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6 Shocking TV Deaths

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)

mclean.jpg
The most obvious candidate in this category is M*A*S*H’s Lt. Col. Henry Blake. It was known that McLean Stevenson was leaving the series for (supposedly) greener pastures. But not everyone on the show knew the producers killed his character until right before the scene where Gary Burghoff (Radar) walked into the OR and announced that Blake’s plane had been shot down over the Sea of Japan.

2. Dan Conner (Roseanne)

dan-conner.jpgEven the staunchest Roseanne fans hated the series' over-the-top final season "“ the one where the Conners won the lottery and Jackie was courted by a prince while "Roseambo" battled terrorists. There was a moment in the series finale, however, that did manage to evoke some genuine emotion. As the camera honed in on each cast member, Roseanne's voiceover told their "true" story. When the camera focused on Dan, it panned away for a moment and then turned back and his chair was empty. Roseanne then revealed that Dan had actually died after the heart attack he'd suffered at Darlene's wedding. Most of Roseanne's stream-of-consciousness ramblings during this segment strained the imagination, but the vacant seat and the echoing sound of Dan's voice calling "Rosey?" was a sudden, harsh slap of reality "“ that big loveable lug - Roseanne's "rock" - was gone forever.

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)

280px-Maude_Flanders.JPGWho would've pre-ditilly-dicted that the chaste, saintly Maude Flanders would've met a gruesome death right on the air? In front of kids and everyone? Sadly, Maude had the misfortune of returning from the refreshment stand at the Springfield Speedway with her hands full of hot dogs just at the moment when Homer Simpson had painted a target on his tummy for the cheerleaders who were using a T-shirt cannon. Poor Maude plunged to her death after a volley of high-velocity tees knocked her off the grandstand. Oddly enough, the management of Lowe's Speedway in North Carolina felt that this episode cut too close to the bone, as an incident of flying tires in 1999 actually caused the deaths of three spectators, so the local Fox affiliate refused to show any commercials promoting that particular episode.

5. Rosalind Shays (L.A. Law)

shays.jpgDiana Muldaur joined the cast of L.A. Law in 1989 as the ruthless and ambitious attorney Rosalind Shays. Viewers loved to hate Roz; after all, she bedded the fatherly founding partner Leland McKenzie, took over as senior partner after his retirement, and eventually sued the firm for sexual discrimination. Shays exited the show with a splat, not a bang "“ while casually chatting with Leland in front of the elevator, the bell "dinged" and the doors opened. Roz wasn't looking as she stepped inside, so she didn't realize that the elevator car hadn't arrived, and she plunged to her death down the empty shaft. Of course, modern elevators are designed to make this type of malfunction impossible, but why split hairs? It still made for a memorable exit.

6. Christine Chubbuck (Suncoast Digest)

suncoast.jpg"If it bleeds, it leads" is the rule of thumb in TV news. Christine Chubbuck, a Florida news anchor, often referred to this trend as "blood and guts TV." She complained to her bosses whenever they cut into her public affairs program, Suncoast Digest, in order to show live footage of shoot-outs and gruesome accidents. None of Chubbuck's co-workers knew that she'd struggled with depression for many years, so they simply thought it was a bad joke when, on the morning of July 15, 1974, eight minutes into her broadcast she calmly announced: "In keeping with Channel 40's policy of bringing you the latest in blood and guts, and in living color, you are going to see another first — attempted suicide." Chubbuck then pulled a revolver out from under her desk, pointed it behind her right ear and pulled the trigger.

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?

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John P. Johnson, HBO
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entertainment
10 Wild Facts About Westworld
John P. Johnson, HBO
John P. Johnson, HBO

The hit HBO show about an android farm girl finding sentience in a fake version of the old West set in a sci-fi future is back for a second season. So grab your magnifying glass, study up on Lewis Carroll and Shakespeare, and get ready for your brain to turn to scrambled eggs. 

The first season saw Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood) and her robotic compatriots strive to escape bondage as the puppet playthings of a bored society that kills and brutalizes them every day, then repairs them each night to repeat the process for paying customers. The Maze. The Man in Black. The mysteries lurking in cold storage and cantinas. Wood described the first season as a prequel, which means the show can really get on the dusty trail now. 

Before you board the train and head back into the park, here are 10 wild facts about the cerebral, sci-fi hit. (Just beware of season one spoilers!)

