Some old TV favorites to say farewell

April 30, 1991|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,Sun Television Critic

Are you experiencing separation anxiety about Sam Malone and the "Cheers" gang saying goodbye for the summer or about J. R. Ewing and the "Dallas" folks saying goodbye forever?

Well, some folks are. And, by week's end, it could turn into a genuine sense of loss, experts say.

Tonight starts the week of the big goodbye, with many of the tube's most popular series airing their last new episode of the year or signing off for good.

"These television characters become part of our lives," says Jim Dasinger, a Baltimore psychologist. "We know they are not real, but they are still very important to us. And many of us are bound to feel a sense of loss."

Here are just some of this week's farewells:

*On "Matlock," at 8 tonight on WMAR-TV (Channel 2), Ben Matlock ends the season by going to Hollywood to defend a movie star.

*Tomorrow night at 9:30, "Crabs" signs off forever after seven years of locally produced satire on MPT (Channels 22 and 67).

*Thursday night, the year's last new episode of "Cosby" -- at 8 on Channel 2 -- has Theo (Malcolm Jamal-Warner) failing as a youth counselor. At 8:30 on Channel 2, "A Different World" ends its year with graduation and a job offer for Whitley (Jasmine Guy). At 9 on the same station, "Cheers" ends with Sam (Ted Danson) thinking it might be time for him to be a father.

*Friday night at 9 on WBAL-TV (Channel 11), "Dallas" signs off after 13 seasons with a two-hour finale featuring Joel Grey as an apprentice angel who shows J. R. (Larry Hagman) what life would have been like in Dallas had he never lived. At 9:30 on WJZ-TV (Channel 13), "Perfect Strangers" ends with Larry (Mark Linn-Baker) getting pre-wedding jitters.

Do we really get so involved with these shows and characters that we come to miss them? And, if so, how does that kind of attachment happen?

"Television is creating new cultural experiences and meanings," Conrad Phillip Kottak, an anthropologist at the University of Michigan, says in his book, "Prime-Time Society." "It is capable of producing intense, often irrationally based feeling of solidarity and [community feeling]."

The sense of community can be with other viewers (as during the TV coverage of the gulf war) or with characters in the shows. We are invited in the opening lyrics of "Cheers," for example, "to come on down where everyone knows your name." We are invited to join the community of Sam, Norm and Carla, with the promise of a more friendly world than the one we live in.

And isn't "Cheers" filling some of the same social needs today that corner taverns filled in an earlier time, when many people lived and died in the same neighborhood they were born in? The differences between electronic vs. human companionship are profound. But that's not the point here.

The bottom line is that it's all right to feel a little down. In a television culture like ours, our real lives are changed a bit with the passing of our TV friends.

On the up side, Dr. Dasinger said, there's "the anticipation of them coming back in rerun or on again next season."

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