TV’s death valley days

Serials shedding cast members

The May sweeps have become synonymous with big season and series finales, but even by that standard, this year’s body count piled up quickly — and not, for once, on crime procedurals.

Rather, it’s the serials that are shedding cast members. Mehcad Brooks, who plays Betty Applewhite’s elder son, and Bob Gunton, as Zach’s ailing grandfather bought it in the “Desperate Housewives” finale, along with another minor player. Mischa Barton took a car crash header out of “The OC,” Vito finally met his maker on “The Sopranos,” and the character of Denny finally lost his battle with heart disease on “Grey’s Anatomy.”

ABC’s “Lost” also jarred viewers with the shootings of Ana-Lucia (Michelle Rodriguez) and Libby (Cynthia Watros) during May. “Alias,” meanwhile, ended its five-year run by tying up multiple loose ends, killing off both of the central character’s parents (Victor Garber and Lena Olin), fellow agent Tom (Balthazar Getty) and (sort of, anyway) longtime heavy Arvin Sloane (Ron Rifkin).

What’s at work here?

Nothing ratchets up the dramatic stakes like proving characters are expendable — other than perhaps weddings, another tried-and-true sweeps stunt (witness the season capper to “Two and a Half Men”).

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