Entertainments simplest narrative device – the Cliffhanger
by, 07-28-2011 at 11:51 AM (2677 Views)
Having seen the (mostly) positive response to my first blog, I’ve decided to write another just to “test the waters” and see if I can actually keep this up. I intend on writing one blog a week but let’s be fair, even I know that won’t happen. The problem is that I don’t want to fall into the trap of writing about “safe” topics that are abundant within the IWC. Topics like “Cena / Hogan / Vince / Bischoff is bad” and “Who is underrated / overrated / under used / shoved down our throats” are everywhere. I’m not saying the writing is bad or the arguments aren’t valid though; all I’m saying is that everything has pretty much been discussed regarding these subjects. My aim is to create new discussions and thoughts because I’m sure people are bored of reading the same things over and over again.
Therefore, the aim of this blog is to discuss the simplest of narrative devices – the “Cliffhanger” ending to a show.
In my opinion, the “Cliffhanger” end to a show is possibly the easiest yet rarest form on televised media. It taps into the earliest of primal thoughts: What does the future hold? Everyone around the globe can relate to this sense of confusion yet we all seek the answer. We are all impatient. We want to know if we will ever get married, if we will get a promotion, if we will win the lottery. These are questions which get us out of bed in the morning. The same applies to the television industry.
When a TV show is very well written, it will inevitably create a loyal fan base. If a TV show is poorly written, this fan base will no longer watch the show. It’s a simple equation.
For example, one of my favourite shows ever is Prison Break. The first episode of this show wasn’t spectacular if I am being honest. However, the ending to that episode was a simple cliffhanger: what is in store next for these characters? That simple question made me come back the following week and watch. The following week, the characters were developed, put into interesting situations and yet another cliffhanger. From then, I was hooked. However, because the show only had a limited shelf life (how many times can you escape from prison??) it only survived 4 seasons.
And yes, I know this blog has been very scarce on the wrestling content but here it is. Wrestling cliffhangers, when executed correctly, makes wrestling a very viable, entertaining and profitable business.
A few weeks ago when CM Punk delivered his now infamous worked shoot (sorry, this is going to be rather Punk orientated from here) he basically created an environment to hook in new viewers. The mainstream media it generated should have caused an influx of new viewers. The ratings suggested otherwise. Although ratings dominance used to be the main prize each week during the Monday Night Wars, it is not so much about that anymore.
Even though the worked shoot climax to Raw didn’t necessarily bring in new viewers to the TV show, it is my firm belief that it brought back a number of disillusioned “hardcore” fans. At the MITB PPV, I could probably guarantee that at least half that crowd weren’t considering attending the PPV before the Punk angle. It was a very “Smarky” crowd (apologies for the reference to my previous column). When arguably the second biggest pop of the night belonged to the injured Miz, running down the aisle to climb the ladder, you know it was a very well informed crowd.
Not to mention the commercial success it has generated. All CM Punk’s shirts are currently out of stock on WWEShop.com and his “Best in the World” T-shirt has been selling for up to $600 on EBay. This shows how one simple storytelling device can have such a positive effect on the economical side to a company
And therein lies the success of a cliffhanger. The lead up to MITB and the resulting weeks after have been a master class in storytelling and captivating even the most Internet savvy fan. Punks worked shoot? Possibility of Cena quitting as WWE champion? Then the possibility of Cena being fired if he loses? Punk winning the title and walking out? WWE Title tournament? Vince being relieved of his duties? HHH the new CEO of WWE? CM Punk interrupting the new champion Cena with the real belt?
All these are monumental events within the wrestling industry. One of these per year would have sufficed and kept us coming back for more BUT alas, they have followed in sequence for the past month and a half. One a week for a month and a half.
WWE have really hit their stride and it is all due to the cliffhanger ending. We all want to know: what happens next?
Therein lies the “Prison Break conundrum” though. How many times can WWE top themselves, keep the audience intrigued enough to come back for more and do it in a way that keeps everyone guessing. The true greatness of this angle is that even the most well informed of people have no idea what is going to happen next. That’s why Smackdown doesn’t have the edge at the moment as it is taped and can’t generate or compete with the unpredictability of Raw.
Spoilers do just what they say, they spoil the surprise.
Dirt sheets do just what they say, dig up the dirt.
Cliffhangers do just what they say: leave you hanging on for more. And more often than not, you come back