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Media Literacy Review
Center for Advanced Technology in Education - College of Education - University of Oregon - Eugene

Season Finales and Cliffhangers

Bill Walsh, Contributing Writer
E-Mail: WillWalsh@aol

"Anything worth doing is worth OVER doing." Apparently that's a sign hanging in every TV executive's office across America these days, because it seems to the motto of the entire television industry. I'm talking about "season finales" and/or "cliffhangers" on television this week; there are more than you can shake a ratings book at.

By the way, for those of you unfamiliar with the language of the media, "cliffhanger" does not refer to the guy who used to execute the Clavens of the world in the cowboy days of the Old West. Back in the days of Saturday-afternoons-at-the-movies, there were serials, kind of ongoing adventure stories. Each week, the hero - or usually the heroine - was placed in a dire, life-threatening, no-way-out predicament (often hanging from a cliff), whereupon the segment would end. Moviegoers were thus enticed back into the theater the NEXT week to see either (a) the only three-minute film in movie history, which showed the heroine falling to her grisly but colorful death, or (b) a daring, exciting, improbable (but technically possible) escape from her impending doom until it happened all over again. Usually it was the latter.

And "finale" is supposed to be some grand or super-exciting ending to a work of art. Note the word "final" embedded in the word itself. It's supposed to mark the end. I understand that the term "work of art" is more subjective and won't even argue about it here.

For those of us who endured the "season finale" of Seinfeld last week, it's distressing to learn that Jerry's show was only the beginning. I counted twenty-seven programs listed in this week's TV GUIDE described as "season finales" and five advertised as "cliffhangers." I kid you not.

Finales include "Suddenly Susan," "The Drew Carey Show," "Dr. Quinn," "Mad TV," "Beverly Hills 90210," "Home Improvement," "Murphy Browne," and "Ally McBeal." Even "Early Edition," "World's Funniest Home Videos" and "60 Minutes" have a season finale.

Cliffhangers include "Walker, Texas Ranger" (Will a group of terrorists turn Walker's friend's wedding into a wake?), "King of the Hill" (What will he do to support his family?), and Frasier (Frasier is fired!). Can you stand the suspense?

The annual Truth in Advertising Award is given to the "X-Files," which (with a big deal summer movie coming out) freely admits in its publicity, "The season finale is only the beginning!"


When TV shows such as "Suddenly Susan" and "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" have season finales, we need to either run to our dictionaries for a word check or examine our lives for a reality check.

But, on second thought, why not join in? I mean, TV is SO pervasive, and no one else seems to be objecting to these rather creative butcherings of the English language. Why not incorporate the language of TV into our daily lives?

What they used to call my final exam in English 3 AE can now be called a "season finale!" As a matter of fact, we could call high school graduation "The end of the preview. Feature-length film to follow," although for some, the previews would be the best parts.

The intensive care ward of a hospital could be called The Cliffhanger Section. You could call to see if your favorite patient was going to exist only in mental syndication or be renewed for yet another season. Those who believe in reincarnation would, of course, have to check program listings if the title, name, and network of a particular favorite character was going to be changed.

Maybe basing our lives on TV could produce some interesting results, after all. Individual lives could be sponsored by commercial products. My own would probably be sponsored by Maxwell House; other people I know could be sponsored by Excedrin or Charmin. If you didn't get a sponsor, you could simply act like PBS and either ask the government for money or go out begging. The folks you hang around with could be called your "network," and you could choose to be an NBC, Fox, or ESPN affiliate. Each of us even could have our own theme song.

All problems would be solved in half an hour (two hours, tops), and people with the mental capacity of Geraldo Rivera would be called "intellectuals." Everyone would look good and no one would smoke cigarettes. Every dog would be as smart as Lassie.

Hey! This might be a good idea after all!

And in the true spirit of the TV networks, I'll tell you what we can do to include exciting cliffhangers in our daily lives.

Next week.

Bill Walsh is the A/V Media Specialist at Billerica High School, Billerica, MA.