3 Key Leads of ‘Glee’ Almost Didn’t Come Back After Season 3

Glee really is a cultural moment, whether people like it or not. The music on the show went on to be nominated for Grammys, Golden Globes, Emmys, and more, winning several. And main characters from the first season stayed on the show until the very end, even after they left high school. But that wasn’t always the plan. 

Originally Ryan Murphy wasn’t planning on bringing characters that graduated after Season 3 of ‘Glee’

Rachel (Lea Michele) performs in "The Purple Piano Project", the Season 3 premiere
Rachel (Lea Michele) performs in “The Purple Piano Project”, the Season 3 premiere | FOX via Getty Images

RELATED: 7 Moments That Made Naya Rivera’s Santana an Iconic LGBTQ Character on ‘Glee’

In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter on July 13, 2011, showrunner and Glee creator Ryan Murphy said that Lea Michele’s Rachel Berry and Chris Colfer’s Kurt Hummel were two of the seniors for sure graduating and not returning for Season 4. This also included Cory Monteith’s Finn Hudson.

“I discussed it with Lea and Chris and they both trust the writing and trust me,” he said. “I think that they felt that it would be great to have an open and closed experience for them to go out while they were on top. They also like the idea that it was very emotional, it will be very sad for me to see them leave.”

He also shared that Glee was “a risk from the start” and they wanted to continue to do things out of their element.

“It was something nobody thought would work and then it did,” he said, referring to doing a musical television show about high school outcasts. “We’ve never done anything by the book or what you would think. We just made that decision and I involved Chris and Lea and they thought that was a good idea.”

He said the writers ‘can’t win either way’ with the direction they chose for the show at the time

Up until that point, Glee had grown more and more each season. This interview took place before Season 3 premiered, so there was a long way to go until Season 4. And, as we know now, all of the main characters from Season 3 did come back for Season 4, and beyond. 

But at this point, it seemed like the plan was to keep the focus of Glee on the high school and the glee club, just filter in new talent. However, Glee turned into a show primarily about the main characters and their endeavors after high school. And the show also came back to McKinley High Shool, but it split its time between New York with Rachel, Kurt, and Santana (eventually) and Lima, OH. 

Murphy realized it would be a risk to have the main characters who graduated in Season 3 leave. But he felt it was a “damed if you do, damned if you don’t” situation regardless. 

You really can’t win either way, can you? You can keep them on the show for six years and people will criticize you for not being realistic or you can be really true to life and say when they started the show they were very clearly sophomores and they should graduate at the end of their senior year

Murphy said having them graduate and move on “was more real.” But he did find a way to make their ages and experiences realistic while keeping the leads on the series.

Murphy said he had a ‘renewed passion’ for the series when Season 4 came around

Cory Monteith as 'Finn' and Jayma Mays as 'Emma' on Season Four of 'GLEE.'
Cory Monteith as ‘Finn’ and Jayma Mays as ‘Emma’ on Season Four of ‘GLEE’ | FOX via Getty Images

So what changed Murphy’s mind? It’s unclear, but it seems like it might have been his “renewed passion” for Glee following Season 3. 

“Sometimes when you’re in the weeds of a show and when the show becomes so popular, I get that people want to bring things that are popular down to heel and that’s part of the process,” Murphy told The Hollywood Reporter in 2012. “There have been some dark days along the way with Glee and what happened is we stopped paying attention to it.”

He described how he and the writers’ room focused more on the “character stories” they “could tell” instead of “the fantasies” and “razzmatazz.” And he was “shocked” how many writers were into it. 

“I feel like I have a really renewed passion for it because I love what we’re doing with the old characters and with the new characters,” Murphy said. “I really want it to go for many more years to come.”

Glee did go for a couple more seasons, with the last, and sixth, season ending in 2015. Season 5 saw a major tragedy with Monteith’s death, and Season 6 saw a return to Lima and the New Directions for Rachel Berry. But the show did tend to focus on the characters over anything else. 

RELATED: Tiktok Fan Theory Suggests One Direction’s Name Is a ‘Glee’ Reference, if Only Subconsciously