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'Grey's Anatomy' postmortem: Do fans have rights?

In the wake of the shocking death of the beloved Dr. Derek “McDreamy” Shepherd on Thursday’s installment of Grey’s Anatomy, Shonda Rhimes had a message for her fans, via the Hollywood Reporter. She said it’s going to be okay. Specifically, she said, “The possibilities for what may come are endless.”

These words, meant as comfort to a mourning fanbase, miss a key point that needs to be addressed. The issue is not whether or not we will be all right. Of course we will be all right. A fictional character on a fictional show has died. With even a small amount of perspective, we can likely all agree that we are going to be fine. The issue, however, is: What is TV all about? What is the point of investing in a show—in its characters and the stories that are being told—if there is no return on that investment?

Television shows don’t have to make us happy to be wonderful. Certainly anyone who has sat through Breaking Bad‘s Ozymandias” or Game of Thrones’ “Rains of Castamere” can attest to the fact that great television can be soul-crushingly miserable. Death can come, sometimes in shocking and awful ways, and it can devastate us. But if there is going to be pain, it has to feel warranted. It must be necessary to the story that is being told.

The relationship between fans and the powers-that-be behind television is a tricky one. Networks and producers rely on fans to tune in every week. Without fans, television shows are nothing. That doesn’t mean, though, that a fandom gets to dictate the conditions of the relationship. Despite a vocal minority on Tumblr who believe that they are entitled to demand certain things from the writers of their favorite shows, it certainly does not—and should not—work that way. Is there, however, a certain amount of respect and consideration that is due to the millions of people who make a show possible? I would argue that there is.

For 11 years, fans have stayed invested in the goings-on at Seattle Grace Hospital. Through raving gunmen and horrifying plane crashes; through LVAD wires and cancer; through almost drowning and 007. It hasn’t been an easy journey, but fans have continued to come back. Why? Because of Meredith and Derek. Because since the moment this show began, their love was its driving force. People believed in them and were determined to see this show through because their journey was important.

There are arguments to be made about how real life blindsides us all the time. People die and leave their loved ones and miss opportunities to set things right. With The Good Wife‘s Dramatics Your Honor,” an episode of television that also ripped apart a fan-favorite couple with an untimely and horrific death, this argument holds some water. But the viewers of Grey’s Anatomy have already been through so much. They have bought in and committed to so many characters who have been taken away, often in painful and final ways. They have watched Meredith weather storm after storm. For what?

Grey’s Anatomy has been on the air for 11 years. Of course actors are going to come and go, and sometimes real-life circumstances interfere with the way a story is told. It is an unfortunate reality of television and it can make an ending feel untrue (I still maintain Brenda was Dylan’s one true love). The question is: How much weight, if any, do the fans carry when writing these important characters out?

It is unclear what exactly the circumstances were surrounding Patrick Dempsey’s exit. It doesn’t matter, though. The fans deserved an open door. The fans deserved the chance to see Meredith and Derek happy, if only for a few moments when the show comes to an end. Making this claim doesn’t feel like whining. I’ve seen comments suggesting that fans need to grow up and get over it, but those comments are unwarranted.

This isn’t immature foot-stomping; it is legitimate anger. The commitment to “MerDer” is precisely why Grey’s has had its sizable audience all these years. Without the fans believing in this pair, there would be no show. Shonda Rhimes has asked the viewers to have faith—and they have. Grey’s has benefited for over a decade from this faith. To tear this relationship apart with such finality is more than just sad; it is a betrayal.

There has to be some middle ground. There has to be a way for writers to have the freedom to write the stories they want to write while not taking advantage of the people for whom they are creating their art. Audiences are resilient. We can stand some pain and suffering, and we can recover from almost anything. Some things should be sacred, though—shouldn’t they?

What do you think? Do fans have a right to expect certain things, or is anything within the world of a show fair game? Is the only right a fan has the right to change the channel?

TV Families | EW.com
Mark Harris
February 23, 1990 AT 05:00 AM EST

The Bradys are back, with a passel of 90’s hassles. Do they represent the typical American Family? Did they ever? Who does? Stare and compare!

Kind Of Family
TheBradyBunch 1969-74: Blended
The Bradys 1990-: Enormous
Married…With Children 1987-: Postnuclear
Thirtysomething 1987-: Extended
The Flintstones 1960-66: Modern Stone Age

Family Pet
The Brady Bunch: Tiger
The Bradys: Alice
Married…With Children: Buck
Thirtysomething: Grendel
The Flintstones: Dino

Typical Guest Star
The Brady Bunch: Davey Jones
The Bradys: There’s no room
Married…With Children: Sam Kinison
Thirtysomething: Carly Simon
The Flintstones: Ann Margrock

Expression Of Joy
The Brady Bunch: Groovy!
The Bradys: Ritual hugging
Married…With Children: ”Oh, great.”
Thirtysomething: ”Of course I’m happy for you. Really. But what about me? Why does it always have to be about you?
The Flintstones: ”Yabba-dabba doo

Expression Of Rage

The Brady Bunch: ”Hmmm…”
The Bradys: ”If you back away from something you really want, then you’re a quitter!” (the angriest any Brady has ever been)
Married…With Children: ”Aaagh, God, take me from this miserable life!”
Thirtysomething: ”I’m not angry, OK?”
The Flintstones: ”Willllmaaaa!”

