Those who watched season three's final episode of Downton Abbey a week ago can easily see the difference between the romantic world of novels and the romantic world of televsion. And I have to say that the latter suffers from lack of happy endings. Yes, I already know that death is a part of life, and that it's only a television show, but I still think that the episode was poorly done. There have even been some clever parodies and cartoons concerning the public angst surrounding Matthew's death, and having known about it since it was shown in England, I've managed to resign myself to watching season four. Surely he won't kill off Lady Mary too?
All of this brought about the idea that would any romance writer in her/his right mind kill off the lead romantic character in her/his novel? Would Margaret Mitchell have killed off Rhett Butler? Would Jane Austen have killed off Darcy? Would Lisa Kleypas have killed off Sebastian (_Devil in Winter_)? The answer of course is no. I know, perhaps this analogy doesn't work very well. It does seem, however, that if for two seasons of a televison series much the main plot has centered around the romance between two characters, and how they finally came to admit their love, and married, and had a baby, the least that could be done was to acknowledge that fact and to resolve in some other fashion one actor's (who played half of the romantic duo) wish to leave the show.
If the author of a romantic novel (I'm not including paranormals and such here) were to kill off the hero of the piece, that author could almost certainly count on not having much future success as a romance novelist. Those who read contemporary or historical romances want a HEA, and if they don't get it they rebel.
And that, I suppose, is the difference. When you are dealing with real, live actors who play characters, you often have to kill them off if they leave the show. The true escapism of a romance novel is that the reader never has to worry about that kind of thing happening. If we watch television for escapist romance, we are not allowed it. If we read a romance novel for the same reason, we are guaranteed, no matter what separates the hero and the heroine, love will out, and have its way, and they will have their happily ever after. Also, that was not so for Matthew and Mary. Poor them.