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TV Cliffhangers not working in broadcast age


Take this with a little salt and lots of pepper: Exciting events on television don’t work in the broadcast age.

Maybe they do once in a while. I can’t think of anything that comes to mind. My colleague Michael Phillips recently selected The ending of “Spider-Man: Beyond the Spider-Verse” was an exception to the rule, and moviegoers can be pretty sure that another movie will hit theaters.

This expectation is less warranted when it comes to original streaming.

I like a narrative that develops with a little bit of economy from start to finish. I say turn it off! I want to get off this narrative treadmill! But Hollywood is no longer in the business of telling a satisfying story throughout a single episode. Serialization continues to rise, and broadcast shows are defined by their story streams throughout the season (sometimes throughout the series).

If you’re lucky, these seasons end with some sort of resolution.

Most of the time they don’t.

So what purpose does an exciting event serve if you don’t know when or if a show will return?

A posting of our collective fascination with true crime, black comedy “Based on true story” It premiered on Peacock this week and was the last series to fall into this trap. A couple discover the identity of a serial killer and instead of turning him in to the police, they decide to do a podcast with him. Their safety remains questionable from start to finish, and the season comes to a gruesome conclusion, with no guarantees that the series will be renewed.

Cliff hangers are supposed to function as the promise of future answers. You want a general idea When It’s going to happen. In the broadcast age, this can be anyone’s guess, and the feeling of excitement created by excitement fades over time. Instead of leaving the audience tense, we just shrug. How illogical!

By the way, the seasons of some broadcast programs have come to an exciting end, but have been canceled altogether, leaving viewers in suspense forever. Who wants HE?

Project by project, it is not clear who is trying to create excitement. Show manager? Or is it the managers they answer? Or perhaps cliffs are the inevitable result of untenable working conditions; shrinking budgets reduces the creative process to “mini rooms” where four or five people plan the entire show in a matter of weeks.

Thrilling films, indispensable to fiction since at least the 19th century, when novels were serialized in magazines, were once the hallmark of daytime serials. But it was the nighttime series “Dallas” that raised the bar with one of the most famously exciting events in TV history.

In the spring of 1980, the show’s third season concluded with the shooting of Larry Hagman’s selfish oil baron JR Ewing. So who pulled the trigger? To promote the upcoming season, CBS said, “Who shot JR?” created the slogan. – ingenious for its simplicity – and has since become an acronym for all the exciting stuff left behind.

cast "Dallas," Clockwise from left: Patrick Ewing, Victoria Principal, Barbara Bel Geddes, Larry Hagman, Linda Gray, Jim Davis and Charlene Tilton.

Cliffhangers worked quite well when the shows followed a standard TV schedule and new seasons started in the fall and finished in the spring. A chasm in May meant you’d get some answers in September. This felt like an honest deal between a show and its audience.

Streaming made this upside down. Maybe one more season. Maybe it won’t. Maybe a series will be renewed, but new episodes will be canceled before they are filmed. Or maybe new episodes were filmed and ready to air, but the program was canceled anyway and later picked up by a different cable or streaming platform, and we hope you subscribe to it.

Uncertainty can hinder the emotional bond you form with your favorite shows, or even completely average shows that you’re consistently happy to return to. But the “perfect average” has no place in the TV world right now. And the ongoing writer’s strike means more uncertainty than ever before.

Despite all the conveniences streaming has to offer, there are intangibles we lose by abandoning the old network model.

Last month, Los Angeles-based writer and filmmaker Amy Thurlow outlined some of them on Twitter. these disappointments: Like the show? “Great, Season 2 will air a year and a half from now, the plot will become as memorable as what you had for breakfast last Friday. And maybe Season 2 drops and you plug it all up in two days. It was fun, but now it’s just a consumable. Sugar is high. You don’t sit down with the story every week and let it run through your head.”

Why bother investing? he askswith so little regularity?

Thurlow mentions one thing: a regularity missing in the age of flow.

The traditional television season, overflowing with detective dramas and decreasing in quality with each passing year, still offers an exterior structure that makes you think for yourself: New episodes will appear in this window. With the flow, this reliable calendar disappeared. New seasons can drop at any time. “I didn’t even know you were coming back” is an insistent refrain because knowing about so many unpredictable premiere dates is unrealistic for most viewers.

The publication prefers the fire hose of the new to the tastes of the familiar and tidy, which means that it is more difficult than ever to remember which programs exist.

Someone recently asked: Is there a teaser or signature show outside of Apple TV+? “Ted Lasso”? My mind froze. I had to scan through a list of Apple’s outputs to jog my memory; this list includes some modestly interesting programs like “Shrinking”, “For All Mankind” and “Severance”.

at Adam Scott "severance pay," It causes office workers with a chip in their heads to remember no memories of their business life when they leave the building and no memories of their private lives when they re-enter.

After stopping the narrative engines for more than nine episodes, it’s worth noting: “Seniority” shamelessly finished its first season with a cheap cliffhanger. The series premiered 16 months ago, and Season 2 was still filming when the writers’ strike stirred things up. Who knows when the long-awaited second season will arrive, but following the old “Dallas” model, imagine that new episodes start airing after just three months. Now HE It could make things interesting.

Instead, streaming originals reside in these abbreviated, discrete time slots. And then poof, they’re gone and can exist in obscurity. An abyss is unsatisfying under these conditions to create real excitement and anticipation.

The original ‘Batman’ series from the ’60s was based on exciting events, but did so with a promise of reliability: “Watch tomorrow; same Bat time, same Bat channel.”

Flow refuses to facilitate this. Find your own way.

See you next time.


Nina Metz is a Tribune critic


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