Sunday, May 7, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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TV's season of character assassination

The Record (Hackensack N.J


The death of Shannon (Maggie Grace) was heartbreaking for Sayid (Naveen Andrews) on "Lost."

Here's a look at this season's major fatalities (so far) and their manner of death.

Shannon (Maggie Grace), "Lost" — Shot by Ana Lucia.

Jonathan Kent (John Schneider), "Smallville" — Heart attack.

Monica Mancuso (Lara Flynn Boyle), "Las Vegas" — Blown off a roof.

Dana (Erin Daniels), "The L Word" — Breast cancer.

Detective "Lem" Lemansky (Kenneth Johnson), "The Shield" — Grenade explosion, orchestrated by his close friend Detective Shane Vendrell.

And then there's "24" ...

President David Palmer (Dennis Haysbert) — Bullet to the neck.

Michelle Dessler (Reiko Aylesworth) — Car explosion.

Tony Almeida (Carlos Bernard) — Needle in the heart.

Walt Cummings (John Allen Nelson) — Murder made to look like suicide.

Edgar Stiles (Louis Lombardi) — Nerve gas.

Lynn McGill (Sean Astin) — Nerve gas.

Secretary of Defense James Heller (William Devane)? — What sure looked to be a fatal plunge off a cliff.

Will they stay, or will they go?

Several TV characters are on the endangered list. Here are four prominent characters whose fates look iffy:

Ana Lucia (Michelle Rodriguez), "Lost" In February, series co-creator Damon Lindelof hinted that Rodriguez's character was safe for the moment. But a lot can change in three months — especially after Rodriguez's recent jail sentence for drunken driving. And even if she's not the casualty, someone on "Lost" will die before the end of May.

Vito Spatafore (Joseph R. Gannascoli), "The Sopranos" Bisexual Vito was caught in a leather bar, and now Phil Leotardo wants him dead.

Audrey Heller Raines (Kim Raver), "24" Nobody gets to live happily ever after with Jack Bauer. Then again, the victim could be first lady Martha Logan (Jean Smart) — or just about anyone else.

C-Note (Rockmond Dunbar), "Prison Break" Reportedly, the gang (or some members) will finally break out in the season finale. But what kind of future does C-Note have on the outside?

Is anyone safe on a TV series anymore? Does the Grim Reaper have no regard for even regulars on hit shows?

Prime time, as you've probably noticed, has become an increasingly dangerous place lately. And not just on dark-alley dramas where you'd expect to encounter violence, like "The Sopranos."

This season has been an unusually bloody one. Several main characters have met their maker — and the body count will no doubt rise again in the coming days, as May sweeps meets cliffhanger season finales. There will be, for example, shootouts on "ER" and "Conviction," and several other dramas are issuing vaguely ominous warnings about the impending loss of "one of their own."

Blame the trend on a number of factors — shortened attention spans, a reality-show mentality and the age of interactivity. What's clear is that the old rules no longer apply.

Although no major character has died so far on "Sopranos" this sixth and final season, the list of this season's dead on network TV series is long (see accompanying box).

It includes:

Shannon (Maggie Grace), "Lost": She was fatally shot in November by Ana Lucia (Michelle Rodriguez), who mistook her for one of the dreaded Others. Soon "Lost" fans were calling for Ana Lucia's head.

Jonathan Kent, "Smallville": Clark Kent's dad (John Schneider) suffered a fatal heart attack in January.

Monica Mancuso, "Las Vegas": Lara Flynn Boyle's character essentially got blown off a casino rooftop in November.

About half the cast of "24": Kiefer Sutherland's thrill-a-minute drama takes the cake here. Never a show to spare an innocent life, "24" has killed off an amazing number of good guys this season, and that's not even counting the evildoers Jack Bauer has dispatched. And as the show approaches the conclusion of its deadliest season, the plot line surely will claim even more victims.

The accomplice fan

What gives?

One factor is television's new interactivity.

Fans post reviews of series on countless Web sites, registering kudos, gripes and conspiracy theories. Producers often read these comments and sometimes even post their own messages (or red herrings). Presumably, they also take valid criticisms to heart. "Lost" co-creator Damon Lindelof has said that fans' reactions have affected the pace at which the show's writers reveal answers to some mysteries.

When it comes to dramas dealing with life-or-death issues, series writers argue that it heightens realism if viewers think that at any moment anyone could die. That scenario is certainly more lifelike than credulity-stretching storylines where characters miraculously rebound from life-threatening injuries or — no offense, Tony — linger in comas for purely creative reasons.

This we-know-not-the-hour approach may keep viewers on their toes and perhaps, more important, keep cast members on edge — possibly deterring diva-like tantrums or salary-related sickouts.

But is the trend an exciting or unwelcome development?

That depends on the show — and the character.

In the serialized realm, the "Lost" death of troubled Shannon, just as she was becoming more likable and had found love with Sayid, was sadder than the first-season death of her stepbrother, Boone. Still, it would grieve me far more to lose Jack, Kate, Sawyer, Locke, Sun or Jin.

On "Desperate Housewives," I still miss the meddling Mrs. Huber but would shed no tears if a tornado hit Wisteria Lane and carried away the Applewhites' house. (That dead-end storyline is supposed to cease at season's end.)

On the other hand, killing a beloved character can backfire.

"24" producers have conceded they were taken aback by the outraged reaction to the decision to kill off lovably awkward Edgar Stiles, who had terrific chemistry with the prickly Chloe O'Brian (Mary Lynn Rajskub). Was his death necessary?

I decried the hit-and-run death of Tommy Gavin's son, Connor, on "Rescue Me" last fall. But of all the scripted deaths in the past few years, the most heartbreaking was the execution of Adriana (Drea de Matteo) in Season 5 of "The Sopranos." The show is just not the same without her.

Writers have little choice, of course, if a valuable actor dies, as Nancy Marchand did after only one season of "The Sopranos" (or the unexpected deaths of "Law & Order: Trial by Jury" star Jerry Orbach and John Spencer of "The West Wing").

But couldn't Adriana have just disappeared, leaving open the possibility of a return after the inevitable demise of De Matteo's NBC comedy, "Joey"?

Yes, it's inevitable

What's for sure is that we're in for more mayhem.

On "Everwood," it's rumored that a longtime resident will die, and people appear to be in grave danger on "CSI: Miami" and "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation."

And then there's "The Sopranos," which has dispatched a few minor characters but is long overdue for a really big whacking.

Expect the blood to flow this month.

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company


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