Sunday, April 12, 2009

In fond memory of Dr. Kutner and Amerca's intelligence

Has television finally so blurred the line between reality and fiction that it is now impossible to distinguish which is which? Or, are we just a country of morons?

On last Monday’s episode of HOUSE, the character of series regular Dr. Lawrence Kutner committed suicide. Very sad episode. Why did he do it? What is the meaning of life? Who will be tormented by this and who will end up sleeping together as a result? You know, mourning.

And now there is a Lawrence Kutner Memorial Facebook page. With photos in his memory. And a discussion board where grieving loved ones can share their memories. Here are some:

Wow, I have to say that I am shocked that he died. Ever since he was introduced he became my favorite character besides House. My favorite memory has to be when he electrocutes himself with the paddles. Also when he ran that fake House help site. He was such a funny and intriguing character and will be missed.

Kutner was a great docotr and a good person, he will be sadly missed. I loved it when he shocked himself why using the difibulators, would do anything. Rest in peace Kutner.

Kutner was always the Princeton Plainsboro staff member I wanted to drink with most. I'll miss him.

I'm devistated. (sic)

Why, why, why, that was a shocker, now who is House going to hire?

R.I.P. Old Friend You Will Be Missed

RIP, Dr. Kutner. I hope your next life brings you joy.

Long live kutner, never miss them until there gone...


Kal Penn, who PLAYED Lawrence Kutner voluntarily left the show to take a job in the Obama administration. So to Rush Limbaugh he’s actually dead but to the rest of the world he’s still very much alive.

And for anyone who can’t understand that, you are welcome to use this comment section (assuming you are smart enough to click on the word “comments”) to post your loving memories of Bambi’s mother.


Chris said...

I remember hearing an actress talk about this on the NPR show "Wait Wait Don't Tell Me" some years ago. She had played a recurring character on Friends as a "maybe kinda sorta" love interest for one of the characters (I never watched the show, so I can't help). She was on for a couple of weeks, the love triangle played itself out and she was gone. No big deal except she found that people kept coming up to her asking whatever happened to her character. Did she go back to school or [insert scenarios here]

It probably doesn't help that Fox is doing so much to play this as something real and making it quite so interactive. Facebook pages and whatever "Memory book" they had on the House site last week only serve to bring private acts and thoughts into the light. This has probably always been the case for a lot of people but it was never featured so prominently.

Joanna said...

I'm pretty sure everyone posting gets that, but they're looking at the show as fans, not writers. Better to get strong, positive feedback, than strong, negative nitpicking from amateurs. When 'West Wing' was still going on, I was a nut for it. Josh and Donna's sexual tension drove me bonkers, I flopped between Bartlett policies, and Leo's death was really sad. But it definitely didn't define my life and I understand they're just characters. So did everyone else I jabbered with. ;) Just speaking from the other side of the fence. We're not quite that nanners. A lot are, but not everyone.

Tim W. said...

Ya, it's not like when Henry Blake died on MASH. That was sad because it was true.

By Ken Levine said...

Obviously not everyone thinks this character is real but staging shrines and mourning on websites to me diminishes the grieving of real people who have passed away.

And credit where credit is due, there were some commenters on the FACEBOOK page who thought the whole idea was really creepy.

It's only natural to feel sad when a fictional character in a show or a book dies. You've built an emotional attachment. But you don't start pretend tribute sites as if they were real people. At least in my opinion.

droszel said...

Bambi's mother DIED!?


Joanna said...

Ken - Fair enough. There's definitely some hysterics out there to be avoided, but the non-crazies are mostly harmless. And the fake memorials shouldn't take the spotlight away from the real thing. If it's any comfort, the shrines usually don't last too long.

Michael Green said...

Is this much different from people hanging on to whether John's cancer will make him leave Jane who was in love with Joe who really is in love with Judy but Jerry's moral dilemma means she can't decide whether to ... oh, who knows or cares?

I cried when Henry Blake died. I was nine. The last time I saw that episode, I cried again. The question is whether the actors have the ability to pack the wallop that breeds an emotion in the viewer.

Example, since Joanna mentioned it. First season of "The West Wing," when Toby gets the Arlington ceremony for the homeless vet. The writing and direction were brilliant, with the editing beautifully juxtaposing the musical performance with the 21-gun salute. But when the guns went off and the camera showed how Richard Schiff jumped, I lost it. Why, I don't know.

