It’s a sad state of affairs when death is the best thing that happens to a celebrities career. Stars who have been out of the limelight for years can suddenly generate big bucks for their estate and get the biggest boost to their popularity for a generation. It’s a phenomenon that occurs with music artists especially now that record companies can have a singer’s entire back catalogue available online almost immediately, as well as television stars who can sell countless episodes, DVDs and biographies from beyond the grave. But the trend I would particularly like to address is the nature by which a very popular actor will storm television schedules in the weeks following his or her death.
David Bowie (although not exclusively an actor) is the obvious example. Following his death, every channel at some point alluded to his passing, either with a documentary or one of his films, typically Labyrinth (1986) or The man who fell to Earth (1976). Evidently extremely popular when he was alive and considered a hero by many, it was no surprise that his death had such a profound effect on 2016, and it gave me the opportunity to learn more about him and to watch The man who fell to Earth for the first time. The question I ask myself is whether filling hours of television with programming dedicated to recently deceased stars is an attempt at tribute reflecting popularity or an exploitative cash-in on an unfortunate circumstance.
In truth, it’s probably a bit of both. Television networks depend on viewing figures and whatever their motivations, it’s our behaviour that drives them. This leaves us with three more questions, the first being why do we want to watch films starring the recently deceased.
Earlier this week, the sad news came about the death of Roger Moore, and with that the inevitable discussion about his career as James Bond. One of my colleagues commented that Moore was one of the best Bonds and despite growing up in the period of Pierce Brosnan’s reign as the spy, I too feel that Moore is the quintessential Bond that sums up the Eon series prior to Daniel Craig. Just a few weeks ago, an old James Bond film on the TV would pick up little interest; after all, Bond films are regularly on the small screen and they are all pretty much the same, but now the appeal in Moore’s contribution will be reinvigorated. We can put this down to renewed curiosity as much as sympathy driven nostalgia.
The second question is whether this would be welcomed by the actor. I’m sure they would have preferred to have the extra income (if there is any) whilst still alive although there is the case for provision for their loved ones they leave behind. They also might appreciate the fandom and new popularity whilst alive. Assuming however that the actors will be proud of their most renowned work, they are unlikely to object to their films being shown repeatedly for a few weeks.
Finally, we must ask whether this short-lived focus on a dead icon is beneficial to our small screen viewing. As I’ve already noted, it presents an opportunity for those less familiar with the particular star’s body of work to get more acquainted but why do we have to wait for someone to die before we celebrate their achievement? If there are films worthy of celebration, then surely no excuse is needed to show them on television. Then again, the end of a star’s life is as good a time as any to mark their career, providing we don’t see less of the actor’s work in future. My concern is that an intense obsession with any particular body of work can actually be quite boring when condensed into a short period of time and it might be better to pay tribute to a great actor regularly rather than all at once.