Three posts in a day, I must be on something. I think it’s insomnia and compensatory coffee, but I’m not sure. Sorry for this, I’m ranting again. But at least it’s more genre-related.
Anyway, the cliffhanger. Cliffhanger endings are beloved of comic book fans and the writers of those serials they ran back in the dark ages like Flash Gordon and King of the Rocket Men. Well, beloved of writers and there’s a rather more mixed reaction from fans, but this kind of ‘our hero is about to die, find out what happens next week’ ending is sort of expected. I put the epilogues in the Ultrahuman books as a sort of homage to this. That’s a homage. I tend to prefer not to write actual cliffhanger endings to books because, let’s be frank, it drives me crazy when someone does it to me.
We see this in modern television and some film series. (I can trace this back to my annoyance with the ending of The Empire Strikes Back for sure.) Now, I grew up with Doctor Who which rarely did a single episode story back then. It used to run 25 minutes and a typical story was 4 or 6 episodes, airing at tea time on a Saturday. You’d have cliffhangers all the way through until the last episode, but you only had to wait a week for the next episode. The modern series rarely does a 2-parter, but does usually have a season arc. That’s fairly kind compared to six weeks of biting your nails. What modern Doctor Who does not do, but an enormous number of modern US TV series does, is the season finale cliffhanger.
I want to find the idiot who came up with this idea and make him watch 365 continues days of reality TV. I know why they do it. I understand. You’ve built an audience and you’ve probably watched the figures trailing downward through the season (seems to happen to the best shows), and you want them to come back for season two. So you put a hook at the end to make them come back to find out the resolution and hope that they’re hooked again and you keep them through the season. If I recall US scheduling right, this might even seem reasonable there because there’s a couple of months between seasons. In the UK, we waited at least half a year to find out what happens next. That doesn’t work. We’ve forgotten what the ending was by the time the new season rolls around so the only thing keeping us coming back is that we were fans or there’s nothing else to watch. And the same is true on Netflix.
I have both Amazon Prime and Netflix because there are shows I want to watch exclusive to one or the other. Sleepy Hollow showed up on Amazon and I quite enjoyed the first season, right up until the end. No second season available, I couldn’t find out what happened, even though I’d just binged on the thing. Frustration. The second season has been on Amazon for a while now and I haven’t watched it. Why? Because I stopped caring months ago. I started watching Grimm on live TV and was annoyed at the end of season one. Then 3 or 4 seasons turned up on Netflix and I binge-watched them… right up to the second to last episode. The last was the wedding and I knew there was going to be a cliffhanger I was not going to resolve. Grimm has probably lost my attention now because by the time the next season is available, the episode I didn’t watch will not be.
The season end cliffhanger just doesn’t work in the era on binge-watching and boxed sets. We’ve been shown we can have instant gratification, and then it’s ripped away from us. Netflix themselves seem to have recognised this. Daredevil, the first season anyway, resolves its main storyline at the end and season two brings in a new antagonist. Jessica Jones, which I still haven’t got to the end of, seems to be going the same way. Even their thoroughly amusing Puss in Boots series avoided straining your patience. Netflix realise that their model doesn’t need cliffhangers. If you watched season one, they push season two at you for weeks ahead of the first show and it goes right to the head of your ‘continue watching’ list with a ‘new episodes’ tag. If you were hooked, they’ll probably grab you again.
Last night, I discovered that Netflix had the first two seasons of iZombie. I’d seen trailers for this on DC’s YouTube channel and thought it looked like fun. It is. (If you haven’t tried it, give it a go. It’s got zombies, drama, and my kind of sense of humour. If you tried it and hated it… Can’t please everyone.) Later this evening, probably over dinner, I’ll watch the first season finale and if it’s a cliffhanger I may decide to scream, but at least I can go straight on to season two. But then I don’t know when season three will turn up… Please, please, won’t someone bring an end to the horror of the end of season cliffhanger!
Anyway, that’s why I don’t hang my readers off a cliff at the end of my books, even with my production rate. Lucifer is the only show I’ve seen on Amazon which handles this well. The end of season one was… cliffhangerish, but it was a little more like my Ultrahumans epilogues, a tease for what’s going to come next rather than a real cliffhanger. That’s a start.
Have a great day. Without cliffhangers.
PS. I’d personally recommend Lucifer. Strong start, a little rocky after that, but it rapidly improves again. However, if you’re a fan of the original comics, take my recommendation with a pinch of salt. Comic and series are not the same, and I know how that annoys some people. Hell, Gotham annoys me for all the backstory retcons and I still haven’t figured out why.
PPS. Just watched the iZombie season finale. Bloody cliffhanger. Oh well, it’s amusing enough I’ll probably cope at the end of season two. *sigh*