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The Age

TV TALES CLIFFHANGERS

Author: Craig Platt
Date: 16/01/2003
Words: 587
          Publication: The Age
Section: Green Guide
Page: 2
As we prepare for a new year of television ratings, we can expect favourite series from last year to return and answer the burning questions we were left with last year: Will Alf go mad on Home & Away? Will Harold find love through a dating agency on Neighbours? The cliffhanger has long been used to bring an audience back after a show has been off the screen. The term originates from the early days of cinema, when serialised dramas and adventure stories would end with the stars in some dangerous predicament, ensuring the audience would come back the next week. Often these endings involved the characters quite literally hanging from cliffs. Although thousands of series cliffhangers that have come and gone over the years, some have been particularly memorable. The ``Who shot J.R.?" story from Dallas is probably the most famous of all. In 1980, the season ended with Larry Hagman's character getting shot, and over the next seven months the world speculated on the identity of the shooter. When the series returned, 350 million people across 57 countries (and 76 per cent of America's televisions) tuned in as the culprit was revealed - Kristen Sheppard, played by Mary Crosby (daughter of Bing), but J.R. spared her because she was pregnant with his child. The Dallas cliffhanger inspired another famous end-of-season closer, with viewers of The Simpsons left wondering who shot Mr Burns. It turned out to be baby Maggie Simpson, but so closely guarded was the secret identity of the culprit, the producers prepared a fake version featuring Waylon Smithers as an alternative shooter. Neighbours has regularly finished for the year with a cliffhanger, and one of the most memorable was the 1997 series. Dr Karl (Alan Fletcher) and Sarah (Nicola Charles) revealed feelings for each other in the series finale, later creating sexual tension that became central to the show throughout 1998 and giving the show a big ratings boost. More often than not, however, cliffhangers tend to cop out when the series returns. Many is the time a beloved character from Neighbours or Home & Away has been put in a life-threatening situation, only to be miraculously rescued in the first episode of the next season. This was the case in Seinfeld, when the writers finished a season with Jerry getting engaged. When the show returned, the engagement was off and only a cursory explanation given. South Park's first-season cliffhanger ``Who is Cartman's father?" also copped out by way of a typically bizarre development. South Park's big-boned kid discovered his father was also his mother - she was a hermaphrodite. A classic cop-out occurred in Dynasty when, in 1985, the season ended with the key cast gathered in the country of Moldavia for a wedding. Terrorists attacked during the ceremony, spraying the attendees with bullets. However, when the show returned the next year, nary a major character was injured.
 
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