2016 was a year marked by a spate of major celebrity deaths that won’t be soon forgotten. For the millions still reeling from the loss of beloved entertainers like David Bowie, Prince, Muhammad Ali, and Alan Rickman last year, 2017 just delivered another sad shocker when actor Bill Paxton unexpectedly passed away at 61 over the weekend due to complications from surgery.
Paxton was best known for his film roles in The Terminator, Aliens, Apollo 13, and Twister. He also left behind an impressive resume of television work, with a memorable guest-starring role in Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., his Golden Globe-nominated starring role in HBO’s Big Love, and his Emmy-nominated turn on Hatfields & McCoys. Paxton’s death leaves behind a big question mark in regards to his current TV venture: CBS’s Training Day, in which he stars as Detective Frank Rourke. CBS and Warner Bros. Television issued the following joint statement on Paxton’s passing:
“We are shocked and deeply saddened this morning by the news of Bill Paxton’s passing. Bill was, of course, a gifted and popular actor with so many memorable roles on film and television. His colleagues at CBS and Warner Bros. Television will also remember a guy who lit up every room with infectious charm, energy and warmth, and as a great storyteller who loved to share entertaining anecdotes and stories about his work. All of us here offer our deepest sympathy to his wife, Louise, and his two children.”
Training Day is a reboot of the 2001 film by director Antoine Fuqua, who serves as executive producer on the series along with Jerry Bruckheimer. Set 15 years after the events of the film, the series follows an unethical Los Angeles cop (Paxton) paired up with a younger partner (Justin Cornwell), who is secretly assigned to gather evidence of corruption and misdeeds by his new mentor. Training Day also co-stars genre favorites Julie Benz (Buffy the Vampire Slayer) and Katrina Law (Spartacus).
The reviews for Training Day have generally not been kind, especially compared to the reception the feature film, which earned star Denzel Washington his second Best Actor Academy Award, received in 2001. Variety called the series “an overwrought, scenery-chewing hack job… [that] jettisons the meaning of the film for its bankable elements.” In its review, Vulture said Training Day is “a typical CBS crime drama… [a] hackneyed, dreadfully written carbon copy of every crummy cop show you’ve ever seen.”
Premiering in February to middling ratings (4.7 million), by the fourth episode aired, Training Day had slipped to 3.7 million in its Thursday night slot. Deadline reports that filming for Training Day‘s 13 episode order had fortunately been completed in December, so Paxton’s death doesn’t mean the audience that is watching and enjoying the show won’t be able to see it through to its intended conclusion. It remains to be seen if posthumous interest in the actor will bump up the ratings for the remaining episodes yet to air.
The question for CBS is whether it’s worth it to renew Training Day for a second season, which would necessitate rebooting the series to replace Paxton’s lead role. There have been cases in the past where lead actors have died while working on a television series. The most notable example in recent years was when John Ritter, the star of ABC’s 8 Simple Rules, passed away from a heart condition during season 2. That series took a two month hiatus from filming before it returned with David Spade and James Garner filling the void left by Ritter. However, 8 Simple Rules only lasted one more season before it was canceled. More recently, Larry Hagman returned to portray his iconic role of J.R. Ewing on the TNT reboot of Dallas, but passed away during filming of season 2. Though Hagman wasn’t the lead role in the reboot as he was in the seminal original series in the 1970’s-1980’s, similarly to 8 Simple Rules, TNT’s Dallas only lasted one more year before it was canceled at the end of season 3.
What could make Training Day different from those TV shows that lost its star, however, is that its premise does not necessarily revolve around Paxton remaining as its star for the series to continue. Paxton is obviously the lead and lynchpin character of the series. However, we won’t know until the season finale airs if Paxton’s Detective Rourke survives the season of Training Day or if it concludes with Rourke receiving the kind of justice Denzel Washington’s Detective Alonzo Harris got in the feature film. It’s also possible, as there is remains plenty of time to edit the final episode before April, that whatever the planned conclusion of Training Day season 1 was could now be altered to reflect Paxton’s passing.
A potential second season of Training Day could simply reboot with Justin Cornwall’s Officer Kyle Craig being paired with yet another older, corrupt cop as his mentor. Though Paxton was a charismatic and highly-respected talent, there are many other well-regarded character actors who could step into Training Day as its new star if there is a second season. Currently, 24: Legacy on FOX is attempting to catch lightning in a bottle with its reboot of the long-running hit thriller series, but its ratings are also falling to below the 6-million range after its post-Super Bowl debut of 17-million viewers. Perhaps an error 24: Legacy made was in casting a relative newcomer, Corey Hawkins, to follow in the footsteps of the iconic role of Kiefer Sutherland’s Jack Bauer. Training Day didn’t make that mistake; Bill Paxton leading the television series and following in the footsteps of Denzel Washington was a savvy bit of casting. The issues with Training Day, judging from the reviews, seem to be in the writing and in forcing the series to adhere to the tried and true but cliched CBS “procedural of the week” crime drama format.
As for whether CBS should renew Training Day, it seems the series’ performance in the ratings will be the main determining factor for a second season. As we mentioned, interest in the series’ remaining episodes could spike if Bill Paxton’s fans tune in to see his final television performances. If that’s the case, especially if the series delivers a satisfyingly dramatic conclusion to send Detective Rourke out with a bang (perhaps literally), the audience might root for Officer Craig enough to want to see him return to team up with and take down a new, corrupt LAPD veteran. Bruckheimer and Fuqua are powerhouse producers, and the tragic loss of Bill Paxton may compel them to retool the series’ creative issues with season 1 beyond recasting the lead role to deliver a bigger and better season 2. It will be interesting to see what develops with Training Day in the days and weeks ahead.
Training Day airs its remaining episodes Thursdays @ 10pm on CBS.