Tuesday, July 12, 2011

SPOILER ALERT: A post about spoiler alerts

Mary McNamara wrote a great article yesterday in the LA Times on SPOILER ALERTS. In this age of Twitter and instant communication it’s more difficult to keep endings secret.

As a blogger I try to be sensitive to this issue (I’m also a screenwriter and would hate to have my surprise ending revealed before I have your money or Neilson has recorded that you’ve watched my show), but at some point you have to say, come on, I’m not leaking atomic secrets here!

At what point is it reasonably fair to discuss a movie or show’s plot points? Emily Post’s etiquette guide has no guidelines for internet and social network traffic. What good is she?!

Ms. McNamara contends that once a show airs on NATIONAL TELEVISION it should be fair game. I agree. As a producer, my beef with networks was always giving away surprises in the promos before the episode even aired. Same with movie trailers. But once a project is out there for public consumption, then all bets are off.

You want to wait until the end of a season, rent the DVD, and watch a whole year of THE GOOD WIFE at one time? Fine. Then avoid any blogs, articles, Twitter mentions, and any of the 20,000,000 people who have already seen the show.

I get angry readers all the time who complain that I have spoiler alerts. Even if I hold off a couple of days. One guy from England was really pissed because I discussed an episode of 24 and they were a season behind over there. I’m supposed to wait a year after a show airs in America before I can post about it?  Is it okay yet to reveal who shot J.R.?

It’s almost impossible to write a review without giving away something. Otherwise, what are you writing?

BRIDESMAIDS is a very funny comedy about… some women who have something in common all tied to a certain event. If you plan on attending such an event you really should see this movie.

I never read reviews of movies I’m looking forward to seeing. And if I know it’s one everybody is going to be talking about I see it as soon as possible. If there’s a TV show I DVR, the onus is on me to see it before the cast is on INSIDE THE ACTOR’S STUDIO.

If you’re in a restaurant and you overhear some loudmouth at the next table give away the ending to THE CRYING GAME there’s nothing you can do (unless you just want to never leave your place – and avoiding spoiler alerts is a really poor reason for becoming an agoraphobic), but you don’t have to always be on Twitter, or Facebook, or ESPN (if you don’t want hear a certain score).

Spoilers are annoying but to me the trade off is that we now get information so much faster – almost instantaneously. Isn’t it better in general to know too much instead of not enough?

59 comments:

Neal... said...

Oh man... I'd been saving the Mary McNamara column until I had time to really savour its content next weekend. You've totally ruined it for me now. Thanks Ken.

Kevin Arbouet said...

Just putting the phrase SPOILER ALERT before a spoiler alert works. And a week after the airing of a television show or premiere of a movie should be enough time to openly discuss the plot points.

Mark said...

I agree completely. People can get so hyper about spoilers, and so many seem to think it's everyones job to protect everyone else. It's not.
My wife and I have a handful of tv shows we really enjoy, and we wait and get them on dvd to see the episodes for the first time. So we're basically 6-12 months behind. We avoid message boards and the like to stay away from spoilers, but we also accept that by choosing to enjoy our favorites this way, we're running the risk of someone at work giving something away. It's not their responsibility to NOT talk about Darth Vader being Luke's father, it's MY responsibility to AVOID that conversation if I want to wait for the VHS to come out.

Lisa said...

DAMMIT.

JR got shot?!

Dammit, Ken...

Lisa said...

By the way - the day has hardly begun. How can one have a blog post up, already?

That is very confronting, you know...

Blaze said...

I'd say the only etiquette is to make sure people know the topic of the moment. If Ken wants to discuss "Latest Oscar Contender, Pt 3", it should be apparent from the get-go. People who are still hoping to see the film in its entirety can therefore avoid that blog. It would be most uncool to be reading a blog entirely about baseball and then, in a surprise non sequitur, Ken reveals the ending to "LOC3".

ropo said...

