I'm hoping that everyone who TiVoed last Monday's episode of House has already watched it, since the next sentence definitely contains a spoiler. The suicide of Dr. Kutner broadsided viewers, although in retrospect it wasn't so surprising. Actor Kal Penn had been fairly underused during the two years he was on the show, and he recently revealed that he'd accepted the position of "liaison connecting the Obama administration with arts and entertainment groups, as well as with the Asian-American and Pacific Islander communities." Since he was poised to leave the show anyway, one can postulate that the producers decided that a dramatic, unexpected exit (suicide) could make for a Very Special Episode, and maybe even an Emmy nomination.
Kutner's shocking departure got me to thinking about other surprising TV deaths, particularly those that occurred in the days before the Internet was prevalent and one studio mole could leak sensitive script information to the whole world within minutes.
1. Henry Blake (M*A*S*H)
2. Dan Conner (Roseanne)
3. Dennis Gant (ER)
Usually the death of a tertiary character doesn't garner much sympathy from me (how many times has a lead character met, fell in love with, and then lost their intended via some bizarre accident all within the span of a few episodes?) But Omar Epps (who currently plays Dr. Eric Foreman on House) managed to hit us all in the gut with his dramatic exit on ER, even though he'd only been present for 10 episodes. During that time, however, it was made clear that as a surgical intern he was constantly bullied and belittled by Dr. Benton (Eriq LaSalle), whose philosophy was that black doctors had to set the bar higher in order to be taken seriously. In the "Night Shift" episode, Gant was clearly troubled and left the hospital in the middle of his shift. Later in the night, EMS brought in a horribly battered patient who'd been hit by an EL train. Witnesses were divided as to whether he'd jumped or stumbled. As the staff started lifesaving procedures, Benton barked out the order to page Dr. Gant. A nurse dialed the telephone, and suddenly the beeper clipped on the belt of their patient started chirping"¦
4. Maude Flanders (The Simpsons)
5. Rosalind Shays (L.A. Law)
6. Christine Chubbuck (Suncoast Digest)
Did you wince when Alex was literally blown in half on Third Watch? Were you expecting cancer patient Nancy to be the thirtysomething character who wouldn't live to see forty? What TV deaths surprised, shocked and/or brought a tear to your eye?