The cinematic cliffhanger leaves audiences with a major question left unanswered. This ploy, used by serial writers and directors to bring viewers back to the movie theaters for the next installment, revealed the story line in the story the following week. Television shows adopted this story-telling technique and used it to full advantage during the 1980s, 90s and 2000s.
The season ender in 1985 for this long-running series about a TV family saw a shootout at a wedding. The interest element was in a location far from the usual setting for the show. The wedding shooting took place in Moldavia and viewers were left to imagine who was left alive and who died for the next season.
J.R., patriarch of this Texas television oil-business family of the 1980s, was shot as the season cliff-hanger on March 21, 1980. Viewers had the summer to speculate who done it. The show narrowed the suspects, including J.R.'s family members, and the events surrounding the shooting. This season-ending surprise pioneered the cliffhanger season ending.
If you were a Buffy fan, the plot appeared to be out there, but certainly plausible. In the season cliff-hanger in 2001, Buffy gave up her life to save the planet. It was a convoluted plot that took a season to develop, but Buffy was indeed dead. Viewers saw her tombstone, but would she stay dead for the next season. That was the questions fans pondered over the summer.
The retro-ad man (and woman) series left viewers in November 2009 with the prospect that the viewers' favorite ad folks would split into competing agencies. Two of the stars were also having marriage problems and looked to divorce, or at least separate. Viewers had two topics to mull over the summer months.
The season-ending show in May 2005 show left viewers with a shocking ending with the father of young Walt screaming into the vast empty sky. Audiences were given the suggestion that Walt was taken by "The Others." Would audiences be given more details than this at the beginning of the season? That question was left for viewers to ponder over the summer.
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