'One Tree Hill' stars sign on for Season 9: Will James Lafferty and Bethany Joy Galeotti join in?

oth-sophia-austin-gallery.jpgNearly every "One Tree Hill" cast member we spoke to during the first half of the series' current 8th season seemed content with the idea that Season 8 would be the final season of the veteran series.

Season 8 has, in some ways, felt like a wrap-up to a very long journey that's taken beloved characters from their junior year of high school well into their mid-twenties thanks to some well-orchestrated time jumps. (Nobody likes a high school show in college anyway, right?)

Oddly enough, it was the most recent episode -- a clip show reflecting on how far the characters have come -- that first suggested that the story might not end this year. After all, fans of the show want to see Brooke's dreams come true, and while watching her heart break as she had to say goodbye to her dreams of motherhood once again, we realized her journey was not quite over.

It appears that series star Sophia Bush feels the same way. After speaking with Bush several times over the last year, we've gotten the impression that she feels quite connected with and protective of her character, and she's decided not to let go quite yet.

In a move that many fans didn't expect, Bush has officially signed on to stick with "One Tree Hill" for Season 9, should The CW choose to renew the show for the 2011-2012 season.

Additionally, her on-screen husband Austin Nichols has completed negotiations to return, and they'll be joined by Rob Buckley (Clay) and Lisa Goldstien (Millie). Jana Kramer (Alex) will also remain with the show even as she pursues her off-screen music career. Her on-screen performances on the show are sure to boost awareness for her country record. There's been no word on whether Stephen Colletti or Shantal VanSanten plan to be back.

And thus, the question remains: will the Scott family stay in Tree Hill? "Keep your fingers crossed," Bush tweeted, in the hopes that James Lafferty and Bethany Joy Galeotti will agree to return. ( Jackson Brundage's contract relies on their negotiations being successful, as he plays their son.)

Bush, Lafferty, and Galeotti are the sole remaining series regulars from the first season. Though the show has certainly broadened, it began as the story of Nathan (Lafferty) and Lucas ( Chad Michael Murray), estranged half-brothers forced together on the basketball court. To continue "One Tree Hill" without any representatives of the Scott family in the regular cast seems like a risky move.

We talked to Lafferty this week, and he remained cryptic on the issue of contract renewals, telling us, "There are a lot of things that would have to fall into place for a Season 9 to happen. If Season 9 doesn't happen, I feel like my character has had a very well-rounded ending. That being said, it's 'One Tree Hill.' There's always a possibility for more story."

For Galeotti, Season 9 is complicated. She and her husband Michael recently welcomed their first child, daughter Maria Rose, who will no doubt factor into her decisions -- especially considering the show shoots in Wilmington but she calls Washington State home. Galeotti has dreams of opening up a boutique bakery and raising a large family.

When we spoke with her in October, she seemed ready for Haley to have some closure. "I've just been enjoying sharing the time with the other actors, seeing Haley's family and her life with Nathan," she said. "It's our last season so we're all just really excited to be do one-tree-hill-james-joy-cw.jpging good work and to see how everything ends up rounding out. We're kind of past the point now of future hopes and goals."

If Season 9 happens, another familiar face may make a reappearance. Just hours before his former castmates announced their contract renewals, Murray addressed "One Tree Hill" fans on his official Twitter. "Return to oth? I don't know. Maybe next season for u guys. I Love that Lucas is missed. Give mark Schwann the credit. He built him," he wrote. Of course, the possibility of Lucas and Peyton returning has been teased all year without fruition, so we wouldn't hold our breath.

Though Season 9 remains a possibility, don't expect "One Tree Hill" to try to best "Smallville's" decade-long run. Both Bush and Nichols stressed that Season 9 will be the home stretch for them. "I am officially in for ONE last year of OTH. The writers have GREAT plans!" Bush wrote.

"I signed for ONE more season of One Tree Hill. Now its time for all of you to tell the CW Network that you want them to pick it up for S9," Nichols added.

Make some noise, "One Tree Hill" fans. Are you hopeful for a Season 9? Do you think that the show would have the same emotional impact if Nathan and Haley went the way of Lucas and Peyton? What do you hope we'll see from these characters next season, if The CW decides in their favor? Weigh in below -- that's what the comments section is for.

And if you do want to see Season 9 happen, there's no better way to boost their chances than to make sure you tune in Tuesday at 8 p.m. EST on The CW.


Photo/Video credit: The CW