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WWK, TV’s Riskiest Gambles

FX; HBO; CW; ABC

Welcome to risk assessment, TV edition.

The Vampire Diaries without its leading lady? Grey's Anatomy without McDreamy? American Horror Story with Lady Gaga? It's almost time for your favorite shows to return (cue celebration dance!), but in some cases, the series that hit the airwaves this fall will look very different than the ones you loved last spring. From majorly important cast departures to complete 180s in the plot department, some of your beloved dramas, sitcoms and everything in between will be undergoing some major changes.

But will they be able to survive such risky shakeups? Below, E! News analyzes the gambles taken by each series, and whether they can, by some miracle, make it work!

Damon, Elena, Dance, The Vampire Diaries

CW

The Vampire Diaries

Risk: While they didn't kill her, the show said goodbye to its leading lady Elena (Nina Dobrev) by putting her to sleep until her witchy BFF Bonnie (Kat Graham) dies, which won't be until she's old and grey if the Mystic Falls gang has their way. And on top of that, a flash-forward at the end of season five showed future Mystic Falls as a crime-ridden dystopia. Can the show survive without Elena—all while pulling off some intricate time-jumping as the new season begins?

What We Know: Season six will deal with the fallout of Elena's departure, which should provide some juicy emotional motivation for each of our characters. And, while we're familiar with the many wigs of The Vampire Diaries' flashback scenes, the new episodes will play with time via flashbacks and flash-forwards as a nasty group of villains begins to take over Mystic Falls.

Odds for Survival: Things are looking good for TVD. Although Dobrev will be missed, her exit has inspired a storyline that will give the aging series a much-needed creative spark.

Grey's Anatomy, Ellen Pompeo, Justin Chambers

ABC

Grey's Anatomy

Risk: Sorry, just wiping away tears yet again while reliving Derek Shepherd's (Patrick Dempsey) tragic death. How can Meredith Grey (Ellen Pompeo) go on without her true love?

What We Know: Creator Shonda Rhimes has said season 12 will have a "lighter tone," with Meredith living the single life while excelling at work. "She's surrounded by women who are dating and having a whole life, and she's not interested in any of that," the TGIT goddess said at the 2015 TCA summer press tour. "You kind of start to wonder, is there a second life here? Or are the best years of your life behind you and you are now on a different track? What I'm excited about is the medical growth that she's experiencing as a leader, who she's becoming as a person, and the evolution of that woman and where she's going. I guess the theme is rebirth, which I'm really excited about for all the characters, but really for Meredith. That evolution for that character is really, I think, beautiful."

Odds for Survival: Grey's isn't going anywhere. Listen, Meredith doesn't need a man. She's a gifted surgeon and devoted mother who's not defined by who she's dating. But we'll still miss McDreamy.

The Good Wife, Julianna Margulies

Paul Sarkis/CBS

The Good Wife

Risk: TGW is coming off an uneven season capped off by the scandalous revelation that, after years filled with rumors of a feud, stars Julianna Margulies and Archie Panjabi didn't even film Panjabi's final scene together. The ensuing press tour saw the creators awkwardly deflect any questions about the green screen incident, leaving the taste of sour grapes lingering behind.

What We Know: Jeffrey Dean Morgan is joining the cast as a new investigator Alicia hires—could he be the new Kalinda? (The verdict is out until we see how he rocks a leather jacket and boots.)

Odds for Survival: The creatively bumpy season six was especially glaring following the devastating and deftly handled death of Will Gardner (Josh Charles), and the weird media interviews about CGI-gate didn't help matters. But now that the awkward departure is in the past, the show can earn back its goodwill—it just needs to move fast. If the first few episodes of the season don't click, this could be the beginning of the end for the Florrick law dynasty.

Lady Gaga, American Horror Story: Hotel, AHS

YouTube

American Horror Story: Hotel

Risk: Lady Gaga is acting in her very first major role as a terrifying (and glamorous) vampire hotel owner. (Fitting.)

