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"I have a message: Lt. Col... Henry Blake's plane... was shot down... over the Sea of Japan. It spun in. There were no survivors."
Radar, in the scene after McLean Stevenson's last in M*A*S*H, the Trope Codifier.

TV Industry jargon: When an actor leaves a show, and the character they played is then Killed Off for Real, they've been McLeaned. As for why a TV show might do this rather than simply putting the character on a bus, there are generally two reasons:

1. The odds of the actor returning to the show are next to nil, and killing them off gives the writers a chance to inject the series with some drama.

2. Relations between the actor and the show people are somewhat contentious, often as a direct result of the actor leaving, and the writers kill the character off either as an act of "revenge," or as a way of preventing the actor from ever being able to return to the role (unless Death Is Cheap sets in).

The trope is named for McLean Stevenson, and the death of his character Colonel Henry Blake after he left M*A*S*H. This event was of Type 1 above; it was not primarily about retaliation, although the production staff was annoyed by Stevenson's leaving even while co-star Wayne Rogers was wriggling out of his own contract. [1] The main reason was to bring home the idea that war can take anyone at any time, and to evoke a strong and unrehearsed response from the cast, most of whom would first hear of the character's fate minutes before the scene was being shot. This isn't to say that the exact manner of Blake's death wasn't just a bit vindictive...

If the death is particularly awkward, anticlimactic, or mean-spirited, it's a case of Dropped a Bridge on Him. When it happens off-screen (especially after the character was already written out in a non-deadly manner), it's a Bus Crash.

If the actor has not simply left the show, but life altogether, then this becomes The Character Died with Him, and the way the character is written out is generally very respectful.

Has nothing to do with a discontinued hamburger from a prominent fast-food chain or music in the style of Don McLean. Nor does it have anything to do with a Jerkass that hosts a show with 22 teen campers. Or Greg McLean, director of Wolf Creek.

Examples of McLeaned include:


Film

  • Rare film example, from Terminator. Sarah Connor, Linda Hamilton's character, was killed off off-screen, in between the second and the third instalments, due to her preferring not to be involved in future sequels since she felt Terminator 2 was how it was supposed to end.

