The Mighty Ducks: Game Changers has been a hit for Disney+, with the show about a new generation of underdog Minnesota hockey players (who have to take on the Ducks team established in the original series that’s now the top dog) officially renewed for a second season this August. But Gordon Bombay won’t be appearing in that second season. Emilio Estevez, who played famed coach Bombay in the three original movies and now in the series, will not be returning. And as per Nellie Andreeva at Deadline, that’s over his refusal to indicate he’d comply with the vaccine mandate Disney has instituted for the cast and zone-A crew.
I hear Disney Television Studios’ ABC Signature, which produces the hockey-themed sequel series, made the decision not to pick up Estevez’s option for Season 2 after weeks of back and forth with his team over the show’s Covid vaccination requirement. Reps for the studio and Estevez declined comment.
Heading into Season 2, The Mighty Ducks: Game Changers — like many Disney TV Studios series — has adopted a mandatory vaccination policy for the cast and crew in Zone A, which was included as an option in the most recent Return-to-Work agreement between the Hollywood studios and major unions. (Zone A includes all actors and crew members who come into direct contact with them.)
According to sources, Estevez, through his reps, has declined to provide assurances that he would comply with the policy. With the two sides at an impasse as the Season 2 scripts were being written and the planned early 2022 start of production was looming, I hear the studio made the call to not exercise the actor’s option and the scripts will be adjusted to continue the story without the character.
Meanwhile, sources close to Estevez indicate that creative differences may have played a role in his exit.
Estevez is not the first person to leave Disney over a vaccine mandate. While that doesn’t yet apply to all their existing shows, it applies to all their new shows, and to employees without an exemption; Allison Williams left ESPN over this, and Sage Steele stayed but protested. And he’s not even near the top of the list of the vaccine discussion Friday, as that would be Packers’ quarterback Aaron Rodgers’ bizarre interview with Pat McAfee.
But this is a notable change for The Mighty Ducks: Game Changers. Yes, Estevez wasn’t the only notable person here; the cast also includes Lauren Graham, and a number of promising young actors. And yes, there’s some precedent for a non-Bombay story; the third movie in particular featured Estevez in a very minor role, with the players moving on to a new high school team. (That was reportedly because Estevez was focused on his directing of The War At Home.) But this season of Game Changers will be the first Mighty Ducks content (live action, not the similarly-named but unrelated animated series, which was about actual ducks) without Estevez/Bombay whatsoever. We’ll see how it does.
[Deadline; photo from Disney+]