What We Know: If the teasers for the new season are any indication, this will be the most beautiful installment of the horror anthology yet.

Odds for Survival: The series has dedicated fans who might balk at a new face joining the ranks, but here's the good news: Much like Gaga herself, AHS has leaned hard into its camp factor—it's pretty much a match made in heaven (or hell). Plus, you can't go wrong with a gorgeously designed art deco set and Gaga's creepy character in sumptuous gowns. The only way AHS is going anywhere is if Ryan Murphy wants to check out. 

Fargo, Ted Danson

Chris Large/FX

Fargo

Risk: A high-profile anthology-style series with an A-list cast and across-the-board positive reviews gets green-lit for a second season. What could go wrong?! (Oh. True Detective.)

What We Know: Fargo season two will head back in time and follow a young Lou Solverson (Patrick Wilson) as he investigates a shooting in a Sioux Falls diner. The trailer looks awesome.

Odds of Survival: Fargo season one was less meandering philosophical pontification and more smart, witty crime drama, so if it can avoid devolving into self-important nonsense like True D, it'll be just fine. (Though that trailer looked pretty awesome, too, and look where it ended.)

Undateable

Justin Lubin/NBC

Undateable

Risk: The under-the-radar sitcom about thirtysomething dating life is getting a groundbreaking twist: Each show of its upcoming third season will be performed and broadcast live from its Burbank, Calif. set.

What We Know: The show's experimental live episode got the series more press than ever, and, by all accounts, went pretty well thanks in part to creator Bill Lawrence calling in as many guest star favors as possible (i.e. Scrubs all-stars Zach Braff, Donald Faison, Neil Flynn, and Christa Miller, along with Kate Walsh, Minnie Driver, Victoria Justice, Dr. Drew Pinsky, and a performance by Ed Sheeran). But can it work on a weekly basis?

Odds for Survival: This is already a last-ditch effort to save a show that never truly caught on in the ratings, so if people don't start watching, it'll get the hook pretty quickly. Plus, calling in celeb cameo favors for a one-time live special is a lot easier than doing it on a weekly basis. 

The Leftovers

HBO

The Leftovers

Risk: Season two is completely departing from the source material, thanks to the fact that the series covered pretty much all of the original novel in season one.

What We Know: There's a new setting, new characters, and a totally new motivation for the characters.

Odds for Survival: The Leftovers standouts Carrie Coon, Ann Dowd, Justin Theroux and his gray jogging pants aren't going anywhere, they're just moving to Texas. A little Emmy love would've helped audiences pay more attention to the show (Emmy voters, how did you miss this scene with Coon?!), but that didn't happen. This looks like a make or break season.

The Mindy Project

Hulu

The Mindy Project

Risk: There's an old adage about sitcoms and babies—it's not a snappy phrase or anything like "jumping the shark," but generally it's believed that cute, chubby-cheeked infants will totally ruin the shows you know and love. So now that Mindy (Mindy Kaling) and Danny (Chris Messina) are welcoming a son, will the rom-com sitcom change at all?

What We Know: During a recent visit to the Hulu show's set, executive producer Matt Warburton told us, "We relish the challenge of that," he said. "On our show, I think we pride ourselves on [saying], let's do it all. Let's have it all happen just so we can see what goes on with the character. When we want to deal with Mindy's son, he's there, and we can do great stories that deal with that, but between Danny, Danny's mom, the choice of babysitters and so forth, we have the choice to use it as something that opens up our world rather than constricts us."

Odds for Survival: Now that the first episode of the made-for-Hulu season four has debuted—and it's totally the same Mindy we adore—we have faith that the writers can pull off the whole baby thing. If Mindy leaves us, it'll be because of the change in distribution model, not because Mindy and Danny will soon have a stupidly cute son to raise.

What risky move are you most looking forward to seeing on TV this fall? Do you think any of your favorite shows will suffer thanks to the risky storylines?