The news comes more than a week after Gandee, 21, was found dead April 1 in his vehicle, along with his uncle and a friend, after going off-roading, or “mudding,” on a remote road in West Virginia. The local sheriff’s office ruled the death was caused by carbon monoxide poisoning.
Production on the MTV show’s second season was suspended following the tragic incident, and grief counseling quickly was set up on location for the cast, crew and their families. At that time, Charleston, West Virginia Mayor Danny Jones urged the network to cancel Buckwild, noting that “the show only enhanced the negative stereotype the Kanawha Valley already has.”
After several days spent weighing the implications of moving forward with the reality show, MTV brass ultimately decided it would be imprudent to do so. The move — a bid to avoid any potential controversy as well as a recognition that Gandee was the show’s breakout star — comes after a heavily hyped and ultimately successful first season. In fact, the hope on the part of MTV executives was that Buckwild could fill a void left by one-time juggernaut Jersey Shore.
While Buckwild had yet to garner the ratings Shore did at its height, it did draw 2.5 million viewers to its January premiere, putting it ahead of the 2009 Shore bow (1.4 million) and the opener of spinoff Snooki & JWoww (2.4 million). During the series’ first season, Buckwild averaged 3.2 million total viewers on a Live+7 basis. Advertisers responded, too, spending a healthy $10 million collectively on ads to run during the show in January, according to Kantar Media.
The West Virginia-based cast was poised to benefit from that success in season two. Gandee and seven fellow castmembers renegotiated their contracts to score a 300 percent raise. Each went from $1,000 an episode in season one to $4,000 an episode in season two, plus a $5,000 bonus, according to multiple sources. (Salwa Amin, the ninth member of the ensemble, who has been in and out of jail on drug charges, was not part of the re-negotiation.)
According to one series insider, internal conversations were had on the day of Gandee’s death about potentially “softening” the show, which has focused on such behavior as off-roading, tire roll-downs and hard partying. But doing so likely would prove incongruous with the show’s brand — and potentially turn off viewers in the process.
MTV didn’t immediately return request for comment.
Email: Lacey.Rose@THR.com; Twitter: @LaceyVRose