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There are countless reasons why characters are killed off of TV shows. Sometimes it is strictly story related, while other times it may be for shock value, finale purposes or because an actor is leaving the show for one excuse or another. In any of these cases, there are really only two options when you want to get rid of a character for good: you can have them die in front of the viewer's eyes, or you can kill them offscreen. So we took a trip down "in memoriam" lane and picked out some of the best examples of offscreen deaths in the history of television. **POTENTIAL SPOILERS AHEAD**
Charlie Harper on "Two and a Half Men"
There may never be a more public firing than that of Charlie Sheen from "Two and a Half Men" brought on by the actor himself. Basically, Charlie Sheen hates Chuck Lorre, who created the series, and he was very public with his opinions of him. Therefore, he was fired and the series was free to write off his character however they saw fit. As you can see in the video below, they chose the most brutal, over the top, bitter exit possible. Or, as "Two and a Half Men" goes, the high road.
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Valerie Hogan on "Valerie"/"The Hogan Family"
In another case of a main character (and in this case, title character) having to be killed off due to a dispute with producers, not only did the death affect the characters, but the title itself. This was the first instance ever of a network replacing the title character of a show. In a nutshell, Valerie Harper was holding out from shooting until her new demands for a salary increase were met. This having worked for the actresses on "Charlie's Angels" and even Harper herself on her previous series "Rhoda," she figured her demands would be met. Instead, the production companies opted to kill her character in an offscreen car accident between seasons 2 and 3. However, in the end, Harper still walked away with $1.4 million in damages. Poor Valerie.
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Dr. Lawrence Kutner on "House M.D."
When an actor wants to leave a series for the indefinite future, what else can you really do to show fans that they aren't coming back than kill them? At least in the case of "House M.D," they were able to turn the death of Dr. Kutner (played by "Harold and Kumar's" Kal Penn) into somewhat of a noble cause. Since Kal Penn wasn't around to film a death scene, as he'd taken a job with the Obama administration, the writers chose to write his death off as a suicide. By doing so, they were able to relate that sometimes even people who seem the most normal and grounded may need help. The show then did a message at the end of the episode encouraging those with suicidal thoughts to call the number for the National Alliance of Mental Illness.
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Merle Dixon and Andrea on "The Walking Dead"
Finally, characters' deaths that weren't decided by the actors who played them. Instead, these were chosen as a means of fleshing out character and moving the stories forward. And, of course, by not showing either of these deaths onscreen, they were all the more shocking. For the character of Merle, the big payoff comes from revealing him as a zombie in his next scene. For Andrea, the sound of her putting a bullet in her own head signified the story being complete and a new chapter beginning. And while fans, and even the actors who play the roles, may not have necessarily liked their character being killed off, the way it was handled was most effective sight unseen.
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Dan Conner on "Roseanne"
Most likely due to the fact that a fair share of the fans hated the new direction the show took in its ninth season (with the Conner family winning a $108 million lottery and not having the same blue collar feel), everything in the finale season is turned on it's head in the last episode. It is revealed that this final season was actually just a story that Roseanne was writing about her life, skewing certain details. The most important detail, as well as the reason for her writing, is that her husband Dan, played by John Goodman, actually died of the heart attack he suffered in the previous season at his daughter's wedding.
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Teri Bauer on "24"
As far as the most surprising offscreen deaths go, this one takes the cake. After she'd been through so much in 24 hours, Teri, special agent Jack Bauer's wife, was finally about to be reunited with her husband. However, upon discovering that fellow special agent Nina Myers is a mole, Nina has a big decision to make. By the time Nina is apprehended for her crimes, we learn that she did what she had to do in order to keep Teri quiet. And "24's" reputation for heart-stopping finales began.
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Rita Bennett on "Dexter"
OK, so maybe we lied, because no one saw this coming either. With the season 4 bad guy, Trinity, dead and gone, Dexter finally had a minute to breathe. That is, until he realized his lovely wife Rita was not only still at home instead of off on vacation with the kids, but had bled out in the bathtub: the final victim of Trinity. It was a moment that truly caught everyone off guard, even though scenes like this should be expected in season finales.
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Poochie on "The Simpsons"
With all this death talk, we needed to try and lighten the mood. And technically, this still fits in with the others. On the series within a series "The Itchy and Scratchy Show," a new character by the name of Poochie is introduced to bring in new viewers. However, fans instantly hate him, much to the chagrin of the character's voice actor, Homer Simpson. Although Homer tries to write a heartfelt speech for Poochie to win over his audience, the show creators instead decide to cheaply and quickly write him off by killing him offscreen in the most unsatisfying and hilarious way possible.
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Bill McNeal on "NewsRadio"
Every once in a great while, characters need to be killed off not because the story calls for it, or even that the actors have decided to quit, but because the actor has passed away. And in instances like that, offscreen deaths are the only option you have. In the case of Bill McNeal, played to perfection by the late, great Phil Hartman, the writers did their best to replace the character with a new one played by Hartman's real life friend and SNL alum Jon Lovitz. However, the first episode back had the Bill McNeal character killed offscreen (death by a sudden heart attack), and focused on the remaining characters reactions to the tragedy.
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Lt. Colonel Henry Blake on "M*A*S*H"
This one felt like a happy ending at first, which is exactly what it was supposed to do. Actor McLean Stevenson had decided to leave the series, and in his swan song episode, it appeared that his character, Henry Blake, had been discharged and flown home. However, in a series based around war, happy endings are hard to come by. The clip below is short, and explains the rest pretty well.
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Tony Soprano on "The Sopranos"
While this death may be the most debatable, cutting to black mid-scene at the end of the show's series finale doesn't leave many other conclusions besides "Tony Soprano was whacked." And if that truly is the case, then this is easily the most controversial offscreen death in the history of television, particularly coming from a show that never had any problem with showing violence before.
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Tim on "The Life and Times of Tim"
We leave you with another series finale ending from an HBO original series that cuts off right before the big moment. The third season ending of "The Life and Times of Tim" could be seen as a metaphor for the show itself: just when Tim has been shit on to the extreme, there seems to be a small light at the end of the tunnel, but then he is crushed by a giant steel "O" falling off the Omnicorp building (while wearing women's clothes no less). OK, that's a little confusing, but basically the show was one of HBO's funniest comedies. And just when it was really hitting its stride, even after almost getting canceled every season, it was put down after its most promising one yet. Although the episode was intended to be a cliffhanger more than a finale/death for Tim, it was written to serve as one just in case. And what a fitting finale it turned out to be for such a wonderfully well-written, yet poorly promoted series.
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