1. IT’S NOT THE FIRST TV ADAPTATION OF THE MOVIE.

Though Westworld, the 1973 film written and directed by Michael Crichton, was a hit, its 1976 sequel Futureworld was a flop. Still, the name and concept had enough cachet for CBS to move forward with a television concept in 1980. Beyond Westworld featured Delos head of security John Moore (Jim McMullan) battling against the villainous mad scientist Simon Quaid (James Wainwright), who wants to use the park’s robots to, what else, take over the whole world. It would be a little like if the HBO show focused largely on Luke Hemsworth’s Ashley Stubbs, which just might be the spinoff the world is waiting for.

2. THE ORIGINAL GUNSLINGER HAS A CAMEO.

Ed Harris and Eddie Rouse in 'Westworld'
JOHN P. JOHNSON, HBO

The HBO series pays homage to the original film in a variety of ways, including echoing elements from the score to create that dread-inducing soundscape. It also tipped its ten-gallon hat to Yul Brynner’s relentless gunslinger from the original film by including him in the storage basement with the rest of the creaky old models.

3. QUENTIN TARANTINO, ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER, AND MANY OTHERS COULD HAVE REBOOTED IT.

Speaking of Brynner’s steely, murderous resolve: His performance as the robo-cowboy was one of the foundations for Arnold Schwarzenegger’s turn as the Terminator. Nearly 20 years later, in 2002, Schwarzenegger signed on to produce and star in a reboot of the sci-fi film from which he took his early acting cues. Schwarzenegger never took over the role from Brynner because he served as Governor of California instead, and the reboot languished in development hell.

Warner Bros. tried to get Quentin Tarantino on board, but he passed. They also signed The Cell director Tarsem Singh (whose old West would have been unbelievably lush and colorful, no doubt), but it fell through. A few years later, J.J. Abrams—who had met with Crichton about a reboot back in 1996—pitched eventual co-creators Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy on doing it as a television series. HBO bought it, and the violent delights finally made it to our screens.

4. IT COSTS $40,000 A DAY TO VISIT THE PARK. (AND THAT’S THE CHEAP PACKAGE.)

Thandie Newton and Angela Sarafyan in 'Westworld'
HBO

In season one, Logan (Ben Barnes) revealed that he’s spending $40,000 a day to experience Westworld. That’s in line with the 1973 movie, where park visitors spent $1000 a day, which lands near $38,000 once adjusted for inflation. Then again, we’re talking about 2052 dollars, so it might still be pricey, but not exorbitant in 2018 terms. But a clever Redditor spotted that $40,000 is the minimum you’d pay; according to the show’s website, the Gold Package will set you back $200,000 a day.

5. BEN BARNES BROKE HIS FOOT AND DIDN’T TELL ANYONE.

Once Upon a Time’s Eion Bailey was originally cast as Logan but had to quit due to a scheduling conflict, so Ben Barnes stepped in … then he broke his foot. The actor hid the injury for fear he’d lose the job, which is why he added a limp as a character detail. “I’m sort of hobbling along with this kind of cowboy-ish limp, which I then tried to maintain for the next year just so I could pretend it was a character choice,” Barnes said. “But really I had a very purple foot … So walking was the hardest part of shooting this for me.”

6. THE CO-CREATORS RICKROLLED FANS OBSESSED WITH UNCOVERING SPOILERS.

Eagle-eyed fans (particularly on Reddit) uncovered just about every major spoiler from the first season early on, which is why Nolan and Joy promised a spoiler video for anyone who wanted to know the entire plot of season two ahead of its premiere. They delivered, but instead of show secrets, the 25-minute video only offered a classy rendition of Rick Astley’s internet-infamous “Never Gonna Give You Up,” sung by Evan Rachel Wood with Angela Sarafyan on piano, followed by 20 minutes of a dog. It was a pitch-perfect response to a fanbase desperate for answers.

7. IT FEATURES AN ANCIENT GREEK EASTER EGG.

Amid the alternative rock tunes hammered out on the player piano and hat tips to classic western films, Westworld also referenced something from 5th century BCE Greece. Westworld, which is run by Delos Incorporated, is designed so that guests cannot die. Delos is also the name of the island where ancient Greeks made it illegal for anyone to die (or be born for that matter) on religious grounds. That’s not the only bit of wordplay with Greek either: Sweetwater’s main ruffian, Hector Escaton (Rodrigo Santoro), gets his last name from the Greek eschaton, meaning the final event in the divine design of the world. Fitting for a potentially sentient robot helping to bring about humanity’s destruction.

