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Image: Lea Michele, Cory Monteith
Charles Sykes  /  AP
Lea Michele and Cory Monteith take a break between scenes while shooting the television show “Glee” in Central Park in New York, Tuesday, April 26, 2011. Show creator Ryan Murphy says neither will be back for season four.
Hollywood Reporter
updated 7/13/2011 8:04:03 PM ET 2011-07-14T00:04:03

Glee regulars Lea Michele, Cory Monteith and Chris Colfer will not be back for the fourth season of the Fox musical hit.

In an exclusive interview with The Hollywood Reporter, series co-creator Ryan Murphy said that the three regulars will be among the characters who graduate at the end of the fall’s upcoming third season.

Colfer, Michele and Monteith are “not going to be back at all for Season 4,” Murphy said. “You can keep them on the show for six years and people will criticize you for not being realistic, or you can be really true to life and say when they started the show they were very clearly sophomores and they should graduate at the end of their senior year.”

Murphy added that planning for the future beyond high school will be a heavy theme during Season 3, noting that “more characters are leaving than are staying” when graduation time comes at the season’s end.

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“We’ve never done anything by the book,” he said, adding that who’s graduating and who’s staying will be revealed in the Sept. 20 season premiere. “We made that decision and I involved Chris and Lea and they thought that was a good idea. They both trust the writing and trust me and felt that it would be great to have an open and closed experience for them to go out while they were on top.”

Murphy and co-creators Brad Falchuk and Ian Brennan’s decision to graduate the trio — among others — has been well-received by the show’s new writers, he said. The group recently returned to work and are writing story lines that include several characters’ parents as the college talk heats up.

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“We already made the decision before the new writers came in, but everybody likes where we’re taking it and what we’re writing toward,” Murphy said, noting that while he loved the “relationship roulette” from Season 2, the upcoming run would find everyone’s love lives more stable.

“I’m much more interested in Lea’s character — not so much on her relationship with Finn, but more on what her dreams are beyond high school and how she plans on getting them,” he added. “That’s what my senior year was about.”

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Murphy acknowledged that while he hasn’t discussed graduation plans with Monteith yet, he presumes he’s aware that Finn will be among those graduating. “He knows he was a sophomore when the show started.”

Copyright 2012 The Hollywood Reporter