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8 Television Characters Who Were Supposed to Die … But Didn’t

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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


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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


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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


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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

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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.

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12 Surprising Facts About Robin Williams
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Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images for PCA

Robin Williams had a larger-than-life personality. On screen and on stage, he embodied what he referred to as “hyper-comedy.” Offscreen, he was involved in humanitarian causes and raised three children—Zak, Zelda, and Cody. On July 16, HBO debuts the documentary Robin Williams: Come Inside My Mind, directed by Marina Zenovich. The film chronicles his rise on the L.A. and San Francisco stand-up comedy scenes during the 1970s, to his more dramatic roles in the 1980s and '90s in award-winning films like Dead Poets Society; Good Morning, Vietnam; Awakenings; The Fisher King; and Good Will Hunting. The film also focuses on August 11, 2014, the date of his untimely death. Here are 12 surprising facts about the beloved entertainer.

1. ROBIN WILLIAMS GOT HIS START AT A COMEDY WORKSHOP INSIDE A CHURCH.

A still from 'Robin Williams: Come Inside My Mind' (2018)
HBO

After leaving Juilliard, Robin Williams found himself back in his hometown of San Francisco, but he couldn’t find work as an actor. Then he saw something for a comedy workshop in a church and decided to give it a shot. “So I went to this workshop in the basement of a Lutheran church, and it was stand-up comedy, so you don’t get to improvise with others, but I started off doing, ostensibly, it was just like improvising but solo," he told NPR. "And then I started to realize, ‘Oh.’ [I started] building an act from there."

2. HE FORMED A FRIENDSHIP WITH KOKO THE GORILLA.

In 2001, Williams visited Koko the gorilla, who passed away in June, at The Gorilla Foundation in Northern California. Her caregivers had shown her one of his movies, and she seemed to recognize him. Koko repeatedly signed for Williams to tickle her. “We shared something extraordinary: laughter,” Williams said of the encounter. On the day Williams died, The Foundation shared the news with Koko and reported that she fell into sadness.

3. FOR A TIME, HE WAS A MIME IN CENTRAL PARK.

In 1974, photographer Daniel Sorine captured photos of two mimes in New York's Central Park. As it turned out, one of the mimes was Williams, who was attending Juilliard at the time. “What attracted me to Robin Williams and his fellow mime, Todd Oppenheimer, was an unusual amount of intensity, personality, and physical fluidity,” Sorine said. In 1991, Williams revisited the craft by playing Mime Jerry in Bobcat Goldthwait’s film Shakes the Clown. In the movie, Williams hilariously leads a how-to class in mime.

4. HE TRIED TO GET LYDIA FROM MRS. DOUBTFIRE BACK IN SCHOOL.

As a teen, Lisa Jakub played Robin Williams’s daughter Lydia Hillard in Mrs. Doubtfire. “When I was 14 years old, I went on location to film Mrs. Doubtfire for five months, and my high school was not happy,” Jakub wrote on her blog. “My job meant an increased workload for teachers, and they were not equipped to handle a ‘non-traditional’ student. So, during filming, they kicked me out.”

Sensing Jakub’s distress over the situation, Williams typed a letter and sent it to her school. “A student of her caliber and talent should be encouraged to go out in the world and learn through her work,” he wrote. “She should also be encouraged to return to the classroom when she’s done to share those experiences and motivate her classmates to soar to their own higher achievements … she is an asset to any classroom.”

Apparently, the school framed the letter but didn’t allow Jakub to return. “But here’s what matters from that story—Robin stood up for me,” Jakub wrote. “I was only 14, but I had already seen that I was in an industry that was full of back-stabbing. And it was entirely clear that Robin had my back.”

5. HE WASN’T PRODUCERS' FIRST CHOICE TO PLAY MORK ON MORK & MINDY.

Anson Williams, Marion Ross, and Don Most told The Hallmark Channel that a different actor was originally hired to play Mork for the February 1978 Happy Days episode “My Favorite Orkan,” which introduced the alien character to the world. “Mork & Mindy was like the worst script in the history of Happy Days. It was unreadable, it was so bad,” Anson Williams said. “So they hire some guy for Mork—bad actor, bad part.” The actor quit, and producer Garry Marshall came to the set and asked: “Does anyone know a funny Martian?” They hired Williams to play Mork, and from September 1978 to May 1982, Williams co-headlined the spinoff Mork & Mindy for four seasons.

