Killing off a popular TV character is a surefire way to get your show noticed. Of course, there are characters who are killed temporarily, with every intention of returning (Buffy in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, for example); characters who return later, with some crazy explanation, to improve the ratings (Bobby Ewing in Dallas); and others who return to life to provide exciting dramatic twists (Tony Almeida in 24). Then there are characters who are supposed to die, but are saved, for any number of reasons.
1. Joe Coffey, Hill Street Blues
Officer Coffey (Ed Marinaro) was introduced in the first season of Hill Street Blues in 1981, partnered with Officer (later Sergeant) Lucy Bates (Betty Thomas). In his final scene, Coffey was clearly murdered by a suspect, providing a downbeat ending to the season. The episode was written in a hurry (when NBC asked for some extra episodes), and it was agreed that Coffey’s death was a powerful way to finish. However, the producers later decided that Coffey should stay. Though the shooting scene remained, his obvious death was edited out, and he was instead taken to hospital. He was eventually killed off anyway, but not until season 6.
2. Perpugilliam ‘Peri’ Brown, Doctor Who
Image Courtesy Dr. Who Image Archive
The 1986 death of Doctor’s first American companion (played by English actress Nicola Bryant) actually did make it to screen, but was retconned away only weeks later following protests. Back when Doctor Who was primarily a children’s series, Peri suffered a terrible fate, with her body being used to house the brain of an alien monster, then killed in the ensuing fight. “I loved my violent end,” Bryant said. “I told [producer] John Nathan-Turner I wanted to go out with a bang and I certainly didn’t want a tearful ‘Goodbye, Doctor’ scene or be married off to some hunky Martian. I was disappointed that the ending was negated, but I can see that they wanted to soften it because they were getting complaints from mothers wanting to know what to do with their distressed children, who were all Peri fans.” Though Bryant wasn’t brought back in to film further scenes, it was revealed in dialogue that her death was a hoax, and she had married a warrior-king.
You might think that—as Peri was killed, if only temporary—she doesn’t belong on this list any more than Bobby Ewing. If so, you can replace her with Leela, another of the Doctor’s assistants. When actor Louise Jameson left the series in 1978, she also wanted to be killed off, but the producer refused, hoping that she would change her mind and return at a later date. Again, she was married off—a fate that Jameson despised.
3. Erin Harkins, ER
Medical student Erin (Leslie Bibb) was introduced in ER in 2002 as a romantic interest for Dr. Luka Kovac (Goran Visnjic). However, she was only there to add to Dr. Kovac’s downward spiral, which had included losing his wife and child in a bombing in Croatia. In one episode, he is called to work hung-over after a Christmas party, making a terrible mistake. He then crashes his car, with Erin in the passenger seat. The accident was to have killed her, adding to his trauma (from which he would gradually recover over the next season). However, the powers that be (in the form of writer and producer David Zabel, who created Erin) couldn’t let her die. The reason: Zabel had named her after his wife. “I had to come up with a better storyline to let her live,” he said. She made one last appearance, then exited the series—alive and in one piece.
4. Dr. Julie Parris, V
Normally, cancellation is not good news for a television character, but it worked well for young scientist Julie Parris (Faye Grant), one of the heroes of the alien invasion show V. Following two highly popular mini-series, the imaginatively titled V: The Series premiered in 1984. However, while ratings were okay, it was cancelled after 19 episodes because it was so expensive to make. Julie died heroically in the second season premiere, but this was never aired. When the novel V: The Second Generation (by Kenneth Johnson, the creator of V) was published in 2008, Johnson ignored all the events of the series, so that Julie was still alive and well, and still in charge of the Resistance.
5. Chiana, Farscape
Chiana, a white-skinned young delinquent from the interplanetary Nebari race, was introduced in an episode of the first season of Farscape in 1999, which was supposed to end with her heroically dying to save the hero, Crichton (Ben Browder), from being shot by an alien villain. However, it seemed clear that the character, played by Gigi Edgley, had enough appeal to become a regular character. The episode was quickly rewritten, and she stayed in the series until the final episode, some five years later.
6. Nicole Wallace, Law & Order: Criminal Intent
Image Courtesy Law & Order Wiki
Nicole (Olivia D’Abo), a duplicitous, child-murdering villain who had kept viewers entertained for years, was going to suffer her just deserts in a 2005 episode. However, the producers indeed decided to let viewers become the jury. Two versions of the ending were filmed: one in which she was gunned down, and one in which she escaped justice. Viewers could then watch both endings on the show’s website and vote for the one they preferred. “This is the chance to do something new in a medium that is more than 60 years old,” said Law & Order creator Dick Wolf, “and you don’t get that chance very often.” In an Internet poll of fans, 68 percent voted to kill her. Many of them protested that casual viewers could cast a vote. (“Not to be undemocratic,” posted one fan, “but should those people really be voting?”) Ultimately, casual viewers seemed to make the difference, with 53 percent of viewers deciding that Nicole should live to fight another day.
Intriguing fact: Australia, which doesn’t have the death penalty (and where a majority of people are against it), showed less compassion. When it was shown there, viewers in all states voted to kill her.
7. Cindy Chandler, Lost
Introduced in the 2004 pilot episode of Lost as “Flight Attendant #1”, Cindy (played by Canadian-Australian actor Kimberley Joseph) was briefly seen serving Jack (Matthew Fox) on Oceanic Airlines Flight 815, just before the plane crashed. Like most of the crew, she was assumed dead—and that was the idea. However, Joseph was noticed by a producer, and it was revealed in season two—in one of the countless twists of Lost—that she had survived and lived with the Others. She made several other appearances through the next five seasons.
8. Jesse Pinkman, Breaking Bad
Creator Vince Gilligan planned to kill off Walter White's sidekick early in the series. "I didn’t even know Jesse was supposed to die in the first season," Aaron Paul told The AV Club. "I found that out toward the end of the first season, and then the next couple of years, I was in a constant panic, thinking that this kid is going to meet his demise at any time." Paul went on to win two Emmys.