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.)