Cliffhangers in the Age of Netflix

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*



22 responses to “Cliffhangers in the Age of Netflix

  1. No mentioning Dragonfall then?

    • Dragonfall was the one time I have (so far) put in a cliffhanger. And then I made sure I’d have the next book out as soon after as I could humanly manage. It was a week or two later, I think.
      I may do it again with the next Ultrahumans book, hence my desire to have its sequel ready to publish very quickly after.

  2. I hate cliffhangers, I stopped watching live tv for the most part because of them. I have even not read some books I would have because of them. Also when it comes to tv, it’s stupid when at any time you may not be renewed. If your liked enough to not need to worry about being canceled then you don’t need the gimmick and if you believe you are at risk then it’s not fair to your fans.

  3. Cliffhangers in books if the author isnt an ass and makes sure the sequel comes out soon arent bad. Movie and end of season cliffhangers on the other hand, make me want to feed someone their own spleen. Between cliffhangers and those idiotic musical montage scenes CSI popularized Ive stopped watching prime time shows, generally dislike the vast majority of American TV and only still have cable for Science channel type stuff and to watch football. That would be the real football with a round ball and the kicking of it with actual feet, not a leather wrapped egg shaped pigs bladder and commercial breaks every couple of minutes. Yes, Im an American who grew up in Texas and hates American football. I also dont own a gun, cowboy boots, or cowboy hat.

    • That’s all my illusions destroyed.
      I think I’ve been to Texas twice (Austin and Houston), and just everyone was walking around in cowboy boots and a hat, and open-carrying a .44 Magnum.

      • RedWolfeXR

        Hmm, not into football or TV… but I do have a few guns, a cowboy hat and a few pairs of boots. (I never WEAR the hat, but I do have a very nice Resistol)

  4. Cliffhangers can be really annoying, especially when you read comics or books and shows that have them and then get cancelled somewhere just before the next one comes out. I stopped watching T.V. some 30 years ago because of that lol. I know a few authors that put a cliffhanger in their book and then it is like 2 years or more before they write the next one by that time they have written three new series and done book signings for half the year for each book. I like the epilogue thing a taste of things to come is better than simply going what will happen to our heroes we may even tell you.

  5. The time cliffhangers are really annoying are when the show is consequentially cancelled and you are left hanging forever. Stargate Universe is a good example.

    I’m glad I gave Lucifer a chance. Didn’t like the 1st episode but continued to watch it and it grew on me. One of the few shows that actually makes me LOL when watching. I must admit I rather fancy both the female leads.

    iZombie was in it’s first incarnation a comic by Mike Allred. The tv show’s only links to the comic are the titles and the look of the main character. The comic was about hipsters, zombies, a flock of female vampires, a werewolf and a mummy. The lead character was called Gwen not Liv and her best friend was a female ghost who could possess people. All that was changed into a police procedural! Still I enjoy the show, love the characters and their interactions. BTW there is a kind of cliffhanger at the end of the 2nd season too.

    Talk about cliffhangers, what about the latest episode of The Flash!!!

    • A heterosexual male would have to be excessively jaded to find Chloe and Mazikeen unattractive. I knew iZombie was a comic because it has the Vertigo tag on it, which also told me the kind of comic it was, actually, but I refused to go look, I knew it wouldn’t match up.
      I have not, as yet, seen any of The Flash.

  6. I’d read the iZombie comics years before. Anther Vertigo/DC title that begs to be adapted to a tv series is Transmetropolitan which is about a lone wolf journalist in the future called Spider Jerusalem. Don’t know how they’d handle his chain smoking let alone the 2 headed genetically engineered smoking cat. Great example of the old cyberpunk genre.

  7. For those keeping track, I got to the end of season two of iZombie. It’s got a cliffhanger, but it did manage to be a less annoying cliffhanger than many I could mention. It kind of left some characters hanging, but it more pointed to the big bad for next season.

  8. I hate television cliffhangers. There have been several series where the season cliffhanger actually caused me to stop watching the series. Mainly because I’ll miss the first episode of the new season and not want to start on episode 2. Then i never catch up. Grimm is one that comes to mind but there are others. It’s better now with Hulu , Netflix and the internet but still…

  9. Know I’m coming late to the party. One show that lots are talking about is Orphan Black. If you are looking for things to watch. They are half way into season 2. No clue on the cliffhangers. **evil smile**

  10. Love your books, Thaumology, and Steel under the skin being the best I’ve read.

  11. I generally despise cliffhanger endings. Odd you should mention Dragonfall. The ending didn’t bother me because I came late to the series and the next book was already available. I will add that it’s my least favorite of your books because of what happened to Ceri and Lily. Not saying much since I still liked a lot, just not as much as the others.

    Unrelated – any plans for another Unobtainium book?

  12. I only do cliffhangers in fanfictions and my readers both love me and hate me for it.

    The one time I added an epilogue that was intended as a cliffhanger, it worked more like a ‘Coming Soon’ than a ‘OMG I NEED TO SEE THIS!’ because the main story was over and done.

    It was a ‘Huh?’ moment not a ‘WTH happens NEXT?’.

  13. Ok I’m tired of waiting for frostburn. I know you said it was later but, you know, I want it now!

    P.s. Lucifer was actually pretty awesome. I enjoyed the more focus / faster paced back story instead of just procedural stuff in every episode. And it’s nicely different from most of the other shows.

    You might like the Tv version of Blood Ties, it’s a little old at this point and not really the same type of show, but still good.

    • I actually watched (and enjoyed) Blood Ties when it first aired on UK TV quite a while ago. I could have lived without the love triangle which seemed absent from the books. Then again, while I enjoyed the first of the books, I bogged down in the second one which was boring me to tears.
      Frostburn in a month and a bit… Patience is a virtue…

  14. DomiaAbrWyrda

    Everyone mentions Dragonfall I’ve never made it through that book. I’ve read the series two times (maybe three) and I always stop 43% through that book. I’m terrified to continue, i know something bad is going to happen.

    Cliff hangers don’t really bother me because do to my short attention span I usually stop watching halfway through a series. I prefer reading anyway.

    • Well, yeah. It is a fairly big setup for something bad, but the payoff in the next one is worth it (IMHO). The Other Side of Hell is possibly my favourite in the series.

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