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TV Characters Aren’t Safe – And The Shows Are Better For It

May 14, 14 TV Characters Aren’t Safe – And The Shows Are Better For It

Back in the first season of Star Trek: The Next Generation, something impossible happened. Not only did the Enterprise and its freshman crew boldly go where no one had gone before – a change from “where no man had gone before” – but a main character had died. Tasha Yar, played by Denise Crosby, was actually killed.

The truth is that Crosby wasn’t happy about how her character was being developed and wanted off the show. This was quite a departure from the original Star Trek where the guy with the red shirt was the one who wasn’t going to make it to the final act. The main characters were always safe!

Tasha Yar wasn’t the first main character to die in a TV series – but in fairness, Yar was really more of a supporting character anyway. Imagine how different the show would have been had Pickard or Riker been killed off at some point?

That is sort of what happened on M.A.S.H. when McLean Stevenson wanted off the show after three seasons – Lt. Col. Henry Blake was killed. It didn’t have to go that way, as the character was actually discharged, but the producers took a bold move to kill the character anyway – it was a show set during a war after all!

Today, TV is much different. Recently, Entertainment Weekly called out some of the most shocking TV deaths, and went so far as to note that there is a “Thrones effect” going on where TV characters die.

Entertainment Weekly noted, “The Golden Age of Television was supposed to save us from gimmicks like this. The weekly format allowed personalities to change over time, creating relationships that grew deeper and more complicated with each episode. Now characters often don’t live long enough for that kind of depth.”

Gimmicks! Really?

Death on TV shouldn’t be seen as a gimmick. It should be part of the story to make it more realistic! In real life, people die and it is part of life. It is a very unfortunate part of life and no one ever wants to get the phone call that something terrible has happened.

A world where people on TV shows – especially shows such as Game of Thrones, or any number of crime dramas – don’t die isn’t very realistic. It is more like the recent episode of NBC’s Community, which was set in the imagined world of G.I. Joe. A whole running joke was that no one had died before!

Obviously, death in a cartoon for children shouldn’t be part of the story – but when shows such as the recently cancelled Revolution have to make a big deal about a main character dying, it is a bit much! Revolution is set in a world literally gone wild, where every character is carrying a weapon and fights ensue at the drop of a hat. Most of the time, main characters are “safe.”

This goes back to Star Trek, Wagon Train, Gun Smoke and many other shows over the years. The main characters might get hurt, they might face certain death, but they’d manage to get saved and make it to the next episode. In the case of Star Trek, the guy in the red shirt might get killed, but by the final scene, Kirk and Spock would be back to the witty banter!

Show some respect guys.

At least with the new mantra of “anyone can die,” we learn to respect these characters and mourn their passing. In other words, death on a TV show is not a gimmick. It is a welcome direction that should make the shows all the more engaging.

Image Credit: Thinkstock

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