Example from Ken's first series: The MASH episode in which B.J. is away on his anniversary. When the Korean boy plays "Oh, How We Danced" on his harmonica as B.J. danced with Margaret ... I saw Alan Alda crying during the scene, and I'm tearing up now thinking about it. So, I must be nuts.

Bob Claster said...

I had some friends who worked on the soaps, and they said that whenever there was a wedding on the show, gifts would arrive by the hundreds. Real gifts!skidoo23

The Milner Coupe said...

I'm definetely with Mr. Levine on this one. But the commenting is getting a bit off track.

I don't think it has been implied that one is not supposed to care about a character that one is watching. But the minute you turn off the set, close the book, or leave the theater and you start thinking about shrines and dedications... you are bats.

This blurring of reality is the basis for some people stalking actors. Loons. And if, as some have stated, the studios are behind these maudlin memorial sites, they should stop.

I'm pretty much a big puss when it comes to good tearjerkers, but I've yet to light a candle after the credits.

Good thing Tony Soprano never bought it.

Anonymous said...

As Chris said, Fox started it, they put up the memorial page! Yes, it is disturbing. It's a tricky line, though, right? Because if it is good fiction then we are invested and care and talk to our friends and all that. Message boards for tv shows already do this, Fox just grossly upped the ante. Then again, this is Fox, they always seem to test where that line is and jump right over it.

Rory L. Aronsky said...

I've never gotten over the death of Bambi's mother. NEVER! WHY DO YOU MOCK ME SO?! She was essential to Bambi's world and then she was gone with a single unseen gunshot. Such hurt in the world and you pee on it. I'm done, sir! Done with you!

WV: paill - A pail made heavier by an extra "l" that Ken's going to get across the head if he dares pull this crap again.

(This post brought to you by the Society for People Who Can't Let Fictional Characters Go)

Rory L. Aronsky said...

Good thing Tony Soprano never bought it.

Says who? ;)

WV: enthm - One way to spell "anthem" that'll make you lose a spelling bee.

Rory L. Aronsky said...

I re-read Ken's post and the comments and I guess this means I should take down my Frasier Crane "I'm Listening" Shrine. I always thought he was.

Anybody want a pair of headphones? I've also got a radio console.

(This post brought to you by the Society for People Who Feel Like Trying Out a Second Joke in the Same Comments Section)

Anonymous said...

This is just ridiculous and disrespectful to those who really lived and died. These are made up characters, not actual people. It is ludicrous to mourn the death of a fictional TV character.

Unless it's Mr. Eko.


Zach G. said...

Ye gads, this is all so wrong.

They're making a lame plot point on a show past its prime(when was it ever prime?) into a grotesque viral marketing ploy.

Fox is using a fake suicide to stimulate the viewer. Its not a snuff film, just the maudlin implication of one. Soon there will be a patient who's a ten-year-old adult film star. And she'll be black.

I'm almost more offended by the bad writing. They don't do character development on Fox, they do character stunts. With zero character development, what could be a better metaphor for a show/network's self-nullification than a "suicide" character arc?

Is anyone else to the point where they think that everything everywhere online is a corporate plot? I read the sample viewer comments and think to myself that most of it is written by someone in a marketing department. First its the obituary, then its facebook. Then the AP picks it up. Then, because its in bad taste, everybody has to talk about it.

When's the finale?

Unknown said...

My problem is that I thought the whole episode was lame in the first place.

Or maybe because I know Kal Penn from his oh so many other roles as mostly ridiculous characters. I mean Harold & Kumar. Come on. To now "mourn" this guy is just way over the top.

I mean I cried when Mark Greene died but that doesn't imply that I turned off my TV and thought "My god he's really gone" I thought "Damn it the show's gonna be so much more boring now with Goose not running the show anymore"...

Ref said...

Bambi's mother made a great stew!

Rays profile said...

If we shouldn't care about characters when their show is done, Ken, how do you explain "AfterMASH"?

(sorry, couldn't resist)

ELS said...

Bambi's... mother... dies?

Damn you, Ken Levine! Must you ruin the entire movie for me?!?!?

Fine. Then here's one for YOU!

Pinocchio? The little wooden puppet? HE BECOMES A REAL BOY AT THE END!!!

That'll teach you, I'll bet!

WV: phogr - a video game guiding an electronic frog across traffic, but you can't see him due to cloud cover.

I remain,
Eric L. Sofer
The Bad Clown...

Mike Bell said...

