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JEFFERY DEAN MORGAN, KATHERINE HEIGL, JUSTIN CHAMBERS in "GREY'S ANATOMY" - In the first hour of part two of the season finale of ABC's "Grey's Anatomy" -- "Deterioration of the Fight or Flight Response" -- Izzie and George attend to Denny as the pressure increases to find him a new heart, Cristina suddenly finds herself in charge of an ER, and Derek grapples with the realization that the life of a friend is in his hands. In the second hour, "Losing My Religion," Richard goes into interrogation mode about a patient's condition, Callie confronts George about his feelings for her, and Meredith and Derek meet about Doc. Part two of the season finale of "Grey's Anatomy" airs MONDAY, MAY 15 (9:00-11:00 p.m., ET) on the ABC Television Network. Photo by SCOTT GARFIELD/ABC press Web site

"A member of the team is murdered ... and if that isn't enough, the life of another is threatened."

Those words, taken directly from a CBS press release touting the May 20 season finale of "CSI: NY," came as a surprise. This wasn't a pesky Internet spoiler, after all. It was an official media announcement, undoubtedly approved by the "CSI: NY" producers, who must assume we'll be clamoring to watch one or two people turn into corpses.

Hey everybody, you're invited to a funeral — and bring some popcorn.

Of course, pimping out fatalities as a ploy to pull in viewers is nothing new. But these days prime time has become a virtual killing field as television bumps off characters in unprecedented numbers.

Already this season we've mourned the losses of Edie Britt (Nicollette Sheridan) of "Desperate Housewives," Bill Buchanan (James Morrison) of "24," Dr. Lawrence Kutner (Kal. Penn) of "House," Warwick Brown (Gary Dourdan) of "CSI," Quentin Fields (Robbie Jones) of "One Tree Hill," Elle Bishop (Kristen Bell) of "Heroes" and Brad Bellick (Wade Williams) of "Prison Break."

And the stiffs just keep coming. It's May sweeps — time for season finales and finales of the ultimate kind for some unfortunate victims. EW.com (Entertainment Weekly) has even posted a "Death Chart" listing individual shows and the predicted body count. The final overall tally came to 21, but we should note that it didn't include "Harper's Island," a part-mystery/part-slasher film from CBS that takes pride in serving up at least one casualty a week.


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Death, it seems, has superseded the May wedding as television's favorite sweeps stunt. But it's quickly becoming a trite stunt, as well. How much shock value, after all, can the plot device pack when it occurs over and over and over? Or constantly gets teased via Internet spoilers or even network news releases?

And finally, when do we become numb to all the prime-time carnage?

It's not as if a TV death means what it used to, anyway. It seems prime time is taking notes from daytime soaps. Recall how "24" fans had their world rocked by the demise of Tony Almeida who seemingly died in the arms of Jack Bauer during Season 5, only to see him miraculously pop up again this season.

And then there was poor Denny on "Grey's Anatomy." We thought it was curtains for him when he died of a broken heart in Season 2. But he was resurrected in a few cameos and returned this season as a ghost in an annoying multi-episode arc.

And don't even get us started on the indestructible, casket-escaping Locke from "Lost."

It's also getting increasingly difficult to keep an impending TV death cloaked in secrecy. Behind-the-scenes snooping and showbiz reporting is so prevalent that it's often common knowledge when an actor is leaving a show and, therefore, an excellent candidate for expiration. We knew, for example, that Edie was a goner long before she rammed her car into a power pole on Wisteria Lane.

It wasn't always this way. The sudden end of Lt. Col. Henry Blake when his helicopter was shot down on "M*A*S*H" was an out-of-the-blue shocker that has gained a spot in the pantheon of TV deaths. Other stunning — and emotionally gripping — demises include Joyce Summers on "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" (brain aneurysm), Mrs. Landingham on "The West Wing" (car crash) and Teri Bauer, Jack's wife, in Season 1 of "24" (shot to death).

Of course, when it comes to creating memorable TV deaths it's all in the execution (so to speak). One of the most poignant farewells ever was turned in by Dr. Mark Greene on "ER." Though we could see it coming for weeks — the character had a brain tumor and actor Anthony Edwards was leaving the show — his end was still incredibly moving, thanks to some stellar acting accompanied by a heartfelt rendition of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" by the late Hawaiian crooner Israel Kamakawiwo'ole.

Speaking of solid execution, witness "The Sopranos." Death was a way of life for the iconic mob series, in which the corpses stacked up like fire wood. Still, the show managed to inject great emotional power into several pivotal demises, the most notable being the hit on Adrianna (Drea De Matteo), which left our hearts in our throats.

Most of this month's TV fatalities — if not all — will probably fail to match that one in terms of visceral oomph. By now, too many TV deaths feel so over-hyped and manipulative that they just don't register on that level.

Still, we'll be ready to don our funeral duds and black armbands — just in case.

Reach Chuck Barney at 925-952-2685 or cbarney@bayareanewsgroup.com. Also check out his blog at blogs.mercurynews.com/aei/category/tv.