Live Action TV

  • Archie Bunker's Place: After All in The Family ended, the writers struggled to explain Edith Bunker's constant absence in the spinoff. Eventually they wrote an episode entitled "Archie Alone" that explains that Edith had died of a stroke, and Archie actively was in denial and trying to keep news of her death from reaching his friends. This is a type 1, as Jean Stapleton merely wanted to pursue other options instead of returning to occasionally guest as her sitcom character.
  • LA Law: Diana Muldaur's departure resulted in her character Rosalind Shays walking into an open elevator shaft.
    • It should be noted that this was not because of dislike of Muldaur, but rather because the writers hated the character, who was very harsh and bitchy, and they thought the character was ruining the show.
  • When David Anders left Heroes to film Children of the Corn, his character was quickly killed off to make way for a new villain. They brought him back for Hiro's dream trial a year and a half later when Anders was available.
  • The Hogan Family: Valerie Harper walked from Valerie over a demand for creative control and salary; her character was promptly run over by a car and replaced by Sandy Duncan, and the show was renamed twice, to Valerie's Family: The Hogans and finally The Hogan Family.
  • When Patrick Duffy left Dallas for a film career in 1985, the producers killed Bobby Ewing in an auto accident. When they had to bring him back to save the show, they decided that the accident and the season's worth of episodes that took place after it were All Just a Dream.
    • McLeaned also almost could've been called "Hagmaned". During the famous "Who Shot J.R.?" cliffhanger after the second season, Larry Hagman went into protracted renegotiations, holding out for more money. He ultimately re-signed, but they could've easily killed J.R. off if he didn't.
  • When John Amos was fired from Good Times in 1975 for complaining about the quality of the show in Ebony magazine, his character James Evans was promptly killed in yet another auto accident (this one was particularly tragic, since James was planning on moving to Mississippi).
  • Charmed, a show in which every major character has been killed, some as many as nine times over eight years, explained that Prue was "dead for good" when Shannen Doherty was kicked off the show. (And unavailable as a Spirit Advisor, unlike every other female member of the Halliwell family who was still dead.) Death was suddenly tragic, to the characters at least.
    • The Hand Wave for Prue's unavailability is that her death is still too recent for her sisters. For the several years worth of time the rest of the shows takes place over.
      • The comic continuation, of course, has no actor availability problem, so Prue is able to appear as a spirit advisor.
  • An in-show example takes place on Friends. In a parody of the LA Law incident mentioned above, Dr. Drake Ramoray, the character played by Joey in the Show Within a Show version of Days of Our Lives, falls down an elevator shaft (reluctantly) after Joey claims in an interview that he writes his own lines (he merely ad-libs a few parts), with the in-show "tragedy" being that the only doctor who could have saved Drake was... Drake himself. Years later, Joey was able to return to the show as Dr. Drake Ramoray when the character played by Susan Sarandon's character was killed off in the McLean manner as well (in a horse-riding accident, even though the character was established to be afraid of horses), and according to soap-opera logic, Drake received her brain and fully recovered. By the next "episodes" the brain transplant thing was dropped.
  • Law & Order prosecutor Alexandra Borgia was kidnapped, brutally beaten, locked in a car trunk, and choked to death on her own vomit. Rumor has it that her particularly brutal McLeaning is a result of Annie Parisse, who portrayed her, refusing to sleep with one of the show's writers.
    • That rumor has been debunked. Word of God says she wanted to leave so she could act in more movies, and the reason the writers McLeaned her is because they had always wanted to kill off an major cast member (as part of a crime. See below).
    • It wasn't Law and Orders first McLeaning, either -- when Jill Hennessey left the show, prosecutor Claire Kincaid was killed by a drunk driver hitting her car in the driver's door. This is a particularly interesting case, though, since the producers originally intended to have the character merely paralyzed, but changed it to killing her off when Hennessey refused to return for one more episode that would show this.
    • Elsewhere in the L&O-verse, Captain Ross on Law & Order: Criminal Intent as a prelude to a cast shake-up.
  • Jadzia Dax from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine got offed when Terry Farrell quit the show at the end of the sixth season. Interestingly though, only Jadzia was killed off; they could keep the Dax symbiont around in another actress (Nicole de Boer), The Nth Doctor-style, and run a new, more insecure, character, yet one that had some similarities to the original.
    • And let's not forget when Tasha Yar was killed off by a sentient oil slick when Denise Crosby left midway through the first season of Star Trek: The Next Generation. Although her character came back twice in later episodes, both times were due to time travel; the "original" Tasha was gone for good. On the other hand, it turned out she had an identical half-Romulan daughter who served as a recurring villain, so the actress managed to come back a few times anyway.
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer: A very weird example occurred in the last episode. Emma Caulfield wanted to take her career in other directions so explicitly asked to be killed off so that her character could never be used in any of the Spinoffs.
  • On Angel the writers asked Alexis Denisof what he wanted to do with his character of Wesley as the show and its parent had both been canceled permanently. He let the writers kill him off to make a dramatic point.
  • NCIS: When Sasha Alexander wanted out, her character was shot between the eyes. Although she did spend the next season's two-part premier dressing up like an idiot and bothering the not-dead cast, which is more than Lauren Holly got a few seasons later.
  • Spooks will usually either brutally kill or permanently exile the character of any actor who leaves the show. Specifically, when the actress who played Fiona Carter had to leave due to pregnancy, she was kidnapped, tortured and then shot trying to escape. She died in her husband's arms. The actor who played him later decided to move on. He was blown up by a car bomb.

