TV Body Count Study Results for Fall 2012

Fall 2012 TV Body Count Study Results

Published: February 4, 2013

Popular culture – for our purposes, TV Series – have ways of getting and holding our attention. It’s ok to admit that you talk about characters on TV as though they are real people. You relate to them and their stories. You become involved in their lives. But do you grieve for them if they die on screen? How do you feel when you see death on TV? Does it elicit an emotional response or are you immune to it because it’s just make believe? Does it matter if the dead is a human being or a zombie? Do you notice if the dead are mostly men or women? Do you take note of how they die? Does death on TV make you think about your own mortality? Does violent death on TV contribute to violence in our society?

This study cannot answer all these questions but it does analyze the prevalence and nature of death on television. It seeks to provide a framework for exploring how death portrayals in a popular entertainment medium such as television affects our view of death in the real world. We did this follow-up study (to our Fall 2011 Study) to expand our analysis and continue the discussion.

You’ll find some intriguing facts about Death on TV here in our findings and learn what we took away from all this in our conclusion. First up, our key findings from analyzing 40 TV Series and a total of 320 episodes on broadcast and cable networks:

Key Findings

  • The deadliest show was the AMC Series The Walking Dead, with an average of 38 dead bodies per episode and representing 20% of all the dead bodies counted in the study. Of the dead bodies seen in The Walking Dead, 91% were zombies.
  • The CINEMAX series Strike Back was the second deadliest show with an average of 26 deaths per episode followed by NBC’s Revolution averaging nearly 11 dead bodies per episode. All the dead bodies were humans in these shows.
  • Guns were the deadliest weapon. Gunshot victims comprised 44% of all deaths observed in the study. The next closest identifiable cause of death was knife/blade which accounted for 19% of deaths.
  • The Undead face different hazards. The primary cause of death differed for humans and non-humans (zombies, vampires, etc.). Humans died most frequently (52% of the time) from gunshots while for non-human victims the most frequent cause was knife, blade, arrow or various other means.
  • Men were hit the hardest. Males represented 86% of the dead bodies observed in the study. While females experienced much fewer onscreen deaths, they were most likely to be killed by means other than a gun, including beatings and strangulation.
  • Portrayals of death on TV appear to be on the rise. The 40 TV series included in the study, in total, averaged nearly 5 dead bodies per episode. This was a 12% increase over the body count results from the previous study conducted earlier in the year.
  • All the shows studied were deadly but a few took it to another level. The top 3 shows had 598 dead bodies or 40% of the total bodies counted. They averaged 25 bodies per episode. While not at that level, the remaining 37 shows still averaged over 3 dead bodies per episode.
  • Action/adventure shows were the deadliest averaging nearly 15 dead bodies per episode, followed by science fiction/fantasy shows averaging almost 10 dead bodies per episode. Crime/courtroom dramas averaged less than 3 dead bodies per episode.
  • The dead are rarely mourned, and there are few funerals on TV. This study observed 11 funerals. This is up slightly over the 8 that were seen in the previous study.

Deadliest TV Shows

Note: Other Weapon/Unknown includes vehicle/vehicle crash, poison, fall, health problem, drowning, unclassified and undetermined weapons.

It’s Not Safe for Anyone on Television These Days

The full report of this study with all the numbers and charts can be found in a link on the next page, but here we will lay out just the most insightful tidbits we pulled out from our analysis:

It’s a Bloodbath at the Top of Our List

The top 3 shows accounted for 40% of the total dead bodies and all together averaged 25 dead per episode. The top 6 shows accounted for more than 50% of the total bodies and all together averaged 16 bodies per episode.

Hard Times for Zombies

AMC’s The Walking Dead led all series with 304 dead bodies in the eight episodes counted for an average of 38 bodies per episode. This series alone represented 20% of the dead bodies shown during this study. Of these dead bodies shown on The Walking Dead, 91% were zombies and the remaining 9% were human.

People Beware

Humans died in big numbers on the CINEMAX series Strike Back with an average of 26 deaths per episode and on NBC’s Revolution averaging nearly 11 dead bodies per episode.

Bullets are Flying

Guns were the top weapon of choice — 44% of the dead bodies in our study were victims of gunshots. For males, gunshots took an even higher toll resulting in 52% of the deaths counted.

Battered Women

While guns were the most prevalent method for killing both genders, females suffered beating and strangulation much more often than men. Females also fell victim to methods such as vehicle crashes, poison and other methods more often than men.

The combined causes of beating/strangulation and “stabbing” (or death by knife, blade or arrow) together accounted for 35% of female deaths, compared to just 23% for men.

Continue to Page 2: Gun Violence on TV is High, But It Depends on What TV Shows You Watch


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