Wait a minute, I'm confused. You're telling me that these wonderful people that I care so much about are just "characters" on a television program? That Charlie Harper isn't cutting a swath through all those single Malibu women while helping his brother Alan raise his slacker son Jake?

The next thing you're probably going to tell me is that those brave and resourceful forensic scientists on the various CSI shows really can't solve a murder by scanning the retinas of murder victims to reveal the image of their killer.

Or that "Tina" woman on "30 Rock" isn't really in charge of a weekly comedy show on NBC.

By the way, I invite everyone to visit my new website dedicated the late great children's host on WJM-TV:

rob! said...

Jeez, this really puts the damper on my planned Henry Blake Memorial Facebook Page.

Brian said...

Talk about buring bridges. Maybe he can come back as his even twin.

Doktor Frank Doe said...

What worries me more than anything is the friggin misspelled words, not the typos, the misspelled words. And while I'm thinking about it, what the HELL is the deal with people nowadays that suddenly can't determine the correct word usage in a sentence using the words then or than???

Example sent to me just the other day:

"I would much rather fly on Southwest Airlines then American airlines"
WTF with this? And this has begun happening in the past two years en-mass.

I say we go over to that myspace page and leave a comment like "Kutner was a twerp" Then see if we can create an electronic Holy War with the stupid people. Kinda like kicking the monkey cage I know but we do need a spot entertainment since Kutner died, don't ya think?

Mary Stella said...

*grieving sigh* Bambi's mother. Doe. A dear. A female deer. *wipes away a tear* Shot down in the prime of her life, leaving behind a young son and a mate who now has to go stag.

MrCarlson said...

I'm gonna play devil's advocate a bit here. Is it creepy that somebody is creating pages to mourn fictional characters? Oh, God yes, can they be at fault for assuming there's some kind of reality in any given character? In my opinion, no! And that's Hollywood's fault. Every year we seem to leave behind the more zany television shows, and bet on more hard edge realistic stuff, with realistic characters and portrays. Even death is portrayed as more "real", and graphic. If you try to sell something as being "the truth" of a situation, how can you fault (some) people for assuming it actually is? Do you think that if Henry Blake's death was done for the first time on tv today, there wouldn't imediately be web pages "in his memory"? The truth is, the networks usually love and encourage that kind of thinking. There used to be profiles on the ABC webpage on the characters of Boston Legal for example, which included DOB's, fictional accomplishments and places of work. There is to this day an "official" fictional "damages" blog from someone inside Patty Hewes's firm, and that's just the ones I remember of the top of my head, I'm sure there are many more. Boy, if Dr Greene died today, I'm sure there would be many many pages listing his best accomplishments...So, while I generally do not think that it is healthy to create such a true image of a fictional character, I also see that some people have a hard(er) time letting go of it, and the network feeds them on their need.

Emmett Flatus said...

RE: Bambi

I've never known a guy with that name.

emily said...

Geez! I was just getting over Jerry, Elaine, George & Kramer going off to prison.
And now this.
Oh, the humanity...

MrCarlson said...

A further point I forgot to make on my previous comment. Actors usually feed that delusion too. Bob Denver lived the last years of his life appearing in character at conventions, and allowing people to call him Gilligan! One of the most embarassing things I ever watched on youtube was a convention in which 3 actors from the old british comedy Allo Allo answered questions in character! seriously it was just the most...ugh! I thought the pay must have been really really good. Why do you think Tom Bosley will always be Mr C untill the day he dies and probably afterwards too? Because he spent 10 years on tv telling people he was. And the same goes to the ever talented the Fonz, and don't get me started on the cast of any Star Trek.

Ted Danson had the rare luck of catching 2 very good television parts after Cheers, otherwise he'd still be Sam Malone to many people, and the Same goes for Kelsey Grammer, he had 2 or 3 pilots/series after frasier, and they were funny as hell, but it was just too soon after Frasier, and it probably didn't help that he was doing it with "Raymond's wife".

Nathan said...

There's a fictional version of House on TV now? Wow, I've gotta catch that sometime.

Anonymous said...

I read somewhere that the human brain reacts to familiar faces. Certain parts of the brain become active that apparently represent the "calm mind." This happens whether you see a real face of your best friend, a photo of your best friend's face or a photo of a actor/character you see everyday on television.

Is it any wonder people might have a problem distinguishing between the death of real people and the death of a character on a program? Our brains can't tell the difference between your real friendS and one of the cast members on FRIENDS.

wv: jalli
What you have with peanut butter on a sandwich together with a glass of "melk."

jackscribe said...

