While Grantchester's writers have run up against the limitations of the series, ITV is running up against the limitations of James Norton's schedule. Something's gotta give.
The Grantchester Season 3 finale may have aired last Sunday on PBS, but it's been over in the UK since the end of May. The show has been popular enough on both sides of the pond that ITV has announced the next season was a go the same day the finale aired in the UK for the past two years. Normally, at the this point, the actors would be gearing up to film a Christmas special, like they did last year, before diving into the already-greenlit next season.
But something funny seems to have happened this year on the way to renewal. Despite the show being over on ITV for two months, there's still no official word on if Season 4 is even happening. Considering that the show crept up to the brink of blowing itself up, only to let the tide roll back and the status quo remain, this seems a strange thing. Did Sidney Chambers get dumped by Amanda and stay in Grantchester to continue to solve his mysteries for the foreseeable future, only to lose it?
With the finale having now aired over here in the U.S. as well, fans are starting to worry, and entertainment tabloids have started to ask questions. And the answers we're hearing aren't soothing anyone.
James Ruchie, who wrote the original Sidney Chambers novels the show is based on, claims the issue isn't ITV. They'd love to keep making the show. The problem is star James Norton, who has "gotten too popular." Speaking to The Sun, he complained that since Norton's turn on Happy Valley, the actor is now a "hot property."
“James Norton is in such big demand now that I’ve no idea if he’ll be available to film a new series. But Death in Paradise has replaced the leading man, and that’s still going strong, so if the worst comes to the worst…”
For the record, Death in Paradise has actually changed leading men twice. Once, when its original star, Ben Miller, left, and now again when replacement Kris Marshall quit in order to spend more time not being the next Doctor Who. Audiences have tuned in anyway, suggesting it's the formula, rather than the star that makes the show work.
But clearly those in charge of Grantchester thought this was not the case when they filmed Season 3, or the ending would have had Sidney roll out to London with Amanda, leaving a good-looking vicar-shaped hole for a new actor to fill. Instead we've had the show decide not to go there -- to have Sidney and Amanda part, leaving him in the vicarage -- and now ITV is considering sacking him anyway. Awkward.
The Sun also trots out a quote from Robson Green, who plays Sidney's Inspector BFF Geordie, from a completely different interview back in May with The Express, where Green self depreciatingly said “The series can carry on most definitely. Whether I’m in it or James is in it, or whoever, is another question.”
But as CarterMatt points out, though Grantchester is certainly popular, it's rating in the UK were merely serviceable: "...they didn’t blow anyone out of the water and we’re not sure what they would look like in the event that they were to come back without James Norton around." And while the show has a loyal following in the US, it's no Victoria. If it was, PBS would have not have chosen it as the sacrifical Masterpiece show to send the back half of the season up against the Game of Thrones behemoth this summer.
Considering that nearly every UK newspaper has picked up this story with both the quotes from Ruchie and the older one from Green as highlights, my take is that this looks like ITV running the idea up the flagpole to gauge viewer reaction to a recasting. Ruchie's odd blasting of Norton as "too hot" for the show also suggests that behind the scenes, Norton's people may be pushing on details of the contract for next season, either over money, time off to work on other projects, or both. Considering the Green quote, this could be even seen as a quiet threat to Norton to play ball, or find himself without a show to lead.
Will there be a fan freak out loud enough to convince ITV not to do this? Will Norton decide it's worth it to keep playing the vicar with the heart of angsty gold? Considering how close they came to wiping the slate in the finale, perhaps everyone decide that a soft reboot is needed for the series anyway, and recast the lead, or better yet, bring in a new one, played by someone else.
If that happens, let's just hope they don't go full Fellowes and smash him up in an unecessary car crash.