"There is an intimacy to the death of the TV star that I’m not sure quite exists with the deaths of other artists," says Emily VanDerWerff of the recent deaths of iconic TV stars Saget and White. "When a musician or a movie star dies, we might be gutted, sure, but our popular culture places those figures up on a pedestal in ways that make them ever so slightly unapproachable. Bruce Springsteen is my favorite living rock star; I’d never think to consider him my dad. It’s just different with TV. Especially in the era when the main four broadcast networks were inviting the same people into our homes, week after week, it wasn’t all that hard for viewers to find a kind of comfort in our favorite shows. We knew Alan Thicke or Betty White (who died a few weeks ago) or Bob Saget (who died a few days ago) would be there to do the same things over and over, sometimes literally in reruns. The outpouring of grief from people in the wake of the recent deaths of White and Saget stems from how beloved they were as pop culture figures. White was your raunchy grandma, and Saget was your dad who loved a good dirty joke. But both of those personae were arrived at via television. They’re more or less transmuted versions of the most famous characters each played, amalgams of Rose Nylund and Danny Tanner and Betty and Bob, both of whom were always game for a joke. White wasn’t a rapacious lover like her Mary Tyler Moore Show character or a dim bulb like her Golden Girls character, and Saget almost certainly wasn’t your dad. But getting to see them every week made them feel more knowable on some level. We approach our TV characters with a certain intimacy in other ways, too. It’s not uncommon for viewers to talk about the characters from, say, Succession or Ted Lasso as though they’re real people whose choices we have a vested interest in. That tendency pops up in other forms of serialized fiction, certainly — as evidenced by online discussions about the characters in Marvel movies — but it’s so baked in to TV discussion that it’s as old as the medium itself. People loved when I Love Lucy wrote Lucille Ball’s real-life pregnancy into the show because Ball, as always, was one of the first to understand something powerful about television: It makes you think you know the people you watch every week."
TOPICS: Bob Saget, Full House, The Golden Girls, Betty White, Bill Burr, Candace Cameron Bure, Dave Coulier, John Stamos