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Friday, November 29, 2013

Farewell, Brian Griffin...And Other Sitcom Stars Too

I know that I typically don't talk about current events in this blog, but after seeing some of the backlash and outcry over a particular episode of a long running series on television, I knew that I had to speak my piece.

Now, I realize that for some of you, this is old news, but believe it or not, it is still being talked about on social media and the Internet, and may fans are claiming that they will never watch the show again.

Of course, I'm talking about the death of Brian Griffin, the family dog. Brian died of internal injuries following an accident in which he got run over by a car while setting up for a game of road hockey with Stewie.

Now, I'm a casual viewer of “Family Guy”, and have been for years since the show debuted in 1999. I understand that the show is currently in its twelfth season, and really, if you wanted to kill off a character and not have anyone lose their job, then really, Brian, Stewie, Peter, or Quagmire would have worked. After all, show creator Seth MacFarlane voices all of those characters. And, I suppose of all those characters, Brian would be the one that is easily replaceable. The show's already cast Sopranos star Tony Sirico to voice the Griffin family's new pet, so I suppose that “Family Guy” is already moving ahead with the show.

CONFESSION: When I first heard the news that a main character was being killed off on “Family Guy”, my prediction was Chris Griffin, as I believed that Seth Green wanted to move on to focus on creating more “Robot Chicken” episodes. But in this case, I was completely wrong.

Now, here's the issue. When Brian's death was broadcast on the sixth episode of the twelfth season, it caused a lot of outrage and disbelief, which is understandable. After all, in many Family guy polls, Brian was obviously a fan favourite. And with Brian's death, many fans are now threatening to boycott the show unless they find a way to bring Brian back to life. But despite fan outrage, staffers associated with the show defend the decision, stating that killing off Brian was really the only option that they had to make the episode memorable.

Well, I suppose in some way, “Family Guy” achieved that.

Now, here's the question. Did “Family Guy” jump the shark with the death of Brian Griffin? It's hard to say, really. After all, the episode did air less than a week ago. But, when you look back on the seven decades of television that we've seen, Brian Griffin is hardly the first major character to be killed off of a television program. Earlier in the week, a major character was killed off of “Person of Interest”. And on “The Mentalist”, Thomas Jane finally found and murdered the man known as “Red John” - the serial killer who slaughtered his family ten years earlier.

In some cases, while killing off a main character signified the death of a show, others managed to survive several seasons. And, that's what this blog is about.

We're going to be discussing television shows that killed off a major character, and the aftermath following it.

It's unknown how “Family Guy” will fare after this extremely controversial decision. But at the same time, controversy is nothing new for “Family Guy”. I've lost count over how many times the show was yanked off the air and returned again because of controversial subject matter alone!

So, let's begin, shall we?

VALERIE HOGAN (1986-1987)

Does anybody remember the 1986 NBC series, “Valerie”? The name might not ring a bell, but the cast might jog your memory. In the show, Valerie Hogan was played by actress Valerie Harper of Rhoda fame. She was a mother of three boys played by Jason Bateman, Jeremy Licht, and Danny Ponce, struggling to balance motherhood as a mostly single parent (her husband worked as an airline pilot and was rarely home). For two seasons, the show did quite well in the ratings, and everything was fine. At least, until Valerie Harper grew concerned over the fact that the show seemed to be focusing more on Jason Bateman and less on the rest of the cast. The end result was that Valerie Harper was fired from her own show, and replaced with Sandy Duncan.

As for how they explained away Valerie's death? They killed her off in a car accident, and then burned down the house shortly after, making 1987 seem like the worst year of the Hogan family's life. Of course, the fire episode did erase any and all traces of Valerie Harper, and Sandy Duncan assumed the new role of Hogan family matriarch.

Oh, and the show's title changed three times from “Valerie” to “Valerie's Family” to “The Hogan Family”.

AFTERMATH: As lovely and talented an actress as Valerie Harper was, her character's death didn't really cause any damage to the show itself. In fact, Sandy Duncan breathed new life into it, with the show lasting an additional four seasons, wrapping up its run in 1991. This meant that Sandy Duncan appeared in more episodes than Valerie Harper! I wonder if Duncan's Wheat Thins commercials had anything to do with it? They were all over the place during that time period.

CARL KANISKY (1981-1985)

Here's a conundrum for you all. What happens when one of the stars of the show passes away in between seasons? That's the situation that “Gimme A Break” producers faced when actor Dolph Sweet passed away in 1985. At the time of Sweet's death, he had been playing the role of police chief Carl Kanisky, whose wife had passed away prior to the series beginning. Carl's former wife, Margaret, had been friends with a woman named Nell Harper (Nell Carter) for years, and a promise was made between the two women that if anything happened to her that Nell would move into the Kanisky house to help Carl raise his three daughters played by Kari Michaelsen, Lauri Hendler, and Lara Jill Miller.

Carl's death was addressed in the fifth season premiere of “Gimme A Break”, as Dolph Sweet had died around the same time that season four had wrapped up. And, the show tried to go on with Nell continuing to honour her promise to her late friends to look after the girls.

