Why the carnage in prime time?
By Virginia Rohan
Knight Ridder News Service
By Virginia Rohan
Is anyone safe on TV series anymore?
This past season has been an unusually bloody one. A number of main characters have met their maker — and the body count will rise again in the coming days, as May sweeps meets cliffhanger season finales. There will be shootouts on "ER" and "Conviction," and several other dramas are issuing ominous warnings about the impending loss of "one of their own."
Although no major character has died so far on "Sopranos" this sixth and final season — surely bound to change soon — the list of this season's dead on network TV series is long. It includes:
Since then, presidential adviser Walt Cummings (John Allen Nelson) was found hanging (a staged suicide to cover his murder, possibly by President Logan himself). The beloved Edgar Stiles (Louis Lombardi) died when exposed to nerve gas at CTU headquarters. The following week, Lynn McGill (Sean Astin) met the same fate.
That's not even counting the evil doers Jack Bauer has dispatched to hell. And as the show approaches the conclusion of its deadliest season, the plot line will surely claim more victims.
One factor is television's new interactivity.
Fans post reviews of series on countless Web sites, registering kudos, gripes and conspiracy theories. Producers often read these comments and sometimes even post their own messages (or red herrings). Presumably, they also take valid criticisms to heart. "Lost" co-creator Damon Lindelof has said that the fans' reaction has affected the pace at which the show's writers reveal answers to some mysteries.
When it comes to dramas dealing with life-or-death issues, series writers argue that it heightens realism if viewers think that at any moment anyone could die. That scenario is certainly more lifelike than credulity-stretching story lines where characters miraculously rebound from life-threatening injuries or — no offense, Tony — linger in comas for purely creative reasons.
This we-know-not-the-hour approach may keep viewers on their toes and perhaps, more important, keep cast members on edge, possibly deterring diva-like tantrums or salary-related sickouts. On "24," Secretary of Defense James Heller (William Devane), about to be killed by terrorists in a helicopter, deliberately drove off a cliff and into a lake, but on Monday, we learned he was still alive — for now.
But is the whole trend an exciting or unwelcome development? That depends on the show — and the character.
The "Lost" death of troubled Shannon, just as she was becoming more likable and had found love with Sayid, was sadder than the first-season death of her stepbrother, Boone. Still, it would grieve me far more to lose Jack, Kate, Sawyer, Locke, Sun or Jin.
On "Desperate Housewives," I still miss the meddling Mrs. Huber but would shed no tears if a tornado carried away the Applewhites' house.
On the other hand, killing off a beloved character could really backfire.
Many fans of FX's "The Shield" were incensed by the death of Detective Curtis "Lemonhead" Lemansky (Kenny Johnson) and especially that he was killed by friend and fellow detective Shane Vendrell (Walton Goggins).
"24" producers have conceded they were taken aback by the outraged reaction to the decision to kill off chubby, lovably awkward Edgar Stiles, who had terrific chemistry with Chloe O'Brian (Mary Lynn Rajskub).
Writers have little choice, of course, if a valuable actor dies.
What's for sure is that we're in for more mayhem.
On "Everwood," it's rumored that a longtime resident will die, and people close to main characters appear to be in grave danger on "CSI: Miami" and "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation."
And then there's "The Sopranos," which is long overdue for a really big whacking.