Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Top 5 Reasons You Can't Blame the "M*A*S*H" Producers for Killing Off Henry Blake

Castle may be the only show in the history of television whose most loyal fans were relieved that it was canceled. The alternative, or so it appeared, was killing off NYPD Captain Kate Beckett, because her portrayer, Stana Katic, was not given a new contract for a new season.

And (spoiler alert), at 10:57 PM Eastern Time last night, it looked like the fandom's worst fear had come true: Beckett and her husband, mystery novelist turned private detective Richard Castle (Nathan Fillion), were shot and apparently dying, by the hand of (in true James Bond film style) the last remaining henchman of the evil organization they had taken down together.

At 10:58, we found out that they survived -- at least for another 7 years, by which point they have 3 small children. (The "little Castle babies" that the fangirls, and many fanboys, have wanted all along.)

Tonight, the season finale of NCIS airs. It is Michael Weatherly's last episode as Special Agent Anthony DiNozzo. They have been hinting at a reunion between him and former Special Agent Ziva David (Cote de Pablo). And while the promos for the Castle finale suggested that Beckett would die, the promos for NCIS are suggesting that DiNozzo will walk out of the Navy Yard office alive.

The NCIS showrunners know the pitfalls of killing off beloved characters. They've already killed off Special Agent Caitlin Todd (Sasha Alexander), NCIS Director Jenny Shepard (Lauren Holly), former Special Agent Mike Franks (Muse Watson), Mossad Director and Ziva's father Eli David (Michael Nouri), current NCIS Director Leon Vance's wife Jackie (Paula Newsome), and other, less key characters. And have ended seasons with the lives of Tony, Ziva, Dr. Donald "Ducky" Mallard (David McCallum) and, last year, Special Agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs (Mark Harmon) in serious doubt. So they probably know better than to end this episode with either Tony or Ziva dead.

(UPDATE: Tony did walk away from the job alive, but the script said that Ziva was dead. But none of us saw a dead body. We found out they had a 2-year-old daughter. In 2019, it was revealed that Ziva was alive, and while we didn't see them all together, we knew they had all been reunited.)

Yesterday was also the 20th Anniversary of the Seinfeld season finale that killed off Susan Ross (Heidi Sweberg), fiancee of George Costanza (Jason Alexander). It wasn't a huge surprise to find out that she and George wouldn't get married, or even that she died, but the other characters' reaction to her death was cold and despicable.

Yesterday was also the 30th Anniversary of the Dallas season finale that revealed that, contrary to the events of the previous season's finale, Bobby Ewing (Patrick Duffy) was alive. The writers weaseled out of that one by having his wife Pam (Victoria Principal) say the entire season, starting with his death, was all a horrible, horrible dream.

Killing off characters has been controversial, from Alice Harper (Mrs. Joe Cartwright, played by Bonnie Bedelia) on Bonanza in 1972 to Jon Snow (Kit Harington) on Game of Thrones last season (although he's been brought back by magic).

None more controversial than M*A*S*H killing off the Korean War Army hospital's commanding officer, Lieutenant Colonel Henry Blake, on their Season 3 finale, on March 18, 1975. This was the 1st time a TV show had actually said that a main character had died. Previously, when an actor died, either the character was played by someone else, or written out and not mentioned again. The same thing was done when an actor simply left the show.

But when McLean Stevenson left M*A*S*H after 3 seasons, the producers and writers killed Henry off. They had the announcement right there in the script.

Americans had seen people on their TVs that a President, and other beloved figures, had been murdered; that the scenes of wounded soldiers they were seeing in Vietnam were real; that there really were riots by protestors and beatings, even shootings, by police and national guardsmen at political demonstrations; that a President had committed crimes, and that he was resigning rather than face impeachment over it.

But they had never been told that a TV character that they liked, played by a person who, then, was very much alive, was dead -- and just as he was going home from a war, too.

Whatever happened between Stevenson and the showrunners, this was unjust. People still complain about it, 41 years later.

Top 5 Reasons You Can't Blame the M*A*S*H Producers for Killing Off Henry Blake

5. It Was Their Show. Whether it was right or wrong, fair or unfair, they had every right to do it.

4. McLean Stevenson. He wanted out. If he'd wanted to stay, Henry would almost certainly have continued as the 4077th MASH's C.O.

3. The Novelty. Main castmembers had been written out of previous shows, but never explicitly mentioned as having died. Little Joe's wife on Bonanza was an exception, and not a particularly big one, because she was introduced and killed all within the space of a single hourlong episode. We didn't have time to get to know her. Henry Blake was the 1st one -- and we're still talking about it, 41 years later.

2. War Is Hell. Hawkeye wasn't the main character of M*A*S*H, war was. Not even the Korean War per se, but war itself.

There were many references in the show to World War II (As in, "If we let the Communists get away with things, it'll be like we appeased the Nazis all over again," and all the references to Major Frank Burns, played by Larry Linville, being like Hitler), and to World War I (such as the service of the new C.O., Colonel Sherman Potter). The old Korean soldier who fought for Japan in the Russo-Japanese War. Even the American Civil War, the Crimean War, the Napoleonic Wars and the American Revolution got mentions.

As Captain Benjamin Franklin "Hawkeye" Pierce (Alan Alda) put it, "I think war is worse than Hell. There are no innocent bystanders in Hell."

1. It Worked. The show was better with Sherman Potter as the commanding officer, and it was better with Harry Morgan playing the C.O.

And people who say the show was better with Henry, Frank and Captain "Trapper" John McIntyre (Wayne Rogers) than with Potter, Captain B.J. Hunnicutt (Mike Farrell) and Major Charles Winchester (David Ogden Stiers), before Alda started pontificating, are idiots. Or, as Charles would say, "cretins."

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