ABC’s Once Upon a Time is closing the book on one of its original stars.
In a surprising move, leading lady Jennifer Morrison (Emma) has decided to exit the fairy tale drama following the end of its current sixth season, The Hollywood Reporter has learned. Should there be a seventh season of the bubble drama, which sources say is highly likely, Morrison could return for one, maybe two, episodes.
The decision comes as a surprise for die-hard fans of Disney-infused Once Upon a Time as Morrison — along with Lana Parrilla (Regina), Robert Carlyle (Mr. Gold) and Colin O’Donoghue (Captain Hook) — were all said to be renegotiating new deals to return for a seventh season. The series, which remains on the bubble, is on the cusp of a major reboot, with a renewal leading to a big time jump in an effort to move the story forward. Other cast departures are expected to come as fellow leading lady Ginnifer Goodwin (Snow White) and Josh Dallas (Prince Charming) will likely follow Morrison out the door after this season. Goodwin and Dallas have said that they consider this season their final time with Once and neither was among those renegotiating a potential return earlier this year.
Morrison’s departure comes as the actress — who in June begins a co-starring role onstage opposite Matthew Perry in The End of Longing — had been vocal earlier this season about the potential to remain with the drama. “I have a really fierce loyalty to the show,” she said in January. “I am fiercely protective of the character.… I don’t have any interest in abandoning something that is such a special part of my life, but I also know I don’t have it in me to do it forever, so it’s more about a life decision, and I don’t even know how to make that life decision until I know what ABC even wants.”
“The way we look at it is, these are stories for these characters, and there are set endpoints to different stories,” Horowitz recently told reporters, including THR, of what’s to come in the May 14 season finale. “But that doesn’t mean there aren’t new stories for different characters. I think that by the end of the season finale, a lot of what we’ve been doing for the last six years is wrapped up — we hope in a very satisfying way — and then we move forward in a way that at the end of it, hopefully you’ll see what we’re hoping to do in season seven.”
Added Kitsis: “We understand that this could be the last year. We feel like we’ve completed this story, and the next chapter of Once Upon a Time will be completely different…. Creatively, it’s time to end a few stories.”
Once Upon a Time is averaging a 1.0 in the key adults 18-49 demographic and 3.3 total viewers during its sixth season. Those returns grow 60 and 42 percent, respectively, with seven days of DVR. The fan-favorite drama remains an important extension of the Disney brand, though its numbers have fallen off considerably this season.
Should ABC renew it, the series would heavily feature The Walking Dead alum Andrew J. West and Jane the Virgin‘s Alison Fernandez — who both make their debut in the season-six finale. West is rumored to play an older version of Jared Gilmore’s Henry.
Meanwhile, it remains unclear which other series regulars will remain for a potential seventh season. The two-hour Once Upon a Time season-six finale airs Sunday at 8 p.m. on ABC.
From The Hollywood Reporter