Sunday, June 04, 2017

SPOILER ALERT: this is a post about SPOILER ALERTS

 This is a re-post from six years ago, but it still applies. 

Mary McNamara wrote a great article 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?

18 comments :

Bart said...

Living on the west coast, I think it's inexcusable when networks spoil their own shows after the show airs on the east coast. AMC did this with the Walking Dead a few years ago, and it did totally ruin the show for me.

Steve said...

My main gripe is when news outlets reveal the winner of this season's Survivor in the headline of their RSS feed! (TVLine and Yahoo! are particularly bad about this.) I'll take the care to stay away from entertainment news sites until I can view the episode, but shouldn't have to stay off the internet entirely.

Jerod Butt said...

What about the streaming networks? How long should I wait before I reveal that Netflix advertised itself during FULLER HOUSE?

VP81955 said...

Fair criteria, Ken, though in these days of instant communication a five-hour limit from Eastern time should be considered (so as not to spoil things for Hawaiians).

BTW, it's been reported that Jimmy Piersall has passed (for movie buffs, Anthony Perkins portrayed him in "Fear Strikes Out"). After his baseball career, he became a broadcaster -- and while I've often said Harry Caray (and Dick Allen) helped save the White Sox franchise for Chicago in the early '70s when it appeared the Sox were headed to Seattle (which tends to be forgotten by folks who most associate Harry with the Cards and Cubs), Piersall's work in the booth with Caray played a role in that, too. Did you ever meet him?

Cap'n Bob said...

In the mystery community, giving away the ending is taboo even if the book was written a century ago, or the movie was an early talkie. I have to confess, though, that I ignore SPOILER ALERT warnings.

Donald Benson said...

Some years back I stumbled into a TV movie about a vampire haunting a hospital. At every commercial break they showed the vampire in full vampire drag ("And now back to ..."). Then I realized the movie was supposed to be a mystery, and some genius had decided to run the spoiler a dozen or more times DURING THE MOVIE. The shot, intended to be a big shocker, came across as "here it is, finally". And of course I'm wondering why nobody in the story is guessing THAT ONE is the vampire.

More recently, the series "Garfunkel and Oates" had Weird Al for a funny cameo. Previews and promos hyped "Special Guest Weird Al" and showed essentially his whole scene, including the punchline.

This may have been covered in an earlier Friday question, but did you ever have trouble when the network wanted to tip a big surprise, or a killer gag, in advertising? Do you have any options if somebody says, "You're paying off last season's ratings-bonanza cliffhanger with the girl coming back in the very last scene? Great! We'll put that scene in the saturation ads!"

Anonymous said...

JR was shot?

Anonymous said...

@VP81955
There has never been a better broadcast team in the booth than Harry Caray and Jimmy Piersall (who, by the way was an underrated ballplayer- decent hitter, superb defensive outfielder).
The knew baseball, told it like it was and had fun at the expense of the stuffed shirts. You never knew what would come out of their mouths. And altho Jimmy had great respect for Mickey Mantle, he would often say "I came out of my mother's womb hating the Yankees."

Mike Doran said...

The Ultimate Spoiler Story:

In 1967, Roger Ebert had just gotten the position of Film Critic at the Chicago Sun-Times.
At the time, he was just out of the University of Illinois (Champaign-Urbana), and was the youngest full-time critic-columnist in the country.
Accordingly, he felt himself to be Hot Shit.

1967 saw the release of The President's Analyst, Ted Flicker's classic satire, which went a long way to cementing James Coburn's star status.

This was one of the earliest films that Roger Ebert reviewed, and he loved it.
Ebert gave Analyst four stars - one of the first pictures to get that accolade from him.
Roger Ebert loved The President's Analyst so much -
- that he gave away the movie's Big Plot Twist in the first freaking sentence of his four-star review.
If you've ever seen President's Analyst, you know what I'm referring to.
And I trust tat when you told friends about the movie, that you didn't give it away.
One of the great good fortunes of my lifetime was that I saw Analyst before I had a chance to read Ebert's "giveaway" review.

Oddly enough, in later years,Ebert was a meticulous respecter of "spoilers", especially if Gene Siskel happened to give one away - but that was years later.

Andy Rose said...

@Donald Benson: Check out episode 12 of the podcast, where Ken talks about something he did once to avoid having the network spoil a big plot twist in the promos. Spoiler alert: He got in trouble for it!

ScottyB said...

>> I never read reviews of movies I’m looking forward to seeing. <<

I kinda do, but just to get a sense of whether it's worth even considering. It saved me from spending money on a ticket to 'King Kong' a some weeks ago. I saw the trailer and thought it had a few good points worth seeing, especially because I enjoy John C. Reilly's work. But OTOH, sometimes I'll go see a movie that gets panned just because something impressed me in the trailer. I can't stand traditional musicals as a rule, but I wanted to see the cinematography of 'La La Land' on a big screen (and I *still* wanna know where they got all those really bitchin' ties for Ryan Gosling). For me, it was money well spent. Ben Affleck's 'Live By Night' was no great shakes and got panned by pretty much everyone and didn't live up to its trailer and the ending was 15 minutes too long and sucked, but the costuming and set design was enjoyable for me, and there were plenty of decent little moments and performances that carried it along that didn't make it the worst 10 bucks I've ever spent (it was a Sunday matinee; they're cheap up here).

ScottyB said...

Cap'n Bon's comment of >>In the mystery community, giving away the ending is taboo<< reminds me exactly why I've loved 'Columbo' all these years, and what made it so damn unique: You find out right at the beginning who the killer is. If that ain't a spoiler, I dunno what is. Peter Falk, you are missed.

Toby O'B said...

I made the mistake of reading Rex Reed's review of "Going In Style" which starred George Burns, Art Carney, & Lee Strasberg. "Review".... It was just a recitation of everything that happened in the movie. I can't even remember if he liked it or not!

The fault lies with me, but I'm one of those people who can't stop reading something once I've started. But I never read Reed again.

Edward said...

@Toby O'B

I learned NEVER to read a Rex Reed film review after reading one, maybe 2/3 of one in the New York Observer a decade ago. The man has no boundaries with his writing and spoils way too much of a film. I want to be mostly surprised when I watch a film and not know every plot point in nauseating detail in advance.

Johnny Hy said...

I think 24 hours should be the standard when discussing spoilers on social media. You never know when people have other commitments (I know, something other than watching TV full time!!) like a work dinner, child's ballgame or their funeral. I still discuss spoilers in vague terms during that time with my friends, it just takes a little more effort. Once the 24 hours is up though, all bets are off as you have had enough time to catch up and now it's on you.

MikeN said...

I have referred here a few times that My Name Is Earl has one of the funniest jokes in TV history, but I never said what it was so as not to ruin it.
I also won't tell you anything about Keyser Soze or The Sixth Sense.
Is that overkill?

Andrew said...

I remember a special show (in front of an audience) of Siskel and Ebert, where they were discussing their Oscar preferences. Siskel talked about The Crying Game, and gave away the big surprise of the movie. Ebert was furious, Siskel's attitude was "lighten up."

I think by far the biggest spoiler alert problem is the national election. If you live in the western states, you sometimes find out who the newly elected President is even before you've voted. I think that's completely unconscionable. If I recall, Jimmy Carter conceded the election to Reagan before voting was completed out west.

An even more egregious example was Bush v. Gore, where the "spoiler alert" kept changing based on the media updating their calls. (They actually called Florida prematurely before voting was completed in the panhandle, which was in a different time zone.)

Johnny Walker said...

A simple solution is just to give your readers ample warning. The trade off with having instant access to the world for your audience is that you have to factor that in ;)