Bridgerton executive producer Shonda Rhimes said she was "shocked" by the response to news of Rege-Jean Page's departure from the Netflix period drama.

Page starred in the first season of the period romp as the Duke of Hastings and proved immensely popular with fans.

It was announced earlier this month he would not be returning for the next season and the actor has since been linked with replacing Daniel Craig as James Bond.

Rhimes, the prolific TV producer behind acclaimed dramas Grey's Anatomy and Scandal, told Vanity Fair she did not expect the backlash to his Bridgerton departure.

Shona Rhimes

She said: "I was really shocked, because usually that happens when I've killed off somebody that's been around for a while.

"Like, we didn't kill him, he's still alive! (Rege-Jean) is a powerful, amazing actor and that meant we did our job - every season, our job is finding the right people and putting together this incredible, world-shifting romance."

And Rhimes addressed reports 31-year-old Page had turned down a Bridgerton return.

She said: "We made a one-season deal with him at the beginning of season one. That was the plan: come and do one season as the duke. Anything else that was extra and wasn't really the plan when we started, wasn't the plan when we finished.

Rege-Jean looking rather Bond-like

"So there's a lot of fantastically interesting talk that's been going on, mainly cause I think people are having a hard time letting go."

However, Vanity Fair said Rhimes later clarified Page had been invited to return for cameos in season two.

That second season, which is set to begin filming in the UK in the spring, will follow the story of the eldest Bridgerton sibling, Anthony, played by Jonathan Bailey.

Netflix has already renewed the show for a third and fourth season.