This gives me a handle to ask a question of House devotees and/or Ken. What's with the token Jesse Spencer/Dr. Chase walk-on every week? This has been going on for a couple of seasons. He always shows up in the last quarter of the show and delivers 4 lines. Is it a contractual thing? I'm not in the "industry" but find this odd.

Mary Stella said...

Emmett Flatus said...
RE: Bambi
I've never known a guy with that name.

Sure you have. In fact, he blogged here last week. The Bambino.

Bambi was, apparently an Italian deer.

wv = phypo - Either a typo for typo or a Phillapino hippo.

Mary Stella said...

LOLOL I sent that last comment and a new comment screen came up with the word verification of fauns. How appropriate for a comment about a baby deer.

Anonymous said...

I totally agree that its a little wierd to go crazy over a character on a tv show dying. But I think that in a case like Cheers, like when actor Nick Colasanto passed, its a bit different. When that happened, I felt pretty bad. It would have been different if they had just written the character out of the show. I think that after watching a tv show for a while, you start to get close with the actual actors themselves. Like if you are a big fan of House and you see Hugh Laurie on The Tonight Show, you're going to want to see it.

Michael Zand said...

Okay, I've been waiting to ask this for a long time and today's topic gives me the perfect opportunity.

It's about Jennifer Morrison and Jesse Spencer the actors who play Drs. Cameron and Chase. They started out as STARS of this series. They were major parts of the show for three season. Their names are still in the main opening credits along with Hugh Laurie. Yet for the past three seasons they have been literally relegated to day player status. This is boggling me and my wife's minds. We were both writer producers of hour dramatics and between us we can't ever think of a show, a hit series where two of the stars have been so sidelined.

To be clear, we're not complaining. The addition of the new cast pumped fresh life into the show and has kept the show as interesting as it ever was. It's the business end of this decision that is baffling us. How and why was that decision made? How did David Shore explain this to them and why would the two actors go along with it? I assume they've been getting their regular salary bumps for only a fraction of the work adding greatly to the weekly budget of the show. I can only guess that if they're not ego driven, (again we're talking about actors here) this is a real easy gig. Really big money for a couple days work a week. But still, as actors wouldn't they be hurt and frustrated that they'd suddenly been so sidelined?

Somebody, anybody please give me some answers. I'm dying to figure this out.

Michael Zand said...

A follow up on my post:

To be clear, I'm not criticizing David Shore. It takes a lot of sack to completely reboot your hit show when you could have coasted along with the same cast without a dip in the ratings. In fact, I'm convinced that by adding the new characters and sidelining Chase and Cameron he breathed new life into the show and made it a lot more interesting. What's confusing is that with Chase and Cameron's minimal roles they could just as easily been written out and saved the show a ton of money. It's actually to David Shore's credit that they're still there because that's the way things are usually done in TV.

Still can't figure this one out.

Alan Coil said...

Ah, yes, I remember Bambi's mother quite well. Very tasty.

Similarly, Ref said:

"Bambi's mother made a great stew!"

Yeah, but she couldn't bake a decent cake.

Leo said:

" see Hugh Laurie on The Tonight Show,..."

Laurie plays an Englishman on The Tonight Show.

David O'Hara said...

I thought it was poor writing. Nowhere was there any 'foreshadowing' of suicide. I think House was the only one right in thinking murder.

True, in real life maybe this can happen right out of the blue - but this is not real-life and with a long-running character - the suicide was OUT OF CHARACTER.

I guess they thought would make for great drama - but if your viewer doesn't buy into the premise - then...

I've been a strong fan of House, but both me and my girl friend thought this episode sucked and was a bit insulting.

Zach G. said...

I guess part of the reason I am so offended by this is that it cheapens good drama.

I don't feel that ER's Dr. Greene and Henry Blake are suitable parallels. Those characters were developed and the writers had created a relationship with the audience; their deaths underscored larger theme's within the show---at least Henry Blake's did.

It just seems like Fox is profiting from people's ease and willingness to have relationships with anyone they see on tv rather than respecting drama or writing.

It's all just marketing. I often wonder about a generation of people who grew up watching Disney movies with all of those dead mothers.

Does anyone have perspective anymore?

Mary Stella said...