    As early as the second episode, the show had established the fact that any character could be killed at any time which makes for exciting viewing because it neatly averts the "main characters are always safe" trope.
  • Sliders was notorious for this. When Sabrina Lloyd wanted to leave the show, they stuck Wade character in a Kromagg breeding camp, then brought her back briefly as a brain in a jar. When the Jerry O'Connell wanted out, they had Quinn merge with an alternate-reality version of himself which erased his personality. When John Rhys-Davies... well, you get the picture. Getting out of Sliders was almost as bad as staying in Sliders.
    • Legend has it that John Rhys-Davies actually insisted on Professor Arturo's death being that extreme (to the point of getting a writing credit on the episode Arturo died) -- he was disgusted with the direction the show was taking, and wanted to make sure he would absolutely never be brought back for any reason.
      • Not exactly. Rhys-Davies was indeed disgusted with the direction the show was taking, but he didn't want to leave, nor did he ever express total opposition to coming back. His departure was a full-on Type 2, as much of the production (as led by David Peckinpah) loathed Rhys-Davies for his constant criticism. Rhys-Davies' story was greatly altered from its original version to the point where it's barely recognizable. While not naming names, Rhys-Davies did not ever want to work with a certain executive producer ever again and it was Peckinpah that stayed with the show until its end
  • In a fictional example on 30 Rock, Jack conspires to kill off his telenovella Doppelganger, the Generalissimo, in an effort to appease his Puerto Rican girlfriend's grandmother. It backfires when, in true Soap fashion, the Generalissimo dodges every bullet fired at him then drinks a potion that will make him immortal.
    • He compromises by making the Genralissimo into an elderly Hispanic woman's Mr. Fanservice.
  • When Kal Penn left House to serve in the Obama administration, the producers had his character, Kutner, commit suicide.
    • Though this was due to the first reason, not because of any friction with the rest of the cast. They just wanted some drama and a Very Special Episode. The director later joked that if he'd left for another acting role, the death would have been autoerotic asphyxiation.
  • Lost: Though many characters have died, there were only two occasions it wasn't a planned plot death and was due to actors leaving:
    • When Adewale Akkinuoye-Agbaje left the show, Eko was killed off and the really involved arc they had planned for him was mostly pushed onto other characters, with bits being lost forever.
    • Caesar seemed to be an important character and was advertised as such, then was killed abruptly on his fourth episode without contributing anything critical to the plot. It was done because Saïd Taghmaoui decided not to stay for the next season and the planned character arc was apparently passed on to Bram, who debuted just minutes after Caesar met his demise.
    • When Mira Furlan wanted to leave the US, they killed Danielle off. However, it sounds like her character wouldn't have survived season 4 anyway: Alex's resulting death was very important to the plot and was planned, so apparently she was just killed off earlier than they had originally planned, before she could get a long-awaited centric episodes though the events of it were placed into season 5.
      • She was however brought Back for the Finale, along with the entire main cast from all past years and multiple recurring characters.
      • Elizabeth Mitchell left at the end of the fifth season in Type 1 fashion to star on another ABC series, V
      • In fact, it was said that being killed on Lost was not a big deal, because most deceased characters were brought back at least once after their demise, with only a few exceptions.
  • On Babylon 5 Andrea Thompson, who played the telepath Talia Winters, got a bit demanding on the set. Notably, she wanted to appear in more episodes than she was, in fact in more episodes than most of the regular cast but the lead. She left the show in the ensuing discussions, and was taken back to Psi Corps headquarters by Bester. In a later episode, Al Bester lets slip that they found out things about the crew in the course of her debriefing and dissec...er examination.
    • This one's notable in that Talia was always intended, right from the start to be sent back to Psi Corps. They even wrote in the mechanism that would enable her to return. The only thing that changed is that unlike the original plan, she never came back.
  • Bart Bass was killed off on Gossip Girl when actor Robert John Burke wanted to leave.
  • Yuki Yajima, the actress who played Mika Koizumi, the original Yellow Four in Choudenshi Bioman, abruptly left the show after only six episodes due to circumstances that are yet to be known. After four episodes of the character appearing in suit only and having her voiced dubbed by another actress, Mika was killed off by one of the villains in Episode 10 (even being buried in her uniform!), leading to the introduction of the second Yellow Four, Jun Yabuki.
  • When the actress who played Alice Garvey on Little House On the Prairie wished to move on to other projects, Alice ended up dying in a fire in the two-hour "May We Make Them Proud."
  • In Power Rangers Lost Galaxy, Valerie Vernon was diagnosed with leukemia during filming, so her character, Kendrix (the Pink Ranger) was killed off by sacrificing herself to save another Ranger. Thankfully, her leukemia was cured in time for her revival in the final episode.
