Michael O'Hare left the show after one season due to mental health issues, though this wasn't made public until after his death.
JMS revealed the real story behind O'Hare's departure at Phoenix Comicon in May 2013. [Video]
I have some news that must be imparted. I think that the best way to convey that news is to start at the end of the story, make my way to the middle, and end at the beginning. So: the end of the story.
Everything is okay. Nothing major really changes. All is well.
Now the middle of the story.
I've been asked, several times, what happens if something happens to me, or one of the cast members, during the five year arc, since this is a fully-worked-out novel. Generally, I blow off the question with humor. But the truth is, obviously, I've taken every possible step to make sure that no one is disappointed. In my case, I've made sure the story is available somewhere.
The trouble, of course, is that unlike writing a novel, where the characters exist only on a sheet of paper, actors and writers are some discussion on the best of days). They can get sick, they can get into contract disputes, they can be hit by meteors, they can decide to buy a house in Cambridge and raise hedgehogs under an assumed name. There are, in short, always unpredictables in any such endeavor.
Consequently, in drafting the story for Babylon 5, I made sure to compensate for any possible changes. For lack of a better term, there is a "trap door" built into the storyline for every character. Obviously, you don't want to lose anyone, but in every case any such change momentarily shifts the story about ten degrees to one side for a little bit, and then you're back on track again.
Case in point: Dr. Benjamin Kyle and Lyta Alexander. Here are the only two humans who have seen or scanned a Vorlon. This is Very Important to the storyline. Alas, as later events unfolded, things did not work out, and the characters were dropped...but their story remained important, in that it was established that they were soon afterward recalled to Earth under mysterious circumstances (as noted in "War Prayer"), which actually helps the storyline in many ways. This is not meant to sound callous. As a writer, and as a producer, it's my job to tell the story, to be responsible, and to make sure every possible contingency is covered. To do anything less would be simply irresponsible.
Now to the beginning of the story.
Over the last few weeks, we've been re-activating our cast, making the deals for the coming season. One aspect of this has been a series of conversations with Michael O'Hare. Having produced one full season, and having learned a lot, and having fine-tuned the "saga" along the way, it was our goal to expand the show, bring in some new characters, and take the show in some new directions, which will prove quite interesting, I think. (One sidelight to all this: now that we've established the series, we'll be able to spend a bit more time on personal stories, to let our audience learn more about the characters, particularly the humans, who kinda got short shrift this season.)
There is also the question, from an actor's point of view, about other opportunities, any possible concern about typecasting, the limitations of a continuing role (and the role of the commander does have some definite "walls," giving more freedom in many ways to other characters). Now is the point where one needs to take a breath and assess one's future, because the deeper we get into the story, the more problematic it is to change things (though, again, it's do-able, as noted above).
As a result of these discussions, it has been agreed that we will have a separation, in the role of the commander. Let me emphasize this very clearly, so there is no chance of miscommunication: this is a mutual, amicable, and friendly separation. This isn't a Tasha Yar situation. Moreover, we will be handling this in such a way that, down the road, Sinclair could potentially return to the story. The character of Sinclair will achieve an important destiny, and the mystery of the Battle of the Line will be explained, both in the first episode of the new season. His story will still track. And the series will still track precisely as planned. I take pains to mention this because both Michael and I want it clear that we both believe in the show, and want this in no way to interfere with the series. He has asked me to convey for him his encouragement, his best wishes, and to emphasize that this is, again, an amicable and friendly separation.
He has said that he is happy to continue to do the conventions, to promote the show, because he believes in it, and because he is an important part of this season's success. We can think of no finer ambassador for Babylon 5 at conventions than Michael O'Hare. He is a dynamite speaker, he cares about the fans of the show, and his compassion shows. We think he's a nifty guy.
