What the Loss of One of TV’s Most Powerful Female Characters Means For CASTLE and For ABC
By Geannie Bastian
Castle has always been a rare show on the television landscape, if only because of its lighter touch in an age of grittier procedural franchises. But that’s not the only place ABC’s eight season long drama stands out from its television peers. In the character of Kate Beckett exists a rare character trait that seems to get rarer every day – she’s real. At least as real as a fictional character can be. She’s a normal woman driven by personal strength and loss, flawed by normal fears and mistakes. She stumbles but also succeeds and thrives.
And that’s the troubling thing about the news that, should Castle be renewed for a ninth season, it will do so without Stana Katic.
Reportedly, the decision was not Katic’s choice, and a contract was not extended to the series co-lead (or to original cast member Tamala Jones) for budgetary reasons. It’s a startling idea that a show could axe a core character to trim the budget, but more so because of the key role Kate Beckett plays in Castle’s story, and the powerful effect of the message her character sends to millions of female viewers.
The show has always centered heavily on the relationship between Nathan Fillion’s Castle and Katic’s Beckett. So much so that when Creator Andrew Marlowe was asked last year if he had considered writing an ending that would have potentially left Beckett in a position to be written out when her contract status was up in the air he commented, “I think for us that’s off the table. For us we’ve been telling a love story for the last seven years.”
His wife and then Castle EP Terri Edda Miller added, “I think that would be a huge betrayal of our fans.” When news broke of Katic’s exit, Marlowe tweeted to fans “Heartbroken. There are no words. #nmc” with his Twitter bio now reading, in part, “Castle creator (in exile)”
Beyond the notion of continuing a story in a way that is potentially at odds with the way it was clearly not intended to be told, ABC’s consideration of this move stands to cost them a character made unique by her very normalcy. The way Beckett’s character is presented seems a dying breed on network television. But, particularly at ABC, where the network has many strong and flawed female leads, the character of Kate Beckett stands out as something different because the women of ABC either inhabit worlds of comic book heroism and magic driven fantasy or the kind of shock value driven “OMG Television” that sees its heroines tackle a morally gray world of soap style dramas.
While those models of strong women doubtlessly entertain and inspire, they don’t often inhabit worlds that audiences can see themselves so clearly in. Beckett however, is in so many ways just like her fans. But for a twist of fate and a dose of determination, it’s not hard for viewers to see themselves standing in her shoes. In that way, she sends the message to woman and young girls all over the world – thanks to Castle’s widespread international distribution – that you don’t need special powers, or wild scandalous circumstances to have an extraordinary story, overcome hardship, and find success and love.
Perhaps that’s why the potential loss of this character rankles so deeply. It goes beyond whatever behind-the-scenes drama there may have been, or the problematic narrative of lead actress Stana Katic being cut from her own show to save enough money so that it could potentially go on without her. Because if Kate Beckett’s story ends badly, this rare example of relatable triumph turns into the story of just another female character whose struggle was for nothing. The message changes dramatically for those who saw the character and her mission to be a force for good as a source of hope an inspiration — inspiration as valid as any the character of Richard Castle found in her for his books.
ABC has had a difficult time finding a new hit of late, and it’s easy to see why they might feel the need to keep a veteran performer on its schedule. But they would do well to proceed carefully. The loss of Katic in this way already plays awkwardly for a network that prides itself on strong female characters, and especially in light of Channing Dungey’s promotion to the head of the network.
It’s a struggle to think what the series might be like without the presence of such a central character. Not only would it lack it’s central romantic premise, but it’s impossible to imagine the show carrying its hopeful message without Beckett as its heartfelt heroine.
Moreover the troubling message of her absence might well be something for ABC to consider, especially for a show that counts among its fans notable women like Kelly Clarkson, Christina Applegate, and Presidential candidate and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.