Death, Be Not Proud

Let TV Honor Those Who Are Gone

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"Thank you for being a friend."

Those words were uttered by many a boomer and Lifetime viewer Tuesday afternoon when news came that Estelle Getty, aka tart-tongued grandma Sophia Petrillo from "The Golden Girls," passed away at the age of 84. Minutes later, commenters flooded Lifetime's online message boards with requests for a tribute marathon for their favorite mouthy matriarch. So many, apparently, that a mere two hours after official word came of Ms. Getty's passing, Lifetime issued a press release announcing a 10-episode "Golden Girls" marathon paying tribute to the top 10 "Sophia" episodes, even setting up an online poll for fans to vote for their No. 1 favorite.
Estelle Getty, the tart-tongued grandma Sophia Petrillo on 'The Golden Girls,' passed away at the age of 84.
Estelle Getty, the tart-tongued grandma Sophia Petrillo on 'The Golden Girls,' passed away at the age of 84. Credit: Lifetime

Although Lifetime's two-hour turnaround was impressive, it's become an unfortunate but all too necessary expectation for cable networks to offer up retrospective marathons of just-deceased celebrities to commemorate their contributions to popular culture -- often at a moment's notice. Witness HBO's frequent repeats of George Carlin's numerous stand-up specials in recent weeks, or the Game Show Network's tribute to Merv Griffin two days after his death in August 2007. And don't get us started on the emotionally wrenching real-time eulogies for Tim Russert moments after his death from his NBC News colleagues on MSNBC.

It's also relatively easy for a network such as Lifetime to surrender its 12 to 5 PM timeslots to "Golden Girls" reruns at a moment's notice, especially repeats of the show already air daily at 4 p.m. It would've been harder for, say, TBS to pull a "You've Got Mail" rerun in favor of a "10 Things I Hate About You"/"A Knight's Tale" double feature in honor of Heath Ledger's unfortunate passing. But that's one morbid marathon even we wouldn't want to watch any time soon.

But while we're on the topic of Mr. Ledger, last weekend's all-time highest opening of "The Dark Knight" seems to have flown in the face of any speculation that Warner Bros. would have a hard time marketing a movie with an unsettling performance from a tragically deceased star at its core. As expected, Mr. Ledger's death added more attention and anticipation to "Knight's" release, all leading to a very positive outcome for Warner Bros.

All of which goes to say that Lifetime should expect a ratings spike in its "Golden Girls" reruns, this weekend and for several weeks thereafter. Besides, if it can hastily assemble such a glowing tribute within three days, imagine the Lifetime treatment Markie Post or Meredith Baxter will get once they, well ... what, too soon?
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