I agree -- it's impossible to stay spoiler-free and the best thing to do is get your hands on a copy of whatever you don't want to be spoiled for ASAP, or stay off the internet until you do.

Quasi-funny story: I'd stayed unspoiled about "The Usual Suspects" for YEARS AND YEARS. Then one day I was randomly watching a rerun of "Will & Grace," and this happened:

SCENE I: Will's Apartment
(WILL is eating a bowl of cereal while watching TV when JACK enters.)

JACK: Will! You're not gonna believe what just happened?! Are you watching this?

WILL: Yeah. I've never seen The Usual Suspects. They're just about to reveal who Keyser Soze is.

JACK: It's Kevin Spacey. [TURNING OFF THE TV] Ok. Listen,...... (rest of scene)

***

I had NO TIME to avoid hearing it! Honestly, you can get spoiled just about anywhere these days. ;-)

Rinaldo said...

Linda Holmes, in her blog for NPR, wrote an eloquent article on this subject in 2009, too:

http://www.npr.org/blogs/monkeysee/2009/11/the_spoiler_problem_contains_s.html

Sebastian said...

This post SUCKS!

The title gave EVERYTHING away!!!!111!!

Mirror James said...

Steven Moffat spoke out pretty strongly against spoilers in April. After a press screening, and before airing on TV, every plot detail for the first 2 episodes of series/season 6 of Doctor Who were posted online. They were leaked by fans of the show who had been invited to the screening and specifically asked not to reveal anything.

It eventually resulted with Steven saying he wished they would go and be fans of something else. Again, this was before the episodes had been broadcast so, and I say this as a fan of the show, I agreed with him.

This actually makes me think of a question.

Steven Moffat and Russell T. Davies, his predecessor on Doctor Who, often seem to be the targets of abuse from people who claim to be fans. Everything from saying they can't write to accusations of running a so-called "gay agenda", in which the mere acknowledgement that gay people exist is apparently "shoving it down their throats".

Have you ever had a bad experience with a fan who claims to love a show yet can't seem to do anything other than hurl insults? Or is this type of behaviour more restricted to a certain genre like Science Fiction?

Kris said...

Ken, I agree with what you are saying but it really highlights the difficulties for those of us who do not live in the US of A.

Basically, we have three options for shows that air in our respective countries with a delay:

1) Accept that we will be 'spoiled'

2) Avoid large chunks of the internet completely

3) Pirate the shows

None of these options are especially attractive so until Hollywood comes to its senses and makes it possible for us to view this material at the same time as the US, please toss in a "SPOILER ALERT" when discussing key plot points in anything semi new!

Shelia said...

I have never minded spoilers. In fact, I don't mind knowing the ending of a movie. Because for me, it's the execution of it that matters.

Had someone come up to me and said, "There's this movie about a giant shark terrorizing a town, and a boat captain, sheriff and marine biologist go out to capture it, and in the end the boat captain dies but the other two live and the sheriff kills the shark" -- I'd be all excited to see how they show that story.

I realize this makes me weird, but it's just that I have a fascination with HOW the story is told and not so much on the surprise. (This is also what enables me to see a movie or read a book over and over.)

As for the rest of you normal people out there, it would seem that "spoiler alert" would be sufficient to make someone stop reading if you really don't want to know.

Chris said...

Here's one for fridays: how do they shoot/do those scenes when the audience laughs just when the camera zooms on something, like a silent opening with the camera zooming on what a character is reading and just then the audience starts to laugh?

darms said...

I'm with Shelia, 'spoilers' cause me no problems whatsoever. Good writing is good writing and knowing the ending makes no difference as long as the path from beginning to end is interesting. Else why buy a movie on DVD?

DickLoudonIsDrHartley said...

Some people are insane about critiquing the Internet for posting spoilery thoughts (I'm looking at you, my crazy Australian 'friend' who went off on me for a totally innocuous comment that spoiled NOTHING).

