Monday, May 16, 2011

Cliffhangers and Sequels - Part One

It's May.  The end of network television's regular season.  And it seems that every scripted show is finishing the year with cliffhanger.

I'm not crazy about cliffhangers.

Many of us remember the summer of 1980 when the world held its collective breath wondering Who Shot JR, but the cliffhanger began way before someone put a bullet in JR Ewing on the TV show Dallas.  In the late 1800's, many novels were printed in serial format in newspapers and periodicals, and authors employed a variety of such devices to hold on to their readers' interest.  Early cinema included short serials that ended every episode with the hero or heroine facing some grave danger (from which they would miraculously escape in the opening minutes of the next installment).

For years, most TV cliffhangers were found in two part episodes.  You know, the ones that ended with "To be continued..." and left you screaming at the TV and tuning in the following week.  But is there truly a point to season ending cliffhangers?   I don't know about you, but I rarely spend the off season (summer for broadcast networks, winter for most cable networks) worrying about a character on a TV show.  Does anyone remember we left Jane Rizzoli bleeding out on the sidewalk in front of the police station last fall.  Okay, maybe now that I've mentioned it, but have you been counting the weeks until Rizzoli and Isles starts its new season so you can find out what happened?  Probably not.

Cliffhanger endings lose their effectiveness when too much time elapses before the next installment, between the set up and the payoff.  This is why they're less effective for feature films.  But what about films that are part of a series with a continuing story arc?  Lord of the Rings.  Star Wars.  Each movie has to include the set up for the next.  Sometimes the set up has a definite 'cliffhanger' feel to it.  (I was seriously annoyed when The Empire Strikes Back ended with Han Solo encased in carbonite and in the hands of the slimy Jabba the Hut.)

So where is the line between acceptable setup for a sequel and a true cliffhanger.  And how does this translate from TV and movies to books?  I'll take a look at those questions on Wednesday.  (When I will also announce the winner of last Friday's caption contest.)

In the meantime, what were some of your favorite or least favorite cliffhangers (TV or movie)?

I'm currently enjoying: Just finished Beautiful Lies by Lisa Unger

Groaner of the Day: Two cannibals meet one day. The first cannibal says, "You know, I just can't seem to get a tender Missionary. I've baked them, I've roasted them, I've stewed them, I've barbecued them, I've tried every sort of marinade. I just cannot seem to get them tender."

The second cannibal asks, "What kind of Missionary do you use?"

The other replied, "You know, the ones that hang out at that place at the bend of the river. They have those brown cloaks with a rope around the waist and they're sort of bald on top with a funny ring of hair on their heads."

"Ah, ha!" the second cannibal replies. "No wonder ... those are friars!"

(Oh, that's so awful.  I'm almost embarrassed.  Almost.)


Dru said...

Not good...not good.

I'm not a fan of cliffhangers, especially when you have to wait a several months. They should go back to where every episode ending with justification.

Maria Zannini said...

OMG! I love cliffhangers! I still remember the blood-curdling groan from the theater audience when Hans got carbonited. We were all crying and moaning at once.

Greg and I talked about it for weeks afterward. It's agonizing to wait for the sequel, but :shrug: there's plenty to keep me entertained until the sequel arrives.

One of my favorite (kinda recent) sequels was the cliffhanger on NCIS when Ziva gets captured by terrorists and her friends come to rescue her and each in turn are captured and tortured. The pay-off was just too delicious. It was worth the wait to see how they got out of it.

Stacy McKitrick said...

First, let me say - my husband enjoyed your groaner! Yeah, I laughed, too!

As for cliff hangers. I kind of expect them on TV now. Don't like them, because I rarely watch the reruns. When the next season starts, I'm kind of lost.

I really hate them in books, especially if I have to wait a year for the next one to come out. Can't you have a series without a cliff hanger?

GigglesandGuns said...

Cliffhangers - I never remember them unless someone brings them up.
Groaner wasn't so bad. It made me laugh.

Liz Fichera said...

If I loved a show/book and didn't want it to end, then I want a cliffhanger. I can't really be more scientific than that. :-)

Linda Leszczuk said...

Dru - I had written this before last night's Castle. Bet I know how you liked that ending.

Linda Leszczuk said...

Maria - I love my first two comments. Opposite reactions. I hated them ending that movie with Han in that condition. Had it been Luke I could have lived with it but not Han!

But, yeah, okay, the Ziva one was good. Still too long a wait for the resolution though.

Linda Leszczuk said...

Stacy - So that groaner was so bad it was good, huh?

Since the coming of DVR, I have hung on to a couple really good cliffhangers so I could watch them again just before the series starts up again.

I'll get into books in my next post.

Linda Leszczuk said...

Mary - Most I will forget over the off season, unless I'm really into the show or character involved. But that initial frustration makes me crazy.

Glad I gave you a laugh.

Linda Leszczuk said...

Liz - I think you're talking about a final episode more than a season ending. My favorite one of those was the last episode of JAG where they were flipping a coin to see if Harm or Mac would resign their commission and the show ended before the coin fell. Lets you write your own ending.

Susan Gourley/Kelley said...

Friars!!! LOL
I like cliffhangers on TV shows but not so much in movies. I like continuing arcs in books but I'd like to complain about so many of them taking too long for the sequel to come out.

Linda Leszczuk said...

Susan - Yea, a groaner fan.

I agree. What cliffhangers, it's the wait time that makes them unbearable.