Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Death On TV

On television death can come at any time," my friend Toronto actress Susan Douglas once told me.
And she should know.
I remember telling her that as a young kid I'd run home from Withrow public school for lunch and then I'd catch the two 15-minute soap operas on CBS: Search For Tomorrow and The Guiding LIght.
Douglas had started on that show on CBS radio in 1944 and switched to TV with the rest of the cast.
And then she married opera star Jan Rubes without asking the permission of the show's creator, imperious Irna Phillips.
"She was livid," Douglas told me and when I subsequently had to take time off to have a baby she became so distraught she had my character of Katy killed under a bus the very next week."
On TV death is one way of silencing a recalcitrant actor as Grey's Anatomy star Patrick Dempsey discovered just the other week.
His character dubbed "McDreamy" by creator Shonda Rhimes was quickly and efficiently dispatched  in a car crash.
Leaked stories from the set implied Dempsety was forgetting his lines and making all kinds of trouble.
Fan backlash has been strong
In fact Julie Plec creator of Vampire Diaries is already saying she must now rethink the impending exiting of the character Elena (Nina Dobrev).
Nina has been saying she's done but the show's executives are still trying to get her to change her mind.
Death on TV is never easy.
When Pernell Roberts left NBC's Bonanza in 1965 the series still did fairly well ratings wise.
But the sudden death of Dan Blocker in 1972 caused a ratings slide that was irreversible.
As star Lorne Greene told me: "The show lost its heart and soul. People just tuned out. Dan couldn't be replaced and we got cancelled the next season."
When Maclean Stevenson decided to leave M*A*S*H (in 1976) to get his own series the producers were so irate they killed off his character Lieutenant Henry Blake in a midair plane crash.
When Stevenson subsequently bombed in several sitcoms but of course could never return to his M*A*S*H roots as Blake was dead.
When Jean Stapleton decided to leave All In The Family in 1979 where she had shone as Edith Bunker CBS simply felt she was irreplaceable and Edith's continuing absence could not be explained.
The 1980 season began with one of the best ever episodes titled "Edith's Death" which had Archie (Carroll O'Connor) trying to come to grips with her passing.
Of course some TV characters seemingly died only to later come back.
On Dynasty Pamela Sue Martin cast as recalcitrant daughter Fallon supposedly died in 1984 when Martin left the series.
But she returned complete with a British accent in 1986 in the person of Emma Samms.
It all proves that McDreamy could still return someday to Grey's Anatomy perhaps as his long lost twin brother.

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