Olivia Rodrigo officially exited her role as Nini on High School Musical: The Musical: The Series in season 3 — and there weren’t any plans to bring her back for the final episodes.
“I felt really confident about that ending and Olivia is so busy with her songwriting career. At this point, we are introducing so many new people, the OG characters and we wanted to bring back other really important characters,” creator Tim Federle told Variety on Wednesday August 9.
Federle, 43, hinted that there weren’t any plans to wrap up Nini’s story beyond what was done in season 3, adding, “I kind of felt like, with only eight episodes, it just becomes cameos as opposed to real stories. The offer was extended to her insomuch as Olivia knowing from me that she can always come back. But it was never really seriously discussed because there were new relationships we had to write for.”
Rodrigo, 20, brought Nini to life when the series debuted on Disney+ in 2019. After the first season premiered, Rodrigo’s star rose even more when her single “Driver’s License” went viral in January 2021. Four months later, her debut album, Sour, dropped to widespread acclaim.
Amid speculation that her music was inspired by a rumored romance with HSMTMTS costar Joshua Bassett, Rodrigo transitioned from being a series regular to a recurring cast member for season 3. On screen, Ricky (Bassett) and Nini’s romance came to an end and she decided to move to Los Angeles to pursue a music career. The season 3 finale, which aired in 2022, showed Nini saying goodbye to her classmates before driving off to her new life.
During the fourth and final season, which dropped on Wednesday, Ricky mentioned Nini when giving out cards to everyone on the opening night of their production of High School Musical 3. Following his past split from Nina, season 4 focused on Ricky’s evolving relationship with longtime crush and now-girlfriend Gina (Sofia Wylie).
Federle previously opened up about his plan for Ricky to find his happily ever after with Gina.
“Oftentimes, I think the first time you’re in love, you think that’s the standard and it should last forever. My evolving thought is that Ricky and Gina are really in love for the first time together because they’ve experienced some of the world,” he exclusively told Us Weekly. “They’ve gotten a little pushed down. So much happens and it’s beautiful to be able to write this relationship — no holds barred.”
Federle continued: “I remember we had this thing in the writers room where we always tried to answer the question, ‘But why Ricky for Gina?’ Because E.J. is this amazing guy — who I think the audience will see is starting to land in a really good place in his life. And what we said is, ‘Ricky always makes Gina laugh.’ He can be really competitive, self-possessed, ambitious, she can beat herself up if things don’t go well and she’s a real people-pleaser. Ricky just can cut through all of that and make Gina laugh. And I think that’s one of the qualities of their relationship that she hasn’t had with another guy.”
The fourth and final season of High School Musical: The Musical: The Series is streaming on Disney+.