On our part, we wish Michael only the very best. We know that he is very much in demand, and look forward to seeing him in other projects over the next year. This will also allow us to pursue some new directions avenues for the show that will help to expedite the overall story. Sinclair disappearing for an indeterminate period after the events of "Chrysalis" will allow us to tighten the screws of the story, and heighten the tension of things going on in the storyline.
If I can speak personally for a moment...those of you reading this on-line know that I've always talked straight with you. If I thought this in any way would interfere with the story, you'd hear about it from me loud and clear. When problems have arisen in the past, I've always spoken about them quite bluntly here (much to the chagrin of some people). This is okay. We're all still very much friends. I speak frequently to Michael, and consider him a friend, just as he considers me a friend. This was a hard decision, but we both knew that it was the right decision, for very different reasons. We both kinda came to the same place at the same time from different directions. We've got to do what's right for the show, and for each other, and in many ways, this does just that.
So both we on the show, and Michael are served by this mutual and amicable separation. We will go our separate ways for now, with the possibility of meeting Sinclair again down the road a piece, as Gandalf disappeared for a time into Mordor, only to return when needed most. (We will also be keeping the character of Sinclair alive in the comic, and some of the planned novels, to keep that option available to us.)
Once again, let me emphasize that the story continues on the path that has been set for it, everything you learn this season sill obtains, the show remains solid, with all of the other cast members coming back for a new season, and that the saga of Babylon 5 will continue to reveal itself exactly as planned. And I hope you will continue to stay with us for that journey.
Sincerely, Joe Straczynski Creator/Executive Producer BABYLON 5
Please do not stick this on O'Hare. Whatever decisions get made, it is up to the producers -- me and Doug -- to implement those decisions, so ultimate responsibility rests with me. If you're going to be angry at anyone, be angry at me. Your anger is misplaced.
Again, this was mutual. We looked at the story, the way a novelist looks at a novel he's one-fifth through writing, and you learn things writing the novel that you can learn NO other way, however much you plan and outline. And at some point, you say, "If we leave things JUST as they are, no changes, we can do X and Y, which are both very cool. But if we take a chance, and make some shifts in direction, we can do X, and Y...and Z...and Z is very interesting indeed. It opens up whole new areas for us to explore. So we talked about it with Michael, who had some thoughts of his own...and now here we are.
Granted, it's taking a chance. But we all swore a blood oath to make the show consistently better. Any time a possible decision comes up -- like, Should we do "Believers," knowing that it'll get us in ENDLESS trouble -- we ask, "Will this benefit the show?" If the answer is yes, we do it, regardless.
Once again, this is mutual. So blame me. And be assured, this isn't now going to be a band-aid covering...it will let us get deeper and faster into the meat of the storyline, and intensify the characterizations and relationships. Sinclair's purpose in the large part of the first section of the story was really to get everyone together...to start the pieces moving. And now we've got all the players in position. The whole 24 hours/Line thread was always going to be resolved at the top of year two, because you can't sustain that for more than 1.5 seasons at MOST. The audience, rightly, won't stand for it. At that point, that mystery dispensed with (which would lead to other questions), Sinclair kinda faded a bit from the story, because now we have to bring the other players into the foreground. So if he's going to fade anyway, why have him meandering around? Why not "absent" him for a time...and up the stakes for everyone else, and help focus on other aspects?
The story will go where it was always going to go. This much is certain.
The Battle of the Line and the hole in Sinclair's mind was always intended as the entry point or trigger to the story. It's like Frodo being given the Ring in LoTR. The story isn't about that, that's how we get INTO it. Frankly, there's no way you can sustain that one element for five years, nor did we ever intend to do so.
The only difference in the resolution of that aspect is this: we had originally intended to resolve the missing 24 hours, and the Battle of the Line, by episode four, season two. We've simply moved it up 3 eps to the first episode. Because new players are coming onto the field, in the form of the Shadowmen, and other forces, and we now have to begin turning our attention to new mysteries.
Additional note: The new commander of Babylon 5, Captain John Sheridan, will be played by Bruce Boxleitner, star of "Tron" and other films.