On a very sad note about a real death, I just saw the news that legendary Phillies broadcaster Harry Kalas died prior to today's game between the Phillies and the Nationals. I've listened to that man call games and proclaim home runs, "Outta here!" for over 35 years. He and Richie Ashburn can pair up in the big stadium in the sky now. Glad he got to see the Phils win another Series.

Emily Blake said...

I've cried before when a character died on a show. Hell I still cry every time I watch Buffy jump of a ledge to save the world, and she came back to life the next season.

I didn't cry over Kutner though. I liked him, but not enough to tear up.

blogward said...

There's a fan on the UK show I work at who sends one of the cast who left six years ago an easter card, a birthday card and a christmas card WITH aftershave every year. It's ghastly aftershave.

WV: haushom - used by Yiddish character with poor English, as in, "You eat me out of haushom!"

Anonymous said...

what is "WV" that people use in the comments?!!!!

Ref said...

WV is short for "Word Verification." Those are the frequently nonsensical little letter phrases you type in to post your message. The game here is to make the nonsense "word" into something humorous. For instance, "PERSH" is what a drunk woman carries her wallet and keys in.

Anonymous said...

"Amerca's intelligence". Wot Ken said.

WV: swishing - the cane hitting Ken's backside.

AlaskaRay said...

>>Has television finally so blurred the line between reality and fiction that it is now impossible to distinguish which is which? Or, are we just a country of morons? <<

I vote for number 2.


Anonymous said...

I remember when George's fiancee died on Seinfeld (from licking too much glue from the cheap envelopes on their wedding invitations), there was an article in a magazine talking about how viewers might manage their grief.

Grief management for a TV character is ridiculous enough. But in this particular case, Susan was an unlikable character, and the whole purpose of her dying was to show how truly unlikable George was. He was happy his shrill fiancee died because he didn't have to go through with the wedding. What a schmuck. Anyone grieving for Susan missed the whole point of the show.

Ben K. said...

Hey, Ken, Sunday's L.A. Times said that Chuck Lorre's real last name is Levine. Any relation? (Not that it isn't a common name among, er, comedy writers.)

Tallulah Morehead said...

Mr. Eko and Henry Blake died??? God what a bummer!

Bambi's Mother was a dear deer, a single mother who gave her son a girl name. She deliberately drew the hunter's fire, sacrificing herself to save her son. And, as a couple previous posters noted (although I don't recall inviting them to that particular dinner party), she was delicious.

What does President Obama need with a dead fictional doctor in his administration? This will give Bill O'Reilly a field day!

And as for Kal Penn, I recall him as one of Lex Luthor's thugs in SUPERMAN RETURNS. So Lex Luthor has managed to plant one of his operatives in the White House? This is very bad indeed. We just got rid of Dick Cheney; we don't need Luthorcorp in the White House. Glen Beck will quail in terror for America!

Cheers darlings.

Anonymous said...

the obama administration? wtf?

Cap'n Bob said...

I still haven't recovered from Chester leaving Gunsmoke.

WV: basesss. What a snake runs in baseball. "Runs" being figurative.

rms said...

Rory L. Aronsky said: "Such hurt in the world and you pee on it."

This is a truly awesome and hilarious comment. I'm so stealing it!

Anonymous said...

Leaving aside the creepy element that at least one of the Facebook memorial groups came from Fox Marketing, there are Facebook groups devoted to all manner of ridiculous things. Log onto Facebook and search Groups for "Raptor Jesus." Using that as the standard makes for a pretty lame straw man.

More to the point, though, I don't think grieving for a fictional character diminishes the suffering of those who have lost their own loved ones. In this medium in particular, people who watch a show religiously will quite naturally connect to its characters at a level beyond mere empathy, feeling for them and with them, appropriating the characters' victories and failures to some extent as their own. That's not to say it would be appropriate for someone to compare the loss of a friend's father to, say, losing Wild Bill Hickok on "Deadwood," but I don't think people should be condemned as fringe lunatics for finding meaning in or being moved emotionally by storytelling, particularly in a society that increasingly substitutes electronic entertainment for human interaction.

Isn't it your goal as a writer to affect your audience in some transformative way? Most comedy writers tend to scoff at that, I know, but someone with your track record surely knows that comedy also hits harder when we care about what the punchlines mean for the characters, whether or not they serve as our surrogates.

Kevin LaRose said...

We do tend to get way too involved with the television characters we watch in our society. It is very scary in situations like this, when fantasy and reality seem to melt into one another. I haven't looked, is there a Harry Kalas memorial page on Facebook? If there isn't, there should be.

Kevin LaRose