6. HE “RISKED” A ROLE IN AN OFF-BROADWAY PLAY.

Actor Robin Williams poses for a portrait during the 35th Annual People's Choice Awards held at the Shrine Auditorium on January 7, 2009 in Los Angeles, California
Michael Caulfield, Getty Images for PCA

In 1988, Williams made his professional stage debut as Estragon in the Mike Nichols-directed Waiting for Godot, which also starred Steve Martin and F. Murray Abraham. The play was held off-Broadway at Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater at Lincoln Center. The New York Times asked Williams if he felt the show was a career risk, and he responded with: “Risk! Of never working on the stage again! Oh, no! You’re ruined! It’s like you're ruined socially in Tustin,” a town in Orange County, California. “If there’s risk, you can’t think about it,” he said, “or you’ll never be able to do the play.”

Williams had to restrain himself and not improvise during his performance. “You can do physical things,” he said, “but you don’t ad lib [Samuel] Beckett, just like you don’t riff Beethoven.” In 1996, Nichols and Williams once again worked together, this time in the movie The Birdcage.

7. HE USHERED IN THE ERA OF CELEBRITY VOICE ACTING.

The 1992 success of Aladdin, in which Williams voiced Genie, led to more celebrities voicing animated characters. According to a 2011 article in The Atlantic, “Less than 20 years ago, voice acting was almost exclusively the realm of voice actors—people specifically trained to provide voices for animated characters. As it turns out, the rise of the celebrity voice actor can be traced to a single film: Disney’s 1992 breakout animated hit Aladdin.” Since then, big names have attached themselves to animated films, from The Lion King to Toy Story to Shrek. Williams continued to do voice acting in animated films, including Aladdin and the King of Thieves, Happy Feet, and Happy Feet 2.

8. HE FORGOT TO THANK HIS MOTHER DURING HIS 1998 OSCAR SPEECH.

In March 1998, Williams won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his performance as Sean Maguire in Good Will Hunting. In 2011, Williams appeared on The Graham Norton Show, and Norton asked him what it was like to win the award. “For a week it was like, ‘Hey congratulations! Good Will Hunting, way to go,'” Williams said. “Two weeks later: ‘Hey, Mork.’”

Then Williams mentioned how his speech accidentally left out one of the most important people in his life. “I forgot to thank my mother and she was in the audience,” he said. “Even the therapist went, ‘Get out!’ That was rough for the next few years. [Mom voice] ‘You came through here [points to his pants]! How’s the award?’”

9. HE COMFORTED STEVEN SPIELBERG DURING THE FILMING OF SCHINDLER’S LIST.

At this year’s 25th anniversary screening of Schindler’s List, held at the Tribeca Film Festival, director Steven Spielberg shared that Williams—who played Peter Pan in Spielberg’s Hook—would call him and make him laugh. “Robin knew what I was going through, and once a week, Robin would call me on schedule and he would do 15 minutes of stand-up on the phone,” Spielberg said. “I would laugh hysterically, because I had to release so much.”

10. HE HELPED ETHAN HAWKE GET HIS AGENT.

During a June 2018 appearance on The Graham Norton Show, Ethan Hawke recalled how, while working on Dead Poets Society, Williams was hard on him. “I really wanted to be a serious actor,” Hawke said. “I really wanted to be in character, and I really didn’t want to laugh. The more I didn’t laugh, the more insane [Williams] got. He would make fun of me. ‘Oh this one doesn't want to laugh.’ And the more smoke would come out of my ears. He didn’t understand I was trying to do a good job.” Hawke had assumed Williams hated him during filming.

After filming ended, Hawke went back to school, but he received a surprising phone call. It was from Williams’s agent, who—at Williams's suggestion—wanted to sign Hawke. Hawke said he still has the same agent today.

11. HE WAS ALMOST CAST IN MIDNIGHT RUN.

In February 1988, Williams told Rolling Stone how he sometimes still had to audition for roles. “I read for a movie with [Robert] De Niro, [Midnight Run], to be directed by Marty Brest,” Williams said. “I met with them three or four times, and it got real close, it was almost there, and then they went with somebody else. The character was supposed to be an accountant for the Mafia. Charles Grodin got the part. I was craving it. I thought, ‘I can be as funny,’ but they wanted someone obviously more in type. And in the end, he was better for it. But it was rough for me. I had to remind myself, ‘Okay, come on, you’ve got other things.’”

In July 1988, Universal released Midnight Run. Just two years later, Williams finally worked with De Niro, on Awakenings.

