To be (dis)continued…

Consider how you would feel if you bought a book from a bookshop and found that the last chapter was missing. Or if you’d been reading a series of books, and the last one was never released.

Of course no self-respecting book publisher would omit the last chapter or leave a popular series incomplete – but this is exactly what happens in the world of TV every year.

A few weeks ago it was cancellation time; that frustrating part of the year when you discover that many of the programmes you’ve been following will not get renewed for another season. When you have to concede that the plots you’ve invested time in will remain unresolved. When the characters you love (and hate) will be left in perpetual limbo.

This year the cull seemed particularly harsh:

  • My Name Is Earl – Cancelled after four seasons, with the last episode promising “To Be Continued”
  • Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles – Cancelled after two series, leaving several open plot lines and a cliffhanger ending
  • Pushing Daisies – Cancelled after two series; although many of the plot lines had been brought to a close, there was no overall resolution
  • Primeval – Cancelled after three series leaving unresolved plotlines and a cliffhanger ending

This is by no means a comprehensive list – it just covers the particular programmes that I watched. Notable mentions also go to Chuck (nearly cancelled, but given a temporary lease of life by a fan campaign) and Kyle XY (cancelled this year, but I don’t know what happens at the end because I’m watching it on BBC2, and they’ve only shown series 1 so far). Although it was cancelled last year, I’ll also mention Jericho (killed, resurrected by a fan campaign, then killed again).

As a viewer, I feel somewhat cheated by this state of affairs – in particular by the lack of closure for most of these series. This is the equivalent of a missing last chapter, or no final book in a series. This willingness to abandon a programme on a whim, with no concern for the integrity of the series as a whole, makes me disinclined to invest my time in watching such narratives in future. Why waste hours of my life on characters and plots that will never get a proper ending?

Perhaps the answer is to wait until after a programme has been cancelled – then download or buy it on DVD if it had been given a real conclusion. But if everyone did that the viewing figures would drop so low that no company would bother investing in anything with an ongoing narrative, and the airwaves would become so much poorer for it.

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