All's fair as topic for 'Love & War' even star's death

October 21, 1992|By New York Daily News

A week after actor John Hancock's death, the makers of the CBS television series "Love & War" still don't know how reality will intrude on their make-believe world.

The decision, whatever it is, would be the latest in one of TV's unusual, but not uncommon, rites: keeping a series alive when a star dies.

Mr. Hancock, who played the tart-tongued bartender Ike Johnson, died of massive heart attack at his home Oct. 12. On Friday, a spokeswoman for Diane English, the show's creator, said there was no comment on how Mr. Hancock's death would be handled on the show.

"Love & War," which premiered this season and is enjoying healthy ratings, has aired four episodes. Mr. Hancock had appeared in four episodes that have yet to be broadcast but are scheduled for future presentation.

PTC Production of the show was shut down last week in Mr. Hancock's memory.

Working at the junction of fantasy and reality that death creates "is very tough," says Les Charles, one of the creators of the hit NBC series "Cheers."

"The challenge is, you are doing a piece of entertainment but at the same time it is a really profound and profoundly moving experience everyone is going through, and you don't want to trivialize it."

When Nick Colasanto, who played Coach on "Cheers," died in 1985, Mr. Charles said everyone decided he would have to die on the show as well -- which "is very difficult on a comedy show."

"The other actors on the show felt their characters needed to grieve for the coach in order for them to move on as characters," he said.

The writers decided to introduce a new character who had been taking a mail-order bartending class from Coach -- Woody, the gold-hearted rube from Indiana.

"But we were very nervous," says Mr. Charles, who believes Coach had been the show's most popular character. "If sympathies had turned slightly the other way it would have been a disaster. Woody probably didn't realize it at the time, but he had one scene to win over millions of people."

TV has dealt with death in a variety of ways over the years -- not always gracefully. On New Year's Eve 1972, actor Peter Duel, one of the stars of ABC's "Alias Smith and Jones," shot himself in the head. Perhaps reluctant to change the name of their series, the show's producers simply replaced Duel with Roger Davies with nary a word.

In 1977, Freddie Prinze's suicide was explained on his show "Chico and the Man" as a sudden decision by Chico to leave the garage and take up with his wealthy father. The show, which had been a hit and made Prinze a major star, fizzled. The premiere episode of "Bonanza's" 14th season in the fall of 1972 was scrapped when Dan Blocker died that spring at the age of 43. Within months, NBC announced plans to cancel the series.

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