However, I think a sensible approach acknowledges that people don't always see the movie on opening weekend and (due to financial considerations) sometimes wait for the DVD release to watch Showtime and HBO shows--but broadcast TV is fair game the next day.

I'm not saying no spoilers ever, and really the phrase "SPOILER ALERT" is kind of egregious, but making it clear in the opening phrase of your post that you will be discussing the show/movie is enough of a warning. Also be careful not to put a spoiler in the URL (so that your readers don't get spoiled in their RSS reader, as I did one time: ***way old spoiler for Dexter*** http//spoilerass.com/omg-rita-is-dead)

Powerhouse Salter said...

Does no one else remember the all-time MASH spoiler when People magazine ran a McLean Stevenson cover story that gave away (in a caption) that his Henry Blake character was getting killed in the next episode? I think what especially galls is how the rest of the cast was supposedly not even informed before the scene was filmed, yet hundred of thousands of people had the shock wrecked by the editors at People magazine.

Ben said...

Putting "Spoiler Alert" in front of the item you are spoiling is a good start, but then you have to scan the article and potentially still read the spoiler since you do not know how much of the item is being revealed. Is the spoiler a sentence? A paragraph? More than one paragraph? It would be great if writers could incorporate a spoiler end tag like that allows the reader to know where exactly to start reading again.

404 said...

Dammit, ropo!


(Taking "The Usual Suspects" out of my Netflix cue)

Mary Stella said...

Some shows are their own spoilers on FB. I've watched General Hospital since it was in black and white. I don't honestly care about the updates on FB, but I was nice and "liked" their page.

I don't watch the show until I'm home at night and catch up on the DVR. A couple of times I've been on FB first and they've given away the day's action in their posts.

It doesn't ruin my day or send me screaming for the bottle. "Oh no! There was gun fire and Brenda's car was hit but I haven't seen it yet. I need a drink!".

Mostly, I roll my eyes and think, "Bad promo move to tip. You're supposed to tease the fans to watch the show, not give away the plot."

Spoiler Alert:

Soylent green is made out of people.

Nathan said...

Hey Sheila,

That sounds like a great flick. Any idea when it's coming out?

Carol said...

For various reasons, I hadn't seen The Sixth Sense when it was out in theatres. One day I was reading an article about M. Night in Philadelphia Magazine, and with absolutely no warning they gave away the twist ending.

I just laughed, and when I finally watched the movie, I had fun looking at the 'clues' since I knew the twist,but and I think in that situation, the 'twist' is such, that, like Rosebud, it should just be left alone so those people who don't know the twist can still enjoy it, when they finally get around to watching the film and finding out, for example, it was his sled.

(To the guy who referenced Doctor Who, someone once said no one hates Doctor Who more than a rabid Doctor Who fan.)

Mac said...

Sometimes the trailer is the spoiler. I saw a few the other night and realized I didn't even have to watch these movies, I'd just seen a condensed version of them.
I think it's very difficult these days, if not impossible. Unless you're a total shut-in who doesn't go online, and living online is the whole point of being a shut-in.

Scot Boyd said...

For BIG spoilers, I tend to wait for one year after the product appears on DVD. Sixth Sense, Seven, Fight Club, etc.

Minor spoilers are fair game after the show airs, so long as there's a spoiler alert.

John R said...

"Is it okay yet to reveal who shot J.R.? "

Aren't they just about to remake "Dallas?"
They must think we've forgotten the plot, so no, it's not okay to reveal who shot JR.
Well okay then go ahead if you must. I didn't watch the original nor will I watch the remake (and nor will many others I suspect.)

Rob said...

Frasier Crane: In "Murder on the Orient Express" everyone did it.

Little Miss Smoke and Mirrors said...