8. JIMMI SIMPSON FIGURED OUT HIS CHARACTER’S TWIST BECAUSE OF HIS EYEBROWS.

Evan Rachel Wood and Jimmi Simpson in 'Westworld'
HBO

In season one, the show’s many secrets were kept even from the main cast until the time they absolutely needed to know. Jimmi Simpson, who plays timid theme park neophyte William, had a hunch something was funny with his role because of a cosmetic change.

“I was with an amazing makeup artist, Christian, and he was looking at my face too much,” Simpson told Vanity Fair. “He had me in his chair, and he was just looking at my face, and then he said something about my eyebrows. ‘Would you be cool if we just took a couple hairs out of your eyebrows, made them not quite as arched?’” Guessing that they were making him look more like The Man in Black, Simpson said something to Joy, and she confirmed his hunch. “She looked kind of surprised I’d worked it out,” he said.

9. THE PLAYER PIANO MAY BE AN ALLUSION TO KURT VONNEGUT.

One of the show’s most iconic elements is its soundtrack of alternative rock songs from the likes of Radiohead, The Cure, and Soundgarden redone in a jaunty, old West style. In addition to adding a creepy sonic flavor to the sadistic vacation, they also may wink toward Kurt Vonnegut’s first novel, Player Piano, which deals with a dystopia of automation where machines do everything for humans, leading to an entrenched class struggle. The show’s resonant elements are clear, but Westworld also mentions that the world outside the theme park is one where there’s no unemployment and humans have little purpose. Like The Man In Black (Ed Harris), the protagonist of Player Piano also longs for real stakes in the struggle of life.

10. THERE ARE TWO JESSE JAMES CONNECTIONS.

Anthony Hopkins and Jeffrey Wright in 'Westworld'
HBO

Anthony Hopkins’s character Dr. Robert Ford is an invention for the new series, and he shares a name with the man who assassinated infamous outlaw Jesse James (a fact you may remember from the aptly named movie The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford). The final episode of the first season flips the allusion when Ford is shot in the back of the head, which is exactly how the real-life Ford killed James.

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Pop Culture
The ‘Scully Effect’ Is Real: Female X-Files Fans More Likely to Go Into STEM
Fox
Fox

FBI agent Dana Scully is more than just a role model for remaining professional when a colleague won't stop talking about his vast governmental conspiracy theories. The skeptical doctor played by Gillian Anderson on The X-Files helped inspire women to go into STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) careers, according to a new report [PDF] from the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, which we spotted at Fast Company.

“In the world of entertainment media, where scientists are often portrayed as white men wearing white coats and working alone in labs, Scully stood out in the 1990s as the only female STEM character in a prominent, prime-time television role,” the report explains. Previously, anecdotal evidence has pointed to the existence of a “Scully effect,” in which the measured TV scientist—with her detailed note-taking, evidence-based approach, and desire to autopsy everything—inspired women to seek out their own science careers. This report provides the hard data.

The Geena Davis Institute surveyed more than 2000 women in the U.S. above the age of 25, a significant portion of whom were viewers of The X-Files (68 percent) and women who had studied for or were in STEM careers (49 percent). While the survey didn’t ask women whether watching Dana Scully on The X-Files directly influenced their decision to be a scientist, the results hint that seeing a character like her on TV regularly did affect them. Women who watched more of the show were more likely to say they were interested in STEM, more likely to have studied a STEM field in college, and more likely to have worked in a STEM field after college.

While it’s hard to draw a direct line of causation there—women who are interested in science might just be more inclined to watch a sci-fi show like The X-Files than women who grow up to be historians—viewers also tended to say Scully gave them positive impressions of women in science. More than half of respondents who were familiar with Scully’s character said she increased their confidence in succeeding in a male-dominated profession. More than 60 percent of the respondents said she increased their belief in the importance of STEM. And when asked to describe her, they were most likely to say she was “smart” and “intelligent” before any other adjective.

STEM fields are still overwhelmingly male, and governments, nonprofits, schools, activists, and some tech companies have been pushing to make the field more diverse by recruiting and retaining more female talent. While the desire to become a doctor or an engineer isn’t the only thing keeping STEM a boy’s club, women also need more role models in the fields whose success and accomplishments they can look up to. Even if some of those role models are fictional.

Now that The X-Files has returned to Fox, perhaps Dana Scully will have an opportunity to shepherd a whole new generation of women into the sciences.

[h/t Fast Company]

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