Yesterday, the confirmation came that many Vampire Diaries fans were dreading, female lead Nina Dobrev (Elena) would be leaving the show after season six. The writing has been on the wall for a while now that Dobrev has had aspirations elsewhere, and when she was the only major cast member unsigned for the new season, chances of her signing on for another grueling stretch didn’t seem likely. Still, the announcement took fans by surprise and many are asking the question, “Now what?”

I do concur that when the entire premise of your series has been based on a love triangle, and you take the female equation of that love triangle away, it’s time for a new focus. No doubt that Elena’s loss changes the fabric of the show dramatically. This could be a good thing. The Vampires Diaries has always had too many busy story lines and not enough regular characters getting focus, but considering this show was built on the three major leads of Stephan, Damon, and Elena, it does leave a gaping hole. There are already gaping holes in the show now that Steven R McQueen (Jeremy) is gone and it was announced yesterday as well that Michael Trevino (Tyler) would be relegated to guest star status next season.

It’s not unheard of for shows to carry on after one of the main actors leaves. It happens in all types of shows, comedy, drama, sci-fi, etc. History on whether a show can redefine itself after a lead leaves is mixed.

In season eight of Smallville, they lost main characters Lex Luthor (Michael Rosenbaum) and Lana Lang (Kristin Kruek). Of course for that show, an origin story, the end result was always that Lois Lane and Clark Kent would end up together, so shifting the focus from the ensemble to that main pairing seemed to work for those last few seasons. Plus, there was only one true lead in that show, Tom Welling. Not to say it was always the smoothest, and they were grasping at straws for storylines at times, but overall it worked. That show though knew when it was time to end, and they called it quits after season ten.

The problem is when a TV show hits that golden mark for 100 episodes, like The Vampire Diaries did last season, every episode produced from that point forward becomes as valuable as gold, poor quality or not. This was obviously the case for The X-Files, which suffered greatly in season 8 when one of the two main leads, David Duchovny, left the show. They tried to carry on with Scully with a new partner, and that didn’t exactly work out very well. Fans could tell the difference. Mulder and Scully WERE the show. Still, FOX wasn’t ready to let go of its signature sci-fi show and that syndication potential, so the show floundered for two more seasons and ended with a thud.

This is also the problem with current CW shows. The CW has a lucrative deal with Netflix that means the more episodes they produce of a certain show, the more money per episode they can command (by season). It’s no accident that all of the CW shows in the fall lineup were renewed so early. As long as there’s demand for Netflix and online viewing, that’s where the real money will come from with their shows, and not the advertising dollars like the other networks. After all, The CW doesn’t have the live ratings to compete with other networks.

This is great for fans itching to see their favorite shows last longer, but a bummer if they’re expecting the quality of that show to stay intact for any extension beyond its true life. The current model isn’t accountable for quality. Many will argue that “Supernatural” should have ended after season five, but here it is going into season eleven. It is a shadow of what it once was, but it makes so much money The CW (and parent Warner Brothers) can’t turn it away.

Given the fact that The Vampire Diaries is a heavily serialized ensemble show, filling holes is a bit easier than the aforementioned “Supernatural,” which thrives on its two main leads and multiple standalone episodes. But if the show stops being about the love triangle, then will it inevitably shift to a format like “Supernatural” where it’s all about the adventures of the Salvatore brothers?  Will Caroline be expected to step up in to that female lead role, and perhaps create some tension among the brothers with a romance with Stephan? Will Bonnie, Matt, and Alaric get a plot now? Or will the show continue to build on the strange phenomenon that the constant flow of outsiders seem to keep bringing into Mystic Falls?

For me personally, I think The Vampire Diaries still has some weapons to work with, but Elena is essentially the heart of the show. Everything revolved around her. Replacing that heart is not going to be possible. The show will need to take a tonal shift and whole new artistic direction in order to thrive for a few more seasons. The ratings and buzz for the show has already been rapidly declining in season six, and so a shift in tone at this time in the series is certainly a huge risk. It must be done though, because trying to carry on with the same format without Elena defeats the premise of the entire franchise. I’m curious though to see if this writing team is up to the challenge, because I’ll also admit the last couple of seasons haven’t been very enjoyable for me.  I continue to watch for Damon, and that alone gives me hope that I can handle another season.

What do you think? Is it a mistake to carry on without Elena?

What characters on “The Vampire Diaries” would you like to see step forward in the lead role?

Do you think shows are being artificially extended on The CW just because of the lucrative online deals?

What are your hopes for The Vampire Diaries season seven?

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