It's tricky. I went to great lengths the past several weeks to stay unspoiled while watching Game of Thrones on HBO. This was especially tricky because the source material was a book published several years ago. Staying spoiler-free required me to stay off twitter until I saw the most recent episode and largely staying off all message boards discussing the show. The only reviews I read were Alan Sepinwall's who himself wished to remain unspoiled and thus had a strict anti-spoiler policy among his blog commenters. The payoff was frankly fantastic - I found the last few episodes absolutely thrilling - but it took effort on my part. But like others above have stated, I consider it my responsibility.

I appreciate EPs like Matthew Weiner who maintain control over his show and the previews AMC airs. He's dedicated to keeping the narrative of Mad Men spoiler-free, and it makes the viewing that much better.

SteveGNC said...

While overall I agree knowing too much in general is better than knowing too little, I still would give a lot to experience a movie today as I did Jaws on the first day it opened. Before ad campaigns or Entertainment Weekly features that give away everything even if you're not looking, it was wonderful in a sense that I think it's now impossible to experience.

leigh said...

I totally agree with Sheila. Knowing plot points ruins nothing for me. In fact, when I was really into 24, season 5, I would seek out next week's spoilers and then spend the next few days imagining how it might be executed. i could imagine hundreds of ways, and I would still always be wrong. It wad really fun, and it built the anticipation for me.

I respect people's desire not to be spoiled, but a lot of folks are unreasonable about it. If you're just now getting around to seeing the 3rd Harry Potter, that's no one's fault byut your own if you're spoiled by a blog someone writes six years later.

Roger Owen Green said...

There was a standard where at least some folks chose to keep the secret (Usual Suspects, The Waiting Game). And recently, there seemed to be a conspiracy (I mean that not pejoratively) by readers of Game of Thrones to not blab the recent reveal that came out in the TV show was admirable.

William Gallagher said...

I write for Radio Times (UK equivalent of TV Guide) and got complaints when I revealed who killed Laura Palmer - 18 years after Twin Peaks had been cancelled.

Steve M. said...

I think we need to eliminate those pesky high school history classes because there are still lots of kids who haven't seen Titanic.

jbryant said...

Some folks seem to want you take spoilers to your grave. "I know it's been 16 years, but I'm tentatively planning to watch THE USUAL SUSPECTS sometime between now and the Rapture, so please don't spoil the ending!"

Wendy M. Grossman said...

Count me among those who don't find anything is spoiled by knowing spoilers. But it's definitely true that this is a big problem internationally - the latest big twist in a hit US show sometime gets covered in the UK press the day after it airs in the US - which can be well before it airs in the UK.

But online the SPOILER ALERT convention is nearly 20 years old. Surely people have got the hang of that by now.

wg

Ryan Paige said...

RE: John and "Dallas"

The new "Dallas" TV show is a continuation of the original story (kind of like "The Next Generation", but not hundreds of years later), so, presumably, they won't be having Crystal shoot J.R. again.

RCP said...

In the same vein: When I was 12 or so and reading Gone With The Wind and was about 50 pages from the end, my mom insisted on dragging the whole family to a reshowing of the film. Needless to say, the ending of the book was a bit anticlimactic.

It was also strange to have the images of these characters that I'd carried for 700-odd pages supplanted by the actors.

Mike said...

I've been watching some old DVDs of Dallas, and now you gave away that someone shot JR?

Mike said...

Babylon 5 had running story arc for 4-5 seasons. In one early episode the captain Sheridan 'dies' but then we see he's alive in an underground cavern with possibly God. Then the promo for an episode said 'Sheridan returns.'

Max Clarke said...

I've never had a bad time watching a movie or tv show in the last 20 years when I knew the ending. Read the script for a couple of movies before I saw them, still liked the movies.

However, the media blackout decades ago for The Empire Strikes Back really helped. When Darth Vader revealed his genetic link to Luke Skywalker, it was the single most shocking movie line I've ever heard.

Xian Qi said...

I don't mind knowing in advance how a film ends. I'm more interested in how it gets to the ending. A film can have any beginning or any ending; it's what's in between that has to be authentic.

