HSMTMTS showrunner teases season 4 and Olivia Rodrigo's future on the show: Hopefully 'not gone forever'

·8 min read

Warning: This article contains spoilers about the season 3 finale of High School Musical: The Musical: The Series.

After spending season 3 at summer camp, the Wildcats are going back to school for season 4 on High School Musical: The Musical: The Series. Showrunner Tim Federle is already on set, hard at work on the next season just days after the finale aired.

"I'm standing in my office in Salt Lake City, looking at a production schedule for season 4," he tells EW. "We had an amazing season in Los Angeles, but this is the city that gave us our start, so it really feels like we've come home. Ready or not, it's back to school. I feel like the dust is just settling from the finale, but we're already gearing up for the fall."

Not every Wildcat is coming back to school. In the season 3 finale, Nini (Olivia Rodrigo) decided she was ready to move on from East High and take her music career seriously, so don't expect to see her back at the start of next season. Below, Federle details what Rodrigo's future on the show looks like, as well as season 4's High School Musical 4: The Reunion arc that could see many original High School Musical stars returning to the franchise that started it all.

Olivia Rodrigo
Olivia Rodrigo

Disney+ Olivia Rodrigo reunites with her 'HSMTMTS' BFF in season 3 finale

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Season 3 was a fun departure going to summer camp, but are you excited to get back to East High for season 4?

TIM FEDERLE: Absolutely. So much of adulthood is feeling like you're still figuring out who you want to be and what you want to be when you grow up. There's something very humbling about returning to school, because all the big things that happen in high school, first love, figuring out your future, parental expectation, it's all so big for these characters this season that I'm really excited to be back.

What was your main goal when it came to wrapping up this season in the finale?

My main goal was to end things with both chaos and optimism, as opposed to pessimism and unanswered questions — which I think was the former season finale for us. [Laughs] We've had a really slow burn for Gina and Ricky. Now they have giant decisions and discoveries in this coming season. My goal for the show was to try to deliver a lot of satisfying conclusions for characters like Nini, who I hope is not gone forever, but is certainly gone for now. We also got to see some surprises and bigger stories to come with Big Red and Ashlyn, and now Seb and Carlos have a lot to deal with, and Kourtney, and where are Jet and Maddox going to end up. There's a lot teasing season 4, but more than anything, we wanted this season to feel really fun and kind of a return to the OG High School Musical vibes, and we're going to continue a lot of that going into next season.

Speaking of Nini, she's now made a life-changing decision to leave East High — at the beginning of this season, you had said it was too early in the season 4 writers room to know for sure what her role would be next season. Do you have any more insight now into if or how much we'll see Olivia next season?

The door is always going to be open to Olivia Rodrigo, because she is a massive element to the success of the show and the success for me as a beginning TV writer when she was first cast. But, yeah, no formal discussions on that one right now. Olivia knows the door is always open. But as you can imagine, we are doing a lot of work behind the scenes to engage some OGs because of this big High School Musical 4 concept, so that's taking up a lot of very happy brain space now.

Yeah, we definitely need to get into thatwhen I asked you before the season 3 premiere about Zac Efron and Vanessa Hudgens possibly appearing on the show after their suspicious East High Instagrams, I realize I asked you specifically about season 3. Now that the season 4 synopsis has been revealed, my mind has been coming up with all kinds of conspiracy theories about how they're actually appearing in season 4 for this High School Musical 4: The Reunion storyline.

Hand on the Bible, I can promise you we're going to deliver a lot of OG High School Musical stars. There's a lot of busy people whose lives are all over the map, and we're trying really hard to engage as many as possible. I wish I had a firmer answer, but the reality is the High School Musical 4 concept is new enough to the show that we're still working really hard on guest casting.

So this still has nothing to do with their Instagram posts?

I took those Instagrams as an inspiration and as a divine sign from the universe more than anything — Zac and Vanessa were not on the payroll when they did that. That was their own volition, and I was very appreciative.

Hmm.

[Laughs] I wish I were that clever. There was no lying.

What are we going to see from this High School Musical 4 storyline?

When this show was first announced, there was an outpouring of, "Don't screw with my High School Musical," which I understand, because if somebody said they were doing a reboot of Goonies or E.T., I would be like, "Get away from Goonies and E.T." What we really tried to do was invest in this next generation of actors, and in a lot of ways, the High School Musical 4 concept is a framework to really highlight the true current stars of the show who are going to play a meaningful role as extras in the "movie," which I think is very Ricky Gervais/Christopher Guest. We're going to have so much fun with that.

Every time I think this show can't get any more meta, it does.

[Laughs] It's so crazy. Every season, we seem to top it. Our writer's assistant created a flow chart so that nobody in wardrobe would be confused about High School Musical 4 vs. High School Musical 3 versus High School Musical: The Musical: The Series. It's a work of art.

What other music, aside from High School Musical 3 songs, are we going to see in season 4?

High School Musical 3 is a banger of a movie, there are so many good songs, and I'm so excited to get this cast singing them. I'm excited for everyone to discover in real time what a senior year means for these characters. And then part of what made our mark in season 1 was people singing live, acoustic songs, and really doing a thing that's hard to fake if you don't have the chops. More than anything else about the music in season 4 is that I want to return to that, the magic of an amazing voice, a single instrument, and not as many smoke and mirrors. It's real theater kids at East High. In the era of COVID, singing live takes longer and people aren't in masks. I'm incredibly health conscious with the cast and crew, but we're post-vaccine now, and we've stayed really safe, so it's time to flex some of what makes the show special. That's going to start right from the very first episode this season.

A lot that happened in the finale, from Ricky and Gina finally getting together, Ashlyn and Big Red both had big epiphanies about their sexuality, EJ was figuring out his future post-graduation. Where are they all going to land in season 4?

Season 4 is less about landing and more about launching. All of those stories are more of a launchpad than a final destination, so there's going to be a lot to balance in season 4. EJ has graduated from high school and has a life to explore. It's hard to imagine this show without Matt Cornett in a significant way, but the [Ricky/Gina/EJ love] triangle, I think it's pretty safe to say, is going to be put to bed for a bit, if not forever. I want to keep the good vibes going, but also continue telling stories like Carlos' body image story, Ashlyn and Big Red's sexuality and identity story, Kourtney's anxiety story, done in a way that feels approachable for a lot of audiences and not didactic.

You had some incredible guest stars this season, from Corbin Bleu to Jason Earles to JoJo Siwa and Jesse Tyler Ferguson. Especially with the High School Musical 4: The Reunion arc, how are you going to top that next season?

It's early days. I'm just right now having the production meeting for the first episode of the season. Between the number of series regulars we have to serve, new people who are important to the show, old people who are important to the show, and the OGs, I'm not sure how much room there is for massive, massive, massive, new, huge stars, but there are some important characters this season and some important characters from Hollywood who I think are going to be unexpected for the audience. But at the end of the day, this is ultimately a story led by Ricky, Gina, Kourtney, Ashlyn, Carlos, those kids who have really been around since season 1.

This interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.

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