  • On Dexter, Julie Benz's character Rita is killed off at the end of season 4. In what may have been a surprise move, Benz stars in a new show, No Ordinary Family, which started the season after Rita was killed. You're left to your own opinion about the artistic choices, but there was no hint of antagonism between Benz and the Dexter crew, and she's made at least one flashback appearance so it's a pretty clear "Type 1" McLeaning. It certainly was dramatic.
    • The writers confirmed in an interview just after that finale that she was saddened by the news and definitely didn't want to leave, but understood why it was necessary plot-wise and handled it graciously. She then went on to poke fun at herself on The Soup, pretending to be drunk and bitter about getting canned, but then getting a phone call with an offer to replace the lead on Community because the first actor (Joel McHale) sucked so much.
  • CSI: Warrick Brown was shot and killed when Gary Dourdan left the show. This could be considered Type 2, as the actor was fired for his off-set behavior and drug abuse, though killing off his character probably wasn't retribution so much as the powers that be telling him "and you can just forget about ever coming back."
    • Actually, the death was planned before he was ever arrested.
  • CSI: NY also had one that was a subversion: Vanessa Ferlito left, and Aiden Burn initially quit her job to avoid Mac firing her. But near the end of the season, she was Stuffed in The Fridge.
  • Rory Cochrane's character Tim Speedle was killed off on CSI: Miami when he wanted to leave.
  • When Ryan Cooley wanted to return to school, the writers on Degrassi decided the best way to do this was to have J.T. Yorke (his character) stabbed in the back and killed. Driving several characters to different forms of depression over it. This wasn't out of animosity as just death of a friend was not a trauma the series covered yet. Well, not covered well.
  • Primeval: At the end of Season 3, three of the main characters were trapped in the past, and Laila Rouass's character, Sarah, was the only one left from the main team (not counting military guy Becker). As of the first three episodes of Season 4, she has yet to make an appearance, and it seems she won't be as it was stated in internet 'webisodes' that she was killed on a mission between the series to try and get the missing team members back from the past.
  • After his tumultuous exit, and his subsequent media war with producer Chuck Lorre, Charlie Sheen's character on Two and A Half Men met a very permanent end. The season opener following Sheen's exit opened at Sheen's character's funeral, with the cast discussing his demise. Sheen's character was honeymooning in Paris when his new wife caught him with another woman in the shower. He got chased into the Metro, "slipped," and ended up as a "meat explosion". As it is an American sitcom, the "explosion" occurred off-screen.
  • In Bones, Mr. Nigel-Murray was shot and killed by Sniper Broadsky to add drama which led to the wham ending for the sixth season. The actor left to be a main character on Alphas.
  • On Top Gear, the original Stig (played by Perry McCarthy) was a Type 1. According to McCarthy, when his contract wasn't going to be renewed, they agreed to have the Stig go out with a bang "as much like a scene out of James Bond as possible." See the scene here on the show's official YouTube channel.
  • On The Walking Dead Dale was killed off after the actor who played him requested to leave when showrunner Frank Darabont was axed.
  • The fourth series of Merlin was kick-started with the deaths of not one, or two, but three major characters, all of whom went on to star in other projects. Emilia Fox went first, with Morgause sacrificing herself to open the veil between words, (so that Fox could feature in Upstairs, Downstairs and concentrate on her regular role in Silent Witness), followed by Santiago Cabrera who also sacrificed himself in order to close the veil (so that Cabrera could take a role on Alcatraz). In the next episode, Anthony Head's character King Uther was killed off by an assassin, so that Head could star in Free Agents. All the departures seemed amiable enough (Type 1) and the deaths themselves were immensely dignified and fitting for the characters involved, though out of the three, only one actor had any real luck with their new projects. Silent Witness is still going strong, but Free Agents was cancelled after four episodes, and Cabrera's role on Alcatraz was dropped, leaving him available to return for one more episode of Merlin (which unfortunately seemed to veer into Type 2 of this trope given the circumstances: Lancelot reappeared as a mindless tool of Morgana, manipulated into destroying the relationship between Arthur and Guinevere, and promptly killed off again). As a matter of fact, Emilia Fox also returned for a posthumous appearance in the spirit world, but the scene was cut from the aired episode.
  • Matt Davis who played Alaric on The Vampire Diaries was killed in the Season 3 finale. The day after, CW announced it had picked up The Cult...starring Matt Davis.
  • When Alexandra Vandernoot wanted to leave Highlander due to the commute between France and Vancouver and family issues, Tessa was killed off. The writers had established that she'd never leave Duncan while she was alive, but it appears they also saw it as a good chance for a Wham! Episode.


