It would be hard to argue that the runaway, ground-breaking, borderline obsessive popularity of Bridgerton was in no small part to the smouldering good looks, acting prowess and on-screen chemistry brought to the show by Regé-Jean Page.
The 31-year-old actor's portrayal of Simon Bassett, the Duke of Hastings, was so compelling it had half the globe foregoing much-needed sleep in order to binge the next episode. It is understandable, therefore, that fans are heartbroken to discover that neither Page, nor the Duke, (being one and the same) will return for season 2.
The reason for the departure of the Duke seems to be a case of "creative differences" between Page and the show's producers, with insiders speculating that perhaps Page's popularity has seen him get a little too big for his britches.
"Regé is not coming back to Bridgerton because of creative differences with [executive producer] Shonda Rhimes and her team," a Hollywood source told Page Six.
The source added, "He wasn't happy with what was planned for his character for season 2, which would have kept him a player but not the focal point of the show."
Plus, "Regé has been inundated with offers for other interesting and challenging leading roles."
The source went on to add, "If you look at all the big names who have left [Rhimes' hit show] Grey's Anatomy in the past, you see you don't disagree with Shonda, nobody is bigger than the show," adding that Page is leaving on good terms despite the "creative differences".
Page's role as the smouldering Duke of Hastings in the hit Netflix drama shot him to stardom and eager fans assumed that, based on his popularity, he would be returning for the show's second season. Now that it has been confirmed that Page will definitely not be returning there are a lot of Bridgertonians who are "burning for him" to return.
Show creator Rhimes told Vanity Fair magazine that she is "really shocked" with the world's response to Regé-Jean Page's exit after it was confirmed he is to leave Bridgerton.
Rhimes claims that the hit Netflix drama had only signed Page for one series as the Duke of Hastings and the outcry from fans that he is not returning for season two has taken her by surprise.
"I was really shocked, because usually that happens when I've killed off somebody that's been around for a while," remarked Rhimes. "Like, we didn't kill him, he's still alive!
"[Regé-Jean] is a powerful, amazing actor and that meant we did our job - every season, our job is finding the right people and putting together this incredible, world-shifting romance. I don't know that I expected this much of an explosion, given that every book [in the Bridgerton series] is a different romance. What would be the ever-after of this combo? I mean, really: What would Regé-Jean do, you know what I mean? We gave them their happily ever after! And now we have this next couple coming. And so yeah, I was like, whoa!"
Speaking to Vanity Fair magazine, Rhimes added: "We made a one-season deal with him at the beginning of season one. That was the plan: come and do one season as the duke. Anything else that was extra and wasn't really the plan when we started wasn't the plan when we finished.
"So there's a lot of fantastically interesting talk that's been going on, mainly cause I think people are having a hard time letting go."
There is good reason for fans to be surprised by the exit of the Duke of Hastings with show co-creator, Chris Van Dusen, telling the Hollywood Reporter at the end of last year that the show would like to bring Page and Dynevor - who played his love interest Daphne - back for season 2.
"I would love to be able to see them again and also at the same time explore the other brothers and sisters of the family," Van Dusen said just before Christmas.
And while Dynevor has agreed to a deal with producers for her return in season 2, Page is said to have rejected the offer as it was a guest role, not a starring one.
The Hollywood Reporter said Page "was offered an opportunity to return as a guest star in three to five episodes of season 2 — at a rate of $50,000 an episode — but declined for a multitude of reasons," which included "an awareness that Simon would not be a focal point in season 2",
Page bowed out in gallant Bridgerton style by posting a dashing photo of himself, in period costume, on a horse, tipping his hat towards the camera. He captioned the photo: It's been an absolute pleasure and a privilege to be your Duke. Joining this family - not just on screen, but off screen too. Our incredibly creative and generous cast, crew, outstanding fans - it's all been beyond anything I could have imagined. The love is real and will just keep growing.
Page looks to be using the momentum of Bridgerton to carve out a movie career. His next big role will be in Paramount's Dungeons and Dragons alongside Chris Pine, Michelle Rodriguez and Justice Smith.
Bridgerton meanwhile will follow the trajectory of the novels, by Julia Quinn. The second novel, The Viscount who Loved Me, focuses on the love life of the oldest Bridgerton sibling Anthony, played by Jonathan Bailey.
Time will tell if Bridgerton fans stick with the series with the same devotion without the smouldering Duke of Hastings to keep their eyes locked to their television screens. Production on season 2 is due to start soon, with a release date for New Zealand yet to be confirmed.
This article was first published by the NZ Herald and is republished here with permission.