Rick Schroder had big shoes to fill when he got assigned to take on what was, at the time, one of the biggest roles on television: Dennis Franz's partner on NYPD Blue. The show had already gone through David Caruso's John Kelly and Jimmy Smits as Bobby Simone. So, playing second fiddle to the show's star seemed to have a high burnout rate for actors, possibly due to having to see Dennis Franz's naked ass in every episode.
First, let's back up and see how his successors left the show.
David Caruso said he wanted to leave the show after he decided his awesomeness was far, far too great to be contained by a mere award-winning TV drama. Despite being something of a douchebag, the show devoted the first four episodes of the second season to the character's downfall and eventual resignation from the force.
He would be replaced by Jimmy Smits's character Bobby Simone. When it was time for him to leave the show a few seasons later, he got a heart-wrenching sendoff that included a dramatic story arc involving heart disease and a transplant and the kind of drama that sucked in Emmy nominations for the show every single year.
But Schroder? There was a plot about him getting involved with a stripper, and the stripper was connected to the mob, and the stripper turns up dead and... that's it. The season ended.
When the show picked up for Season 9, they find his body buried in Brooklyn.
The noble end of many a Union rep before him.
What Really Happened:
Rick Schroder wanted to spend more time with his family. The writers then had to figure out a way to write him out of the show, and when choosing all of the various dramatic ways he could go out in a blaze of glory (including some that, you know, left the character alive so maybe he could come back if he changed his mind later) they decided to go with, "have him die off-camera, bludgeoned to death by Mafiosi."
The real crime, is that we never got to see this man beaten to death by Italians.
Kal Penn of Harold and Kumar fame joined House during Season 4, when his character refused to leave after getting fired during tryouts (in the House universe, hospitals choose doctors the same way high schools choose cheerleaders).
The plot was part of a major cast shake-up that may have saved the show. Or ruined it. It depends on who you ask.
In the episode, "Simple Explanation," Kutner's co-workers, Foreman and Thirteen (if you don't watch the show, the character is named "Thirteen" because she's a robot), find Kutner lying in a pool of blood in his bedroom, a gun in his hand.
If the characters were a little surprised, the audience was shocked. The show did absolutely zero to allude to the fact Kutner might harbor depression or, well, any reason to kill himself whatsoever.
Rumor has it, he was depressed about being left off two consecutive DVD covers.
The show's writers never even made the effort of giving a valid reason for Kutner's suicide after the fact. He was just a brilliant, successful, happy guy who decided to play a solo game of Russian Roulette with an automatic. End of story.
In fact, after Season 5, he and his death were never mentioned again. A mere few months after his death, everybody he ever loved or knew forgot about him. Just like in real life!
"Hey, guys, didn't we used to be more ethnically diverse?"
What Really Happened:
The writers did a terrible job of foreshadowing Kutner's death because they didn't know he was going to die. They found out at the last minute that actor Kal Penn had left the show for a new job as Associate Director of the White House Office of Public Engagement, which sounds like a totally noble, albeit very-made-up sounding, reason to leave a hit show.
Apparently his job entailed sharing the views of the public with the Obama Administration. Yes, this guy:
The "out of nowhere" shot to the head would leave critics baffled (as would their incredibly tasteless tie-in website memorializing Kutner as if he was a real person who had passed away).
House producers said they wanted Kutner's leaving to "have an impact." They wanted to honor the beloved character with a death with dramatic meaning. Except they forgot the drama. Oh, and also the meaning.
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