The Good Wife, a legal drama in the United States, killed off one of its pivotal characters last March 23, 2014. Critically lauded since 2009, the death shocked adoring fans and viewers who have stopped watching the series. The week before, MTV’s Teen Wolf also killed off a main character, a scene that took Twitter and other social media sites by storm. Hardcore fans would believe that their show is jumping the shark, but this isn’t even remotely the worst case scenario seen in television nowadays. For what it’s worth, character deaths are common to shows like The Walking Dead and Game of Thrones. The source material of these two shows, often grittier, calls for violence because the graphic and literary novel medium ushers in a deeper and more detailed story that fleshes out the complexities of its characters.
Both ‘Thrones’ and ‘Dead’ have made their mother networks, HBO and AMC respectively, mainstream, something that makes them worth big bucks ensuring more seasons and money. The death of characters in horror and fantasy shows is now justified, unlike before. This led to a flurry of television shows that mimic or at least follow a pattern in ensuring that pivotal characters get a call from six feet under, or at least a nudge. Though it may be an isolated case, character deaths in television have been rampant; more and more shows have the ability to turn an episode into a Twitter party for the audiences are drawn to watch live, as if it ensures the safety of their “characters”. Industry practitioners and critics have observed that there is a trend of literal assassinations on primetime television; executive producers would like to believe that character deaths are “integral to the story.”
As a consumer of television, it’s not hard to see that there is an alarming increase in the instances of violence. In our home turf, the MTRCB is ensuring that Filipino families are well-informed as to their choices for family-friendly programs with advisories and public service announcements that have permeated even through to the cineplex. Unfortunately, primetime productions aren’t immune to the mentality that character deaths bring in more viewers. Not only does it make networks and executives look desperate for ratings, it also brings into question whether studios care for content or for “deaths” that’ll bring revenue to companies.
Consider the viewership of The Good Wife; while shows like Pretty Little Liars and Scandal have taken off in the ratings game while slowly killing off every character in their roster, the saga of Alicia Florrick and Lockhart & Gardner believes in the slow burn move. While heroine Alicia prepares to leave the firm to start a new one, the death of one of her colleagues sends her into a spiral, and so does the ratings for the next episode entitled “The Last Call”. In a letter issued by creators Robert & Michelle King, they explained the mechanics and the “whys” of the major character death. One thing that made sense is that the whole concept of it was so sudden and yet it made sense. “It’s terrifying how a perfectly normal and sunny day can suddenly explode with tragedy,” remarked by the co-creators in an attempt to ease off the questions (and shock) of fans. They go on to say that one’s last time with a loved one will always be the last time, the “irredeemability” of death.
The Good Wife has been under the radar for so long that other new shows have overtaken it in the game of viewership. What it excels in, though, is the power of consistency and coherence, something other shows don’t focus on. While others show the pizzazz of politics in Washington D.C. or the complexities of anti-heroes, the television series focuses on the small things that eventually make up the big picture. When “Dramatics, Your Honor” aired, the shock value wasn’t expected, but it was something. By killing off a character, the show retained its character in a market riddled with properties that sell out and exchange quality and consistency for reaction videos of fans on YouTube.