SPOILER ALERT: Do not read ahead if you haven’t watched the Aug. 17 episode of “Chasing Life.”
ABC Family’s sophomore summer drama “Chasing Life” got an unprecedented amount of buzz and a big dose of Twitter backlash last week for killing off a fan-favorite character. However, exec producer Patrick Sean Smith says, “In this day and age, to have an audience react so strongly and loudly about anything is a good thing.”
The somewhat-unexpected death of Leo (Scott Michael Foster) was a necessary step to keep the show progressing, Smith adds, especially for the development of April’s character (Italia Ricci).
Smith tells Variety why he made the decision to kill off Leo and what his death means for the series going forward. Plus, will we see Leo again?
Why did you decide to kill off Leo, rather than having him exit the show in another, less-final, way?
We went back and forth. I knew we wanted them to get married because that would be unexpected. The other outcome [besides killing Leo off] is that the marriage dissolves or someone has to leave, and it just didn’t feel big and epic for a big and epic relationship so when we started considering Leo dying, it felt creatively satisfying and a new direction to take April in that’s still organic to our show.
When we considered how to end their relationship, to just to move him out of the foreground of the show, it never really felt satisfying. It felt like we were just keeping him alive to keep him alive without moving April forward. I think it came mostly from that place.
Having a show about cancer, the unfortunately real, but also sometimes obvious outcome, can be death, and that’s something that we haven’t had happen in such a strong way with April and somebody that’s so close to her.
Scott Michael Foster has another show coming up this fall, “Blood & Oil” on ABC. Was the decision to kill his character off purely because of his scheduling conflicts?
It’s something that we didn’t enter into lightly but we introduced this character with a ticking clock and we just couldn’t imagine keeping his character going on forever — especially with everyone that Scott has going on — without this outcome. I knew his schedule for our second season and how it would coincide with pilot season. He shot the pilot for “Blood & Oil,” while we were shooting. We knew should his pilot go to series, we were aware of what could become a scheduling issue.
The fact that so many people were surprised was probably with the execution, but I think that the writing had been on the walls with his character for a while.
Scott Michael Foster appears in the Aug. 24 episode, but will we see Leo again in Season 2?
If the show gets renewed, do you have plans for Leo to appear again in some way? Flashbacks?
I think as far as seeing people who have pasts, it’s something that we have done before and we will do again at the end of the season — we will see April’s father again. To say that we’ll never see Scott again on the show, probably wouldn’t be accurate. But I think as far as Leo and his impression on her, he came into her life at a time when she needed him. I think to take that away was important to keep her character moving forward.
What can we expect in Leo’s farewell episode?
I think what I wanted to make sure we captured was the spirit of Leo in the episode — his spirit is present in the episode, Scott Michael Foster is present in the episode. The tone for that episode, it’s definitely emotional, but it’s one that’s helping April, as well as the audience, to cope and move on with their lives. But it’s definitely something that’s not lost on April after that episode. Everybody reacts to grief different. We don’t want to be depressing or sad, but we also want to be real.
Were you surprised by the strong reaction to Leo’s death?
Absolutely. I received tweets like, “I am wrecked! I hate you! I’ll never forgive you for this.” It’s been a whole array of reaction and emotion…we anticipated a reaction, but not as big. We trended on Twitter and we were trending on Facebook for two days, which is new for ABC Family, if it doesn’t involve an “A” reveal or something “PLL”-related so it’s really great. There’s so much more to come this season. We’ve really upped our game, just trying to get people’s attention and get them excited — it seems with all the trending, it’s working.
What does Leo’s death mean for April going forward?
We try to keep the show as visceral and emotional as possible so that’s really the journey that she’s embarking on now toward the end of the season: life without Leo. Leo had been a crutch for April for so long, and to understand how she’s dealing with the clinical trials working or not working and to take care of her health on her own seemed like the biggest challenge for April. He’s forever going to be a part of her life and it’s something she’s going to be dealing with hopefully for seasons to come.
Now that Leo is gone, where does April’s relationship stand with Dominic?
I can say that Season 2 — and I’m delivering the finale cut to the network — it does not end with April and Dominic (Richard Brancatisano) as a couple. Their relationship is affected by Leo’s death and is tested, but he remains a person that’s important to her.
It’s funny because the love triangle has become so prominent on the show, but when we’re in the writers room, it’s not like we take sides of who is Team Leo and Team Dominic. That’s the way the show is marketed, but for us, it’s also the life and death and how April deals with this and how the people in her life deal with it, as well.
Can April move on? Do you plan to introduce a new love interest?
It’s not like we’re bringing in a new love interest for April by the end of the season. I don’t think that would feel real, and I also think it would feel disrespectful to Leo. The idea of when she’s able to move on is a big question until the end, and is something that she actually talks to Sara (Mary Page Keller) about, who is also a widow. That’s something that Sara and April will connect in a whole new way that they haven’t before.
Whatever happens with her romantically, I want it to feel like it’s part of her whole character and her whole journey as a woman.
Now that the show is taking a big turn, where do we go from here?
I think we are ending the second season with a very big season ender cliffhanger that can really push April in a whole new direction, which is exciting, and really kind of influence a lot of where April can go. We got to shoot in Italy, we spent two days in Rome. In the third season, I think with where we leave her, there are a lot of different directions she can go.