Typical Problem
The Brady Bunch: Marcia and her rival both want to be the prom queen.
The Bradys: Bobby gets paralyzed.
Married…With Children: Al doesn’t buy his family Christmas presents.
Thirtysomething: Nancy gets cancer.
The Flintstones: Fred and Barney are staying out too late.

Typical Solution
The Brady Bunch: The prom committee decides to have two queens.
The Bradys: Bobby gets married.
Married…With Children: They hate him.
Thirtysomething: If only we knew…
The Flintstones: Wilma and Betty decide to follow them.

House Style
The Brady Bunch: Conservative but mod, circa ’69
The Bradys: Conservative but mod, circa ’90
Married…With Children: Roach motel
Thirtysomething: Enviable
The Flintstones: Suburban cave

Clothing Style
The Brady Bunch: Early Osmonds
The Bradys: Made in the USA
Married…With Children: Flammable fabrics
Thirtysomething: Eclectic earth tones; nice ties
The Flintstones: One-piece

Most Annoying Character
The Brady Bunch: Alice’s cousin Emma, the substitute housekeeper (too strict)
The Bradys: Marcia’s husband, Wally (chronically unemployable)
Married…With Children: Steve (supercilious)
Thirtysomething: Ellyn (goes through Hope’s drawers, babbles, changes hairstyle every other week, generally mistreats her friends)
The Flintstones: Mr. Slate (bossy)

Attitude Toward Sex
The Brady Bunch: Never heard of it
The Bradys: Omigod — even Cindy does it!
Married…With Children: Peg: Yes. Al: No.
Thirtysomething: They didn’t get all those kids by accident.
The Flintstones: Prehistoric

How Spouses Fight
The Brady Bunch: They don’t.
The Bradys: Infrequently, but it happens
Married…With Children: Tooth and nail
Thirtysomething: They stop talking
The Flintstones: Fred and Barney go bowling while Wilma and Betty max out their charge cards.

How Kids Get Into Trouble
The Brady Bunch: Greg takes a puff of a cigarette.
The Bradys: Carol’s grandson steals her business cards and sticks them in the spokes of Bobby’s wheelchair.
Married…With Children: By committing felonies
Thirtysomething: Ethan plays with a forbidden toy rocket.
The Flintstones: They don’t.

How They’re Punished

The Brady Bunch: ”It’s not what you did, honey — it’s that you couldn’t come to us.”
The Bradys ”Next time, ask.”
Married…With Children: By the authorities
Thirtysomething: It blows up in his face.
The Flintstones: They’re not.

What Family Does For Fun
The Brady Bunch: Takes special three-part vacations to Hawaii and the Grand Canyon
The Bradys: Has flashbacks
Married…With Children: Exchanges insults
Thirtysomething: Talks
The Flintstones: Attends showings of The Monster at the Bedrock Drive-In

Unsolved Mysteries
The Brady Bunch: How exactly did Carol’s first husband and Mike’s first wife die?
The Bradys: What’s with Marcia’s new face and Bobby’s blonde hair
Married…With Children: What kind of hair spray does Peg use?
Thirtysomething: Why did Nancy take Elliot back? What do Gary and Susanna see in each other?
The Flintstones: How does Barney’s shirt stay on if he has no shoulders? Where do Fred and Wilma plug in their TV?

Worst Behavior
The Brady Bunch: The Brady children once made Alice feel under-appreciated.

The Bradys: Marcia’s son Mickey watches Bobby’s car-crash tape for fun.
Married…With Children: The Bundy’s kill their neighbor’s dog.
Thirtysomething: Elliot has an affair and talks about it.
The Flintstones: Characters don’t wear under-clothes.

Best Reason To Watch
The Brady Bunch: This is what life should be.
The Bradys: They’re all grown-ups now!
Married…With Children: Terry Rakolta hates it.
Thirtysomething (Tie) This is your life. This isn’t your life.
The Flintstones: This is what life might have been.

Best Reason Not To Watch
The Brady Bunch: Blurred vision from rerun overdoses.
The Bradys: You’re all grown-ups now.
Married…With Children: She has a point.
Thirtysomething: After a while, you think it’s real.
The Flintstones: The Simpsons

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