AFTERMATH: The problem was that by 1985, all the girls had grown up. By the conclusion of season five, two of the actresses had left the show permanently, and the third one had a recurring role until the end of the series. But this set the stage for the radical revamp of the show in which Nell's character moves to New York City with foster son Joey (Joey Lawrence), and new cast members were added, played by Telma Hopkins, Rosetta LeNoire, and Rosie O'Donnell. Unfortunately, the show had changed so much that it alienated viewers, and the show was pulled from NBC's schedule by 1987.

PAUL HENNESSY (2002-2003)

Fast forward eighteen years later to 2003, and the same exact situation that happened on “Gimme A Break” happened on the set of “8 Simple Rules”, when John Ritter passed away in September 2003. This left the character of Cate Hennessy (Katey Sagal) as a widow with three teenage children – Bridget (Kaley Cuoco), Kerry (Amy Davidson), and Rory (Martin Spanjers) – adjusting to life without their husband and father. To assist Cate, the producers added James Garner and David Spade to the cast as Cate's father and Cate's nephew respectively.

AFTERMATH: Considering that the show was all about an overprotective father sticking his nose into the affairs of his daughters' romantic lives, the death of John Ritter was a huge blow for the show – one that it never really recovered from. Though Garner and Spade tried their best to turn around the show, the original premise was lost forever. The series was cancelled in May 2005 after three seasons.

MAUDE FLANDERS (1990-2000)

Now, here's an interesting scoop about “The Simpsons”. Apparently at some point during this year, a major character from the show (which has run twice as long as “Family Guy”) is slated to die. And the only clue they've given us is that the person who will be axed is someone whose voice actor has won an Emmy for their role.

(For those of you taking bets, you can eliminate Principal Skinner or Mr. Burns. Harry Shearer plays both characters, and he's yet to win the award!)

But until that death happens, let's take a look at a major death for a secondary character. Maude Flanders was the wife of Ned Flanders, and both of them made a perfect match. They were kind, generous, church-going...and both could be quite hypocritical if either one were challenged on their beliefs. But the reason why I include Maude on this list is because the story behind why she was written out is interesting...and her death is probably one of the most asinine death to ever be written into a sitcom (albeit an animated one).

From 1990 to 1999, the role of Maude Flanders was played by voice actress Maggie Roswell. But when a pay dispute erupted behind the scenes of “The Simpsons”, coupled with the fact that Maggie had just relocated to Colorado, Roswell quit the series in 1999. From that point on, Maude was voiced by Marcia Mitzman Gaven. At least, that was the case until February 2000.

You see, the day before Valentine's Day, Maude and Ned were at the opening of a new speedway, and the Simpson family were seated in front of them. Maude left to go and get herself and Ned some snacks, while Homer was obnoxiously trying to score a free T-shirt from the cannon shooting girls below.

Well, needless to say, Maude got hit with a wayward T-shirt, and fell several stories to her death – and given that the last thing that she saw was Homer Simpson's butt crack, that's a really disturbing way to go. I mean, for god sakes, Homer, where were your tighty-whities? I mean, seriously.

AFTERMATH: Ironically enough, Maggie Roswell worked out a deal with “The Simpsons”, and she returned to the show in 2002. But Maude Flanders stayed deceased, paving the way for Ned to embark on several affairs with a singer named Rachel, an actress named Sara, and Mrs. Krabappel. Wonder how Ned would react if the show killed off Mrs. K, given that Marcia Wallace passed away quite recently?

CHEF (1996-2006)

Okay, so everyone who's ever watched “South Park” knows that the show never ever took death seriously. How else could you explain why Kenny has experienced over a hundred deaths during the show's seventeen years on the air?

And, anyone who has ever seen an episode of the early years of “South Park” knows that one of the stars of the show was Chef, the man who served lunch to all of the students at South Park Elementary. Voiced by Isaac Hayes, Chef was certainly an enigma of sorts. He was often the one adult in the whole town that Kenny, Kyle, Cartman, and Stan could talk to and get an honest answer. Mind you, those answers often came in the form of 1970s era music that deserved one of those “Parental Advisory” stickers on it, but for a group of eight year old boys, it sailed right over their heads. But Chef was definitely the coolest character on the show. He even had a hit on the charts with this classic single.

But when Isaac Hayes voiced his opposition towards an episode of “South Park” that aired during the show's ninth season, he had a falling out with creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone, and he quit the series just before the show began recording the vocal sessions for season ten. The reason? Well, the show completely made fun of the religion known as “Scientology”, and Isaac Hayes, a Scientologist, took offense.

So, when the show's tenth season premiered, Matt and Trey killed off Chef – ironically enough by having Chef join a cult which brainwashed him. Despite the best efforts of the boys to rescue him, Chef ends up falling off of a bridge that was struck by lightning, is impaled by a tree branch, gets shot, gets mauled by a mountain lion, and is partially dismembered by a grizzly bear.

Or in other words...most gruesome death on a television sitcom EVER!

AFTERMATH: The show is still going on seven years later, and Chef's death certainly didn't affect the show in a negative way at all. But even if everything was hunky-dory and Chef had stayed on for the foreseeable future, Trey and Matt likely would have had to write him off anyway, as Isaac Hayes passed away in the summer of 2008.

So, those are five characters that were killed off of shows, as well as the ultimate fates of the shows themselves. What fate will “Family Guy” have following the death of Brian Griffin? It's too soon to tell, but I think it'll be fun to see what happens.

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