Video Games

  • Bill from Left 4 Dead died shortly before the events of The Passing DLC for L4D2; Valve had previously been unable to get his voice actor back to record new lines for the earlier Crash Course DLC (which the character appeared in, alive). Jim French (the voice actor) is a radio personality, and was too busy to record lines for Valve. Seeing as Valve was unable to get new lines twice due to the VA's unreliability, they unfortunately decided to kill-off the character.
    • He came back however for the Sacrifice but since it was too late. The result is a Doomed by Canon moment where someone makes the heroic sacrifice.
  • In Mass Effect 3, Adam Baldwin, the actor who played Kal'Reegar in Mass Effect 2, was no longer available to voice any lines. Thus, in Mass Effect 3, as you learn in an e-mail, he dies heroically when a turian communications relay falls under attack by the Reapers and Reegar and his squad sacrifice themselves to save the relay. Morinth gets a less dignified death: her voice actress, Natalia Cigliuti, was also unavailable for any more recorded lines. So her appearance in Mass Effect 3 amounts to a single e-mail and the revelation that Morinth has been brainwashed into a Banshee by the Reapers, and Shepard must kill Banshee-Morinth.

Western Animation

  • The Simpsons: When Maggie Roswell walked over a pay dispute, her primary character, Maude Flanders, was killed in a tragic T-shirt launching accident and all her other characters were given to another actress to voice. Roswell was eventually rehired and given all those characters back, but Maude remains dead, reappearing only in flashbacks.
  • South Park: When Isaac Hayes left in protest over its satirical treatment of Scientology, Chef joined a club of brainwashing pedophiles, then was burned by a lightning strike, dropped off a bridge, impaled on a large branch, shot multiple times and then had his face and limbs eaten by a mountain lion and a grizzly bear. Only to be later revived as Darth Chef. While parts of it (the burning and limb-losing mutilation) can be credited as a Revenge of the Sith parody, it still seems like an over the top retaliation.

    Furthermore, the background of Isaac Hayes's departure is rather sketchy, even for the South Park creators. He either a) quit on his own due his outrage over their parody of Scientology (which seems unlikely, given certain interviews), b) was forced to leave by Scientology, c) left without his knowledge -- someone else (i.e. Scientology) did it for him, or d) his agent used the Scientology episode as an elaborate excuse, the real reason being health issues. Isaac Hayes died two years later.

    The episode in question might even be considered a parody of McLeaning, given the plot (Chef gets brainwashed by the "Super Adventure Club", an obvious satire of Scientology, and acts crazy until the kids manage to deprogram him) and the resolution (where the boys effectively say to the audience "Let's not hate Isaac for leaving, let's be happy because we had a lot of fun with him the last few years.")
  • Celebrity Deathmatch has another good example. Stacy Cornbred, the somewhat ditzy interviewer, was apparently Killed Off for Real after her voice actress left the show. How'd they do it? A sudden case of spontaneous human combustion.
  • The brutal and onscreen death of Blurr in a compactor in Transformers Animated, coupled with the appearance of a cube in his exact shade of blue being tossed down the garbage chute a scene later, makes it pretty clear he's not coming back bar anything short of a miracle from Primus. A likely motive besides drama might be the fact that getting the fastest-talking man in existence as his voice actor is pretty expensive.


Web Original

  • Parodied in the Cinema Snob Omake show, Brad and Jerrid. Jerrid was replaced with Brad's friend Brian due to real life matters, and Brad Lampshades this by way of complaining about Bewitched and The Other Darrin. At the end of the episode Brian asks Brad what happened to Jerrid, and Brad comments he saw him last getting on a plane with Henry Blake.

Notes

  1. Ironically, Rogers' character, "Trapper" John McIntyre, was merely Put on a Bus that went across the Pacific and dropped him off in San Francisco to start the spin-off show Trapper John, M.D. where he was now played by Bonanza's Pernell Roberts.
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