I'm more annoyed by reviews that describe the first two thirds of the story but then say, "I won't give away the ending." As far as I'm concerned, the first two thirds of the movie are spoiled. I'd rather hear, "Harry dies in the end, but I won't tell you how."

For that reason, if I must read a review, I read the first two paragraphs and the last. A truly good reviewer, however, knows how to describe a film's qualities without going too deep into the plot. Roger Ebert, for one, is a master.

Tamara said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Tamara said...

Totally agree with you here that it should be fine to talk about the ending when it hits national television. But what about movies? Is it okay to give away the big get when the movie hits the theater? I hope not!
With all my heart, I love Conan O'Brien, but I still can't get over how he and Andy spoiled the ending of Sixth Sense. It wasn't too long after it hit theaters. Maybe it was right before it hit video. Totally broke my heart! No "spoiler alert" or anything!

The Quis said...

I remember when the WCW wrestling live show would give the results to the WWF taped show to keep the viewers from switching over. It all culminated when two wrestlers from the WWF defected to WCW while their (taped) match was on the other station. From then on WWF had to make all of their shows live or else risk WCW spoiling all their results.

Courtney Suzanne said...

We had this discussion once in film school. This was back when The Sixth Sense was new in theaters. One of our professors blurted out the twist ending in class without any warning. I believe the movie had just opened the weekend before, and the whole class just groaned. We figured you should give a movie some time in theaters before you're allowed to spoil anything. If it's been a month and you haven't seen the film yet, that's your problem.

With TV shows, the day after they air should be fine. If I've missed a show, I just avoid reading anything online that might tell me what happened. It's not that hard.

Buttermilk Sky said...

A friend of mine went to see "Dressed To Kill" during its first run in New York. She and her date emerged from the theater to find a line wrapped around the block. The date couldn't resist shouting, "It's Michael Caine in a dress! He's the killer!" There was no second date.

Sorry if you were just about to rent it.

Hollywoodaholic said...

TiVo killed the water cooler star.

(Don and Betty Draper die in a car crash together on the way to Woodstock trying to rekindle their marriage! How fucked up a finale is that?)

Go ahead and spoil away, I say. Eventually, your friends, co-workers, and fellow message boarders will come to realize that the only way they can possibly continue to participate in our society at all … is to watch the damn show the first night it’s on.

Moonlight Graham, MD said...

A spoiler alert about spoiler alerts...I can't read that!

cadavra said...

What really kills me is when awards shows, like the Tonys and Grammys, are shown tape-delayed on the West Coast, and I start getting e-mails from Variety, The L.A. Times, CNN, et al, revealing the winners in the headlines and the goddamn show hasn't even begun here yet! I've repeatedly written them asking to keep the headline to something like "Best Musical winner announced," and in a couple of instances I've actually gotten replies that they'll comply...but then they never do.

WV: "pygme." Egotistical African native.

cshel said...

When The Sixth Sense came out and got good reviews that just mentioned there was a big twist, I went out of my way to go see it ASAP. I'm sooo glad that twist wasn't spoiled for me. Loved it. Then I told other people to hurry up and go see it before it could be spoiled for them.

But it never seems to fail, when I tape a basketball game, no matter how hard I try to avoid hearing the score before I get a chance to watch it, it will be revealed to me in some really unlikely way.

Dave-El said...

"Citizen Kane" was spoiled by Charles Schulz. (SPOILER ALERT for anyone who hasn't seen "Citizen Kane".)

So when I was a kid, there was a "Peanuts" strip where Linus is watching "Citizen Kane" (Really!), Lucy just blurts out, "Rosebud's the sled" and Linus is really pissed off about that. (I think in the next strip, he strangles Lucy with his blanket or something. Or maybe I'm thinking about "Blondie"? Oh well...)

I was just a kid, maybe 8 or 10 and I didn't really get the joke.

