The Alleged Reason Fox's 9-1-1 Surprisingly Lost Another Original Cast Member In Season 5

Rockmond Dunbar for 9-1-1
(Image credit: Fox)

9-1-1 has been experiencing a number of cast shake-ups in its fifth season. The hit Fox drama seemingly said goodbye to Jennifer Love Hewitt’s Maddie Buckley in early October, in what turned out to be a heartbreaking twist. And just this week, the series bade a fond farewell to yet another veteran cast member -- Rockmond Dunbar, who played Michael Grant. Though the development saw Michael engaged to boyfriend David (with whom he plans to travel to Haiti), many viewers seemed surprised by the narrative choice. Now, a new report has named an alleged behind-the-scenes reason for Dunbar’s departure. 

The recent report alleges that the actor’s exit is due to the new COVID protocols that the Disney-owned 20th Television has instituted for 9-1-1 as well as its various other productions. As part of this, the studio has implemented a vaccine mandate and, though Deadline reports that Rockmond Dunbar is not against vaccines, he opted not to comply. The trade reached out to the studio, and a spokesperson responded with a message detailing its current safety measures: 

We take the health and safety of all of our employees very seriously, and have implemented a mandatory vaccination confirmation process for those working in Zone A on our productions. In order to ensure a safer workplace for all, Zone A personnel who do not confirm their vaccination status and do not meet the criteria for exemption will not be eligible to work.

This news comes during a time in which film and TV studios are aiming to adapt amid the ongoing pandemic. A number of studios have experienced a number of COVID-related shutdowns, with some occurring on the sets of high-profile shows.

In this particular situation, Rockmond Dunbar first sought to receive a medical exemption from the mandate before also requesting a religious exemption. Both were ultimately denied by Disney, which reportedly led to the actor’s eventual decision to leave the show. Dunbar also gave his account of the situation in a statement to Deadline:

I applied for religious and medical accommodations pursuant to the law and unfortunately was denied by my employer. My sincerely held beliefs and private medical history are very intimate and personal aspects of my life that I do not publicly discuss and have no desire to start now. I’ve been an actor in this business for 30 years, but my greatest roles are as a husband and father to our 4 small children. As a man that walks in faith, I look forward to what the future holds.

The veteran star has been with 9-1-1 since the show’s first season debuted on Fox back in 2018. His Michael Grant, is ex-husband of Angela Bassett’s Athena Grant Nash, who he divorced after coming out as gay. Following their split, the two maintained an amicable relationship, which continued even after Athena remarries. Grant became a beloved character on the show, and Rockmond Dunbar seems grateful for having been able to portray the him for the past few years:

I have enjoyed the last 5 seasons with this wonderful cast and crew and will cherish the time I’ve been blessed to spend with this series and wish everyone involved nothing but the best.

It remains to be seen as to whether the series might bring on a new cast member to fill the void. But one thing that can be said is that the actor and his character will certainly be missed by fans. 

9-1-1 airs new episodes on Mondays at 8 p.m. ET on Fox. It’s one of the fall’s biggest returning shows, and you can learn about others by checking out CinemaBlend’s 2021 schedule.

Erik Swann
Senior Content Producer

Erik Swann is a Senior Content Producer at CinemaBlend. He began working with the publication in 2020 when he was hired as Weekend Editor. Today, he continues to write, edit and handle social media responsibilities over the weekend. On weekdays, he also writes TV and movie-related news and helps out with editing and social media as needed. He graduated from the University of Maryland, where he received a degree in Broadcast Journalism. After shifting into multi-platform journalism, he started working as a freelance writer and editor before joining CB. Covers superheroes, sci-fi, comedy, and almost anything else in film and TV. He eats more pizza than the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.