I could make an argument that Leo McGarry’s death on The West Wing was the saddest. The character had a heart attack the season before and then the actor dired of a heart attack, so they made the character die of a second heart attack. It was all very traumatizing. However, how much of that was brilliant writing and how much was the offscreen tragedy is subject to debate.
Henry Blake’s death at the end of M*A*S*H’s 3rd season is the answer. Everyone knew the actor wasn’t coming back and the episode begins with Henry getting his orders to go home. The entire show is a Goodbye Party. At the end, he is all in his civvies and getting on a chopper and there is Radar saluting him. You could cry right there.
Then they come back from commercial and everyone else is in the OR and Radar comes in with a telegram that says Blake’s plane was shot down over the Sea of Japan. There were no survivors.
They didn’t tell the actors beforehand, so when you see them all crying – that was one take and all natural. But you might have missed it while you were reaching for the Kleenex.
Thus ends my 30 Day TV Meme.