Tuesday, May 22, 2007


Of the "spooky" shows that are on the air, among them 'Supernatural', 'Medium', and 'The Dresden Files', 'Ghost Whisperer' may have great ratings (for a Friday night show) - plus Jennifer Love Hewitt and the twins, to boot! - but it's the 'Murder, She Wrote' of the batch.

Don't get me wrong; I love watching 'Murder, She Wrote'. But when it comes to TV mysteries, it was like comfort food in its genre. And the same can be said of 'Ghost Whisperer'. It lacks an edge.

My friend Ivy broke down a typical episode 'Ghost Whisperer':

Ghost Whisperer finales are generally a LOT more interesting than the regular weekly installments, which break down like this:

8-8:15 -- Ghost Whisperer encounters Someone That Nobody Else Can See.
8:00-8:05, she is frightened (God knows why, since this seems to happen to her at least several times a day).
8:05-8:15 -- despite her fear, she decides to help anyway.

8:15-8:30 -- Ghost Whisperer digs around for family, background, etc.
8:30-8:45 -- Ghost Whisperer encounters Resistance from NonBelievers. Nine times out of ten, they banish her from the homes/stores/cars/streetcorners, etc.
8:45-9:00 -- NonBelievers suddenly become Believers (half the time, who knows why?) Ghost Whisperer brings Living and Dead together, loosely translates (and sometimes, I mean REALLY loosely) what the near-departed has to impart to the living. Nearly Departed, having achieved the release of finally getting one last soliloquoy in, goes off into the light. Ghost Whisperer always cries at this, though there is never any other outcome, except, of course, at season finale time!

All that's missing is the "chung-chung" between scenes!

Now, following a pattern is fine - so long as you have good scripts to provide its luster. 'Columbo' and the original version of 'Burke's Law' proved that.

But 'Ghost Whisperer' didn't really have that luster. It was safe, dependable... but it didn't generate the buzz which shows like 'Heroes' and 'Lost' get on a regular basis.
And while it may not ever reach those heights, the 'Ghost Whisperer' season finale set in motion certain changes that could provide that desired spark.

And all it would take for the show to spark some life was the death of the main character.

Here's how Roger Catlin of the Hartford Courant described it in his TV Eye blog:

It’s become common in many shows to make an impact by killing off a characters at the end of the season. Locke was shot in Wednesday’s “Lost,” Milo was killed in Monday’s “24.” But what show would be foolhardy enough [to kill off] a main character?

It happened Friday in the second season finale of “Ghost Whisperer” when Jennifer Love Hewitt’s Melinda Gordon was hit by a memorial tower while saving other kids.

She had been warned that a loved one would be killed as part of a five part foretelling. She though it would be her friend Carmyn Manheim that would go the way of Aisha Taylor, electrocuted by her turntable stylus one week and nearly hit by a truck this. But it was her, she was unhappy to find out, when she started to have the properties of ghosts on the show – people running through her and such.

Earlier she had agreed to help a weird guy with an accent to help assorted children who were survivors of a series of disasters that each occurred on May 11 the last few years. Did she not know this episode would also air on May 11? (And that explained why it was sort of a disaster too?).

Being killed on this show (and maybe on “Lost”) isn’t anything like being killed in real life, though. After all, half the characters any given week are ghosts looking to pass on, needing that little nudge Melinda gives them by being able to pass on messages to loved ones (James Van Praagh’s stories were the original inspiration).

She’s been in some sort of season-long apocalyptic duel with a bad spirit named Gabriel, who seems to have the upper hand as the season ends, setting the stage for an action packed third season or, in the unlikely case that it’s not picked up, she will already have been conveniently killed off.

It's not the first time a series has killed off the main character. But from 'Naked City' to 'Nichols', there were always the usual reasons. (A casting change in the former; a hoped-for change in the series' direction in the latter.) Plenty of ensemble shows kill off main characters all the time - 'Lost' and '24' and 'ER' currently lead the pack in that.

But this is one of those rare times when the main character has been killed off and still continues on the series. 'Randall & Hopkirk, Deceased' is another example. I suppose 'Topper' fits the bill as well.

There are two other examples that come close which came to mind - Gary's death on 'thirtySOMETHING' and the passing of Eliott Axelrod on 'St. Elsewhere'. However, in both of those cases, their "spirits" only remained for a few episodes longer. (Axelrod was gone in the penultimate episode of the series.)

This would have Melinda remain a ghost for the rest of the series' run.

It was a gamble, but it paid off. When CBS announced its fall schedule during the Upfronts, 'Ghost Whisperer' was on the sked.

I'm sure the producers of the show will find some way to bring her back to life, but I'm hoping Melinda Gordon remains dead and a ghost on the show. It would be certainly something different for a TV heroine. And being someone who was already intimately familiar with the "rules" of supernatural hauntings, she would be able to circumvent them in order to continue her work from the Other Side.

For instance, she wouldn't let that rule about haunting the place where you died or haunting a particular loved one keep her tied down to any one place. This would free up Melinda's spirit to go wherever she was needed most.

And by doing that, think of the crossover potential for the series with other CBS shows! Even if you wanted to preserve the genre integrity of some of those other series, especially the proliferation of procedurals ('NCIS', 'Without A Trace', 'Cold Case', 'Shark', all of the 'CSI' franchise), Melinda could work her mojo voodoo within the show without ever being acknowledged by the other characters.

Here's a good example - the finale of 'CSI' left Sarah Sidle trapped in her car out in the desert. Just as in the diorama created by the Miniature Killer, her arm was outstretched; but we saw that she still was alive as she grasped at the dirt.

Now it could go either way for her character, depending on actress Jorja Fox's contract negotiations. And either Melinda could get involved by helping Sarah accept the reality and make a peaceful passage over to the Other Side with a final goodbye to Grissom; or she could help the CSI team (without them knowing it) in tracking down where Sarah is in time to save her.

Whatever way this all plays out for Melinda Gordon, at least the season debut of 'Ghost Whisperer' should be worth a look-see!

Toby OB

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