Characterised by the ability to keep viewers coming back, cliffhangers are no longer reserved for the end-of-season finale but instead keep us on the edge of suspense week-to-week.
What’s more the popularity of box set binge viewing means that we can work our way through a series in a weekend if the perpetual stream of cliffhangers leaves us unable to switch off.
Why go for a jog when the latest season of your favourite show can get your pulse racing? A great cliffhanger is incredibly effective by being affective. It will shock or surprise you to the core.
One of the earliest cliffhangers can be found in Dallas (the original). ‘Who shot J.R.?’ caught the attention of an entire television-viewing nation at the end of series 3 in 1980.
Fans had to wait eight whole months to find out and spent the summer sporting ‘Who shot J.R.?’ t-shirts.
An estimated 83 million people tuned it to find out the truth making it the highest-ranking TV show in US history at the time by far. The show was later mimicked in The Simpsons with the best cartoon cliffhanger of all time, ‘Who Shot Mr Burns?’
It’s certainly tricky to pick out the best TV cliffhangers of all time. Star Trek or Sherlock? Breaking Bad or Buffy?
Virtually every episode of 24 ends in a cliffhanger, how to pick just one? For the sake of argument, let’s say it’s season 5’s finale when the Chinese government capture Jack, and move onto some other top contemporary cliffhangers.
The critically acclaimed period crime drama series Boardwalk Empire kept viewers on the edge of their seats. Set in the turbulent Prohibition era, season 2 ended with a spectacular twist involving murder and marriage and ultimately the death of one of the show’s main characters, Jimmy Darmody.
HBO are no stranger to the cliffhanger and the seven seasons of True Blood have continued to haunt us with compelling tales of a world where vampires and humans c-exist. Season 4 ended with a series of cliffhangers including the shooting of Tara, will she survive?
Game of Thrones
Based on the novels by George Raymond Richard Martin, the fantasy drama series Game of Thrones has been a runaway success since it premiered on HBO in 2011. Fans of the books were disappointed not to see the mysterious Lady Stoneheart reappear in the finale of season 4. Will she be in season 5? Tune into the new season on 12th April to find out…
Whether relying on shock or suspense, cliffhangers are here to stay. Cliffhangers traverse genres, from well-loved sit-coms like Friends to science fiction, crime drama and thriller.
As a signature of contemporary television they keep us on the edge of our seats and, most importantly, give us something to talk about around the water cooler.