A real ratings killer

The Lifetime cable channel is one of the many bottom feeders hanging around the current television industry. Not a premium channel, it is a toss-in for cable subscribers, one of those myriad stations a couch potato usually surfs past between looking for the game and the news.

The last Sunday of April, however, Lifetime launched a six-episode “dramedy” series, “Mary Kills People.” It’s hoping for attention.

The show gives us one Mary Harris as a sharp-talking emergency room physician who, for a second job, kills the terminally ill for money. The going rate seems to be $10,000, which she splits with her wisecracking assistant, a cosmetic surgeon.

The show tries to mix in with the drama what it perceives as a few ironic laughs, especially at the expense of the dying. In the premier, Mary shoots up a half-filled champagne flute with poison, then hands it over to the victim. He seems to be having second thoughts, but she reassures him, and he drinks it down.

Then the fun begins. The victim’s wife comes home unexpectedly and begins calling for him. Mary and her partner make a dash for a quick balcony escape, then she rushes back in because she forgot the money. To her horror, she finds that her victim is still alive. She suffocates him with a pillow though he tries to protest that he has changed his mind.

Our heroes leap from the balcony, crash-land and escape with the money. I fully expected the Roadrunner to then show up with a “beep-beep.”

“Mary Kills People” is a horror on all levels, the only unifying theme being the blanket advocacy of what the show presents as the unquestionable good in helping the terminally ill kill themselves.

“Doctors feel it is important for patients to choose their death,” Mary explains in one of her trite apologias, though she does wonder to her joke-cracking partner if he is “a compassionate doctor or a serial killer.”

In a case of life imitating art, only weeks before “Mary Kills People” premiered, Donald Harvey was killed by a fellow inmate in the Toledo Correctional Institution in Ohio.

Harvey was one of the most prolific murderers in U.S. history, killing at least 37 people, but likely many more as he thought the number was closer to 70. Most of his victims were hospital patients in Ohio and Kentucky where he worked over two decades.

He killed those terminally ill or aged patients because he could and because he liked to kill them — it gave him a sense of power over life and death. Like Mary’s explanation for her work.

Additionally, like those involved with “Mary Kills People,” he thought it was kind of funny. According to The New York Times story after his death, his co-workers gave him “nicknames like the Kiss of Death” and “joked about the number of patients who died while he was on duty. Mr. Harvey joined in the joking, and because his victims were old or in poor health, their deaths did not arouse much suspicion.”

“Mary Kills People” is television gone evil. And, as evil so often does, it spreads its tentacles.

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One of the lead advertisers on that first show was Domino’s Pizza. Founded by the devout and dynamic lay Catholic leader Tom Monaghan (he sold it in 1998), Domino’s was once boycotted by pro-abortion zealots because of Monaghan’s staunch support of pro-life causes. Now it’s shilling pies on a show killing the terminally ill for laughs and ratings.

Lifetime itself is a subsidiary of A+E Networks, owned by the Hearst Corporation. And The Walt Disney Company. “When you wish upon a star ….”

That’s entertainment.

Robert P. Lockwood writes from Indiana. Follow him on Twitter @BobPLockwood.