12. BILLY CRYSTAL AND WILLIAMS USED TO TALK ON THE PHONE FOR HOURS.

Actors Robin Williams (L) and Billy Crystal pose at the afterparty for the premiere of Columbia Picture's 'RV' on April 23, 2006 in Los Angeles, California
Kevin Winter, Getty Images

Starting in 1986, Williams, Billy Crystal, and Whoopi Goldberg co-hosted HBO’s Comic Relief to raise money for the homeless. Soon after Williams’s death, Crystal went on The View and spoke with Goldberg about his friendship with Williams. “We were like two jazz musicians,” Crystal said. “Late at night I get these calls and we’d go for hours. And we never spoke as ourselves. When it was announced I was coming to Broadway, I had 50 phone messages, in one day, from somebody named Gary, who wanted to be my backstage dresser.”

“Gary” turned out to be Williams.

Robin Williams: Come Inside My Mind premieres on Monday, July 16 at 8 p.m. ET on HBO.

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Walt Disney Pictures
10 Facts About Hocus Pocus
Walt Disney Pictures
Walt Disney Pictures

In a 2014 Reddit AMA, Bette Midler said she'd be interested in doing a Hocus Pocus sequel. "You have to go to send in your cards to the Walt Disney company," she said. "The ball's in their court." While you get those cards ready, here are some facts about the original, which arrived in theaters 25 years ago today.

1. THE STORY ORIGINATED AS A BEDTIME STORY.

The story for Hocus Pocus came about after writer David Kirschner invented a bedtime story for his kids. He later wrote the story up and submitted it to Muppet Magazine (why does this not still exist?), where it gained recognition.

2. THE WRITERS USED PROPS TO PITCH IT TO STUDIO EXECUTIVES.

Bette Midler in 'Hocus Pocus' (1993)
Walt Disney Pictures

To pitch the story to Disney, the writers had execs enter a dark room with broomsticks and a vacuum cleaner hanging from the ceiling. They also scattered 15 pounds of candy corn throughout the room in an effort to invoke Halloween nostalgia. It obviously worked!

3. IT WAS NOT AN IMMEDIATE HIT.

Though it’s a cult classic now, Hocus Pocus didn’t do that well when it first came out in 1993, perhaps because it was released in July instead of September or October. Though it didn’t have a terrible opening—$8,125,471, putting it in fourth place at the box office that weekend—it fell to $2,017,688 a few weeks later, and bad reviews from the critics didn’t help matters.

Entertainment Weekly was particularly put off by the movie, calling it a “piece of corny slapstick trash” and saying that “It’s acceptable scary-silly kid fodder that adults will find only mildly insulting. Unless they’re Bette Midler fans. In which case it’s depressing as hell.”

4. BETTE MIDLER LOVES IT.

Bette Midler, by the way, has said that Hocus Pocus is her favorite film out of all of the films she’s ever done. (At least as of 2008.) Thora Birch agreed, recently saying, “The most fun I ever had on a film was Hocus Pocus.”

5. KATHY NAJIMY LOVES IT, TOO.

Midler isn't the only star of the film who isn't immune to its allure: Kathy Najimy has said she watches the movie with her family every year on August 15.

6. IT COULD HAVE STARRED LEONARDO DICAPRIO.

The role of Max was originally offered to Leonardo DiCaprio. He turned it down to do What’s Eating Gilbert Grape.

7. SARAH JESSICA PARKER IS RELATED TO A WOMAN FAMOUSLY ACCUSED OF BEING A WITCH.

Had Sarah Jessica Parker known then what she knows now, she might have approached the role of Sarah Sanderson a little differently. When the actress went on the show Who Do You Think You Are to trace her family history, Parker discovered that one of her ancestors was Esther Elwell, one of the women accused of being a witch during the Salem Witch Trials. After a young girl said she saw Esther’s “spectre” strangling neighbor Mary Fitch, Elwell was arrested, but escaped going to trial.

8. THORA BIRCH REVISITED THE NEIGHBORHOOD IN AMERICAN BEAUTY.

While the kids are prematurely celebrating victory against the Sanderson sisters after locking them in the kiln, they’re shown talking in front of a house as they walk to a park. The house was later used as the house Thora Birch’s character lived in for American Beauty.

9. THE KIDS WEREN'T HUGE FANS OF THE CATS.

The kids all hated working with the cats. Many different cats were used to represent Binx, and each one served a different purpose—one was good at cuddling with the kids, one would jump on command, etc. Every time a new cat was used, the children would have to coerce the kitty to trust them by using treats and a clicker. They got sick of it.

10. MUCH OF THE ORIGINAL CAST REUNITED FOR A 20TH REUNION.

Most of the cast participated in a 20th anniversary event for D23 (the Disney fan club) members. Sarah Jessica Parker and Bette Midler were not in attendance, but pretty much everyone else was, including Kathy Najimy (Mary Sanderson), Vinessa Shaw (Allison), Omri Katz (Max), Thora Birch (Dani), and Doug Jones (Billy Butcherson). You can watch some of that reunion above.

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