Is Netflix's Latest Hit Show Doomed If This Star Actress Walks Away?

Netflix is making big bets on original programming. The company has reportedly spent more than $200 million on shows such as Kevin Spacey vehicle House of Cards, cult comedy revival Arrested Development, and women's prison dramedy Orange Is the New Black. The gamble appears to be paying off, but nothing comes easy in Hollywood.

The first batch of originals has produced 14 Emmy nominations, and Orange might beat them all next year. After all, Rolling Stone says that it's "the better written, more heartfelt, and more complete show" and added: "It shines where Cards fails and, if the TV gods are on our side, it will end up with just as many nominations as its big brother in 2014."

Orange was renewed for a second season before the first one even became available to Netflix subscribers. That's a gutsy call, and also a strong endorsement of the show's quality. Reviews like the gushy Rolling Stone article indicate that it's the right bet, too.

But what if the much-lauded cast doesn't come together for the second season? The Hollywood Reporter says that key cast member Laura Prepon won't be a regular next year.


Laura Prepon, in character as Orange Is the New Black's Alex Vause. Source: Netflix.

"Prepon will only return to the [Lions Gate ] TV-produced drama to wrap up her storyline, though the door remains open for the actress to return to the series," says the Reporter. The magazine "confirmed" this data point but won't spill the beans on its insider sources.

Removing Prepon from the boiling Orange pot could ruin the hit-making recipe. Her character, drug mule Alex Vause, is the reason series lead Piper Chapman (played by Taylor Schilling) is in prison to begin with, and their strained relations play a central role in the first season.

Netflix wants to shoot down the Reporter scoop. The company told E! Online and others that the rumor is misleading. "It's not accurate. Our season is still developing and nothing is confirmed," goes the party line. Showrunner Lions Gate isn't weighing in on the issue.

I'm guessing that there's something to the Reporter scoop. Notice how carefully Netflix's spokesperson worded its rebuttal. This is less than a flat-out denial and just barely more than nothing at all.

Chances are that Prepon wants to cash in on the acclaim from her first season at Orange, and who can blame her? A role like this could be the perfect springboard from mostly TV show work into leading-lady roles on the silver screen.

That said, the framework around Orange Is the New Black is complex enough, interesting enough, and flexible enough to allow for some turnover. One core character already left the prison only to come back a few episodes later. And if HBO hit Game of Thrones taught us anything, it is that drama series only get more interesting when none of your favorite characters are guaranteed to survive the next episode.

So Prepon may or may not be around for the entire second season, but Netflix and Lions Gate will find ways to roll with the punches. I still see Orange in the running for Emmys in 2014 and beyond.

The payoff in Netflix subscribers comes from building a complete portfolio covering several niches in high-quality content. Orange will do its part for lovers of prison drama, three-dimensional female characters, and unpredictable plot twists.

In fact, letting Laura Prepon walk away might be the tastiest twist of the second season. We shall see in 2014.

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