TV Talk: Death Death Death


TV-T&PC (1)As usual, there are no spoilers!

There is an epidemic. They’re dying in record numbers, one after another after another. I am, of course talking about TV characters.

There was a time that a death of a character on a show was a big deal. We grew attached to our fictional friends, and yes, that friendship was a little one-sided, but when they disappeared into the great Television Beyond, it was sad.

Now we know better.

I couldn’t even begin to give you a death toll for my week so far in television viewing. And that’s just the Real Housewives of New York! (Just kidding. Only lady parts seem to be harmed in the making of that show, because they talk about them. A lot. A kind of Vagina Dialogues, if you will. And no, that joke didn’t do well on Twitter either).

Seriously, though, the deaths come so quickly and so meaninglessly that they’re starting to have nearly zero impact. And that’s bad for the shows, that’s bad for television, and it’s bad for society as a whole.

The best thing you can have for a television show is a completely engaged audience. Loyal fans who will go out and spread the word, who will tweet with the show, who will attend events and generally show support. And while possible death of favorite characters is a good way to build tension, it can’t be your only way.

Here’s the thing with that: if you keep teasing it, eventually you have to make it happen, or else that element of tension is lost. Some shows don’t care, and actually trade on the safety of knowing that one of the main characters is never going to die. Early “Castle,” for example, allowed fans to enjoy the peril and, more importantly, enjoy seeing how the characters would escape it, knowing that they would.

But if you constantly kill off characters, instead of engaging fans, they tend to disconnect. Why? Because who wants to be broken up over someone who never actually existed ceasing to exist? There’s no point in getting attached to characters who are only temporary.

Not all shows are guilty of it. But the problem is that watching so much TV death on some shows inures us to death on others. And, I think, makes us less sensitive to real-life tragedy.

Yes, TV death allows dramatic, tension-filled scenes with lots of bloody gore. But constant death and constant gore only creates a gulf between viewer and show.

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