Flashforward 10 to 12 years, I'm watching "Citizen Kane" for the first time. The dying Charles Foster Kane mutters, "Rosebud" which prompts a nerdy looking file clerk in the back corners of my brain to push up the glasses up on his nose and think, "Rosebud. I've heard that somewhere." He then checks thru the musty file cabinets of my memory before pulling out the yellowed clipping of a old "Peanuts" comic strip and proclaims, "A-ha! Rosebud's the sled."

So you never know when or where or how something might get spoiled.

Norah said...

I've seen people on the IMDb message boards get upset about comments made without spoiler warnings about movies that are several years old.

unkystan said...

I recall back in the early '80s, Rex Reed hated Brian dePalma's "Dressed to Kill" so much that he purposly gave away the ending in his review in order to keep people away. MGM banned him from screenings after that. And to this day I'm still amazed how the Newhart finale wasn't leaked!

Carnie said...

Don't tell anyone but...Anthony Perkins is his own mother in "Psycho"! Shhhhh!

gottacook said...

The best thing about Dressed to Kill is unspoilable: the music, by Pino Donaggio.

Mike said...

Spoiler Alert:
A Tale of Two Cities:
The Penguin edition has an introduction by some academic. It explicitly describes the book's twist ending. Were you supposed to read the book before the introduction?

D. McEwan said...

Mike, did you really not know the plot of A Tale of Two Cities before you read it? Really?

I have a good friend who was a big Lost fan, as am I, so we discussed it a lot. Problem was, he is one of those wait-for-the-DVD types, and would get furious if I inadvertantly let something slip. Do you know how difficult it was to remember to keep calling Ben "Henry" for a friggin' year and a half? EXTREMELY annoying. All ofhis "New Twists" were old news.

Kirk said...

Sometimes a twist ending takes on a life of it's own.

In Robert Louis Stevenson's "The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde" you don't find out until almost the very end of the book that Jekyll and Hyde are one and the same. Yet no movie version that I'm aware of has ever done it that way. Instead, you always see Jekyll turn into Hyde early on. I've often wondered why. There's no cinematic reason why you can't have the twist ending, though by now I suppose it's much too late. Jekyll and Hyde's duel identity are now part of the culture. I first read Stevenson's book when I was in the 7th or 8th grade. By then, I already knew they were one and the same person and expected the book to tell me that right off. Instead, I read page after page and kept asking myself, "Well, when are they going to tell me?!" I was surprised that it was meant to be a surprise!

Lou H. said...

I watch a movie differently the first time and succeeding times.

The first time, I want to be surprised. Despite assurances that knowing the plot twist won't affect one's enjoyment of a movie, I really don't think that's the case for dramas like Sixth Sense or Once Were Warriors.

The second time, I watch a movie to admire its execution, and maybe look for things I missed the first time (e.g, how Bruce Willis' character plausibly walked through his life day after day without realizing he was invisible). Sometimes I get ahold of the script and read it alongside the movie; stage directions and notes about a character's state of mind, things that I might not notice by just watching the movie, add to my understanding and appreciation of it.

Johnny Walker said...

Pretty simple, really: Discussions involving something that is a SURPRISE should be pre-faced with a spoiler alert. (Your Bridesmaids example isn't great.)

If it's not a surprise to the audience the first time they see it, then I don't consider it spoiler territory.

Plus, it's not hard to say *spoiler alert* if you're about to give away a SURPRISE, is it?

LinGin said...

To combine this thread with the Harry Potter thread, I am sitting in my mom's hospital room at a rehab facility and her roommate's obnoxious family is visiting. And the two boys (who are apparently in high school because Mom was hectoring them about their grades and getting into college) are now discussing, in very loud voices, the climactic scenes of "DH p2." Now I've read the books and know the ending but it is extremely annoying to hear it described.

Question: when an extraordinarily well-known movie such as Harry Potter is concerned, is it a spoiler to discuss the film this early in the run?