent and an even more exceptional person. He was a true joy to work with and we will all miss him tremendously. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family and loved ones," read the statement.

They have remained silent about how the show will handle Monteith's character, though rumours abound citing anonymous industry insiders saying that execs are holding emergency meetings and scrambling to find an answer.

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The show's premise means Monteith's death poses a challenge.

Glee is the musical, American answer to Canada's Degrassi Junior High and all its subsequent spin offs.

The show doesn't shy from tough subjects. Over four seasons viewers have watched a closeted football player attempt suicide, a transgender student enroll at the school and a teenage couple cope with pregnancy news.

Viewers expect Glee to tackle serious issues, like death and addiction, head-on rather than avoid them.

Death on Glee

If Glee's writers decide to kill Finn Hudson in the upcoming season, it won't be the first time a character has died.

Most Glee deaths occurred in the past and off screen. Finn Hudson's dad died while serving in the military well before viewers met the high-school quarterback Finn Hudson of season one.

The only death occurring during the show's first four seasons was felt most heavily by a minor character, Sue Sylvester, the high school's slightly mean-spirited but well-intentioned cheerleading coach.

Her sister who has Down Syndrome, Jean Sylvester, dies of pneumonia. In the episode, titled Funeral, the glee club gathers to pay tribute to Jean at her funeral.

Glee has several options: put up a casting call for a new Finn Hudson, rely on digital animation to create a final scene for the character, kill him off the show or have his on-screen absence become a character.

Fanbase divided

Many fans are calling for the show to record a tribute episode, during which Finn Hudson dies.

Cause of death suggestions include mirroring Monteith's death by having Hudson overdose from a hidden drug problem or simply killing the character through an unrelated, tragic accident.

But, not all the fans seem certain that's what they want the writers to do. Many are pointing out it could be too difficult for the close-knit cast to relive Monteith's death.

For the actors "who lived with him and are facing a pain far greater than ours, it will probably be just too much," read one comment on the Glee Facebook page.

The death of the character of Jean Sylvester was not forced by an actor's passing. The woman who played Sylvester, Robin Trocki, is alive.

Still, after filming the Funeral episode, Jane Lynch, who plays Jean's sister on the show, reportedly said it was a difficult scene to shoot because of the high emotions.

But no matter what the fans want Glee's writers to do, they all seem to agree on one thing: the actors and fans need some sort of closure after Monteith's untimely death.

Glee season five production was scheduled to begin soon and the premiere date is set for September 19.

Notable TV deaths

Glee is not the first show to have to find a way to work around an actor's sudden passing. Over the years, TV programs tackled the same challenge in different ways.

8 Simple Rules... for Dating My Teenage Daughter star John Ritter felt ill on set in 2003. He was rushed to the hospital, where he later died of a torn aorta while being treated for a heart attack.

The show addressed Ritter's death head-on in a two-part special. Ritter's character, Paul Hennessy, died in an off-screen accident during the opening of the episode. Hennessy's wife, two daughters and son spent the next season and a half coping and frequently weaving Hennesey's death into the sitcom's plotlines.

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Other shows have opted to wait before writing an actor's death into a script.

When Jim Davis, at the time the patriarch of the Dallas clan, died of cancer in 1981 he remained alive, off-screen as Jock Ewing for thirteen episodes. His character eventually died in a helicopter crash in South America.

It's also possible to keep a character off-screen without killing them, like how Chico and the Man moved Freddie Prinze's character to Mexico after Prinze's suicide. The show later ran an episode noting that Chico died, but doesn't offer up an explanation as to what happened.

Some productions are rumoured to have considered replacing actors after their passing. Perhaps most famously when River Phoenix died in the middle of a movie production, producers cancelled the movie — reportedly after being unable to recast the part.

TV shows can also turn to new technology that can make it easier to re-create a deceased actor for a brief final scene.

The Sopranos employed such technology after Nancy Marchand, who played Livia Soprano, died in 2000. The show opted to use previously shot footage and computer generated imagery (CGI) to film her final scene.